I feel as though no spoiler alert is necessary, as you should know what you’re getting from The Expendables franchise, if you ever had any interest in it, by now. There are no surprises. You’re getting a movie that tries to draw upon the nostalgia of action movies and actors from the past three decades. However, the action-hero movie genre should not be thought of as a homogeneous monolith. There are differences along a variety of margins.
Consider the original Die Hard. We see John McClane as quite vulnerable. Whereas other action movies have led us to perceive a bullet wound in an extremity as a minor annoyance, broken glass presents a real obstacle to McClane. We don’t see him taking on a million guys at once, but resorting to guerilla tactics due to his comparative weakness in force. Because of this, the drama is far more palpable and McClane seems much more heroic.
Contrast this with The Expendables 3, which contains no tension at any point. The audience is never led to feel that the protagonists are ever in any serious danger at all, despite the fact that they are routinely vastly outnumbered and outgunned. Regardless of all the “action” that occurs in the film, it makes for a rather boring experience.
Also disappointing is the missed opportunity in drawing on the potential nostalgia of the characters associated with the cast members. For example, there is a subtle reference to the character played by Antonio Banderas in Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, but why not just make up some excuse to have El Mariachi in The Expendables rather than have Banderas play some generic guy? I mean, it’s not like it would damage the plot in terms of its plausibility or cheesiness. The payoff of seeing guitar cases filled with guns or guitar cases as guns would be totally worth it. The same goes for other beloved characters like Statham’s Frank Martin. Would a story that finds a way to bring these disparate characters together make sense? Probably not. Would anyone care? Probably not. This is The Expendables, after all.
My final grief has to do with the phenomenon of the villain having ample opportunity to dispatch the good guy(s) and for no reason choosing not to. This happens multiple times in The Expendables 3. Early in the movie, the evil Mel Gibson has Rocky Balboa in his crosshairs, but chooses to wound another guy. He is able to capture most of Rocky’s team and later sets a trap that could kill Rocky and the other guys he brings to rescue them, but instead of just blowing them up, he gives them a 45 second grace period in which to disable his bomb. Why he does this, other than keeping the movie from abruptly ending, is not explained. And, in what was supposed to be the climatic showdown between Rocky and Gibson, Gibson has the ability to shoot Rocky dead but instead decides to toss his gun away in order to have a fist fight. The reason for this can’t be to see who’s the better fighter, as Rocky eventually grabs a gun and just shoots Gibson. All of this leaves one feeling as though the villain isn’t that evil (even though we’re told he did all these bad things in the past), but rather exceptionally merciful. Needless to say, this does not make for a compelling triumph over evil.
The Expendables 3 is not really satisfying in any way. It lacks creativity, plausibility, and a reason to keep watching. With Hollywood’s preference for producing tried-and-true formulas, I wouldn’t be that surprised if they tried to make another one, perhaps with an all-female cast.