The Expendables 3, film review: Ageing stars creaking against the dying of the light


(12A) Patrick Hughes, 126 mins Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture

The Expendables movies are the cinematic equivalent of "Masters Football" tournaments in which ageing players huff and puff their way up and down six-a-side pitches in a forlorn attempt to recapture the lost glories of their youth.

Sylvester Stallone, the 68-year-old originator, writer and star of the franchise, isn't yet content to take character parts alongside other OAPs in films such as Ladies in Lavender or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He clearly fully endorses Dylan Thomas's sentiment that "old age should burn and rage".

In the new film, Stallone, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger all carry on as if they are still in their burning, raging, action-movie pomp. They can't quite hide the passing of time. Ford, now 72, looks smaller and more wizened than he did when he was playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Schwarzenegger's trademark, wraparound grin at least reveals he still has all his teeth. Stallone's final-reel attempt at a leap off a high building to catch a helicopter is on the sclerotic side.

It's easy to caricature these stars as deluded Grampa Simpson-types, forfeiting both dignity and common sense as they blast away with machine guns at Mel Gibson's villains. However, although Expendables 3 doesn't make much sense in terms of plot or character, Stallone and company successfully convey their own sense of enjoyment about their boys' own antics. The result is a film that is diverting and good-natured in spite of its clumsiness and high body count.

In truth, The Expendables 3 is no more ridiculous than many of the action movies Stallone appeared in earlier in his career. One of these was produced by the maverick Israeli showman Menahem Golan, who sadly died earlier this month. Golan used to boast that Stallone signed the contract to appear in arm-wrestling epic Over the Top (1987) on the back of a napkin. It wouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Stallone wrote his Expendables script on a napkin, too. Stallone is the square-jawed hero. Gibson is the square-jawed villain – and that's about as much story as we get. We all know that the two inveterate rivals will end up in a one-on-one ("mano a mano") battle in the sandpit for playground supremacy before the final credits roll.

The film begins with Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) being rescued from a train. Quite why he is on the train or needs to be rescued is never fully explained. This is really just an excuse for a high-speed chase sequence with stuntmen leaping from carriage to carriage. Doc Death, we learn, has been in prison for tax evasion – just like the actor playing him.

Barney Ross (Stallone ) is beginning to worry that some of his old crew are long in the tooth. The impression is reinforced when they bungle an operation to catch an unnamed quarry. This turns out to be Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable with the tattoos to prove it who, like Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, has turned to the dark side.

Although Ross is far older than his fellow Expendables, such as Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), he decides to trade them in for younger models. This new generation of Expendables includes Luna, played by the former Olympic judo medalist and top-rated UFC cage fighter Ronda Rousey. She is the only significant female character in the film but is woefully underused. A recent New Yorker profile of Rousey went into great detail about her trademark arm-bar move, "designed to hyperextend an opponent's elbow, stretching ligaments, tearing the articular capsule, and even grinding away the bone if the opponent doesn't concede quickly enough." She is at the top of her (very savage) sport but the film treats her as if she is a glorified Miss Moneypenny. She dresses like a secretary even as she works as a nightclub bouncer.

The younger Expendables are proficient in computer hacking and Evil Knievel-style motorbike tricks but they lack the true grit of their older forebears.

One of the mysteries of the film is its lack of a proper romantic subplot. It's as if the venerable action-heroes no longer have the energy for love as well as fighting.

Read more: Jason Statham almost died on set of The Expendables 3

Gibson and Antonio Banderas play their roles tongue-in-cheek, as if they are appearing in a pantomime at the Hackney Empire rather than in a serious action movie. Gibson was once cast as the hero as a matter of course but, thanks to his controversy-ridden career since The Passion of the Christ, is now one of Hollywood's favourite villains on screen and off. Here, he seems to be winking at the audience at every opportunity – and even takes the chance to wave at Stallone's exasperated Barney whenever he escapes his clutches. Banderas, meanwhile, plays Spanish dog-of-war Galgo as if he is a live-action counterpart to the Puss in Boots he voiced in the Shrek films.

The finale, which pits the Expendables against an entire army in a disused warehouse somewhere in eastern Europe, is on an epic but utterly nonsensical scale. The problem is that the plot simply doesn't stack up. All Stallone and director Patrick Hughes offer us are action scenes interspersed with manly banter. No one takes the time to establish character or develop plot in anything but the most cursory way.

"Age is only a state of mind," one character suggests in the film. As director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne showed in their magnificent late Westerns Rio Bravo and El Dorado, it is possible for elderly actors to appear in playful, action-driven dramas without making fools of themselves. This is a trick Stallone has yet to master. The Expendables 3 provokes mixed feelings – admiration for Stallone's gumption in making it combined with dismay that, after all these years, he still hasn't grown up.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015