Get to the Chopper… This Time It’s Personal!!!!

Director: PATRICK HUGHES/2014

While I was watching a recent interview with Sylvester Stallone, he remarked that The Expendables 2 was just a sequel.  He explained that once you get to the 3rd film, that it is now a franchise!  If this series continues to play well, we can expect to see more of the Expendable crew as well as a potential female team spin-off, currently called The Expendabellas.

While the first Expendables film was a novelty act, grouping a “dream team” of sorts of 80’s and 90’s action heroes, it had a rather sluggish storyline and many felt that the potential was there but it didn’t quite meet expectations.  With the sequel, Stallone (who serves as the script writer) loosened up the story, infused a lot more humor, and recruited even more action stars from people’s wish lists.  This included an expanded role for both Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also added the likes of Chuck Norris (who tells his own Chuck Norris joke no less), and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

With the third entry, Stallone has taken what worked in the first two and simply expanded on it.  Being added to this third film is Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer, and Wesley Snipes, along with newcomers Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kellen Lutz, and Ronda Rousey.

The Expendables 3 has muted some of the gore of the first two R-rated films of the series, but still contains all of the action you’d want, pushing the boundaries of its now PG-13 rating.  The action in the film is a better balance of 80’s action nostalgia along with more modern warfare techniques courtesy of the newbies.  And while this installment is settling the Expendables into more of a serious tone to acknowledge the fact that this is becoming a franchise and not just a flash-in-the-pan novelty act, there are still plenty of quips by the stars in the film about their age, their own personal problems and more.  When asked why he was serving jail time, Wesley Snipes’ character Doc wryly responds, “tax evasion”.  Schwarzenegger can be heard yelling “get to the chopper” in his best “Ahnald” impersonation.  There are other funny moments, including Antonio Banderas’ non-stop schtick, that you’ll be able to discover.

Harrison Ford brings some actual gravitas to the proceedings, flying a helicopter which is actually  believable given that he is a licensed helicopter pilot in real life.  Playing the CIA agent Drummer, Ford actually is the replacement for the absent Bruce Willis character Church, following a reported dispute with Willis over his salary demands to come back to the franchise. After last year’s horrendousA Good Day to Die Hard, I think Willis needs to rethink that decision.

For me, the real throwback treat was seeing Mel Gibson playing a quirky villainous version of his Martin Riggs character from Lethal Weapon.  Though older, he looked rejuvenated compared to more recent outings like Edge of DarknessThe Beaver, or even last year’s dud: Machete Kills.  I’m hoping that he is welcomed back into the film community after having done some serious penance for his anti-semantic outbursts.  He is still a great screen presence, and one hopes that he can become a better person much like Robert Downey, Jr. has become, and be given a second chance.

There is hardly a more cliched tag-line than “this time…it’s personal”, but I felt it appropriate for this film review given the throwback nature of this film, as well as the storyline.  When Stallone’s Barney Ross finds out that one of the original co-founders of The Expendables (Gibson’s character Stonebanks), who went rogue and was supposedly killed, is alive and responsible for a hit on the current team, Ross will stop at nothing to get even.  Because….”this time….it’s personal!”.

From the opening sequence in the film involving a train, to the final sequence filmed in Bulgaria, The Expendables 3 gives its core audience exactly what it wants.  These films are not built to push the boundaries for current action fans.  They are meant to show current action fans what old school action films used to be about and make them relevant for today.  They are about explosions, camaraderie, corny one-liners, over-the-top villains, and jaw-dropping stunts that defy logic or plausibility.  The Expendables 3 delivers on all fronts, even if the story seems weighed down at times during its development.

Besides Guardians of the Galaxy, this may be most purely fun movie of the summer that is truly worthy of the title “best popcorn flick”.  It is only built to entertain.  Nothing else.  And while Guardians… is a better film, it is burdened with establishing unknown characters and also fitting into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Expendables 3 has no such burdens.  It is simply there to give you a fun experience with characters you’ve gotten to know over 2 previous films, and let’s face it, the actors you’ve gotten to know for the past 30-40 years.

Even in their 50’s-70’s, these guys are still doing action that satisfies the masses.  And with a new stable of newbies, Stallone is setting this franchise up as a vehicle that could very well outlive the very cast this film was built for.  It is feasible to see an Expendables film 15 years down the line populated with the likes of Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Gal Gadot, Scarlett Johansson, Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, and more.  This could very well be the action retirement home every star is headed for when they can no longer carry an action film by themselves.

But before we look too far down the road, just know that The Expendables 3 is exactly as advertised, nothing more.  And so if you are looking for old-school action and fun, then “get to the chopper” and check it out.