As with a number of third installments, the law of diminishing returns kicks in with The Expendables III - big time. The franchise has always centered on the novelty value of having the aging action stars of the '80s and '90s appear onscreen together - often for the first time - in order to shoot, kick, stab, and blast the living hell out of some third world bad guys.
With little else to incite interest, the formula is officially stale. Sylvester Stallone returns as Barney Ross, leader of the titular mercenary team of geriatric G.I. Joes (the cartoon kind, specifically). After a brief prologue brings Wesley Snipes into the fold as the imaginatively named team medic Doc, Ross leads the team on a mission to blow up Mogadishu. This goes south when they cross paths with arms dealer Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who co-founded the Expendables and later betrayed them, putting one member in intensive care and causing Ross to disband the team.
For inscrutable reasons, Ross and mercenary recruiter Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) assemble a team of younger, more tech-savvy soldiers of fortune to apprehend Stonebanks for the CIA: angsty ex-soldier Smilee (Kellan Lutz), weapons expert Mars (Victor Ortiz), improbably attractive hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), and hand-to-hand expert/hot bouncer Luna (mixed-martial artist Ronda Rousey). Despite going in all Mission: Impossible-style, that operation also fails, and Ross, former partner-turned-friendly rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), CIA operative Drummer (Harrison), eager-to-please merc Galgo (Antonio Banderas), and original team mates (Snipes, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Jet Li) embark on an overblown action sequence - er, rescue mission.
All of the above highlights the biggest problems dogging The Expendables 3. It's overstuffed with characters and short on plot, substituting action sequences for story and character development. Granted, that's par for the course and wouldn't be so bad if said spectacle was at least memorable. Alas, Stallone and director Patrick Hughes are content to go big and loud but offer little in the way of creative mayhem beyond throwing a few tanks and helicopters before watering it all down with a PG-13 rating. It is kind of fun watching Ford go all Airwolf for a few minutes, but the airborne ordinance seems largely to exist in the film so that Schwarzenegger can deliver his oft-parodied "Get to da choppah!" line.
Schwarzenegger and Banderas provide some much-needed comedy relief, especially the latter, who - like his character - seems to be unaware of the fact that he's trying harder than he really needs to. As for the Junior Expendables, they are a forgettable group of one-dimensional characters. Rousey is the lone standout, partly because she's the film's token female, mostly because of the distraction of her stunted acting range, which is limited to looking fierce when kicking ass and scowling as if one of her cast mates broke wind in her vicinity.
Expectations have never been high for this series, but still it fails to meet the minimum. Perhaps it's time to put these war horses out to pasture.