The Expendables 3 (Christian Movie Review) & Real-Life Expendables Fighting Terrorists in Iraq
The expendable action movie giants have returned, and Sylvester Stallone & Co. are back with even more A-List names — folks like Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and Wesley Snipes — thus adding even more firepower to their big screen action movie that’s currently blasting theaters nationwide.
In this third outing, Barney (Stallone) finds himself the target of Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), the co-founder of the Expendables who has vowed to kill Barney and every member of his crew. Barney enlists some new warriors into his ranks to help fight the dangerous Stonebanks.
Besides covering parental guidance content and offering a review of the film, this article will add something a little different: an account of some real-life expendables that have come out of retirement to fight the ruthless terrorists who are causing trouble in Iraq and Syria. Before we get to that story, let’s take a look at the movie.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: Some sexual innuendo in the dialogue. No nudity or sex scenes. One female character wears a revealing dress while working as a bouncer at a club.
Violence/Gore: Scores and scores of men are fatally shot, stabbed, and blown up. Because it is PG-13, however — a noticeable change from the previous two movies — the violence is not intensely graphic. Almost all of the gun violence is non-bloody, non-graphic — almost cartoonish in some cases — like when you see an action star shooting a machine gun and screaming, and then all the enemies just fall down and play dead. There are plenty of gross sound-effects when knives are used to slash and gut people, but there aren’t any visually graphic, gory moments. I’ve seen other PG-13 movies that have more gore. A ton of people are killed, but there’s no visual shock factor.
Language: Every swear word and misuse of God and Jesus in the English language is used. The f-word is used once, as is now customary in all PG-13 movies.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Lots of drinking and smoking of cigars. No drug use depicted.
Frightening/Intense/Emotionally Heavy Content: The bad guy tortures a group of younger soldiers by hanging them by their hands. Photos of dead people are shown in a few scenes as Barney views evidence of the villain’s war crimes.
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
I’ve seen all three Expendables movies, and if I had to choose which one was best it would be this one. Two simple reasons: Mel Gibson and — this might surprise you — Antonio Banderas. Yes, Mr. Banderas completely stole the show in this movie, playing one of the most amusing characters I’ve seen in the grizzled action movie genre. He drew the most Laugh-Out-Loud moments from the audience.
And then there’s Mel Gibson. When it comes to acting, that dude is a Jedi Master. He can take a not-exactly-taking-itself-too-seriously action movie script and turn it into compelling drama whenever he’s on-screen. He takes an average piece of dialogue and somehow makes it awesome.
Harrison Ford, who in real life is a pilot and does actual helicopter rescue missions, also adds another layer of depth and quality to the film. I’ve never seen him in a movie with Mel Gibson or Stallone — or Arnold for that matter — so seeing them all in the same film was almost disorienting. It was like someone had mashed 10 action movies together — Star Wars (because Harrison Ford is playing another wise-cracking pilot), Indiana Jones, Rambo, Terminator, Lethal Weapon, etc.
The film borders on self-parody in certain moments, which moved me to be more forgiving of its bold and sometimes implausible excess in the action scenes. It conducts some self-effacement by cracking jokes about the personal lives of the actors (i.e. mentioning Wesley Snipes’s tax evasion) and giving lines like “We’ve got to get to the choppa!” to Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was already a line of classic Arnold dialogue in pop culture that people found amusing.
As far as action movies go, I do wish they would’ve made more use of Jet Li. He shoots a machine gun a couple times, is mocked for being short, and is given maybe two lines of very awkward dialogue — that’ sit. They’ve got one of the greatest wing chun kung fu fighters in the world, and he doesn’t throw a single punch. There should be a law against that. (Though I admit I am a little biased because I happen to study wing chun kung fu, and I was hoping to see some of it on the big screen.)
Worldview and Themes of Redemption
There’s a certain mentality in Western culture that doesn’t have a problem cheering on the destruction of human beings so long as those persons are identified as terribly evil. In Expendables 3, it’s none other than Mel Gibson — the villain in the movie — who exposes this hypocrisy of our culture’s typical “action hero” and throws the following moral dilemma into Stallone & Co.’s faces: why do you condemn the villain of being a vile murderer when you are also killing people in the name of your mission and expressing a cavalier attitude — even a prideful pleasure — in doing it, as if killing 20 people were another day in the office?
Stallone’s character doesn’t have an answer to that accusation, and the fact the Sylvester Stallone, who helped write the script, let it go unanswered is interesting to me. A lot of Christian sites have heavily criticized this movie, but the movie actually has an intelligent moment during that scene with Gibson and Stallone. Gibson’s monologue works as a clever deconstruction of the entire ’80s action movie genre that The Expendables franchise both embraces and parodies.
But yes, I will admit, paying to watch so much death and violence begins to cast a queasy feeling over you, and you find yourself asking: “Wait, have I become like the Roman citizens who entertained themselves by watching people kill other people in gladiator matches?”
That question doesn’t go away so easily either.
I think The Expendables 3, however, does go to great lengths to present a difference between good and evil. Stallone’s character only fights and kills villains who are murdering innocent people. He’s the modern day version of the sheriff-for-hire who rides into town, confronts the evil men who have been terrorizing the villagers, and defeats them. In many cases he is rushing in to rescue hostages.
In general I do not like vividly gory movies, and I avoid seeing them if I can. I do, however, like movies that portray epic battles between good and evil — i.e. Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, etc. I think, on a certain level, The Expendables franchise is also portraying an epic battle between good and evil. I suspect, however, that it strikes certain Christians the wrong way because the jocular, cigar-toting tone doesn’t strike their fancy, and it makes all the killing in the name of good seem like no big deal. Yet the movie, as noted above, is self-conscious about that, which should at least be pointed out.
The “Dark Lion” — The Leader of the Real-Life Expendables in Iraq
In recent news, which you can read in detail here at Fox and here at Medium.com, there have been reports of real-life soldiers like The Expendables — warriors who are both legendary and highly skilled — coming out of retirement to join the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, to fight the brutally violent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (the organization that beheaded journalist James Foley, to the world’s horror).
This group of seasoned Kurdish fighters, about the same sized group as The Expendables, is led by a near mythical man nicknamed the Dark Lion — Maj. Gen. Abdulla Musla Boor — who has been fighting in wars to defend Kurdistan since he was a teenager. He is now 64.
According to the news links above, the Dark Lion has been wounded over 40 times, yet no one has managed to kill him. A lot of people make fun of action movies because the hero can run into a flurry of point-blank gun fire and never get killed.
Well, that apparently happens in real life too. Just ask the Dark Lion.
In one instance, when he was shot in the chest, he lost the use of his right arm, but he kept firing his machine gun with his left arm at the enemy as they advanced. He then picked up a wounded soldier and helped carry him to safety. As his fellow soldiers helped him with his wound, he was thirsty, but they had no cups, so he asked another soldier to wash a combat boot, fill it with water, and he would drink from that. Then a nurse sewed him up, and he eventually returned to the fight.
And that’s just one story.
Although he’s older now, the Dark Lion now fights on the front lines and leads a group of other older soldiers — men with whom he has fought for decades. When they heard he was joining the fight in Iraq, they were inspired to leave their lives at home and join him in Kurdistan to defend the homeland. One of his fellow “expendables” had become a lawyer, but he left it all to fight with the Dark Lion. In addition, when the young men in Kurdistan learned that the Dark Lion had come out of retirement, droves of young people flocked to enlist in the Peshmerga for the chance to fight alongside their hero.
So yeah, The Expendables 3 does feature a lot of stylized violence and sort of a jocular attitude towards it, but there is something valid to the whole action hero mold that we shouldn’t overlook: sometimes we do need heroes and warriors to fight against evil that refuses to negotiate or engage in any kind of rational discourse other than to steal, kill, and destroy — like the evil of ISIL that is currently threatening thousands of innocent families in Kurdistan.
It situations like that, it’s good to have some Expendables around who can defend the innocent.