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'The Expendables 3' keeps the formula but manages to feel fresh at the same time

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The Expendables 3

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The cinematic trilogy is a well traveled device and method of storytelling that has been established for years in order to get some beloved characters from point A to point B. With "The Expendables 3" the formula is more or less the same with the added twist of the team showing their years and bringing on some fresh recruits to keep the action going.

It's a blast from the past as Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) comes across the one face he never thought that he'd see while out on a mission with the team, a man he co-founded "The Expendables" with, a man he thought he killed, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who has made billions as one of the most vicious arms dealer's on the face of the planet. After a mission gone wrong, Barney retires the old team and recruits a new gang of misfits to take Stonebanks down but that doesn't go to plan either. Ultimately Barney learns that "The Expendables" isn't just his team, but his family and he's going to need all hands on deck to bring down the most dangerous foe that they have ever faced.

For this third and in its current form most likely final installment, "The Expendables 3" while admittedly the weakest installment of the franchise still hits the right notes as the old guard gets some moments to shine and a couple of new faces get to ease their way into the spotlight.

Director Patrick Hughes on only his second feature ever, steps up to the big time and handles the action well. The move to a PG 13 rating didn't take anything away from anything that happened on the screen as it is crisp, action packed and still plenty violent. Hughes doesn't let the visuals detract from the narrative and can handle the big scale set pieces surprisingly well as it goes almost non-stop for the well over two hours of screen time that the movie eats up. The script has some hokey moments as it tries to get emotional about the changing of the guard and the need to work together, but it gets back to the ass kicking quickly enough and it keeps that subtle self referential humor to break the tension right when it is needed.

With an almost overloaded cast, the film smartly allows for the focus to stay on Stallone as he tries to bring the new school and the old school together in order to get the job done. Sly kept it real as it played it very world weary and tired as he is getting sick of seeing his friends get hurt or even die as they head out into the wilderness with him. On the flipside of the coin, Mel had a quiet and cool snarl about him as he was channeling some of his energy from the "Lethal Weapon" series to play Conrad Stonebanks (damn good bad guy name too) and he played well opposite Sly. The old guard in Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li and Arnold Schwarzenegger were all fine and Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford all played it up, exactly like they were supposed to and added to the fun quite well. Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz all came on board as the young members of the squad but only Lutz and Rousey got positioned to be the break out stars as both played strong, key roles as they interacted with Sly's character who was in full on sage leader mode.

Going forward, I don't see any more movies with an ensemble cast as loaded as this, but if they wanted to keep telling these stories with a mix of old or new characters, it is something that I could easily see working in future films. Conversely if they are retiring the crew, that's OK too as "The Expendables 3" is still a damn fine action movie that is not only a lot of fun, but one that recognizes that the original ensemble just might be getting a little too old for this...well you know.

3 out of 5 stars.

"The Expendables 3" is now playing in theatres everywhere, please check with your local listings for show times.

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