MONSTERZERO NJ’S THANKSGIVING EVE DOUBLE FEATURE: EXPENDABLES 2 and EXPENDABLES 3

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I know I’ve covered both these movies before but, I got my copy of The Expendables 3 in the mail and decided to make an Expendables night out of it!

 

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THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Expendables 2 is a fun follow-up to the 2010 eighties action throwback hit that isn’t quite as engaging in it’s quieter moments as the previous flick but, thankfully there aren’t too many of those. This installment finds the gang being sent by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) after a downed plane in Eastern Europe to recover the contents of an onboard safe. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a tech specialist and new sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth). But, they are intercepted by a gang of armed thugs headed by the cold blooded Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and henchman, Hector ( Scott Adkins) who take their quarry and kill one of the team. Now it’s personal, as Barney (Stallone) and Co. seek to track down Villain and put him down… for good. Along for the bullet-ridden ride are old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Mr. Church and legendary ‘Lone Wolf’ mercenary, Booker (Chuck Norris). When the action is flying fast and furious, EX2 is a real blast. It’s great to see Arnold, Van Damme and Norris back on screen doing what they do best. Van Damme in particular seems to be having fun chewing up the Eastern European scenery as the lethal bad guy and he doesn’t get enough screen time, sadly, to really establish the character’s full menace. Aside from an overuse of CGI blood, director Simon West gives us some good, old-fashioned rip-roaring action scenes that fit the retro action icon cast perfectly and some good hand to hand combat as well. Although some of those, especially Stallone v.s. Van Damme, could have gone on a bit longer to give them more dramatic impact. And drama is where West stumbles. The scenes between the action, which should be engaging and strong to keep us involved until the bullets fly again, are rather ho-hum. The dramatic scenes, though few, needed some more energy, more “pop”. The camaraderie between the team members that Stallone captured so well in part 1 is weak here and because of that, we are less forgiving of the cheesy dialog and the characters are less engaging as well. Perfect example is Lundgren’s Gunner, who practically stole the flick first time around. He’s nowhere near as fun as in EX1 and the fun Statham/ Stallone relationship is also weaker. The in-between scenes also had a quicker pace under Stallone’s direction last time and thus we were able to overlook the plot holes easier. But, this is an action film and there is plenty of that and who is in action is why we sat in our seat and on that level, Expendables 2 delivers on what we came to see. I am all for Expendables 3 but, find a director that can put some energy in the drama, give the team their team spirit back and a writer who can give them some livelier banter… as well as deliver the carnage.

3 bullets!

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THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Having grown up in the 80s, I obviously have an appreciation and love for the styles of  movies that came out then. And the 80s action flick is no different. So,no surprise, I am a fan of this series which takes a lot of those 80s action icons and let’s them suit up and shoot it out once more. And maybe I am biased but, I had an absolute blast with the latest installment.

The newest adventure finds Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and crew (Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture) rescuing an old Expendable member referred to as Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a moving train incarceration and taking him on a mission in Somalia. There, not only does Barney find former Expendables co-founder turned arch-enemy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) still alive… after Barney himself thought he killed him… but, one of his team is critically wounded. CIA operative Drummer (Harrison Ford) is not happy with the team’s failure and demands they try again. But, Barney realizes his team has been doing this a long time and the next mission may be their last so, he releases his longtime friends to gather a newer, younger team including the headstrong Smilee (Kellan Lutz) and the sexy and quite lethal Luna (Ronda Rousey). But, Conrad Stonebanks is one step ahead of them again and when he takes Barney’s rookies hostage, Barney realizes his mistake and the old team reunites to go into battle once more… maybe for the last time as Stonebanks has an army and is waiting.

I really enjoy these flicks and am certainly cutting them some slack due to the wonderful nostalgia of seeing these icons back in action and this time joined by veterans Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas… who practically stole the movie… and even a cameo by Robert Davi. But, to be honest, aside from some cheesy dialog, some sub-par CGI shots and a few wooden performances, the movie is a lot of fun especially in it’s roller coaster ride of a last act. Stallone’s script with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt conveys a theme of adding new blood and this carried over to Sly’s choice of Australian director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) to helm. Hughes directs well and and really brings it during the action scenes such as the exciting opening train assault and the final showdown, which was one of the most exciting extended action scenes I’ve seen since in a while. Hughes gives the film far more dramatic weight then Simon West’s somewhat weaker Expendables 2 but, doesn’t take his material too seriously as to not have a good time with it. The film is never boring at over 2 hrs and while the pace is fairly moderate, it makes the action all the more thrilling when Hughes and his cast crank it up to 11 for the carnage. For those worried about the lesser PG-13 rating, this might have the largest body count yet, so, it’s not a concern. Again, you have to go in knowing this is an old school style action flick and corny dialog and implausibility is to be expected. Sure I didn’t quite buy that Barney would cast away his old team so easily but, you know that’s not going to last and it doesn’t. Along the way there are some corny messages about ‘family’ but, it’s all part of the formula and for me, it works. It’s popcorn action, with a popcorn plot and Stallone and his team delivered the old school smack down once again, in my opinion. Brian Tyler also delivers another exciting score to accent the action and the film is shot well by Peter Menzies Jr.

There is quite a big cast so I will start by saying that Stallone and Expendables regulars Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture, Li and Schwarzenegger all give us what we expect from them and seem to be having a really fun time especially, Arnold who hams it up a little more then usual. As for newcomers… Snipes hasn’t lost a beat and it’s great to see him back in action on the big screen. Gibson is simply a great villain and really chews up the scenery in grand style. Antonio Banderas is hilarious and practically steals the show as the screwball Galgo and his scene laying the Latin charm on Ronda Rousey mid-battle was a showstopper. As for Rousey her line delivery is a bit wooden but, it’s her first flick and when she is in action, the girl is poetry in lethal motion. Harrison Ford also seems to really be enjoying himself too and he and Sly seem to actually have a nice camaraderie together. Too bad it took this long to appear in a flick together. Kelsey Grammar gets some nice laughs as Barney’s grizzled recruiter Bonaparte and the also work well together. And rounding out Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell are fine in their parts with Lutz’s Smilee possibly being groomed to take a larger role in future installments. And if there is an Expendables 4… I’m in.

Overall, I really enjoyed this flick. It is definitely better then Expendables 2 and comes close to being an equal to part 1It did take a little time to tell it’s story but, there is no shortage of action and when it comes, it’s fast and furious, especially the all out war of a last act. There were some really enjoyable appearances by action icons absent too long from the screen and the new additions seem like they make a good fit if this series continues. The audience I was with wasn’t full but, cheered louder then any audience I have heard in some time. Everyone seemed to have had a blast with this second sequel and I am definitely one of them. A really fun, action-packed popcorn flick that proves Sly and company still got it. It isn’t Shakespeare… it’s The Expendables!

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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REVIEW: THE EXPENDABLES III (2014)

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THE EXPENDABLES III (2014)

Having grown up in the 80s, I obviously have an appreciation and love for the styles of  movies that came out then. And the 80s action flick is no different. So,no surprise, I am a fan of this series which takes a lot of those 80s action icons and let’s them suit up and shoot it out once more. And maybe I am biased but, I had an absolute blast with the latest installment.

The newest adventure finds Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and crew (Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture) rescuing an old Expendable member referred to as Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a moving train incarceration and taking him on a mission in Somalia. There, not only does Barney find former Expendables co-founder turned arch-enemy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) still alive… after Barney himself thought he killed him… but, one of his team is critically wounded. CIA operative Drummer (Harrison Ford) is not happy with the team’s failure and demands they try again. But, Barney realizes his team has been doing this a long time and the next mission may be their last so, he releases his longtime friends to gather a newer, younger team including the headstrong Smilee (Kellan Lutz) and the sexy and quite lethal Luna (Ronda Rousey). But, Conrad Stonebanks is one step ahead of them again and when he takes Barney’s rookies hostage, Barney realizes his mistake and the old team reunites to go into battle once more… maybe for the last time as Stonebanks has an army and is waiting.

I really enjoy these flicks and am certainly cutting them some slack due to the wonderful nostalgia of seeing these icons back in action and this time joined by veterans Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas… who practically stole the movie… and even a cameo by Robert Davi. But, to be honest, aside from some cheesy dialog, some sub-par CGI shots and a few wooden performances, the movie is a lot of fun especially in it’s roller coaster ride of a last act. Stallone’s script with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt conveys a theme of adding new blood and this carried over to Sly’s choice of Australian director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) to helm. Hughes directs well and and really brings it during the action scenes such as the exciting opening train assault and the final showdown, which was one of the most exciting extended action scenes I’ve seen since in a while. Hughes gives the film far more dramatic weight then Simon West’s somewhat weaker Expendables 2 but, doesn’t take his material too seriously as to not have a good time with it. The film is never boring at over 2 hrs and while the pace is fairly moderate, it makes the action all the more thrilling when Hughes and his cast crank it up to 11 for the carnage. For those worried about the lesser PG-13 rating, this might have the largest body count yet, so, it’s not a concern. Again, you have to go in knowing this is an old school style action flick and corny dialog and implausibility is to be expected. Sure I didn’t quite buy that Barney would cast away his old team so easily but, you know that’s not going to last and it doesn’t. Along the way there are some corny messages about ‘family’ but, it’s all part of the formula and for me, it works. It’s popcorn action, with a popcorn plot and Stallone and his team delivered the old school smack down once again, in my opinion. Brian Tyler also delivers another exciting score to accent the action and the film is shot well by Peter Menzies Jr.

There is quite a big cast so I will start by saying that Stallone and Expendables regulars Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture, Li and Schwarzenegger all give us what we expect from them and seem to be having a really fun time especially, Arnold who hams it up a little more then usual. As for newcomers… Snipes hasn’t lost a beat and it’s great to see him back in action on the big screen. Gibson is simply a great villain and really chews up the scenery in grand style. Antonio Banderas is hilarious and practically steals the show as the screwball Galgo and his scene laying the Latin charm on Ronda Rousey mid-battle was a showstopper. As for Rousey her line delivery is a bit wooden but, it’s her first flick and when she is in action, the girl is poetry in lethal motion. Harrison Ford also seems to really be enjoying himself too and he and Sly seem to actually have a nice camaraderie together. Too bad it took this long to appear in a flick together. Kelsey Grammar gets some nice laughs as Barney’s grizzled recruiter Bonaparte and the also work well together. And rounding out Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell are fine in their parts with Lutz’s Smilee possibly being groomed to take a larger role in future installments. And if there is an Expendables 4… I’m in.

Overall, I really enjoyed this flick. It is definitely better then Expendables 2 and comes close to being an equal to part 1. It did take a little time to tell it’s story but, there is no shortage of action and when it comes, it’s fast and furious, especially the all out war of a last act. There were some really enjoyable appearances by action icons absent too long from the screen and the new additions seem like they make a good fit if this series continues. The audience I was with wasn’t full but, cheered louder then any audience I have heard in some time. Everyone seemed to have had a blast with this second sequel and I am definitely one of them. A really fun, action-packed popcorn flick that proves Sly and company still got it. It isn’t Shakespeare… it’s The Expendables!

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: 47 RONIN and THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM

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This weeks double feature consists of two Asian set action adventures that feature heroes from the West. One in feudal Japan with Keanu Reeves and the other set in ancient China with Michael Angarano. Both also are filled with fantasy elements and magic characters and plenty of martial arts action and swordsplay, not to mention renown Asian actors such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Enjoy …

 

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47 RONIN  (2013)

I enjoyed this film which, sadly, bombed at the box office and though it isn’t a great movie by any stretch, it was entertaining and had some nice fantasy elements mixed in with all the action. The story focuses on half-breed servant Kai (Keanu Reeves) who, along with 46 masterless samurai, fight against overwhelming odds to avenge the wrongful death of their lord. The vile and ambitious Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) has used the power of witch Mizuki (Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi) to cast a spell on rival Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) causing him to attack Kira in the presence of the visiting Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and thus dishonor him. Asano commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to save the honor of his people, but Kira is granted control of his clan and the hand of his daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki) in marriage. Asano’s Samurai are expelled and are now dishonored as masterless Ronin. Kai, who is rumored to have been raised by demons and has always loved Mika, is sold into slavery. Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the lead samurai, bides his time and one year later, frees Kai and rallies the Ronin to attack lord Kira and free Mika and avenge Lord Asano’s death… all against the Shogun’s orders. It’s only 47 Ronin against a 1,000 soldiers and one powerful witch, but against these odds, the 47 warriors valiantly choose to wade into battle to get their revenge or die trying.

47 Ronin is a fictional story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada based on real events from Japanese history. As directed by commercial director Carl Rinsch, from a screenplay by Morgan and Hossein Amini, the film is moderately paced, but I liked that it took time to tell it’s story and didn’t rush into it’s climactic battle. Rinsch handles the large scale of the film well for a first-time feature director and seems to have a nice visual style to go with all the fantasy elements and the exotic setting. There is plenty of well-staged action peppered throughout and the heavy fantasy elements…as there are demons and a powerful witch involved in this story of honor and revenge…are mixed in well with the drama. Character development is a little on the weak side. We get to know the characters a little, but with 47, only a few get proper attention and even some of those we could have gotten to know better. Despite star billing and a central role, Reeves’ Kai is not the only character focused on and that helps make this more of an ensemble piece to a degree and less Reeves’ show. The cast are all quite good including star Keanu, who plays a noble character who just wants to be recognized fairly by the samurai and will do anything for the woman he loves, despite that she is out of his reach as a Lord’s daughter. The film is in English and the Japanese cast are all well spoken, perform well and there are many recognizable faces from current Japanese cinema. The budget is lavish as are the settings and SPFX and the action scenes have some nice energy and are excellently choreographed. I’ll admit the story could have used a bit more dramatic strength and the end conflict is exciting though, over a little too soon, but it is still an enjoyable action/fantasy with some nice old fashioned charm.

So, in conclusion, 47 Ronin is not a masterpiece and maybe not something all that memorable, but it is a well-made and entertaining enough adventure with some fun fantasy elements and exotic locations to give it a little something different. The action moves and while we could have used a little more character development and the story could have used a bit more weight, it was an entertaining 2 hours and I had a fun time with it. Go in with moderate expectations and it can be a pleasantly surprising flick and an entertaining watch. Certainly nowhere near the disaster it’s poor box office would lead one to believe.

Rated 3 (out of 4) samurai swords.

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THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2008)

Sure this flick has a heavy Karate Kid vibe, but we get Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the beautiful Li Bingbing as a villainous hottie so, why complain if we have seen this kind of story before. Charming and fun fantasy adventure has martial arts movie nut Jason (Michael Angarano) buying his favorite movies from old shop owner Hop (Jackie Chan) and finding a peculiar staff in his shop. When thugs force Jason to help them rob Hop’s store, the injured Hop tells the mortified and regretful Jason to take the staff and return it to it’s rightful owner. Jason is thus transported into a fantasy world in ancient China where he meets a drunken martial artist named Lu Yan (also Chan), a noble monk Sun Wukong (Jet Li) and pretty Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) who all agree to help Jason return the staff to The Monkey King (also Li), who is the staff’s rightful owner and is being imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). But to get the staff back to The Monkey King, Jason and his new friends must battle the powerful Warlord, his army and a very deadly witch (Li Bingbing), who all wish to see that the staff never sees the Monkey King’s skilled hands ever again.

Despite the cliche’ story and some very familiar plot elements, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) crafts a really entertaining martial arts fantasy that is loaded with charm and filled with martial arts action. There are plenty of fantasy elements too, in John Fusco’s script, from a story by Wu Cheng’en and Minkoff really captures the look and style of one of the martial arts fantasy films that Hong Kong cinema is famous for. Aside from numerous scenes of hand to hand combat, we get characters imbued with magic, who fly and cast spells, all presented with some very solid SPFX and fight choreography. Obviously, the main attraction is seeing Chan and Li working together and the two do have a great on-screen chemistry and camaraderie that goes a long way to making this flick so much fun. Their scenes together really crackle with energy and they seem to really enjoy working together, which I hear they did. Both are a lot of fun in their dual roles, especially Li’s whimsical Monkey King. Lead Angarano holds his own as the naive outsider who learns not only martial arts, but to believe in himself. Cliche’, yes, but it still works. Yifei is pretty and proves a resourceful heroine as the vengeful Golden Sparrow who seeks to destroy the Jade Warlord, but succeeds in catching Jason’s eye too. Chou is a solid villain though one stereotypical of these kind of films and Bingbing is having a blast as the evil and powerful witch Ni-Chang, who is as beautiful as she is deadly. The fun cast also helps make this a treat.

All in all, I like this film a lot. I am a hug fan of Asian cinema, and that certainly includes Hong Kong martial arts fantasy epics and this film captures the spirit of those movies very well. It mixes the traditional format with a underdog/fish out of water story for a really fun and colorful fairy tale-like movie, of a meek boy who becomes a heroic man. Sure we know he’ll eventually face those mean thugs from Hop’s store again, but we still eagerly anticipate it, despite it’s familiarity and the film is so charming and fun, we can forgive the age old story and oft-told story elements. When all is said and done, we get two martial arts living legends together on screen for the first time and, if that’s not enough, a couple of very pretty Asian actresses who are as easy on the eyes as they are dangerous with their fists and feet. That’s more then enough to get me in a seat! A fun martial arts fantasy flick.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Chinese swords.

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THE “REAL” TEASER TRAILER FOR EXPENDABLES 3 EXPLODES ONTO THE NET!

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Expendables 3 is the highly anticipated third installment of the popular 80s action throwback series and we finally get a new teaser trailer. Doesn’t show much but, should still wet fans’ appetites! Expendables 3 is slated to blast onto theater screens 8/15/2014!

Source: Youtube

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE EXPENDABLES 1 & 2

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Since we’ve had so much cool Expendables 3 news this week, I thought I’d take a look back at the previous 2 installments.

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THE EXPENDABLES (2010)

Expendables is a spectacularly entertaining, old fashioned, shoot ’em up action movie that not only brings back memories of the 80’s action flicks but, shows that Stallone and company, including  Jason Statham,  Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, still got it when it comes to kicking ass. Expendables is the story of mercenary leader, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of veteran guns for hire who are recruited to do a mission on a small South American island run by military dictator, General Garza (Dexter’s David Zayas) and rogue CIA agent, Munroe (a slimy Eric Roberts). Of course things don’t go quite as they planned and are further complicated by Barney falling for the General’s rebel daughter (Giselle Itié) and a simple mission becomes a literal fight for life as the ‘Expendables’ have to take on Garza’s entire army and Munroe’s trained killers to get out alive. The Expendables is one of Stallone’s best efforts as a director, he keeps things moving fast enough to cover up the plot holes but, not too fast as to not enjoy some of the commraderie between the characters. And there are some really great scenes from this cast of action icons, especially between Stallone and Statham, who work very well together, and Stallone and Rourke, who has a very poignant dialog scene about half way in. Not to mention a great fight between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner, who turns rogue after being thrown off the team. Round out some balls to the wall action sequences and a cameo from Bruce Willis and the Austrian Oak, that brought down the house, and you have some rip roaring, testosterone fueled entertainment! Also stars Stone Cold Steve Austin and martial artist Gary Daniels as Roberts’ thugs and Buffy’s Charisma Carpenter as Statham’s girlfriend, Lacy. Fun stuff!

A solid 3 and 1/2 bullets!

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THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Expendables 2 is a fun follow-up to the 2010 eighties action throwback hit that isn’t quite as engaging in it’s quieter moments as the previous flick but, thankfully there aren’t too many of those. This installment finds the gang being sent by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) after a downed plane in Eastern Europe to recover the contents of an onboard safe. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a tech specialist and new sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth). But, they are intercepted by a gang of armed thugs headed by the cold blooded Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and henchman, Hector ( Scott Adkins) who take their quarry and kill one of the team. Now it’s personal, as Barney (Stallone) and Co. seek to track down Villain and put him down… for good. Along for the bullet-ridden ride are old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Mr. Church and legendary ‘Lone Wolf’ mercenary, Booker (Chuck Norris). When the action is flying fast and furious, EX2 is a real blast. It’s great to see Arnold, Van Damme and Norris back on screen doing what they do best. Van Damme in particular seems to be having fun chewing up the Eastern European scenery as the lethal bad guy and he doesn’t get enough screen time, sadly, to really establish the character’s full menace. Aside from an overuse of CGI blood, director Simon West gives us some good, old-fashioned rip-roaring action scenes that fit the retro action icon cast perfectly and some good hand to hand combat as well. Although some of those, especially Stallone v.s. Van Damme, could have gone on a bit longer to give them more dramatic impact. And drama is where West stumbles. The scenes between the action, which should be engaging and strong to keep us involved until the bullets fly again, are rather ho-hum. The dramatic scenes, though few, needed some more energy, more “pop”. The camaraderie between the team members that Stallone captured so well in part 1 is weak here and because of that, we are less forgiving of the cheesy dialog and the characters are less engaging as well. Perfect example is Lundgren’s Gunner, who practically stole the flick first time around. He’s nowhere near as fun as in EX1 and the fun Statham/ Stallone relationship is also weaker. The in-between scenes also had a quicker pace under Stallone’s direction last time and thus we were able to overlook the plot holes easier. But, this is an action film and there is plenty of that and who is in action is why we sat in our seat and on that level, Expendables 2 delivers on what we came to see. I am all for Expendables 3 but, find a director that can put some energy in the drama, give the team their team spirit back and a writer who can give them some livelier banter… as well as deliver the carnage.

3 bullets!

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