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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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The Expendables 3 is a surprisingly fresh sequel that ups the ante in almost every aspect, particularly the star power, the humor and the action. Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas are terrific in their supporting roles, Mel Gibson is suitably bad as the villain, and Schwarzenegger gets more screen time. Believe it or not — and scoff if you will — in many ways, this one’s actually the summer’s most entertaining flick.

This Time It’s Personal

The Expendables are back
The Expendables are back

It’s so easy to dismiss a movie like The Expendables 3, but here’s why it shouldn’t be. The first movie was a bit of a disappointment because the story didn’t live up to the hype of having a collection of ’80s action stars all in one place. The Expendables 2 was itself a surprise, more entertaining and with a slightly better storyline.

This time, they’ve nailed it. Truly, the third time’s a charm.

The action starts with a rescue mission; the Expendables are out to free Doc (Wesley Snipes, Demolition Man). He can be summed up oh so quickly with this: He used to be a medic, but he’s more dangerous than the plague. He did time for an assassination (oh yeah, and also for tax evasion — a nice little joke about Snipes’ real-life tax woes). And he shaves with a machete.

With Doc in tow, the Expendables immediately embark on a new mission, one that shakes Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa) to the core. Another Expendable is nearly killed and there’s a nasty revelation: a baddie named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon) is out there dealing in arms and art.

Stonebanks co-founded the Expendables with Barney. He’s supposed to be dead.

In short, it’s a really good story. Yeah, to put it in Hollywood tagline terms, “This time it’s personal.”

The Expendables and The Deletables

Stressed by the resurrection of Stonebanks and the growing body count of friends lost on crazy missions, Barney decides to strike out on his own, with a new crew, as he seeks to take down Stonebanks once and for all. Of course that riles the old gang, but Barney’s made up his mind. And that’s when things really start to take off.

Kelsey Grammer (TV’s Frasier) has a great little role as Bonaparte, Barney’s human resources sourcer. Together they travel around the world scoping out fresh talent with plenty of humor along the way, particularly when none other than Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro) enters the picture. The guy is hilarious as a man of action desperate for a job (and he proudly notes that he feels like was born in 1984).

And then there’s Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones himself). He’s in as Drummer, a military man, replacing Church, the Bruce Willis character from the first two movies. A real-life falling out between Stallone and Willis yields Drummer growling out the line, “He’s out of the picture.”

Ford is great. So is Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian). And Gibson is really good as the bad guy; he looks like his much-publicized mug shots following his own bouts of real-life bad behavior and his character matches his manic public image of a man prone to highly offensive rants and tirades.

The new kids, such as Kellan Lutz (The Twilight Saga), are a little more disposable; in fact, their youth and reliance on technology leads to an off-the-cuff remark that they should be called “The Deletables.”

It all winds up gelling together in really fine form as this globetrotting adventure jumps around to diverse locations including Russia, Romania, Somalia and Mexico, all leading up to a well-done action-packed climax with loads of explosions, things going boom and ba-bam!

The Fountain of Youth

Stallone and his co-screenwriters, Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger (Olympus Has Fallen) display an affection for the characters and an appreciation for the absurdity of their situation. Yeah, the guys are getting older, but it’s their life - no doubt an honest reflection of their real lives and livelihoods. They bring in themes of mortality and an openness to explore fresh talent with the new kids to see if they could do it any better.

In some respects, it’s a bit (a wee bit) like the themes of Skyfall, with Bond representing the old tried-and-true ways while the new Q represents the fresh face of technology-spoiled youth that’s a little reluctant to get dirty out in the field.

It doesn’t reach the soul of Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, which this writer described as the Gospel according to Rocky. But this action flick still has it’s own flavor of catharsis, a release for the testosterones, and it has a good amount of heart. Are the Expendables going after the Fountain of Youth? Well, they all concur that age is a state of mind and you only get old when you give up.

Amen.

Ahead of the movie’s theatrical release, The Expendables 3 was pirated and put online. It’s unknown what the actual financial damage will be to the movie’s box office pull, but maybe in The Expendables 4 they’ll go after movie pirates. Be warned, mateys.

The Expendables 3 kicks butt. Deal with it.