And this is just half.

And this is just half.

It seemed The Expendables would never live up to the concept that launched the franchise: Aging action dinosaurs collaborating for a final go-around. The first two movies didn’t reach the level of brutality and tongue-in-cheek mayhem children of the Eighties were hoping for, but also made clear there was a market for unapologetically violent romps as such.

The third chapter of the saga is by no means perfect, but it’s the most satisfactory to date. The self-awareness is more palpable (regarding the Bruce Willis’ character: “Church is no longer in the picture”), the tableaux are pretty clever (if milder than previous installments due to an ill-advised PG-13 rating) and the cinematography is light-years superior, courtesy of Peter Menzies (The Incredible Hulk).

At the center of it all remains Sylvester Stallone, star, writer and creator of the franchise. After a supposedly routine mission leaves the old team in tatters, Barney Ross (Sly) realizes he is too attached to his brothers in arms and dismisses them. He needs a younger, savvier group to face a former Expendable gone rogue (Mel Gibson) with a grudge against most of the Western world.

Director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) manages to give decent screen time to all the heavyweights in the cast, not a small feat. It doesn’t hurt they all seem to be enjoying themselves. I haven’t seen Harrison Ford this lively in a decade! Gibson, whose career took a serious tumble due to his erratic behavior, has found a second wind as a villain and chews the scenery with gusto. Wesley Snipes is a hoot and feels good to have him back.

The movie has problems (the motivations are one-note, the missions are poorly planned and terribly executed), but with a hearty dose of suspension of disbelief, The Expendables 3 has the capacity to entertain. I mean, in what other circumstance could Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li and Harrison Ford exchange one-liners?

Three pumped-up prairie dogs. The Expendables 3 opens tonight.