Review for The Expendables / The Expendables 2
I have a problem with the modern action movie. They’re just not as much fun as the action films I remember from my adolescence. Perhaps it has something to do with the action and effects being bigger than the actors these days. Certainly there isn’t the same kind of screen presence, the same kind of star charisma in the Chrises, Evans, Pine, Hemsworth and Pratt than there was in the action movie stars I grew up with, back when you only needed one name to identify them. Even with the amalgam of Chris, I’m hard pressed to recall a modern action movie off-hand; certainly not the way I can spin off a list of Arnie movies, Stallone movies, Van Damme movies. It’s got to be the actors, I thought, an opinion made firmer when I recently watched the RED movies, comic book spy thrillers that put the talents of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich to great use, in a 21sr Century reinvention of the spy genre. I thought that if I was going to enjoy a modern action movie, it should have the stars that I associate with the genre at the front. So I bought all three Expendables movies, the first two in a twin-pack.
You get two discs, one on either inner face of a BD Amaray.
Introduction: The ExpendablesBarney Ross leads the Expendables mercenaries, a group whose bad-ass credentials are established when they solve a Somali pirate hostage crisis by leaving little bits of Somali pirate dripping on the deck of a freighter. With a reputation as a group that can get things done, it isn’t long before the enigmatic Mr Church offers them a job to assassinate General Garza, a dictator of a banana republic island in the Mexican Gulf called Vilena. It seems like an easy way to make some money, but when Barney and his right hand man Lee Christmas fly down there to recon the island, things turn out to be other than they’ve been led to believe. They’re met by a girl named Sandra who shows them around the island, explaining the actual situation. The first problem is that she’s actually the estranged daughter of the general, but more of a headache is that General Garza has backing, backing from men wearing the same cut of suit as Mr Church. Barney and Lee have to fight their way off the island, leaving Sandra in the thick of it. Smelling a Company set-up, Barney decides to turn the mission down, but when he thinks of Sandra... this hard as nails mercenary has suddenly developed a conscience.
The Disc: The Expendables
You get a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution, which is clear and sharp, offering good contrast and detail, and strong consistent colours. The budget does show on a couple of occasions on this digitally shot film, with some of the faster pans eliciting jerkiness in the image, and some very obvious green screen work. For an action movie though, the colour timing isn’t too egregious; it almost looks as if it’s set in the real world. You get audio in DTS-HD 7.1 Surround English form, with optional English subtitles. The first impression is that it’s a thunderous mix, ideally suited to the action genre, with some serious LFE applied to the bangs. But then with a little added exposure you’ll notice that the dialogue, even when it isn’t mumbled, is low in the mix, and often buried beneath the action and the generic music score.
Extras: The Expendables
The disc autoplays a trailer for Drive Angry before booting to an animated menu.
You have a whole option of useless multimedia tat, including Lionsgate Live, and a couple of dual device apps to download, so you can watch the film on the TV, and be distracted by what your tablet is doing at the same time.
The film itself gets a decent audio commentary from Sylvester Stallone.
I thought that the Bonusview feature would be another one of those annoying java things that require that you change the settings on your player to access, but in this case, they’ve merely gone and put the whole film on the disc twice. Bonusview – The Expendables: Ultimate Recon Mode lasts 2:01:00 (longer than the movie), and you get much of the Stallone commentary again, a whole lot of Picture in Picture Behind the Scenes footage, and plenty of cutaways from the film for interviews.
From the Ashes: Post Production Documentary does just what it says, looking at the film’s editing and scoring, and special effects and whatnot. This lasts 26:56.
The Gag Reel lasts 5:03.
There is a Deleted Scene which runs to 45 seconds and is in SD.
Finally in the Promo Gallery you’ll find the Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, and Poster Gallery.
Conclusion: The Expendables
I feel a little like a victim of false advertising. The cover promises Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, the big three eighties and nineties action stars on screen together at last. And they are, for five minutes. The big names serve merely as cameos, and the protagonists, when it comes to the action boil down to Stallone, modern day action ‘star’ Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Jet Li, and a handful of wrestlers/MMA fighters I’ve never heard of. Even then, when it comes down to character arcs and narrative, it’s Stallone and Statham who do the heavy lifting.
I also owe an apology to the Chris Gestalt, as it turns out that it isn’t star charisma that is missing from these films, it’s that the action and effects is so much bigger than the actors that their performances wind up buried beneath the flash and bang. Despite the presence of so many eighties and nineties action movie veterans, The Expendables feels like just another modern action movie, where the BFGs and the blood splatter are bigger stars than the actors. The Expendables has some serious BFGs as well, firearms that literally disintegrate the human body, albeit a lot more messily than any ray gun.
The villains too are understated. Not even Eric Roberts, who achieved a Masters degree in scenery chewing in the Doctor Who TV movie can really make his presence felt above all the noise, while as for who plays the Generalissimo, I think I saw him in a US sitcom once. The story itself, which finally gets going after an hour of narrative foreplay, boils down to Barney Ross leading a mission to a Latin American island to rescue the general’s daughter from the big bad Americans who have twisted her father, a group of villains who have hired a former member of Barney’s team to work for them. All of a sudden, I want to watch Commando.
The Expendables is fun. It’s got crazy action, hi octane fight sequences and guns that make Arnie’s twin railguns in Eraser look and sound like pea-shooters. But it’s vapid; the action buries the characters and actor performances beneath a layer of flash-bang eye-candy, and in a film that sells itself as a star vehicle like the action movies of old, that is a significant failing. This is a film that needed a Shane Black to work his wizardry on the script. Still, flash-bang eye-candy was good enough to spawn two sequels. Hopefully one of them will make me care about and invest in the characters.
Introduction: The Expendables 2
That last mission to Vilena didn’t go quite to plan, leaving Barney Ross and his Expendables in debt to Mr Church and his ‘company’. Those are the kind of debts with lasting and painful consequences, so when after a successful hostage rescue in Nepal, Mr Church shows up looking to collect, Barney is ready to settle his account. Besides, Church makes it sound easy, find a crashed military plane in Albania, and recover a piece of tech from a safe. That the safe will explode if the wrong code is entered is one snag, and the other is that he has to take along a specialist named Maggie. Easy gets complicated quickly when the Sang terrorist group show up looking for that piece of tech, and kill one of Barney’s group to obtain it. Now the Expendables are out for payback, and they’ll cut through anything that gets in their way. The stakes? That piece of tech points the way to tonnes of weapons grade plutonium, lost and buried in a Cold War era mine.
The Disc: The Expendables 2
The Expendables 2 also get a very delicious 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, clear and sharp throughout, with no problems with aliasing or compression. But the increase in budget is immediately apparent, with the film’s greater scope, the quality of the effects and the stunt work, the comparative refinement of the CGI, and the quality of the filming. Darker scenes are just as well presented, and the telltale loss of detail of lower budget digital cinematography that was apparent in the first film isn’t an issue here. It looks fantastic, albeit with the usual modern action movie colour timing. The audio on offer here is a DTS-HD MA 7.1 English track, optimised for 11.1 Neo:X (a brief experiment that lasted until Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and it seems was only available on this disc) a DD 2.0 Stereo English track for headphones, and an audio descriptive track, with optional English subtitles. The surround kicks ass, bringing out the best in the action, while keeping the dialogue and wisecracks clear and audible.
Extras: The Expendables 2
The disc boots to an animated menu. It’s one of those titles that hold its place in the player memory after being ejected, and it pops up a detailed progress bar when paused. Among the disc's extras are some sound check menus, so you can see if all 11.1 of your speakers are wired up correctly if you are Neo:X capable.
On the disc, you’ll find the audio commentary from director Simon West, the Gods of War: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Anti-Heroes, a featurette that runs to 21:19, On the Assault: The Real Life Weaponry of The Expendables 2 (13:36), Deleted Scenes (4:39) and a Gag Reel (5:09). All are in HD.
Conclusion: The Expendables 2
In the featurette, Stallone looks back over the first Expendables film as the start of a franchise, but also states that it was a work in progress, offering a little bit of everything for everyone, trying to find out what worked and what didn’t, trying to balance realism with fantasy, drama with comedy, in essence trying to figure out what the audience wanted. That explains why I found it a little uneven, and more akin to a modern action film than something that did justice to its veteran cast. For the Expendables 2, they figured out what the audience wanted, and it was for the film to go big, play it for the laughs, and really sell its cast by referencing what they are best known for. In other words, in The Expendables 2, I did get the film that I was hoping for.
You can take for granted that the action and stunts are top-notch, and there is plenty of action from beginning to end, unbelievably getting more and more intense as the film unfolds. But this time you get good value from all the action heroes. They get developed more, and unlike the first film, which was a disappointing tease of the actors you actually wanted to see, this time you get full Arnie, Bruce, Sly, Dolph, and Li, as well as some serious Chuck Norris to balance out Statham, Crews, Couture, and yes, there is a Hemsworth as well albeit not a Chris. The dialogue too is sweet, riffing off their past movies and pop culture references. This is one-liner heaven.
Best of all, The Expendables 2 has resolved the weakness of the first film, the villains. Eric Roberts made a good, if somewhat stock movie villain, but he was undercut by a rather poor Latino Generalissimo character which left the whole thing looking weak when it came to character if not action. The Expendables 2 gives us Jean Claude Van Damme as the aptly named Jean Vilain, and he is brilliant. He lights up the screen, with panache and flair, and gives us a truly deserving villain to boo and hiss at. You want the slimy creep to get his comeuppance, and so it is that when all is said and done, the bullets fired, the missiles launched, the bombs dropped, that the climax comes down to a fist fight, it still feels like the most intense action sequence in the movie, all because of the characterisation.
If The Expendables was proof of concept, The Expendables 2 is the refined production model. This is the movie that will remind you of all those eighties and nineties action movies that you loved, but has the authority and impact to stand on its own two feet as well. I loved it!
As so many remakes have shown us, simply rehashing what came before is no way to guarantee modern audiences will lap things up through sheer weight of nostalgia. When it comes to films like Total Recall, Ghostbusters, and Robocop, I’ll be looking to the originals every time. Now making a new action movie with the action stars of yesteryear ran the risk of making people think fondly of the films that inspired it in the first place, and with the first Expendables film it bordered closely on that. But with the sequel, everything fell into place to deliver a strong, modern action movie that embraced the past in just the right way. It makes me look forward to putting The Expendables 3 into the player soon. If JCVD gave good villain, Mel Gibson ought to be perfect in the role.