Lionsgate // 2010 // 113 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 21st, 2011
Every movie has a hero. This one has them all.
The Expendables is one of the best cinematic ideas of the twenty-first century -- take most of the best action stars from the last three decades, put 'em in the same movie, and give 'em enough artillery to literally destroy a small army. The result should have been a cinematic slam-dunk, but instead it ends up being a lame three-pointer that circles the rim but can't quite sink in. Apparently, though, the film found enough of an audience to warrant a sequel. In advance of that momentous release, director Sly Stallone has gone back and added about 10 minutes of new material while rearranging some of the rest. The result is more of the same, and upgrading to The Expendables (Blu-ray) Director's Cut is hard to recommend.
The Expendables tells the needlessly convoluted story of a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky). The group gets the job of overthrowing a dictator who's being illegally supported by a rogue ex-CIA drug kingpin.
Before we talk about why The Expendables isn't the greatest action movie of the twenty-first century, let's chat about what the film gets right:
* The cast. I won't list them all (you can get the skinny at IMDb), but pretty much all the heavy hitters you would expect are here. The only serious omissions I can think of off the top of my head are Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Segal (and the first two are going to be in the sequel!). Really, though, this is Stallone's show, and he brings Jason Statham along as a sidekick. Both represent a "less talk, more muscle" approach to action roles, and they're both great at playing good guys here. The rest of the cast appears for greater or lesser amounts of time. Jet Li is probably next in line after Stallone and Statham, but some actors (Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) only show up for a single scene or a couple of lines.
* The action. I can't really complain about the few huge set pieces in this flick. Jason Statham in the nose of a plane shooting a large gun at people as Stallone flies him overhead is pretty darn sweet. Hand-to-hand stuff is pretty good as well, including a nice short scene where the tiny Jet Li faces off against the hulking Dolph Lundgren.
* The extended cut. The last thing I thought the theatrical cut of The Expendables needed was more anything. There was already too much plot and too many characters. However, this cut proves me wrong. By adding a bit of material here and there -- rearranging pretty much everything along the way -- Stallone has made The Expendables into a better flick. His character is a bit deeper in this cut, as is Statham's. Despite the increase in length, everything actually feels tighter this time out, and some of the sillier-looking CGI has been replaced.
I was really looking forward to The Expendables. Although I enjoyed it, it wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping it would be. Part of the problem was that I saw it the day after I saw The A-Team, which is another ridiculously over-the-top slice of '80s nostalgia. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what The A-Team got right but that The Expendables got wrong. Then it hit me: The Expendables isn't nearly enough fun. Somewhere along the way Stallone thought he was making an homage to First Blood when he was really aiming more for Rambo III. Don't get me wrong, I love a good serious action flick with some kind of pathos (like, I might add, the original Rambo). The Expendables, however, is not that film. It doesn't have the level of writing to give any of the characters enough emotion to give the film the proper weight. Instead of running with this fact and making a fun film, Stallone chose to go all broody. This leaves the film ponderous when it should be buoyed by the sheer fun of recognizing these familiar faces.
Because the film doesn't ever seem to wink at itself, we're asked to take it really seriously. That means audience expectations about believability, consistency, and other things shift, and the film promises a level of seriousness it can't deliver. That means that no matter how good the film is (and in parts, it's very good), it's never going to be great.
This Blu-ray disc falls somewhere in between. It's not a total disaster, but for a double-dip on a fairly popular film it feels underwhelming. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer looks a bit soft for a film this recent. Detail is often fairly strong, but there are definitely moments where it feels like it could and should be sharper. Black levels, though, are really strong, as is color saturation. Digital noise and other artifacts aren't a problem. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is good, but a bit loud. I don't mean loud like I turned the movie up, but loud as in everything is mixed very aggressively. During the fight scenes that's a good thing, and the directionality and clarity are impressive. However, during some of the dialogue scenes that means the lines can get a bit muddy, indistinct from the general background hubbub of this mix.
The extras are a pretty mixed bag. We get the excellent feature-length documentary on the making of the film, and two new featurettes. The first is a Spike TV feature that runs 20 minutes, and the second is about Stallone's career as a director. Also new to this set is a pair of introductions by Stallone. The first plays before the main menu and features Stallone on the set of The Expendables 2, and the second plays optionally before the feature and has Stallone explaining why he released a new cut of the film. Finally, there is a digital copy of the film available with purchase. Gone, however, are the commentary with Stallone, the blooper reel, a pair of featurettes, some still galleries, and trailers.
The Expendables is a decent movie made even better by this extended cut. However, despite a whole host of famous names and a good bit of action, the film doesn't feel quite like the feel-good throwback it's trying to be. If this were the only edition of the film available it would be fine, but fans are going to want to own both for the different cuts and slightly different extras on each. Those who were so-so about the film in its theatrical incarnation might want to give this cut a shot, while those unmoved by the original will likely find little to persuade them here.
Just so they don't come after me, The Expendables is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Music Video
* Digital Copy
* Official Site