Disc Release Date: November 20
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Disc/Transfer Information: Region "A" (U.S.) Disc Tested; 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 (Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Simon West
Starring Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Chuck Norris
BACK FOR WAR.
The notion behind Stallone’s brainchild that was the first Expendables came off seemingly as an attempt to assemble some classic, vintage, out-of-shape and desperate-for-paycheck action stars in an almost Avengers-like answer to the Rambo-esque action genre – but this came in the wake of attempted resurgences of old franchise names including Stallone’s own Rocky Balboa and Rambo, plus the likes of, perhaps, Live Free or Die Hard and Harrison Ford’s last Indiana Jones romp. It’s almost as if the strange-eye browed Stallone set off a trend in Hollywood to revive aging film series to compete against the modern slew of motion pictures geared towards teens and tweens throughout suburbia everywhere; at the very least, it seems Stallone himself has been desperate to get back in the action game, though looking tired and cock-diesel all at the same time. And while there’s a small part of me that actually applauds Stallone and the other filmmakers for attempting this concept – the idea that some awesomees from action flicks gone by get together like some superhero mercenary squad – the actual execution of these ideas never came to fruition well in the first Expendables. The film came off like a goofy laugh at these aging stars, albeit with a great final fight sequence featuring Stallone and over-the-top pyrotechnics – it even occurred to me that the inclusion of our friend “Ivan Drago” was merely a pathetic, obvious excuse to get Stallone back in the same film with the Russian he beats in his own Rocky IV.
In my opinion, the one star that steals the show in both Expendables films is Jason Statham – man, does this guy kick total butt, as he always does with every character he portrays. Stratham aside, Simon West decided to turn the heat up a couple of more notches for the inevitable sequel to Expendables with the inclusion of The Terminator himself – yet, Arnie doesn’t get that much screen time for all the hype and hoopla that surrounded this film’s launch, and when he is on screen, his age and inability to really carry these action roles anymore becomes abundantly clear. Here, we also have the inclusion of martial arts legend Van Damme, who portrays a frightening scum bag villain that makes the mistake of brutally killing one of Stallone’s “Barney” character’s rookie guys fresh from the fields of Afghanistan (an odd-looking Chris Hemsworth). Yet, much like Stallone’s look and facial oddities in Expendables 2 and the first film (and, subsequently, all the films he has been in since and including Rocky Balboa), something looks wrong about Van Damme here – his eyebrows are weird like Stallone’s, his eyes are sunken in and appear swollen when his character’s sunglasses come off and he doesn’t look healthy. Still – there’s no denying the ridiculous physique these guys still have after all these years, and for that, they fit in the action mold still very well. Jet Li, who I normally love, has limited screen time here unfortunately, with a few great martial arts asskicking moves and some shootout sequences, but he wasn’t given nearly enough exposure in this one. Finally, we have the inclusion of the legendary Chuck Norris, who wields a machine gun as expertly as ever in this; from Delta Force to infomercials, you gotta love Norris.
Expendables 2 has Bruce Willis’ CIA operative-type sending Stallone’s Barney character and his group of ragtag mercenaries on a mission that involves some kind of high-tech safe. Along for the ride is an equally asskickin’ Asian female agent as well as a fresh-out-of-the-military rookie kid, Billy (Hemsworth), who is desperate to join Barney’s notorious posse of outlaw justice-seekers. When they arrive in the country in which they need to begin their mission, they’re ambushed by a ruthless counterpart mercenary (Van Damme) and his band of nasty, evil miscreants who are after the same safe and its secrets. When Barney sends Billy to take point lead up a hill, the rookie kid is caught and abducted by Van Damme and his men, only to be brutally killed right in front of Barney and his guys – thus, the revenge fantasy subplot begins, which includes angering this already unstable group of expert mercenaries, hunting down the group responsible for the theft and teaming up with Barney’s old friend (Norris) and, eventually, Schwarzenegger’s character. Some of the most visually entertaining moments of the film come when a handful of Van Damme’s men meet their fate quite painfully at the hands of a knife-wielding Statham, who dispenses with the bad guys at a ridiculous pace, as well as some humorous banter between a few of these legendary action stars towards the end of the film. The problem is that the trailers for Expendables 2 gave away most of these funny scenes – for example, when Schwarzenegger gets into the Smart car with Willis and says to him “My shoe is bigger than this car!” or when Arnie announces “he’ll be back” as a nod to the Terminator films and Willis answers back, at one point, “You’ve been back enough – I’ll be back!” before running off to finish a gunfight while Arnie says “Yippie-kay-ay!” in reference to the Die Hard films. While a bit cheesy and obvious, the nods were cool.
And so, as you can guess, the chunk of Expendables 2’s running time is spent depicting Stallone and his men fighting their way through Van Damme’s army to get to the man himself – and the highlight of this film comes when the inevitable hand-to-hand battle sequence between Stallone and Van Damme arrives in the final frame. If anything, the film was worth sitting through just to make it to this scene – the fearless, terrifying nature of Van Damme’s character as he does everything to dare Stallone’s Barney to get it on with him fused with the equally fearless, pumped-up, anger-fueled nature of Stallone’s character makes for a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat final fight sequence experience. These guys beat the Pamela Anderson sillicone out of each other, as you can imagine – but with downright revenge for the death of his rookie soldier in his heart, Stallone’s character seems unbeatable and brimming with unbridled strength, no matter how sadistic Van Damme’s character comes across as being. This final scene was awesome, and makes up for the rather weak entertainment that came before it in the main chunk of Expendables 2.
As I said, I understand and appreciate the notion of attempting, at least, to bring together some of the action genre’s most celebrated, recognized names to kick some tail together – but for some reason, in both Expendable films, this just wasn’t executed right; towards the end of this sequel, when all the guys get in the action including Willis, Arnie, Norris and Stallone, something just seems and feels goofy about these older fellas squeelin’ around in a Smart Car firing automatic weapons…even though they’ve done it hundreds of times before. Schwarzenegger, in particular, looks old and nearly decrepit, while Stallone continues to redefine the concept of “not aging well” especially around the face. I don’t know; I just don’t buy the final result of the Expendable films, and outside of a quick rental, I don’t see a need to revisit these.
[img]https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT63FLAd9869Axrk4pgvYKzqyHNv4cWscYQdqDP07EE8KtacLuYBg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
I don’t know what happened here, but Lionsgate’s Blu-ray transfer of Expendables 2 looked downright awful for the most part – nasty grain littered most of the shots, and there were some darker scenes that decayed into noisy, dithering messes, as if I was looking at a snowy transmission of the film over broadcast TV. I’m not kidding. While not exhibiting these problems, literally, from beginning to end – some shots cleared up and looked serviceable especially those depicting outdoor, colorful elements – the transfer was riddled with this grain and noise in nearly every frame in some variation. I am unsure if this was a budgetary issue with the film, or something that went wrong with the encoding process during the Blu-ray Disc transfer, but this was not a pretty film to look at.
Even facial close-ups of characters didn’t look that riddled with detail, as they should via 1080p, colors weren’t that oversaturated or nearly as rich as they should have been, darker interior shots came off as being ridiculously soft and non impactful and the entire presentation just wasn’t satisfying. There was a higher injection of film grain here than I’m comfortable with, and I’m not even sure if this was film grain mixed with digital or ISO camera noise, or if it wasn’t film stock grain and instead just noise marring the visuals; whatever it was, the video presentation of Expendables 2 on Blu-ray made the title even less appealing than the acting and goofy dialogue.
[img]https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR-EaOpV0sZbq2z6hMXmG4kUSwFB06VtYk7DRJLtF1Fc7UrNIgf[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
The sample review copy of Expendables 2 I received was equipped with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track – no lossless high-resolution audio to be found. Curiously enough, I couldn’t believe when I got to the setup menu of the disc and found that there was only a Dolby Digital track; I had to turn the light on and look at the back of the box to make sure I didn’t actually get a DVD by mistake. But, no – lo and behold, my copy only came equipped with a Dolby Digital mix. While this was weird enough, I found myself just letting it go and accepting the fact that many Dolby tracks can sound wickedly explosive – especially those on Blu-rays due to the enhanced bitrate design.
While ridiculously and viscerally loud, the audio accompanying the Blu-ray of Expendables 2 I sampled wasn’t that hefty or “heady” in terms of sheer dynamics or bass response – the mix was loud, aggressive, and in-your-face, yes, but it lacked a “weight” of conviction that kind of felt like this was a budgetary problem much like the video transfer. Sheer volume was off the charts, requiring me to actually lower my master volume levels throughout, something that normally never happens, while action sequences were accompanied by appropriate support by the surround channels for the prerequisite stand-bys of fly-overs, bullets, speeding vehicles and directional cues. Still, something was definitely missing from this track.
UPDATE: Apparently, I have learned, Lionsgate is "dumbing down" their non-purchase variants of their titles (i.e. rentals) to include lossy, legacy audio tracks for some odd, ridiculously head-scratching reason, and not lossless high-resolution mixes -- some say this is a cheap shot way of getting enthusiasts to really buy the titles rather than rent them, but there are still plenty of people that would prefer renting before blind-buying anyway, so why should they be left in the cold in the form of audio? The supposed tactic makes zero sense, but that's the rumor -- for what it's worth, this disc was sent to me by an editor of a publication I freelance for so I am uncertain if they were given a rental disc by Lionsgate, or if Lionsgate's publicity department sends out non-lossless-audio-equipped versions to the media to sample; I'm looking into it.
This is a rental, at best. If you liked the first one, you’ll most likely enjoy this one; for me, this was a one-time-only deal and not a buy. I like the idea of getting all these vintage guys into one action fest for a shootout of a good time, but something just doesn’t work…it’s almost as if it’s just too campy and stupid for its own good, like what I said about Stallone’s attempt at re-energizing the tired Rocky and Rambo franchises. Still, it was goosebump-inducing when Stallone and Van Damme stand before each other in the final fight sequence and Van Damme asks him if he wants to beat him “like a man” while he puts his guns down, and Stallone calmly answers “You wanna man up? I’ll man you up….” just before the punches start flying. Just awesome.
I will have my review of The Watch up next. If any of you have seen Expendables 2 or have any pre-viewing sentiments, let's discuss here!
I'd also like to say HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my HTS bretheren in the U.S.!