It took a couple of decades for Sylvester Stallone to step back into the director's chair, but he made a hell of a lot of noise when he did. Stallone didn't want the commercial and critical disaster of
Rocky V to cap off the franchise that made him a household name, so he wrote, directed, and starred in Rocky Balboa to set things right. When that wound up being a hit, Stallone revisited his
character and helmed Rambo,
which...okay, wasn't a critical darling so much but is so cacklingly and dementedly ultraviolent that it easily ranks as one of my favorite action flicks of the past ten years. Back-to-back, Stallone had
taken two legendary '80s-ish franchises that had skidded off the tracks and jabbed them in the heart with a syringeful of adrenaline. ...but hell, why stop there? Stallone set his sights on more than
dusting off a couple of aging franchises; he was gonna revive an entire genre. At least on paper, The Expendables is the ultimate trashy '80s action flick...the sort of thing where I halfway expect
to see the Cannon Films logo splashed across the screen. Just about every action movie mainstay of the '80s and '90s pops up in here somewhere, along with a retired MMA fighter, a retired wrestler,
and...um, a retired football player. Okay, they're old, but they can still beat the everlovin' shit out of anyone who gets in their way. Lotsa muscles. Lotsa guns. Lotsa explosions. Sign me up.
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The Expendables should've been a hell of a lot of fun, and instead it's...well, not. For a movie with so many huge names on the bill -- Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Gary Daniels -- most of them are shoved to the sidelines for pretty much the entire length of the flick. The
Expendables basically stars Stallone and Statham, I guess Li scores enough screentime to qualify as a supporting player, and everyone else is relegated to cameos or bit parts. The Expendables has
a tough time figuring out how to juggle all of these characters, coasting way too much on the charisma of the names on the marquee. I'm not asking for sterling characterization or anything, but...I mean,
look at a movie like Predator. Dutch's crew has a hell of a lot of personality without a bunch of flashbacks, long, rambling backstories, or people standing around and yakking about themselves. I
don't get much of anything like that outta The Expendables. You're supposed to give a shit about these guys because you've seen a bunch of other
action flicks starring 'em, and you paid $20 for this one too, so...you better like it, I guess. Then you have guys like Randy Couture who sure
can kick a dude in the head but can't deliver a vaguely convincing line reading to save his life, and David Zayas -- whose longtime stint on Dexter shows that he can't act in English -- proves he
can't act in Spanish either as the mostly useless generale. Dolph Lundgren gets all the best quips, and everyone else is saddled with groanworthy one-liners from the direct-to-video leftover bin.
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I don't know why the hell the runtime's approaching two hours. The plot is so simplistic that it's not even worth getting into: good-guy mercenaries, some speck of an island in Central America, a dictator
general, the sleazy gringo cocaine kingpin pulling his strings, a foxy freedom fighter chick...however you're connecting those dots in your head right now is probably exactly what happens. For whatever
reason, it takes forever for the first of The Expendables to make their way to the island of Vilena. The movie funnels so much of its budget into a few gigantic action setpieces that there's
not much left for anything to happen in between. Seriously, something like a half hour passes between the first two action sequences with a whole lot of nothing in the middle. Hardly any of these
characters are even a little bit interesting, so the top-heavy getting-to-know-them schtick is really, really tedious. Okay, okay, you have a fast-forward button and you want me to gush about how badass the
action sequences are once they finally roll around. Um, sporadically badass, I guess. The Expendables does have a few really incredible moments, like the incendiary "fly and die" aerial assault on
the General's flunkies and a particularly brutal car chase. The common factor there is that they're set in the bright of day and have effects that demand the camera to be pulled way back. Can't say that
for just about every other action setpiece in the flick. The other assaults keep the camera closed in obnoxiously tightly, the lighting dialed way the fuck down, and cutting from shot to shot every quarter
-second. The action is completely incoherent a lot of the time...I mean, I literally can't see what's going on. Why bother to hire an immense talent like Corey Yuen to choreograph some of the fights and
then obscure every last bit of it? Even worse, The Expendables heaps on one cut-rate CG effect after another, most punishingly those geysers of distractingly digital blood. One of the biggest
assaults in the flick is sped up too, looking so ridiculous and cartoonish that I
kinda expected a
thrash metal version of Yakkity Sax to kick in. Still, I got to see Dolph Lundgren explode a dude from the waist up, Jason Statham putting the beat down on an entire basketball pickup game, and Eric Roberts
being all Eric Roberts-y, and that's gotta count for something.
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The Expendables wants to be bigger, louder, and dumber in the most gloriously trashy '80s action flick tradition. It's big, loud, and dumb alright, but not in a good way. The Expendables is a
sloppy first draft of a direct-to-video action movie that somehow wound up with an $80 million budget and a bunch of recognizable names on the marquee. I like most of these guys, and I definitely
like watching shit blow up, but...uh, it takes more than that to make a movie, and The Expendables doesn't feel like aiming any higher than that. Not recommended, but who knows? Maybe the sequel can
pull it off. Here's hoping, I guess.
This extended cut of The Expendables, which has been available on-demand for months now, is finally making its way to Blu-ray. Rather than slop on a couple of lengthy deleted scenes and clocking out,
this revised edit features a couple hundred very small additions and revisions. If you think I'm exaggerating by saying "a couple hundred", then...well, think again. There's a startlingly comprehensive list of the changes at Movie-
Censorship.com, but the short version is that the rest of the team is better established, certain rambling moments from the theatrical cut are trimmed down, and the most cringeworthy visual effects from
the original release have been heavily snipped. Is the extended cut a better movie? Yeah. Is it a good movie? Well, no.
The Expendables doesn't look nearly as slick in high-def as I was expecting. The scope image is kind of on the soft side, especially for a glossy, biggish-budget, summer action flick. Don't get me
wrong; there's never any doubt that I'm watching a shiny, new Blu-ray disc or anything, but crispness and clarity both still fall a couple notches below average. The photography is excessively dark for far
too much of The Expendables' runtime. Perhaps some shots were dark to the point of being completely unwatchable, and boosted brightning in post-production might explain the flat contrast that often
rears its head. I'm sure color saturation is accurate, although Stallone seems content to drench everything in blue and call it a day. On the upside, I couldn't spot any traces of edge enhancement,
excessive noise reduction, or hiccups in the AVC encode. A sizeable step up over anything DVD could hope to deliver, sure, but not quite what I've come to expect from a movie like this on Blu-ray.
This extended cut of The Expendables showcases a 24-bit, 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and...well, I have to admit to feeling kind of letdown by the way this Blu-ray disc
sounds as well. It has the Motörhead mindset of mixing everything louder than everything else, to the point where it's kind of exhausting, and there's no room for the distinctness and clarity
I've come to expect out of the best Blu-ray soundtracks. There's a mild buzz to the dialogue in several early sequences, although this clears up before too long, and a fair number of lines throughout the
film wind up feeling overwhelmed in the mix. Outside of firefights where bullets are chaotically whizzing around from every possible direction, the sound design is mostly content to keep itself tethered to
the front channels, reserving the surrounds for reinforcing the score. It's almost baffling at times, especially how underutilized the rears are in the opening onslaught. The staggering amount of gunplay
in the third act more than makes up for it, I guess. The barrages of gunfire, megaton explosions, and thunderous body blows do keep the subwoofer rattling throughout, so there's that. The lossless audio
here is okay but hardly the world-class sound design I was anticipating.
There aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish. The snippets of subtitled dialogue
throughout The Expendables are displayed in the body of the image rather than spilling over onto the letterboxing bars, so the experience won't be compromised for owners of constant image height
This extended director's cut loses out on a lot of the extras from the initial Blu-ray release, so don't throw that other disc on eBay quite yet.
The Expendables comes packaged in a metallic, embossed cardboard slipcover, and an iTunes code for a digital copy download is tucked inside.
- Introductions (3 min.; HD): There are two intros, actually. The first clocks in at forty seconds and
precedes the main menu, with Stallone introducing his director's cut from the set of The Expendables 2. The other intro runs two and a half minutes and delves more deeply into how this extended
version came about.
- Action: The Expendables (21 min.; HD): This promotional featurette that aired on Spike pals around
with most of the flick's stars and breezes through casting, stuntwork, the heavy artillery these mercs are lugging around, working with Stallone as both an actor and a director, and The
Expendables' unhinged approach to action. Kind of lightweight but that's understandable, seeing as how this is aimed at people who haven't gotten around to watching the movie.
- Sylvester Stallone: A Director in Action (20 min.; HD): Stallone himself walks viewers through this
retrospective of his career as a director. He's candid about
what worked and what didn't,
noting that the mistakes he made behind the camera in movies like Paradise Alley let to him becoming a better director. He even speaks freely about not-at-all-action-hero-ish directing gigs like
Staying Alive and explains why he returned to the director's chair after a couple decades on the other side of the camera. I really enjoyed this retrospective, particularly how matter-of-fact
Stallone is about the missteps he'd made throughout his career, taking the bad with the good and trying to learn from his mistakes rather than gloss over them.
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- Inferno: The Making of The Expendables (92 min.; HD): Returning from the previous Blu-ray release is
this feature-length documentary on the production of The Expendables. Despite the fact that I wouldn't chalk myself up as much of a fan of the movie itself, I'll freely admit to loving this making-of
doc. It's oriented predominantly around Sylvester Stallone, blending together interviews with the film's star/writer/director with scores of candid footage from the set. There's a metric ton of behind-the
-scenes footage, including dry runs before the cameras start to roll, the cast and crew preparing for the bigger action sequences, and Stallone lobbing out direction. Stallone also speaks about what
prompted him to make The Expendables and what he feels sets it apart from the glut of other action flicks out there, and his passion for the project is infectious. The same as with "A Director in
Action", I'm impressed by how Stallone doesn't whitewash over his struggles, such as the physical, mental, and emotional toll he suffered by shouldering so much of The Expendables as well as his
missteps as a director in years past. Inferno easily ranks among the best extras I've come across on Blu-ray this year and is essential viewing for anyone who missed out on it on TV or with the
previous Blu-ray release.
- Music Video (4 min.; HD): The last of the extras is a music video for "Sinner's Prayer" by Sully Erna, which
plays over the new title sequence unique to this cut of The Expendables. I still don't get the "bumbo dumbo joombalaaaay" runner throughout the flick and the songs on its soundtrack, but whatever.
The Final Word
What a missed opportunity. While this extended cut of The Expendables is an improvement over what was making the rounds in theaters, its most glaring flaws are unfortunately still present and
accounted for: incoherent action sequences, creaky one-liners, too much time between the hyperkinetic setpieces, excessive focus on just a couple of characters while everyone else slinks into the background,
and wildly uneven acting. Maybe the sequel that's underway now will get it right. It's kind of a drag that this extended director's cut isn't the definitive Blu-ray release; the original BD set has a lot
more in the way of extras. Worth it if you really dug the theatrical cut or if you're a frothing-at-the-mouth fan at any of the eight thousand action hero types on the bill, but otherwise...? Rent