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Expendables 2 - 4K Ultra HD, The
We catch up with The Expendables - leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), master martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li), military veteran Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), blade aficionado Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Ross' protégé Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) - while they're on a mission, this time rescuing hostages, one of which happens to be Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Ross' rival. When everyone is finally home safe and sound, Ross is once again called for a meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), and is tasked with retrieving something special from a downed plane in Albania. The gang gear up, also accompanied by tech expert Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), and embark on what should be a cake walk. However, after retrieving the item, they're ambushed by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), leader of a ruthless merc group known as the Sangs, who leaves The Expendables tattered and in sorrow. They soon discover the item they were sent to retrieve has the location of five tons of refined plutonium, which Vilain would undoubtedly sell to even bigger villains. To ensure that doesn't happen, Ross and his team set out to avenge the death of a fallen comrade and save the world.
Much like the first flick, the plot for The Expendables 2 is as basic as they come. Save the world this, revenge plot that, we've seen it all before. It had been years since I've seen this movie, so my review screening was sort of like watching it for the first time, and let me tell you, none of the story beats were surprising. That's fine when they're just making excuses to get us from one action set-piece to the next, but Stallone, who co-wrote this feature, likes to instill a bit of heart and humanity in his projects. Unfortunately, the seeds he plants for the emotional beats to come are so obvious, that they never blossom the way he intends. At some point, you have to wonder why he even bothers. That stuff worked well in Rocky Balboa. Hell, it even worked in Rambo. You know where it doesn't work? In a non-stop, visceral explosion-fest like The Expendables 2. Still, I'll take it over the ‘damsel in distress' thread from the first flick any day of the week.
But also like the original, this film was never meant to be a layered drama with the capacity to make filmgoers cry. No, this franchise is about gathering the most impressive action stars of all time, putting them on the battlefield with an arsenal that would make the Department of Home Defense blush, and watching them do what they do best: Kick-ass and blow shit up. In that regard, The Expendables 2 is a symphony of explosive delight which makes the original almost look tame in comparison. This film swiftly moves from one action set-piece to the next, ensuring genre fans get precisely what they paid for and then some. The fight choreography is better, the violence is more visceral, and even the quality of star power has been improved. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who only made brief cameos in the original, finally get involved with the action. Chuck Norris, made legend to younger generations through the power of internet memes, also lends a helping hand. Also, casting Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain was wise. I thought David Zayas, who played the villainous dictator in The Expendables, was a weak choice as an adversary. All that character could do was bark orders and wait for results. Van Damme's Vilain, however, can brawl with the best of them. He actually seems like a credible threat, which is oh, so important for a testosterone driven flick such as this.
Another wise choice was that Sylvester Stallone decided to step down as director. I never really thought he was a bad at it, but after feeling like he didn't capture the tone he wanted for the sequel's predecessor, he decided someone else should take the helm. So, Simon West - who had already proven his eye for action with the likes of Con Air and Black Hawk Down - was hired for the chair. He definitely has a better eye for capturing large scale sequences. Having a bunch of armored vehicles and firepower on-screen may be impressive in its own right, but under the right direction, ‘big' can be made to look colossal, and West accomplishes that feat to great effect.
One other thing classic action stars are known for (other than kicking ass, of course) is spitting one-liners every chance they get. There's a few of these in the first Expendables outing, but the sequel ramps up this aspect of the script considerably. If it weren't for the film being so front-loaded with action, it'd probably be too comical. However, the jokes are self-referential, mostly cracking wise at the age of the cast. Because this film is so obviously self-aware, the humor works.
Some people want to write this franchise off because they were disappointed with the third outing, or because Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have both said they won't return for the fourth. I understand hearing about Hollywood politicking can be frustrating at times, but forget all that noise. If you're an action fan, and especially sick and tired of the genre pushing non-stop CGI, The Expendables 2 is one of the best action films in recent years. I still prefer Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick, but this one is up there.
My 4K Ultra HD review for The Expendables praised the video presentation, but with a caveat. The same applies to its sequel, which is presented here at a resolution of 2160p via the HEVC codec at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
If IMDB's information is accurate, this film was likely upscaled to the format from a 2K digital intermediate. I don't think there's much I can complain about, but I'm sure others will. The process of upscaling 2K to 4K is something that's fiercely debated on a regular basis. Some believe that because Blu-ray is a 2K format, there's no possible way to extract more information from the 2K DI for Ultra HD, and that's blatantly false. Some transfers are certainly better than others, sure, but the combination of extra disc space, a more efficient codec and the implementation of HDR really does go a long way.
The Expendables 2 does benefit from the increase in resolution as well as the HDR pass, but perception on video quality is likely to be divisive.
While its predecessor was constantly drenched in black, much of the action here takes place during the day, so from an aesthetic standpoint alone, The Expendables 2 is more enticing to watch. There's a bit more color to enjoy, although the film has a ‘cooler' look to it. There's a very wide range of blacks on display, too. They can be deep and inky or come off a little light, but I find the latter is due to black clothing being exposed to brighter environments than we had seen in the original. The brighter end of the spectrum also helps in providing great contrast, and more detail can be seen among much of the fire we're treated to.
So where does the ‘divisive' part come in? Well, for one, it's not the sharpest looking movie. The photography is generally softer than most modern films. Not overly so, but to a degree where some might wonder if they shouldn't have upgraded to 4K. There's no sign of digital noise reduction being applied to this release, so that isn't a concern. There are some shots which have an appearance of having been scrubbed but this was also apparent on the old Blu-ray. Why much of the film can be caked in grain while certain others not, makes me believe that this may be inherent to the source itself, I couldn't guess as to why, though. Iknow some viewers prefer their HD and UHD products to look ‘clean', and if that sounds like you, steer clear from this release. For the rest of us interested in faithful film preservation, this is indeed a film-like presentation… most of the time. The one issue this release has over The Expendables 4K, is that the sequel occasionally has shots where the grain looks downright noisy. That's not to say it's a tragedy, as the noise appears in one shot and disappears the next, but as grain looks so well resolved most of the time, it's something the audience at home will notice.
If you're after the most authentic presentation of the source possible, then absolutely hop on board this testosterone train immediately. If, however, you're hard to impress when it comes to 4K - meaning you pretty much require demo material at every turn - you should probably pass. As far as this reviewer is concerned, the video gets a solid 4 stars, with one star having been deducted due to the inconsistency of grain.
Not that I'm surprised, but the Dolby Atmos track is outstanding. It's worth noting that I don't have speakers in my ceiling, nor do I have anything that can simulate that experience. I have a 7.1 setup in my man cave, so that's what I'm judging the sound quality by. That said, this track bests the one on Blu-ray. Everything from subtle environmental sounds to the stuff that make up the action is pinpoint precise, and that's saying a lot because there's a LOT of firepower in this film. The Expendables 2 is just balls to the wall from the get go, and the level of immersion is as impressive as you'd want it to be. As with other Dolby Atmos tracks I've heard on the format thus far, the soundstage seems a bit more open than before. The LFE really kicks whenever appropriate, and dialogue is always crisp and clear, regardless of what's happening on-screen. If you're neighbors haven't called the cops after viewing the first film in the franchise, they certainly will with this one.
All supplements are provided on the included Blu-ray.
-Audio Commentary with Director Simon West - I was wondering how this would go down without Stallone behind the mic, but West has a lot of positive energy flowing throughout, and is both easy and entertaining to listen to.
-Gods of War: Assembling Earth's Mightiest Anti-Heroes - This piece pays tribute to the numerous stars in the film.
-Big Guns, Bigger Heroes: The 1980's and the Rise of the Action Film - This piece specifically details the film heroes from this particular era.
-On the Assault: The Real Life Weaponry of The Expendables 2 - Randy Couture guides us through the major weaponry utilized throughout the film.
-Guns for Hire: The Real Life Expendables - With the absence of a true behind-the-scenes documentary like The Expandables had, this is probably the most interesting featurette as it focuses on real life mercenaries and security personnel.
The Expendables 2 is sillier than its predecessor, more concerned with showing off muscled machismo, explosions and ‘so bad they're good' one-liners, but none of this is to the film's detriment. The only reason these films exist is to plant a foot on our chest, shove us back in our seats and say, "Action? You think this CGI bullcrap you've been watching is action? Keep your eyes open, because we're about to blow your mind." In that respect, this is one of the few sequels I actually prefer over the original, because it's just so much fun to watch the likes of Stallone, Crews, Norris, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Van Damme kicking serious ass. If you're a fan of huge set-pieces with practical effects, this is where it's at. As far as the disc's technical presentation is concerned, it's pretty solid. The grain can look a little noisy at times, but otherwise, this looks very film-like. My only minor quibble was that the grain looked a little noisy in a couple of spots, but otherwise, this looks very film-like. The inherent softness of much of the film (compared to most modern features) will also probably be a divisive factor, but I can't blame the encode for that. Other than that, the audio is phenomenal, but the supplements provided on the Blu-ray left a bit to be desired. Highly Recommended.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!