The first 'Expendables' was a testosterone-fueled joke, but it was fun. Bringing together a who's who of action stars was an inspired move on Stallone's part. Then there were grumblings by fans who wondered where Jean Claude Van Damme was, why Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis didn't actually do anything, and why Chuck Norris was left out in the cold. So, to answer all these questions 'The Expendables 2' was born. Not so much to be a transcendent action movie, but to instead be a vehicle where the action stars of yesteryear can get together and deliver a boatload of one-liner references to their earlier films (and rake in some cash).
A thin plot has been wrapped around the rippling biceps of the cast. There's something about abandoned Plutonium wasting away in a mine, how a bad guy played by Van Damme wants to get to it, and how Barney (Stallone) and his band of musclemen are trying to stop him. That's about it in the story department. It's hard to believe the story could get any thinner than in the first outing, but they've managed to do it here.
The most interesting, and welcome aspect of the sequel is that Stallone has relinquished directorial duties. While he had a hand in writing the script, the man directing the action is Simon West ('Con Air'). West goes for a more traditional approach when filming the action scenes. The first movie was fraught with incomprehensible shaky-cam at times. Why do we want to watch the aerial acrobatics of Jet Li if we can't actually see what he's doing? Here West keeps the camera upright and still, capturing many of the hand-to-hand combat scenes in a comprehensible way.
However, that's about the extent of the movie's likability. The problem here is that with so much talent the action scenes themselves seem so mundane. There are rarely any inventive or engaging gun battles. The majority of the gunfights consist of placing all the good guys at one end of a room or street and all the bad guys at the other. The bad guys then commence shooting machine guns horrendously as they get mowed down by the good guys. Splashes of painfully obvious computer-generated blood are the last you see of the innumerable groups of henchmen.
All of these guys have been involved in iconic action films. Films that have indelible action scenes that not only proved to be entertaining, but have remained some of the best scenes in all of action cinema. So why, with all this talent, does 'Expendables 2' feel so amateurish? Sure there are a lot of whizzing bullets, bucket loads of CGI blood, and heaps of really cool weaponry, yet none of it is used in a way that will make you remember it. It's a straight forward action movie without a hint of imagination. This is a movie that should toy with the clichés, not wholeheartedly embrace them. It's hard not to groan when Stallone and Van Damme throw down their guns for the last battle with one of them opining, like so many action heroes and villains have done move after movie, "Should we finish this like men?" That's the time where the movie has to be smarter? What's stopping Stallone from pulling an Indiana Jones and just shooting the guy in the head and getting it over with? Instead they proceed to walk through the clichéd steps of a final fight that we've seen thousands of times before without anything to make it new or exciting.
'The Expendables 2' is far more concerned with giving everyone dreadfully obvious one-liners. How many times can the script call on Schwarzenegger to riff on his famous "I'll be back," line? Half a dozen seems about right. Chuck Norris even gets in on the act when he gets to tell his own Chuck Norris joke about himself. It just seems so forced and so unnecessary. The only real clever reference they come up with is using Dolph Lundgren's real-life backstory being a chemical engineering genius (yes, all that stuff they say about Gunnar going to MIT on scholarship is Lundgren's actual life before acting).
If you're billing this as the greatest action movie ever with the greatest action stars ever then please, focus on the action. Make it fun, inventive, and memorable. We've seen far too many clichéd shoot'em up movies. If any actioner should be different it should be this one. Sadly, it isn't.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Expendables 2' comes with a Blu-ray and UltraViolet Digital Copy. It also includes the option of an iTunes Digital Copy. The movie comes on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Lionsgate. There is a slipcover provided which sports the same artwork as the case. The movie is a Region A release.
The 1080p presentation of 'The Expendables 2' looks as it was intended to look, but with that said, it still won't reach the top tier of visually stunning titles. Much of the film is bathed in a soft, slightly unfocused effect. Soft light pours into each scene. Overall it's a very gauzy-looking presentation. Is this an error in the encode or the transfer? Certainly not. Does it bring the visual score down just a tad? Yes. What we have here is the old '28 Days Later' conundrum. Sure it looks as it was intended to look, but it just isn't going to matchup against other demo-quality Blu-rays.
This isn't to say the movie looks terrible. It's free from dirt, grime, or any unsightly artifacting. Close-up detail looks really well done. The craggy features of these varied, grizzled action stars are on full display. It's the mid-range shots that are a tad murky. Blacks feel like they could be more resolute. Shadows tend to blend together crushing out detail in scenes with lower amounts of light. It's also the mid-range shots where most of the movie's gauziness comes into play.
As for colors, they're extremely strong. Most of the movie is bathed in darker earth tones as the guys travel to a semi-deserted town in Eastern Europe. Reds, oranges, and yellows burn bright during the abundant explosions contained in the movie. As in the first movie, the high-def presentation draws unwanted attention to some of the lower budget CGI aspects. The blood, for example, looks terribly fake in many of the scenes as it bursts from exploding bodies of henchmen. It's easy to tell when they used CG blood versus scenes where they actually used squibs.
In the end fans will enjoy the video presentation. Although, I'm willing to bet that most won't remember it as a stellar video transfer. Simply a solid one that ended up being as forgettable as the movie itself.
Have 12 speakers lying around and a receiver that can successfully decode Neo: X 11.1 playback? If you do you're in luck because 'The Expendables 2' is the first Blu-ray to be released with the ability to playback on an 11.1 home theater setup. I don't yet have such a capability, as I'm sure most of the people reading this review don't either. If you do have the ability to play 11.1 then please come to the forums by clicking the link down at the bottom of this review and tell us how the movie sounded.
For the rest of us that are still using our paltry 7.1 systems, 'The Expendables 2' comes complete with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. Like the first movie, this second movie's audio is pure demo quality (minus the few ridiculous ADR'd scenes where swear words are comically replaced by other not-so-offensive words; for example on the plane Liam Hemsworth clearly says "Shit," but it has been oddly replaced with "Shoot," like they were already editing the movie for television or something).
Make no mistake all seven channels are used to their maximum capability. The action on screen may seem mundane by design, but the sound isn't. The audio mix here creates an immersive environment of whizzing bullets, whooshing mortars, and exploding bombs. Panning effects are extremely smooth and effective as planes fly from one end of the soundfield to the other. This is true 360-degree audio immersion.
Dialogue is always clear even during the extended ruckus of the movie's action. Explosions blast forth with deep, satisfying base that will rumbled your TV room. A good example of the thundering base is when Stallone blows up a bridge of soldiers with his plane. The thump and boom when the giant shells hit their target will certainly jar your eardrums. It's akin to being in one of those tricked out cars with huge sub-woofers in the back.
This is a rocking audio mix, but you were already expecting that. Just know that it's as flawless as they come when considering dynamics, clarity, and awesomeness. It's definitely the shining beacon of this release.
The second 'Expendables' movie really lacks imagination and tries to make up for it by delivering tired, uninspired one-liners every chance it gets. Instead of turning action clichés on their collective heads, this movie seems to rely on them to get through to the end. It's too bad, since there is so much talent involved. Well, at least you're getting a solid video presentation and an audio mix that is sure to rock the walls of your home no matter the number of speakers you have. Purely, because of the audio prowess of this release, it's lightly recommended.