Remember the 1980s, in particular the plethora of awesome actions movies that decade birthed? Well, The Expendables looks to make you remember with a cast (well, most of the cast) and a plot straight out of that most reviled (by many) decade. Sylvester Stallone headlines this film, as star, director, co-writer and producer, and brings his unique flair for unflinching violence and testosterone-driven antics, likely the reason why this film ended up being a surprise hit toward the end of summer 2010. And now, for all those action-lovers, here’s your chance to check out a truly action flick that harkens back to some of the best.
Co-written and directed by Sylvester Stallone from a screenplay by David Callaham and Sylvester Stallone and story by David Callaham, The Expendables follows a team of hardened mercenaries – including Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke – who are sent on what becomes a suicide mission to overthrow a ruthless dictator.They are the Expendables: leader and mastermind Barney Ross (Stallone), former SAS blade expert Lee Christmas (Statham), hand-to-hand combat specialist Yin Yang (Li), long barrel weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Couture) and precision sniper Gunner Jensen (Lundgren). Living life in the fringes of the law, these hardened mercenaries take on what appears to be a routine assignment: a covert, CIA-funded operation to infiltrate the South American country of Vilena and overthrow its ruthless dictator General Garza (David Zayas). But when their job is revealed to be a suicide mission, the men are faced with a deadly choice, one that might redeem their souls…or destroy their brotherhood forever.
You have to hand it to Stallone – he knows how to make a movie. Every action scene is amped up, more extreme than the one before it. Not impressed with a fight scene or explosion early on in the movie? Well, just wait a few minutes and there’s surely one that’ll beat it moments later. The plot of the film, as described in the synopsis above, is as simple as it gets. A bunch of good guys, all battled-worn vets in their own way, trying to take out an evil dictator (is there any other kind?), and amassing a substantial body count while doing it. In fact, the movie’s climax takes place on an island fortress, one our heroes pretty much disassemble bit by with a bevy of explosives and fisticuffs.
It’s all very 80s when you think about it. There’s no real complexity to be found here. It’s apparent that the majority of prep time wasn’t spent on making sure the dialogued is nuanced and clever, but that it simply serves the purpose of getting our heroes from point A to point B. However, what the film does succeed at is, unsurprisingly, the action. Stallone directs this film with his eye on the action, making sure every single punch sounds bone crunching, every kick one that could end your life. Every bullet, every knife swing, all of it is directed with utter conviction. Even as it gets wildly out of control in the finale, almost to the point of sheer lunacy, it still works and is, shockingly enjoyable. Sure, the majority of the action and such is CGI (that damn CGI blood pops up more than I’d like actually, and can be distracting), but it’s handled in such a way that Stallone makes it…just enjoyable, a guilty pleasure.
Actually, it’s worth noting that there’s something about this film that feels different than the current action films in theaters, or even recent released to home video. It hearkens back to an age of movies long gone, yes, but it also feels a little fresh than what’s out there now. True, action films today like the excellent Bourne series or the revitalized Bond movies are just brilliant movies inside out, working on many different layers and allowing for the story to drive the action. But here, almost refreshingly so, that’s not really the case, and the film really excels because of just that.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the emphasis is on the action. Like I said, the plot is secondary, simply fulfilling the goal to get our heroes to who they need to kill, and it succeeds on that mark. And the majority of the cast each get their moment to shine. Stallone and Statham get the most, naturally, but Li gets a pretty excellent fight scene with Lundren and even Crews and Couture get a moment to shine. It’s exactly what you’d expect with a movie like The Expendables, and it’s what you get. Each character, each with their specific abilities, get a moment to show off said abilities. Whether it’s kicking the crap out of someone, or using some awesome gun to literally blow someone in half, everyone gets a key moment to shine.
Not to ruin anything, though I’m sure plenty of the TV spots you’ve seen probably already have, but a couple very iconic action stars all get some pretty enjoyable cameos in The Expendables. While they may not all get in on the action, they’re definitely great moments that actually help lend some validity to this 1980s throwback. I won’t spoil it for the sake of the odd person who may not know, but you’ll know these great little cameos when you see them…
The Expendables keeps the body count rising from almost the first frame and never lets up until the very end. Granted, the movie never really challenges the viewer, obviously never its intent, but it is definitely great popcorn fodder. With a few moments of surprising depth and a callback to an era that almost feels fresh in today’s action movie market, The Expendables is a welcome return for action stars from years past. With a sequel already in the works, I have to admit that like the idea of an Expendables franchise. There’s plenty of mileage still to come from this cast, this cast of classic action stars from yesteryear (though some are actually somewhat recent, like Statham), and it’s definitely a trip worth taking with these guys at the helm. Recommended.
Lionsgate pushes The Expendables out on Blu-ray in a three-disc release. Inside the slipcover-draped Elite Blu-ray case is a pair of inserts and the three discs – one Blu-ray, one DVD, and one digital copy (why they didn’t combine the DVD with the digital copy, I don’t know…but whatever). Menus for the Blu-ray are simple and easy to navigate (with those neat little time and weather widgets), but navigation was very, very slow for me for some reason—but then again it also took about two minutes to load the disc, so it may just have been trying to talk with Lionsgate’s servers too much…who knows. It seems to be a common occurrence with Lionsgate titles recently (for me at least).
Moving onto the AVC encoded 1080p 2.40:1 transfer we get the usual flawless presentation out of Lionsgate. The majority of the film oozes detail out of all of the frames, boasting plenty of detail in the myriad of sequences that range from city to jungle. On top of that we have plenty of detail on character faces and the like. In addition to the character detail we also get to see the films gore in glorious 1080p, which will no doubt make some of the sequences even harder to watch for some when you realize that piece of body matter flying across the screen is a bit of bones and brain.
The audio matches the visual presentation with incredible dexterity. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix thuds and booms at every turn, spreading the love around to all of the surrounds and making full use of the LFE output. There is quite a bit of dialogue in this film and all of it spits out of the center channel with superb clarity while all of the films many, many (many) varied sound effects echo throughout the room. Gun shots are deafening and stabbings are as brutal as they should be. There really isn’t a single moment in the action scenes that aren’t as pleasing to watch as they are to hear.
• “The Expendables: Ultimate Recon Mode” in-movie BonusView™ feature (Blu-ray Exclusive)
• “Comic Con 2010 Panel” (Blu-ray Exclusive)
• Audio Commentary with Sylvester Stallone
• “Inferno” feature-length “making of” documentary (Blu-ray Exclusive)
• “From the Ashes” Post Production documentary (Blu-ray Exclusive)
• Deleted Scene
• Gag Reel
• Marketing Archive including Trailers and TV spots
• Metamenu Remote and BD Touch enabled
• D-BOX Motion Control Enabled
All total (not including commentary) there are over two hours of featurettes and making-of documentaries included here. The main focus of the disc is the track with Stallone though and if you’ve listened to his past tracks then you’ll know what to expect here. I was really taken aback when I first listened to him on the Rambo commentary, simply because of how frank he was about everything. That same honesty continues here as he is fully aware of the absurdity and hokey-ness that passes throughout this film. He piles on tomes of knowledge about the film, being sure to point out the most difficult elements as well as the most entertaining to film. If you watch nothing else on this disc in terms of extras, give this track a spin—it’s well worth it.
The remaining extras (including the also highly recommended hour and a half making-of) are also very much worth checking out as well. There’s just a lot of ground that Stallone covers here in these extras and as ridiculous as this film was, a lot of work went into making it look and sound the way it did and these extras show off just about every element of that.
While the film definitely could have been better, there’s no doubt that it’s a very stupid yet very enjoyable film for those 80s action lovers out there. A Highly Recommended disc if you enjoyed the film as there is plenty to love about this disc.
The Expendables is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Movie review by James Harvey
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter