What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 releases on home video today!
I began writing for AICN in the mid summer of 2012, and my first column was called You. Not. Expendable. My idea was to saturate myself in the films of the EXPENDABLES cast and write them up for you all in order to properly prepare us all for the big screen release of THE EXPENDABLES 2 (my theatrical review is linked). SO, I’ve already spilled quite a bit of digital ink over this assemblage of Amurica’s greatest heroes.
To recap my thoughts on the film itself, I think it is a great time at the movies. And I think it gets a whole lot right that the first film missed out on or just plain got wrong. For that reason, I think this is a better film than the first EXPENDABLES.
So, what does EX 2 get so right? First off, a worthy villain. Jean Claude Van Damme parades through this film like a rock star, having a blast as a character literally named Jean Vilain.
And it doesn’t hurt that his right hand man is none other than Scott Adkins, one of my favorite up and coming action stars. With an inevitable showdown looming between JCVD and Stallone, you know as a viewer that you have something special to look forward to throughout the film. Whereas the villain in the first film was entirely forgettable, EX 2 serves up one of our great heroes, turns him evil, and lets him chew up the scenery viciously. The entire cast and crew of THE EXPENDABLES 2 owe JCVD a big thanks for elevating the fun (and the crazy) of this installment.
Secondly, there is some vehicular mayhem in this movie that is an absolute blast. If there is anything I’d like to see more of in an EXPENDABLES 3, besides an even further expanded cast, is more George Miller-like automobile carnage. From the opening sequence (which kind of outshines the rest of the movie) with the battering ram trucks, to the team’s signature airplane, to the Smart Car shootout in the airport, THE EXPENDABLES 2 simply has a great time with its vehicles. And it doesn’t get more throwback than that.
I do feel that the film suffers from way too many winking one-liners. If the whole team is going to light a dude up with about a thousand bullets, and Stallone is going to yell “Rest in pieces”, I’m down with that. Why? Because you know that was ad-libbed or at least thought up specifically for that action beat. It is also clear from the Blu-ray features that various lines like that were tried out and lots of the comedy was shot multiple times to get just the right balance in the movie. Well, they lost sight of that balance in a big way with both Arnold and Chuck Norris’ characters. We really didn’t need to hear Arnold say “I’ll be back” THREE full times in the movie. Nor did we really need to be reminded (again more than once) that Chuck Norris was in a movie one time called LONE WOLF MCQUADE. I can understand shooting all those references, but I can’t understand them making it into the final film.
But when you put that many stars and egos and agendas onto the big screen, it is kind of a miracle that THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets so much right. And, for the most part, gives each actor a moment to shine or at least posture and pose for the camera. And if you can look past the over use of CGI blood, and downright poor CGI work overall, there really is some excellent action in this film. And it is shot competently so that our stars can really shine. Director Simon West was smart to take advantage of the cast he had and get them all together IN THE SAME SHOT as often as possible. Any action film fan has to thrill at the idea of seeing Arnie, Sly, and Bruce all wielding automatic weapons, together, on the same screen.
So while the film as a whole never QUITE keeps the pace that it establishes in the opening sequence, the pacing doesn’t feel totally off because you have so many great beats peppered throughout the film such as the aforementioned terrible trio fighting side by side, and the inevitable showdown between our lead and the film’s heavy.
You probably know by now if THE EXPENDABLES 2 is going to be your cup of tea. If it isn’t, you probably haven’t even read this far. For those of you that this movie was made for (And trust me, I consider myself the total mark for this kind of movie.) I genuinely hope you have a blast with it!
I’ve mentioned that I’m not really much of a techie when it comes to tech specs and image transfer methods. THE EXPENDABLES 2 has some moments where it looks rushed and cheap, namely with many of its CGI elements. But in my opinion the disc looks pretty spectacular in high definition and I’m perfectly content watching my big screen heroes age with varying degrees of gracefulness in full high definition right before my willing, fan boy eyes.
But I do want to spend some time talking about the interesting special features on this Blu-ray release.
Director Simon West offers a commentary which, while not boring, isn’t any sort of revelation either. I kind of feel like most commentaries that feature a dialog between a couple of the talent involved usually have more life and vitality to them than a single person talking into a microphone over their film. West spends most of the time talking about the tricks they used to make certain shots happen, such as when the Expendables’ airplane is real, or GCI, or some kind of model or set. He also talks a LOT about the actors’ schedules and how difficult it was to get all these titans of action in one place at one time. I do find that kind of thing interesting, but as I said in my original review of the film, making a film around a bunch of people’s schedules is going to make the end product a little more bloated than one would like. Jet Li’s role in this film is so stunted that it almost would’ve made more sense to never have him appear at all. And West will go into some detail about scheduling issues such as Li’s. But I disgress, West’s commentary is often interesting if nothing to flip out over.
My favorite aspect of the entire disc is the documentary featurette called “BIG GUNS, BIGGER HEROES: The 1980s and the Rise of the Action Film”. I eat this stuff up. There is no single era of film that quite geeks me out like 1970s and 1980s action cinema. And this documentary does a great job of highlighting not only the careers of these huge action stars, but also the political climate behind why they rose to prominence. I would love to see a feature length documentary JUST about 1980s action heroes. But this featurette is an awesome start. I really felt it was well done.
Then there are two featurettes that are kind of bizarre. In one, star Randy Couture goes to a Nevada gun range and fires all the real weapons from the film. I’m a HUGE fan of on screen action, but not really much of a gun guy in real life. That said, this is awesome weaponry and a feature like this could be kind of amazing. But its strikingly low production value, and NRA commercial vibe was a little much for my tastes. Then you’ve got a featurette all about real life private security firms. The idea here is that security contractors are the closest thing you are going to get in real life to the mercenaries found in THE EXPENDABLES. This entire featurette is quite informative and in-depth about what these people do for a living. But it doesn’t even remotely try to broach the challenging political complexity of the existence of private security firms.
I guess I’m just saying that I like my action on screen, in fantasy land. When it comes to real life, I’m way more into, you know, peace. So peeling back the fantasy as this Blu-ray does kind of reminds you how jacked up the world is that we need actual humans who are kind of like THE EXPENDABLES.
There are also deleted scenes and a gag reel. I only bring that up because there were some completely AWESOME and totally brief action beats featuring Terry Crews and Randy Couture that take place during the airport battle towards the end of the film. I honestly can’t fathom why these beats were removed from the final cut of the film. Randy Couture gets almost nothing to do in either of these films, and for some reason the filmmakers cut out a pretty sweet couple of MMA-style moves that Couture used on some of JCVD’s soldiers. The same goes for Terry Crews, although I feel his character has way more opportunity to shine than Couture’s does. Almost all deleted scenes on a home video release feel obvious. But that final battle needed those crazy combat moves to give Couture and Crews their brief moments to be stunningly bad ass. I’m curious to hear what you talkbackers think of this particular point. Did you watch the deleted scenes? Did you feel the same way I did that those action beats TOTALLY should be in the completed film?
In the end, this Blu-ray release gives you what you really want. It is only one disc, but the film looks good and you also have the digital copy option right there on the single disc. Someday, there will be an EXPENDABLES 3, and I’ll want the Blu-ray box set that accompanies the trilogy. But for now I recommend this disc for a fun film overall, and a pretty interesting if bizarre behind the scenes experience.
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis