“I got this…”
When Sly Stallone delivered his homage to the 1980’s action film in The Expendables he hit a lot of the action film requisites. It was old-school fun with a new-school level of effects and production design. But with all of his efforts to bring back the 1980’s action star hero, there was one beat he couldn’t have connected with until a couple of years later. You see, action films are like potato chips. You can’t have just one. Films like First Blood, Die Hard, Terminator, and all of the others always had one final thing in common…the sequels. In case you thought that The Expendables was a one-off, the sequel was inevitable. And this is one case where the second film might be a little better than the first. Sure, it’s somewhat of a two-hour cliché, but who says there’s anything wrong with that?
The Expendables 2 deals with an unresolved consequence of the first film. You might recall that the mission didn’t exactly go the way it was intended. The client who went by the name Mr. Church (Willis) warned them that there would be consequences if they messed with the plan. They did, and there weren’t. But now it’s time to make things right. Church needs the team to retrieve a computer from a plane that went down in hostile territory. If it should fall into the wrong hands, it would be very bad. If the team does the job then Church will consider their debt paid. If not, they end up in Gitmo and never heard from again. Obviously, they’re going to do the job. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie, and the dangerous stuff would end up in the wrong hands.
Enter “the wrong hands”. Jean-Claude Van Damme is the latest action star to surface in the franchise. He’s the bad guy who gets his hands on the computer and ends up killing a new member of the team, Billy the Kid, played by Liam Hemsworth. The mission is no longer about paying back Mr. Church. Now it’s about payback.
The team is mostly the same as the first film. Barney (Stallone) is still the tough man in charge. His copilot and right-hand man is still Christmas, played once again by Jason Statham, who provides a good amount of the film’s humor. Dolph Lundgren returns as the surprisingly bright Gunner Jensen. Football star Terry Crews is back as Hale Caesar, and Randy Couture is back as Toll Road. Jet Li returns for just a cameo this time, and both Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have somewhat expanded roles in this outing.
There are some impressive new faces. Chuck Norris has an extended cameo, and Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie, an expert forced on the guys by Mr. Church. She does more than pull her own weight and earns Barney’s respect before it’s all over.
Van Damme makes a pretty sharp villain for the sequel. Even though everyone knows it’s going to happen, it’s all leading to one of the better action film fights between Sly and Van Damme in the climax. It doesn’t disappoint. However, what is disappointing is how little Van Damme is actually in the film. He’s good, but never gets the screen time to truly shine. Instead too much of this film’s running time is spent jamming every last joke or tagline one-liner into the dialog. Yeah, it’s expected. Yeah, it’s funny. I would have rather have seen less of that and more of the villains. Yes, that’s villains with an s. Scott Adkins is criminally underused as Hector, one of the bad guys. There’s a wonderful encounter with most of the main good and bad guys early in the film where he manages to steal the scene from the heavyweights. I was always hoping there be much more of him, and there should have been.
Of course, the film is wall-to-wall action. Thousands of rounds of ammo and plenty of things get to go boom. I’m still not in love with the CG blood, but you don’t get that much time to stop and think about it. The stunts are wonderful, and the final showdown with all of the guys is something that will likely remain a bit of film history.
The Expendables 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Ultra-high-definition image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 75-85 mbps. Just like the first film, there’s a lot of gritty and dark atmosphere in this film. The ultra-high-definition image presentation gives you all of that visceral experience. Now you can see little grains of dirt in those explosions, and unfortunately, the non-practical stuff stands out a little too much. You can really separate real from computer with this kind of image sharpness. Black levels are nice and deep with plenty of shadow definition to go around. Colors are muted because of the style, but once in a while something will pop. More often than not it’s the fiery red of an explosion. Close-ups reveal wonderful detail and texture.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a powerful 7.1 track. What more can I say that I didn’t in the first film? There’s so much going on around you that you can’t possibly take it all in. It’s compete immersion in the booms of explosions and the zing of bullets during the firefights. The subs never sleep. If they aren’t rattling your room with explosive content, they’re helping to add depth to the dialog and score. It’s a show-off audio presentation, to be sure.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film:
All of the Blu-ray extras are the same as the previous Blu-ray release.
Gods Of War – Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Anti-Heroes: (21:19) This is a surprisingly laid back behind-the-scenes feature. Maybe it’s because I had just finished watching the film, but the cast are almost too calm and relaxed in this making-of feature. You get plenty of behind-the-scenes footage. The guys talk about how much better it was because Sly wasn’t killing himself both in front of and behind the camera this time around.
Big Guns, Bigger Heroes – The 1980’s And The Rise Of The Action Film: (24:59) This is a sweet feature that does a great job of putting the old action films into the perspective of the decade. A lot about how Ronald Regan’s cowboy image led to a desire for more of that kind of hero on the screen. This is absolutely worth the watch even if you tend to ignore bonus features.
On The Assault – The Real-Life Weapons Of The Expendables 2: (13:36) We go to a Vegas gun shop where they let people shoot these iconic guns.
Guns For Hire – The Real Expendables: (24:19) Another nice feature takes a look at the real world of global security firms. We meet some of the people who take on these kinds of jobs.
Deleted Scenes: (4:39) There are five with a play-all option.
Gag Reel: (5:09)
By the third film this franchise is showing a little wear. Still, there’s more to be mined here, and as long as we’re all just having a little fun, I say let’s get in line for another ride. These are some of the most iconic action stars in Hollywood history. They might be getting a little long in the tooth, but “you can’t beat a classic”.