“Is that the biggest one you got?”
Remember the old days of the action movie? Those films where someone like Stallone or Schwarzenegger would run around and take out armies of bad guys while barely breaking a sweat. You know the kind of movie I’m talking about. The ones where the hero goes up against a hail of bullets and explosions and manages to pick off the bad guys without catching a single slug himself. Those were the days when a guy like Bruce Willis could fall thirty floors, get a spike impaled in his ribcage, have a ton of concrete wall fall on his head, and get run over by a truck, but still manage to take out the bad guy while muttering some witty little catchphrase that we would all be repeating, because if we could deliver the line just right, that meant we were tough guys too, and we didn’t even have to fall out of an airplane to prove it. Well, you won’t have to remember. You just have to watch Sly Stallone’s love letters to the action movie fans. The franchise is called The Expendables and along the way we got to relive some glorious moments with our favorite action stars from the 70’s to the 90’s.
The first film was just that, a love letter to the fans, but a lot has changed now that Lionsgate is releasing the fourth film which I’m going to stop calling Expendables right here. You see, the old-timers are starting to take a back seat, because father time is starting to do what all of the bad guys in the world couldn’t. He’s starting to kick their butts. It’s sad that Bruce Willis is no longer in the game, suffering from a cruel bout of the kind of dementia that comes for even the toughest in our midst. There was talk of there being an all-female version of the franchise, and while I hear those talks are still happening, a kind of hybrid film is what you can expect from this latest entry.
The film starts with the team getting mission orders from a new source. This time it’s a guy named Marsh, played by Andy Garcia, who is giving the orders. Barney (Stallone) knows the guy from the old days. In fact a lot of characters that are being introduced here for the first time we only know through Barney. That includes 50 Cent’s character Easy Day, who takes his nickname from the Marines’ motto that the only easy day was yesterday. He’s a new face we know from Barney. Normally it’s OK that we know these guys through Barney. This is Stallone’s show, and what better character to vouch for you … except that first mission goes badly, and Barney gets blown out of the sky. That means no Barney or Stallone through most of the film, and I can’t tell you how much that hurts everything that comes after. Sly was the heart and soul of this franchise, and you will miss him dearly.
Christmas (Statham) kind of takes over that custodian role. He’s having a rather violent and passionate affair with another newcomer and actor slated for that all-woman version. Megan Fox plays Gina, and she’s trying to be a bit of a leader with Barney gone, and I guess that’s OK, but not sure it’s a good idea to give Megan Fox guns. I mean, what if a member of the film crew accidentally looks her in the eye? We already know that drives her crazy. Look, Fox is a … well … a fox, but she knows it, and every second on the shoot she’s posing for a glamour shot. If this is what we were supposed to get with the proposed spin-off, I hope it never happens. She’s kind of in charge after Marsh, and Christmas gets put out in the cold when the team goes after the bad guys who killed Barney. So Christmas decides to do a little off-book mission of his own, and these scenes are really the only time we get to live in that old Expendables vibe. Even Lundgren and Couture are very off on this film without that glue to keep it together. Of course, the bad guys get brought down by this team of new faces, including Levy Tran as Lash, likely the best of the new characters and a great polar opposite of Fox. Tran can fight, and she has the minimal acting chops to stay interesting.
Without giving too much away, we get the standard betrayals and plenty of the action and explosions that have been at the heart of the franchise. Stallone finds a way to give us a bit of that heart and impact later in the film, and I can’t say the surprises are all that surprising. But you’ll still get one hell of an action ride, and a couple of the new faces are pretty good. Tony Jaa is Decha, another friend of Barney’s who teams up with Christmas, and you know he’s going to have to bail everyone else out of a jam, but not before a rather surprise (or not) help from a friend.
The Expendables is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 70-80 mbps. The rate jumps as high as 116 mbps. This is an often dark and very gritty film. There isn’t a lot of color, unless you’re talking about the red of all the blood that’s spilled on this feature. I’m not a big fan of CG blood or fire, and in ultra high definition it looks even less realistic. Fortunately, the film uses old-school practical effects, and they really work in ultra high definition, because they work with the extra clarity to add texture to the film, making it all a more visceral experience. There’s a lot going on here, including a ton of mayhem. You’re going to get to enjoy every bit of it with this image presentation. Black levels are now near perfect. Now you get a lot more detail in the shadows where most of this film operates. Contrast is dead-on perfect. There’s a scene early in the film where the team have their laser sights on some bad guys.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a nice 7.1 track, and it really delivers the goods. Your sub will shake, rattle, and roll your home theatre. You’re going to feel those explosions in your bones if you let it. Dialog does get lost at times, but let’s keep in mind we have a film filled with actors that aren’t really known for their perfect diction. You hear enough. The score is often exhilarating, and it’s all handled with extra-special care with this audio presentation. Surrounds are quite aggressive, as you would expect with this much shooting and explosion. Sit back and let this audio track suck you right into the action. If that doesn’t get your heart pumpin’, you’re dead.
Bigger, Bolder, Badder – The Expendables in Action: (16:57) A look at all of the practical f/x that do set this franchise apart from others. The focus is on the stunt teams and big choreographed action moments.
More Than A Team: (19:07) New guys meet the old guys.
Stallone is taking more of a back seat here, and I’m not sure the franchise can survive that development. There’s still plenty of action here, but it’s getting less about honoring old-school action films. New blood is taking over and I just don’t know how many glamour poses I can really sit through from Megan Fox. Sly Stallone. “No. That’s the biggest one I got.”