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A group of mercenaries is hired to infiltrate a South American country and overthrow its ruthless dictator. Once the mission begins, the men realize things aren't quite as they appear, finding themselves caught in a dangerous web of deceit and betrayal. With their mission thwarted and an innocent life in danger, the men struggle with an even tougher challenge -- one that threatens to destroy this band of brothers. Barney Ross is a man with nothing to lose. Fearless and void of emotion, he is the leader, the sage and the strategist of this tight-knit band of men who live on the fringe. His only attachment is to his pickup truck, his seaplane and his team of loyal modern-day warriors. His is a true cynic who describes what he does as "removing those hard to get at stains." The team behind him is made up of Lee Christmas, former SAS and a savant with anything that has a blade; Yin Yang, a master at close-quarter combat; Hale Caesar, who has known Barney for ten years and is a long-barrel weapons specialist; Toll Road, a skilled demolitions expert and considered the intellect of the group; and Gunnar Jensen, a combat veteran and an expert in precision sniping who struggles with his own demons. When the mysterious Church offers Barney a job no one else would take, Barney and his team embark on what appears to be a routine mission: overthrow General Gaza, the murderous dictator of the small island country of Vilena and end the years of death and destruction inflicted on its people. On a reconnaissance mission to Vilena, Barney and Christmas meet their contact Sandra, a local freedom-fighter with a dark secret. They also come to learn who their true enemy is: rogue ex-CIA operative James Monroe and his henchman Paine. When things go terribly wrong, Barney and Christmas are forced to leave Sandra behind, essentially giving her a death sentence. Haunted by this failure, Barney convinces the team to return to Vilena to rescue the hostage and finish the job he started. And to perhaps save a soul: his own.
For more about The Expendables and the The Expendables Blu-ray release, see the The Expendables Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 15, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts (I), Randy Couture
Director: Sylvester Stallone
» See full cast & crew
The Expendables Blu-ray Review
Can a few extra minutes make much difference?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 15, 2011
Would you want a Rambo film where the titular hero stopped every few minutes to bare his soul in one poignant soliloquy after another? That's the basic question facing those who might want to visit this new Extended Director's Cut of The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone's throwback to testosterone fueled, kick butt action flicks of yesteryear. The original theatrical cut of The Expendables wasted little time in back stories or character motivations, and got into its story from the get go, pausing only for a few moments of supposed character driven, up close and personal, fare. Despite the fond feeling The Expendables engendered in a lot of audiences, the fact is the film was a fairly by the numbers affair, one that offered a lot of great action elements and quickly understood types (as opposed to real flesh and blood characters) that allowed the story, such as it was, to move forward with a minimum of fuss and bother. But as Sylvester Stallone hints at in his Introduction to the film, included on this Blu-ray as a supplement, he was never completely (or in fact evidently partially) satisfied with some of the decision he made with regard to the final cut of the film, and so he's gone back to the drawing board to provide something akin to human interest to what was basically an in your face action film. So the question remains: does Rambo need emotions?
My review of the theatrical cut of The Expendables can be read here, but I'll repeat a few of my original comments with regard to the plot of both versions of the film before moving on to some of the salient differences between the two versions.
Barney Ross (Stallone) is an aging mercenary who belongs to an exclusive boys' club where the guys ride tricked out hogs, get tattoos and/or advice from their creepy-cool mentor, Tool (Mickey Rourke), and occasionally fly off to foreign lands to maim and kill people. What's not to love? Rourke's character's name is the viewer's first clue that actual character will be shorthanded with cutesy soubriquets, and so the gang is made up of guys with names like Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner (Dolph Lundgren). This motley crew is an amalgamation of different fighting styles, including Yang's martial arts expertise and Christmas' handy way with blades. The film opens with a set piece where several hostages are freed from Somali pirates by this rogue group of good guys. Does it even need mentioning that there's nary a bad guy left standing by the end of the sequence? Though some real drama is developed (not) with the nascent beginnings of a subplot wherein Barney finds he can no longer trust Gunner. Considering Stallone and Lundgren's previous bout as nemeses in Rocky IV, is there any doubt as to where this plot point is going?
The main thrust of the movie takes place in the tropical non-paradise of Vilena, a fetid little country of squalor and CIA infiltrated drug trade, presided over by its native General (David Zayas, Dexter) and his Black Ops handler, Munroe (Eric Roberts). Barney and gang are hired by a mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in an unbilled cameo) to take out the General, but they soon figure out after a disastrous initial incursion that Munroe is the real bad guy. Along the way, Stallone falls for the General's daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itié), leaving her behind when he escapes the first debacle, but realizing, after a charming monologue about suicide with Tool, that the sanctity of his soul depends on his return to save the girl. Yes, this is that by the numbers. This is a film where scintillating dialogue consists of Willis turning to Stallone and the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in an even briefer cameo than Willis'), and asking, "What, are you guys going to suck each other's dicks?" Who says the art of screenwriting is dead?
In terms of huge differences between the two cuts, despite Stallone's insistence to the contrary, there really aren't that many. The Extended Director's Cut runs about ten minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but the ending credits sequence is also a couple of minutes longer in this new version, so really what's here is just a few minutes of added material. Some of it may be admittedly evocative, as in the opening voiceover which supports a slightly longer opening sequence, as well as some well chosen new music offerings, but a lot of what's here is simply a little beat here, a little beat there, none of which really adds up to much. Some of these added beats are in the "humanizing" category, including a little more info on Randy Couture's character and his "cauliflower ear" (believe it or not), as well as some more time spent on developing the Dolph Lundgren character's traipse over to the "dark side." Strangely, one of the big cameos, that of Bruce Willis, isn't introduced with a close-up face shot anymore like it is in the theatrical cut, and instead we get a brief voiceover before Willis is introduced on screen.
Despite this infusion of ostensible heart into the proceedings, it doesn't deflect attention from the fact that The Expendables, as enjoyable as it often is, is brain dead, as I mentioned in my review of the original theatrical release. There are great action sequences here, but the film's halting attempts to invest some real human emotion into the proceedings are more often than not simply laughable. What this boils down to in terms of this new, not exactly improved, version is that if you liked The Expendables the first time around, you're more apt than not to enjoy this outing as well, because truth be told not that much has changed. Similarly, if you weren't a fan of the film the first time, the added few minutes here is most certainly not going to tip the scales to the positive side of things for you.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Expendables in its Extended Cut looks completely identical to its theatrical release, with of course the exception of the few added elements, which offer no significant differences in sharpness, color, contrast or (especially important, since so much of this film is so dark) black levels. Therefore my comments on the theatrical release of the film, repeated here, hold true for this release as well. The Expendables blasts its way onto Blu-ray with a very sharp looking AVC encoded transfer in 1080p and 2.41:1 (just a hair wider than the theatrical cut's Blu-ray release in 2.40:1). Stallone stages a lot of this film in a cool, blue-tinged darkness, and that icy black look is incredibly well detailed, proving this disc's exceptional contrast and remarkable black levels. When Itié is being held in a cell which has virtually no light, the outlines of her jet black hair can still be plainly seen against the overall shadows of the interior. In fact fine detail is exceptional throughout this enterprise. While some cynics may argue that the lack of skin pores and waxy complexions may hint at DNR, those with any knowledge of contemporary cosmetic techniques will only see the prevalence of botox. Close-ups in fact reveal a wealth of detail, not all of it flattering. What has happened to the left side of Stallone's face, for example? Jet Li's pockmarks are also very visible. Colors are nicely robust, though somewhat muted in the darker scenes.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Much as with the video quality, this new Extended Cut of The Expendables boasts the same superior mix of the original theatrical cut, so my comments on that cut hold true here as well. If you're looking for a circa 2010 reference quality audio mix, look no further than The Expendables. To say this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is aggressive is a little like saying this film has a bit of testosterone going for it—it is, in other words, a major understatement. From the first rumbles of the Expendables' motorcycles, you know you're in for a sonic thumping, with some extraordinary LFE. This is easily one of the most robust tracks in recent memory and certainly is one of the most ear pummeling sonic journeys in recent action film history. Discrete effects are brilliantly strewn across the soundfield, whether it be the silvery flash of a blade cutting through the air, or the gut churning "whomp" of a bazooka firing into a crowd. The final segment, which builds to an almost incredible level of sonic activity, is simply a riot of foley effects, with explosions, gunfire, collapsing buildings and thudding bodies cascading over each other in incredible surround activity. For the one or two seconds of quiet dialogue in this film, the DTS track is also spot on, providing exceptional fidelity and nice separation.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Expendables Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Don't get me wrong, The Expendables is fun and enjoyable, but it's no great masterpiece, and Stallone's ingenuous insistence that he somehow was kept from releasing the real masterpiece The Expendables "should" have been is just downright ridiculous. There are a couple of nice extra touches here, but nothing so amazing that it recasts the picture in any significantly new light. As with the theatrical release of the film, this Blu-ray looks and especially sounds fantastic, and if you're a fan of this kind of testosterone fueled actioner, it certainly comes Recommended.
The Expendables: Other Editions
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The Expendables Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut Blu-ray - October 12, 2011
Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release The Expendables: Extended Director's Cut on Blu-ray this December. Writer/director Sylvester Stallone's action epic now has eleven additional minutes integrated into the main feature. The Expendables: Extended Director's ...
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