Blu-Ray Review: The Expendables 2

Bibbs was gracious enough to give me first crack at an Expendables 2 review and make his own review the second opinion. With two full-length theatrical reviews published three short months ago, the film itself has been well covered prior to this Blu-ray. If this Blu-ray review is your first critical reading of Expendables 2, I highly recommend you explore our divergent reviews. Still, a quick catch-up:

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of superstar mercenaries for hire have to stop Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) from stealing the something-something and get revenge because he killed the newest member of their team. They blow a lot of stuff up and everyone from Chuck Norris to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis gets to say all their famous catch phrases.

I write the preceding paragraph with the utmost love. Stallone, who still co-wrote but turned over directing to Simon West, seems both self-aware and sincere about the genre that made him famous. He’s bringing it back at a time when ultra-serious “gritty” action movies are more common, and it’s a lovely celebration of excess. I used the term “dick-wagging bravado” in my review so I’d like to be sure to work it in again here.

The Blu-ray transfer faithfully represents the theatrical exhibition of the film, which is to say it is all over the place. The digital photography is so inconsistent that, literally within the same scene, you’ll cut from a super clear image to a grainy underlit reaction shot full of digital noise, to all sorts of other permutations of grain, noise, light quality and seemingly rushed, sloppy photography. Close-ups of Chuck Norris literally look like pixelated YouTube video.

With the quality of Blu-ray and the ability to pause, you may notice these differences between shots even more. It may be the unfortunate trade-off for enjoying an ‘80s throwback spectacle. Now the only way to do it is to rush through it with digital cameras that don’t really make a good picture. But the clear shots look fabulous. I mean, all the debris flying around the explosions maintains all the gritty detail.

The bonus features include your basic EPK type bonus feature, “Gods of War: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Antiheroes,” where each star or filmmaker is interviewed and intercut with behind the scenes footage. Stallone gets pretty specific and self-conscious about his contributions, and you see just how badly he was injured on the first film. The behind the scenes footage is so clear, and then they cut to a clip of the movie that’s all fuzzy and spotty.

One bonus feature that really stands out is “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes,” a 25-minute documentary about ‘80s action movies. This is perfect. It explores the world on which The Expendables is based. They’ve got historians, filmmakers (Ted Kotcheff talking First Blood!) and critics discussing why ‘80s action movies were this way. They even got the screenwriters of Commando in there. For people who’ve studied this for decades, it may be a general overview, but it hits some pretty important points about where cinema and society was in the ‘80s, and the importance of 48 Hours. Why didn’t they ask me to be interviewed on this subject?

“On the Assault: The Real Life Weaponry of The Expendables” has Randy Couture go to a gun range for 13 minutes. It’s a really thorough and well done explanation of firearms, for anyone who thinks a gun is just a gun, and they do emphasize safety so that’s a good message.

“Guns for Hire: The Real Expendables” is a 25 minute documentary on real private security contractors. It’s kind of a bold move for a big studio movie to basically endorse private security firms. Nothing against these guys. They are getting themselves shot at just to put food on the table for their families, but there is a moral gray area involved with private security. The head of Trojan Worldwide totally looks like an ‘80s movie villain explaining why everything his company does is okay.

The four and a half minutes of deleted scenes are actually good. There’s more of the Church (Willis)/Ross mission scene, which was one of my favorite scenes. Yu Nan gets a martial arts scene in the finale that’s a pretty good fight, and Terry Crews and Randy Couture get more featured gunplay in that sequence too. There are more ear jokes against poor Couture. There’s an additional moment with Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) pondering his relationship, but it doesn’t really answer any of the issues Bibbs had. The only deleted scene that’s really a smart cut is when they actually explain why they’re called "The Expendables." First of all, I didn’t know that was their actual name in the films. Plus, why spell it out? But it’s fascinating that they thought about explaining it and actually filmed that. The gag reel shows you how not badass some of the actions scenes really are.

Simon West’s audio commentary reminded me that I’ve never actually heard a Simon West audio commentary before. He’s a pretty straightforward director, discussing location shoots and the contributions of his crew, occasionally announcing what’s happening on screen. But you know what? I’ve spoken on air before and sometimes you struggle to collect your thoughts, so I give director’s commentaries a little bit more of a break. It’s a pretty basic track about how big movies are assembled and scheduled, and will probably only confirm your suspicions about which Expendables were not actually filmed in the same room together. Also the way West says “helicopter” is funny. He’s British.

Follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.