Sylvester Stallone's out-of-nowhere film 'The Expendables' managed to do the unthinkable: gather some of the biggest names in action movie history and assemble them all under one roof, for one truly spectacular action-fest. The plan worked well enough for a sequel, which brings us to 'Expendables 2,' a bigger, badder, louder entry in the series. Does it have the cajones?
First and foremost, let's take a look at the cast. If ever there was a bigger collection of ultra-stars all together on the same screen, I haven't yet seen it. Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Willis, Crews, and Couture all make a return, though Mickey Rourke is nowhere to be seen this time. Jet Li only makes a cameo appearance for the film's exciting opener, which is equal parts disappointing, and misleading. This does, however, make room for a few other faces, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Scott Adkins. All in all, it's a pretty impressive cast of heavyweights, but the story is quite another matter.
Stallone once again stars as Barney Ross, the leader of the Expendables mercenary team, who have been sent to Nepal to rescue a Chinese hostage. They inadvertently stumble upon the antagonistic Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has also been captured. Following a daring escape, the newest and youngest of the team, Billy (Liam Hemsworth) decides that the life of a mercenary is simply not for him, and that he would rather spend his days in the arms of his girlfriend. Before he can quit, however, he must accompany the Expendables on one final mission. CIA operative Church (Bruce Willis) forces Barney to accept the mission to Albania to retrieve a non-disclosed item. They are accompanied by Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), a female operative with impressive technical expertise. In the midst of the operation, the Expendables are confronted by the Sangs, an international criminal syndicate run by the ruthless Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Vilain brutally executes young Billy before retreating with the package, which is revealed to be a computer with the stored location of refined plutonium in an abandoned Bulgarian mine. Mad with vengeance, the Expendables vow to track Vilain and the Sangs, and kill them all. But Vilain's unpredictable, psychotic nature soon manifests itself in the most horrible manner, and the team are forced to think past their desire for vengeance, and protect the innocent.
The biggest gripe with Expendables 2 is that it doesn't quite have the grand sense of spectacle as the original film. The sequel feels grittier, dirtier, more down to Earth, and on a smaller scale. The writing isn't always the greatest, either, and makes the mistake of putting heavy-handed drama at the forefront of some key scenes. It's muscle-bound guy's drama, amplified to the point of embarrassing caricature. The story is engaging enough only to the point of setting up key scenes for its ensemble cast to play around in, which smacks more of an attempt to sell tickets via star power, than a vehicle for contemplation. Whatever, it's a big dumb action movie. I get it. But while certain characters like Barney or Lee get all of the attention, others are flat-out forgotten, underdeveloped, or simply underutilized. I was too busy keeping an eye out for Van Damme or Norris that I actually forget about Toll Road (Randy Couture) completely. Perhaps if they gave the man more than three lines to speak, he would have stuck out more. Similarly, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) seems less like the brooding, unstable loose cannon he was in the first film, and more like the butt of every joke this time 'round. It's great to see Van Damme back on the big screen again, though, and in a villainous role no less. Van Damme hasn't aged all that well, yet this actually helps his character's rugged, brutal and sociopathic personality. His body is still in peak form, complete with trademark leaping reverse kick. Some lesser characters like Scott Adkins do quite well in their respective roles, especially when it comes to fight scenes, but we all walked into this looking for the silver screen legends. It's nice to see Schwarzenegger get a lot more screen time this time around, especially after his teaser scene in the first film. After his long stint as Governor of California, Arnold can still hold and shoot a machine gun as if he'd barely walked off the set of Predator.
Expendables 2 is more of the same, but...less as well. The writing and plot structure has taken a significant back seat to the cluster of bulging biceps and legendary personas, which makes the film a give-and-take affair. You get more of the cinematic greats, but they have a lot less to do with the story they're given. At the end of the day, it's a relatively run of the mill script about a villainous madman who is out to make millions of dollars on nuclear weapons, only to be taken down by a team of heroes. Could it be anything more, really? That's a hearty question, but no real attempt was made either way. If you like straightfoward action movies with ear-splitting explosions, high-flying martial arts fists n' feet, and pavement littered to the ankles with empty machine gun shells, then this is your film. If, however, you've matured and evolved along with more ambitious action films like The Matrix, The Bourne Identity, Mission Impossible, Pitch Black, and Avatar (to name but a few), then you might have trouble feeling this one. Either way, it's a cinematic achievement that nobody believed could be pulled off, yet Stallone managed it. If that isn't worth a trip nostalgia lane, then I don't know what is.
NOTE: This review will be edited with more content once the Blu-Ray is released.
THE EXPENDABLES 2  [Blu-ray] [UK Release] The Best Action Movie Of The Year! An Action Spectacular!
THE EXPANDABLES ARE BACK AND THIS TIME IT'S WAR! The team signs on for a mission that looks like an easy pay check. But things quickly go wrong for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries when one of their own is killed by a psychotic terrorist-for-hire. Hell-bent on payback, they cut a swathe of destruction through enemy territory and wreak havoc upon their opponents. In the midst of the mayhem, they must also shut down an unexpected threat in the nick of time and preventing five tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium from falling in the wrong hands.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Nan Yu, Amanda Ooms, Charisma Carpenter, Nikolette Noel, George Zlatarev, Alexander Moskov, Nikola Dodov, Wenbo Li, Borislav Zahariev, Penka Kodova, Arkanay Boonsong, Dimo Alexiev, Velislav Pavlov, Liubo Simeonov, Liubomir Simeonov, Aleksandar Belovski (uncredited), Novak Djokovic (uncredited) and Antoaneta Yordanova (uncredited)
Director: Simon West
Producers: Avi Lerner, Basil Iwanyk, Boaz Davidson, Danny Dimbort, Danny Lerner, David Varod, Eda Kowan, Guymon Casady, Jason Constantine, J. Celeste Salzer, John Thompson, Jon Feltheimer, Kevin King Templeton, Les Weldon, Lonnie Ramati, Matthew O'Toole, Robert Earl, Trevor Short and Zygi Kamasa
Screenplay: Ken Kaufman (story), David Agosto (story), Richard Wenk (story/screenplay) and Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Composer: Brian Tyler
Cinematography: Shelly Johnson
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English: 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Neo:X playback, English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo optimised for late night listening and 2.0 Dolby Stereo Audio Description
Subtitles: English and English SDH
Running Time: 102 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: Sylvester Stallone admits that he didn't quite nail the tone of 'THE EXPENDABLES.' That love letter to 1980s action flicks and the stars that kicked ass in them felt a bit slipshod despite some enthusiastic directing by Stallone and eager help from recent star Jason Statham. Stallone hands the directing reins over to Simon West this go-round, but is still heavily involved in 'THE EXPENDABLES 2,' which is a superior film in almost every way. Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li return, as do Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in expanded roles. 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' adds a dash of Jean-Claude Van Damme, as the villainous Jean Vilain, and two pinches of Liam Hemsworth and Chuck Norris to create a cinematic museum of immortal action legends. 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' hasn't suddenly gained Oscar aspirations, but bigger action sequences and more believable character interaction results in the film viewers wanted from the start.
Barney Ross [Sylvester Stallone] and fellow Expendables Lee Christmas [Jason Statham], Yin Yang [Jet Li], Gunner Jensen [Dolph Lundgren], Hale Caesar [Terry Crews], and Toll Road [Randy Couture] travel to Albania with new recruit Billy the Kid [Liam Hemsworth] and CIA agent Maggie Chan [Yu Nan] to recover a computer hidden in a downed airplane. The group runs into Villain and his henchman, who want the computer so they can locate a giant stash of abandoned plutonium. Vilain plans to sell the plutonium to the highest bidder, and CIA handler Mr. Church [Bruce Willis] strong-arms Barney Ross into tracking Villain after he steals the computer and leaves the Expendables in shambles.
In the weeks before 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' hit the cinemas, the Internet was abuzz about the possibility of it landing a PG rating. Something about Chuck Norris demanding it. What Norris wants, Norris gets, right? Whoever started that rumour was wrong ' either that or the filmmakers backtracked at the last minute, because the film has plenty blood and gore. Most of the carnage is the CGI-splatter Sylvester Stallone used in Rambo, but an exploding head is an exploding head. The film kicks off with an extended action sequence in Nepal, where the Expendables unknowingly rescue Trench [Arnold Schwarzenegger], Barney Ross' arch enemy, and things don't stop going boom until the end credits.
The whole concept just works better in part two. The film retains its hard-hitting action beats, and inserts an appropriate amount of self-depreciating humour and nifty "see what we did there" references to remain buoyant. At its core, 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' is a generic, ripped-from-the-1980s tale of a standard-issue terrorist and the patriotic ass-kickers who fight him for country and cause, but that's the beauty of it. Jean-Claude Van Damme appears in the best shape of all the veteran actors, and his Villain serves up a mean roundhouse kick to the chest. Jean-Claude Van Damme provides just enough menace to be taken seriously, but the seasoned actor is clearly in on the joke.
The film also has 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' putting the key actors in many scenes together. In the first film, it was obvious that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Willis and Stallone were not often in the same room, resulting in more than a few continuity errors and a general aura of half-assedness. 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' solves that problem by lining up the talent for display. To avoid the "are they/aren't they" scepticism Michael Mann ran into with 'HEAT,' Simon West lets his big guns interact in tight spaces and during action sequences too complex to cheat. That's not to say all the actors were together in every sequence; early shots aboard a China-bound airplane were shot in different soundstages.
Fans of the material know this series is about celebrating action stars, and, while Sylvester Stallone and Simon West let the core Expendables carry the film, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris all get their close up. Bruce Willis is written into an action sequence this time, as is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who speaks only in lines recycled from his biggest blockbusters. Sylvester Stallone apparently allowed the former governor to write his character's dialogue, which was a questionable decision, but I laughed out loud when the Terminator ripped the door completely off of a Smart Car. Director Simon West of 'CON AIR' fame keeps the action coming. West is not as articulate a director as Stallone, but he has a keen eye for carnage and explosions.
Things wrap up nicely after an extended final showdown, and I left 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' much more excited about the prospect of future films than I did in 2010. Sylvester Stallone has friends in high places, and of course we see all the original actors, plus a few new band of recruits for a whole new action packed legends for the next outing of 'THE EXPENDABLES 3.' But of this film, it definitely loud, violent and over-the-top, 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' is served exactly as ordered and something I really enjoyed, as this franchise is totally magic and has all the actors I have loved in action packed films of this genre.
Blu-ray Video Quality ' 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' arrives on Blu-ray with a solid aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in a stunning 1080p encoded transfer. Shot with Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras, the film has a bold, gritty appearance throughout. I want to first hypothesise a bit about the final look of the film, as it appears some visual tweaks were done in post. I think the filmmakers did a bit of smoothing, perhaps to soften the worn mugs of the veteran actors, before upping the grain digitally. This results in some mismatched grain patterns that overlay slightly waxy faces, but all signs point to this being intentional and not some transfer-specific flaw. Otherwise, detail is frequently exceptional. Close-up shots reveal intimate facial features, and wide shots are deep and textured. West shoots with a softer focus in some scenes, but this doesn't diminish the clarity of the image. Black levels are solid, and the browns, greens and reds of the colour scheme are bold and well saturated. The film retains a pleasing layer of grain, and action sequences retain clarity. I noticed only minor aliasing, and compression artefacts are not an issue. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality ' Audiophiles rejoice, 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' is the first ever Blu-ray to offer a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that is optimised for 11.1 DTS Neo:X playback! Your humble reviewer has not yet upgraded to such impressive technology, but I can appreciate the awesome power of the 7.1 mix. Those of you with 11.1 setups will surely enjoy the added clarity and separation of the extended mix. The main mix is consistently impressive. This is an immersive, aggressive surround mix that makes you realize the value of a home-theatre surround-sound setup. Dialogue is absolutely clear throughout, and there is a fair amount of directional dialogue that pans the sound field. Viewers are placed amid the action, as ambient and action effects make great use of the surround speakers. The hum of airplane propellers buzzes in the rear speakers, the pop-pop of gunfire explodes from the left side of the room, and giant explosions kidnap the subwoofer and force it to shake the floor. Clarity is exceptional, and quieter scenes of dialogue are as pleasing as louder action scenes, which test the mix's excellent range. This is one of the best mixes I've had the pleasure to experience at home, and Lionsgate really delivers on this Blu-ray, which also includes an 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo 'optimised for late night listening' and 2.0 Dolby Stereo Audio Description. Plus English and English SDH subtitles.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with Director Simon West: Simon West is the commentator here. Even though I was grateful to be done with Stallone's shaky-cam ways, I missed his presence on the director's commentary. The commentary on the first movie was extremely insightful. Full of Sylvester Stallone's vision as a director, his methods for doing things, and his true love for making movies. Here Simon West provides a rather anecdotal commentary that is neither as engaging nor perceptive as Sylvester Stallone's commentary was.
Special Feature: GODS OF WAR: Assembling Earth's Mightiest Antiheroes [1080p] [21:00] A behind-the-scenes commentary with cast and crew that addressed the writing process with franchise potential in mind, the transition from 'THE EXPENDABLES' to the sequel, expanding the cast and creative team, giving the audience their money's worth and giving each character sufficient screen time. They also talk briefly about 'THE EXPENDABLES 3' and tease that they're bringing in a new wave of action hero apprentices to train. The most interesting part here was learning how Sylvester Stallone and Simon West divided their workload.
Special Feature: ON THE ASSAULT: The Real-Life Weaponry of 'THE EXPENDABLES 2'  [14:00] A look at the real-life weaponry that is used in the film. Definitely a feature for any gun enthusiasts out there. But for me it was a very excruciating uncomfortable experience viewing this feature, where people seem to be so laid back in their approach to such dangerous weapons in how they were looking at all the horrendous horrible weapons for sale and a good advert to see why guns should be banned, which America does not seem to understand or learn from their mistakes.
DELETED SCENES [1080p] [5:00] A selection of five deleted scenes that were mostly just alternate or extended takes on conversational scenes in the film. One of the deleted scenes was a cool bit of fighting on Nan Yu's part in which she beats on baddies with a hockey stick; another fight scene featuring Terry Crews and Randy Couture was also unfortunately cut. More Bruce Willis is always appreciated!
Special Feature: GAG REEL [1080p [5:00] A few minutes of the stars laughing and messing up their lines. This better-than-average gag reel shows the stars cutting up on set. I suspect thick accents had a lot to do with the flubs. There is even a random 'fight scene' with Novak Djokovic wielding his tennis racket. The best part might be the zany alternative performances turned in by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Finally, Sylvester Stallone again leads a troupe of veteran and current action stars into war in 'THE EXPENDABLES 2.' Sylvester Stallone passes directing duties to Simon West, who crafts a leaner, more exciting film that strikes a good balance between serious action and self-referential humour. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis get beefed-up roles, and Liam Hemsworth and Jean-Claude Van Damme join returning stars Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li. 'THE EXPENDABLES 2' is a rip roaring rollercoaster fun film and greatly improves on the mediocre first film. LIONSGATE's Blu-ray places solid picture and 10 out of 10 optimized 11.1 audio alongside a slew of interesting extra features. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller ' Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
The Expendables 2(released Aug/12)stars Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross,Jason Statham as Lee Christmas,Jet Li as Yin Yang,Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen,Chuck Norris as Booker,Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean Vilain,Bruce Willis as Mr. Church,Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench,Terry Crews as Hale Caesar,Randy Couture as Toll Road,Liam Hemsworth as Billy the Kid,Scott Adkins as Hector,Yu Nan as Maggie Chan...phew!....along with a good supporting cast.This film starts in high gear baby;an adrenaline pumping,shoot 'em up,blow 'em up,kill 'em all extravaganza.I do not think I have ever seen a movie that starts off with this much energy to it.You talk about your "wow"factor,this film has it in spades!Unlike the first in this series,Mr.Stallone has gotten this one right.The film is straight forward.It does not stop to dwell on any one person or back story too long,and when it slows it only does so to allow us to catch our breath for a short and well timed moment,and then the gates open up again and we're off and running.Mr.Stallone has gotten legends Chuck Norris and Jean Claude van Damme on board for this one,and they are a sight for sore eyes.The in-jokes again abound in E-2,even though they're usually groaners of the highest degree.But considering their sources and who happens to be uttering them at any particular moment,they're a hoot and we forgive them,if they do sometimes come close to being silly.As I said in my review for E-1,Mr.Stallone is no dummy,as he is not only bringing all his own fans on board but those of every one of his costars also.A movie like this is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
The story starts out on a rescue mission in Nepal.The team is flying high with every gun spewing death at the push of a trigger.They furiously enter an overly guarded compound to rescue....Schwarzenegger!??? Yes,Ah-nold has gotten himself captured trying to rescue a Chinese millionaire;the same guy the team was after.Well,the guys got in but now they have to fight their way out as they repel down tower wires and into a forest.From there some take to the water,while others hop aboard their plane.The plane protects those in the water while also concentrating on taking out forces perched on a bridge.When all are on board they're finding their weight a bit too much to make it over an upcoming dam.Their sea-doos are ditched and after a few very tense moments,they just barely make it over.
On board this mission is a new guy called Billy.He was an ex-US forces soldier who served in Afghanistan,and after losing six squad members in a unnecessary shoot out with the Taliban,and his platoon dog mascot,he decided,when his hitch was up,to quit and join Stallone and company.However he confides in Sylvester that he has a girl waiting for him and wants out in a months time,which Stallone has no problem with.Willis shows up with another job for Stallone and the gang.It seems a plane has gone down in Albania carrying the location of a Russian mine in which five tons of weapons grade plutonium was stored.Off the group fly and they arrive and successfully get their item.However just as they're about to leave,Billy,who has been their point/sniper/look out man,has been captured by bad guy Van Damme and his cadre of no good-nicks.They're forced to hand over the map,and just before Van Damme leaves he high kicks Stallones own knife into Billy's chest,killing him.
From here on out it is revenge for the Expendables.They follow Van Damme,which leads them to a town in Bulgaria.They are attacked bu his forces the next morning and the fight isn't going so well,as the opposition has brought in a tank.Just when things look their bleakest,the tank and the rest of the enemy are mysteriously taken out.Suddenly Norris shows up out of nowhere and starts a rather nonchalant convo with the guys.And just as soon as he arrives,he is gone.The Expendables carry on and upon learning the exact location of the mine they fly their plane right into it.Van Damme flees just before this and triggers the mine to collapse,which traps the guys in the mine with several hundred miners.After a while,a wall suddenly collapses as a huge mining drill enters the mine and frees everyone.It is Ah-nold,who announces,of course,"I'm baaack".This allows the team to catch up to Van Damme and company at the airport before they can get away.It is there that Stallone is going to get his revenge on Van Damme for what he did to Billy.And what revenge it is.The film ends as the plane flies off into the sunset and the guys toast Billy.
Technically speaking the film is in its w/s a/r 2:35:1 and is clear and crisp.Extras include a gag reel,deleted scenes,commentary and four featurettes.
All in all a step up from the uneven E-1,as Stallone has gotten things right this time around,with his script,editing and pacing.Testosterone and action are maxed out to the hilt,as the guys go from one fight-fest to the next.In-jokes abound and Stallone and company are winking at us all....and we are winking back and loving it.4 1/2 stars.