The Expendables 2 Blu-ray Review
“I hate owing you.”
“Well, you do, big boy!”
Well, just like the guys on the team, I’m not going to pull any punches. The Expendables 2 looks horrible on Blu. No question about it.
Lionsgate have caught the grubby, dismal, dank and overcast aesthetic that the film exhibited theatrically to a tee, so this was, being fair, never going to look much fun on anybody’s home cinema.
By far the most visually interesting and pleasing part of the show comes in the elaborate pre-titles sequence. Here we have the most colourful and detailed aspects of the whole shebang. Though, even here, the image suffers from the inconsistency that plagues the rest of the transfer.
Beyond this explosive intro, the image is uniformly dull and drab, and there is a lack of consistency when it comes to the grain. It is there in one shot, smoothed-away in the next, and this goes on, tit-for-tat throughout the movie. Some shots are as gritty and thick with residue as the optical FX frames in old fantasy movies – and then the very next one can be completely smooth and very digitally pure-looking. Some people don’t like the shifting aspect of The Dark Knight Rises, but I find this to be much more uncomfortable and noticeable.
The overall image is milky and diluted, without any vitality to it at all. This flatness is compounded by the low-weight and poor saturation afforded the colours, which are singularly unremarkable. Has the blood been taken down a notch or two to make it less splashily apparent? Well, I don’t personally think so, because the entire palette is so muted and given over to blue and brown. It can often be as if somebody has smeared a layer of Vaseline over the lens, by which I mean that you are left itching to wipe the screen to reveal the better picture that you’re sure is hiding there just underneath. Greens, browns and blues have dominance over all, though not even these hues have any genuine depth or intensity. When the explosions and the fireballs come, they are nice and bright and vivid, though. I suppose not even this dreary palette and total ignorance of fidelity can deny such intense conflagratory excess. But, even here, the most extravagant use of flammable colours is found in the pre-title sequence.
The film even looks, at times, as though it has been deliberately retimed in blue … just like Twilight Time’s troublesome transfer of Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead. I don’t recall it looking quite like this at the flicks, to be honest. Even during the warmest scenes, such as those inside the bar in New Orleans, there is a sickly quality to skin-tones, and an off-pallor to the image.
Surprisingly, given the dry, wintry look of the film with its Bulgarian low-sun caste, contrast is not at all consistent either. It can be overblown and very diffuse, such as when the team are about to take hold of their high-voltage zip-wires, and it can be … well, it can be a little bit better. It is never good or great, however. Barring only or two exceptions, shadows are compromised by wishy-washy blacks that are filtered through with blues and blighted by greys that leave the darker portions of the image lacklustre and straining for any sort of atmospheric clout. Underground scenes of the team trapped in the mine, or when they sit off in the mock-up American bar, look pretty awful because of these compromised blacks. Later on, there is a moment when Statham is battling Adkins and he is picked up and lashed onto the helicopter housing, whereupon he completely disappears within the shadows. Now this isn’t because they are so deep – but because his black combat gear is rendered just as pallid as they are. It’s dupey grey crush! Oh dear.
And then just look at how vacant, soft and duped-out the stand-off between Barney and Vilain is just before they start fighting at the end. That’s just plain ugly. It’s becoming a struggle to find anything worthwhile to say about this transfer, folks. As authentic as it could well be, I can't lie about it looking even half-way decent.
Fine details are non-existent for the most part. Definition is soft and very poor. There are moments – mere instances, really – when a few frames and shots actually quite resolved. These are usually when we see rock faces, building facades and tree-covered slopes. But when it comes to faces, weaponry, clothing and all those elements when you might expect to see some finer resolution, you are going to be left wanting, I fear. During the opening sequence, the intention – with the many grit-filled shots that pockmark it – seems to have been to emulate the dry, debris and gristle-filled aesthetic of Black Hawk Down or The Hurt Locker. But even if this section fares the best, visually speaking, the video can shift between well-defined and horribly bland. Exteriors lack punch, and almost all of the interiors have a silky digital glare.
On the plus side, there is no problematic edge enhancement and banding, which this soupy sort of image would seemingly lend itself to, is absent except for in a couple of very small instances.
Desired intentions or not, this is a pretty awful-looking picture. I’m being generous when I allow it to scrape a 6 out of 10, and this is purely because a lot of what I’m seeing on this disc reminds me of just how appalling the film looked at the cinema. But even if this does look very akin to how it appeared on the Big Screen, but you won’t find much to celebrate in such a drab, muddy and grubby image that really won’t impress with anything in the way of hi-def clarity, detail or visual splendour.
It’s hard to knock something that is pretty faithful … but, hey, this looks terrible no matter what tests you apply.
This is the worst image that I’ve seen on a new film this year.
“Guy’s good. You’re good, kid!”
“Thank you, sir!”
Steaming onto Blu with a pioneering DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that is actually capable of stretching out to a whopping 11.1 set-up via Neo:X, Lionsgate are nothing if not ambitious when it comes to their audio mastering.
Do you have an 11.1 set-up?
No. How about you then? Nope. Not you either? Nor you? Oh, you do. WOW. You lucky beggar! Your wife is even more understanding than mine.
Okay, so not that many of us can actually experience this mix at such channel-greedy levels, but this is certainly a film and a soundtrack that should be enormously enjoyable in 7.1 or 5.1 configurations. And what we get is a wacky ride, folks. But only to a degree.
Now, even bearing in mind that I am only reviewing a PR copy, I have to say that I was somewhat underwhelmed by this mix. I listened to it in 7.1 and found that I had to turn up the volume more than usual to get it to that comfortable level of ... kick-ass!
I saw the movie at the flicks a good couple of times, and the sound design was a rib-cracking belter. It packed a bombastic punch that rocked as though a rollercoaster and a freight-train had just collided right above my head. The opening sequence, alone, left the ears ringing and every exposed skin-surface tingling with the surge of displaced air. The bass was phenomenal. I'd been really looking forward to this element.
Here, on this disc, and there are several people who have seen it and heard it and completely agreed with me on this - there is no such floor-dropping .LFE presence. The sub, although clearly utilised very often, delivers very little of the passion and the power that this track deserves and needs. I mean a film like Expendables 2 revels in explosions and high-incendiary conflagrations, and that heavy, timber-rattling force is essential. As the bridge blocking the sea-plane’s lift-off and escape goes up in flames, the bass hits you and envelops you with the sort of thick, sweltering boom-boomage that you hope will be making a lot of repeat business, yet only sporadically ever achieves. When a helicopter is brought down with only a whimper, and a plane crashes into a tunnel a la the Nazi pilot in Indy Jones and the Last Crusade, and the mine roof is brought crashing down on Expendable heads, there is none of that resoundingly solid, “sorry neighbours” whoppage that the first film’s finale hurled at us virtually nonstop. I kept on waiting for the bass intensity that I knew it delivered at the flicks … but it just didn’t manifest itself for more than a fleeting second or two.
After viewing this I immediately sought out the original Expendables just to make sure that my system wasn’t playing up … and, hey presto … ultra-ballistic 7.1 BOOM-BOOM-SHAKE-THE-ROOM! Normal service was resumed. The auto-shotgun was roaring with ten times the guttural, foundation-trembling aggression that it seems to exhibit here in the second movie. The sub is employed with ultra-savagery throughout, though very predominantly during the last act assault and battery – and, as I've said, this is an essential element for this type of movie. Plus the fact that I heard and experienced this gut-shrivelling bass impact during its theatrical run, and that I’m not experiencing it here in this lavish, souped-up, massive multi-channel wraparound sensory feast only irks me more.
But there is good stuff here, folks. So put that smile back on your face.
The soundfield appears wider and deeper, with far more effects hurled out to the sides and behind you. Bullets, shattering glass, ricochets and the clash of flung steel ring out all around you, with some smart diagonal precision frequently catching you off-guard. Occasionally, this feels a touch crowded, but there is no denying the fun of the crisscrossing action that graces each accoustic ram-raid. Details, such as the grinding of metal as the team’s death-mobiles come bursting into the Nepalese warlord’s base, the rush of a flooded water-tank, the hilarious klong! and klang! of Jet Li’s pots and pans on bad-heads, the changing of magazines and the whizzing steerage of the Kid’s long-range sniper shots, are often fabulously rendered. Hubbub in the New Orleans club is great, with voices all around and the music convincingly emanating from various speakers as the camera alters angle. The directionality and impact of Statham’s blades in the church scrap is also keenly distributed.
With all of this channel-wallopage going on, you might expect that the dialogue, as daft and quip-loaded as it is, would be swamped and chewed-up and drowned-out. But this is not the case at all. The centre-channel remains crisp and clear, and speech is well picked out amongst the chaos. I don’t think that the mix does Brian Tyler’s terrific score any particular favours, though. It doesn’t derail his endeavours either, but the music is not given any major prominence. The first film, which also boasted a fine and muscular score from Tyler, allowed his strident themes to thunder forth with power and clarity. Here, the music sits just beneath the action, fully depicting that always horrible term of the “underscore”. Although still likeably direct and full-throttle during some scenes, there does not seem to be any subtlety or distinction to the instrumentation, which loses the effect of some of the more emotional elements of the score. Again, I’m basing this on how I remember the film and the score sounding, which I was paying a lot of attention to, on my trips to the cinema.
Now, this reads like a right mishmash of thoughts and impressions. So let’s get this straight. Having all this surround information is very nice. It definitely adds to the feeling of total immersion, and there is plenty of enjoyable detail flying all around the environment. Without any doubts in my mind, this level of audio expansion could be really good, and I am certainly considering adding a few more speakers to my set-up. But the lack of devastating bass in this case is bewildering. I feel sort of torn between praising the amount of interesting surround activity, and lambasting the track for neglecting some of the heftier bass elements and dropping the score deeper into the mix. Unquestionably, this is a wild and engrossing soundscape that delivers pin-sharp precision and heaps of whip-around, split-diagonal and speaker-travelling movement, and many people will simply love this added level of dimensionality. But, when placed right up against its predecessor, you know … I feel that this audacious mix still comes up short.
Lionsgate give us a series of Expendables-themed sound checks to make sure that all the speakers in your set-up are connected and functioning properly. We have round-the-clock options for 5.1, 7.1 and 11.1. This is quite good fun, and it certainly goes some to way to showing you how much information has been attributed the surround channels.
At the end of the day, I’m sure that some people will adore this audio track. But I found that it came up wanting. Maybe the full 11.1 set-up will reveal its true potential, given the added height and directionality it can provide, but for now this doesn’t sound all that special or unique.
8 out of 10.
Lionsgate ditch a couple of extra features for the UK release that were all present and correct on the US version.
Simon West delivers a fine and detailed Commentary Track that cover a great many bases, but you know what … we don’t really want to hear from him … we want Sly to talk up the film and relate his time, experience and injuries with us, and it would have been even better to have heard from him alongside the rest of the gun-toters. West, to give him his due, is no slacker, though. He’s a yabbermouth and he packs his chat with lots about the troublesome logistics, the actual shooting of the film, the elaborate set-pieces and how they ultimately had to get downmixed from their original and far too expensive interpretations. Plus, we get to understand the mechanics of the casting, the location-shooting, the stuntwork and the ease of having Stallone onboard to help with literally everything. I’m pretty sure he gets his Liams confused at one point – swapping Hemsworth for Neeson! Still, even without the reliably amusing anecdotes of Sly, himself, this is a fine yak-track.
Gods of War: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Anti-Heroesis a cute little doc, with a title riffing beautifully on Marvel’s The Avengers, that brings in most of the stars to discuss, in typically overly-enthusiastic fashion, their joy at being involved with the film and with, well, each other. In many ways, this would be quite annoying. It is little more than a back-slapping fawn-fest for the entire mob – a truly outrageous bromance between a motley crew of oak-hewed individuals. But there is a definite sense that these guys really mean what they are saying, and there’s no shame in that. They had a blast making the film, each member of the cast and crew having to take time out during the shoot to gawp at their heroes. Naturally, this swings around to the inevitable Expendables 3 and some very basic and general ideas are mooted about the direction it might take.
In a sweet little feature entitled On the Assault: The Real-Life Weaponry of The Expendables that will make UK gun-junkies drool with envy, Randy Couture takes us on a visit to the famous Gun Shop in Las Vegas to test-run some of the weaponry that we see the characters use in the film. We see him lock and load and tear apart a zombie-clown target, and we hear a potted history for each item of firepower from the guy who runs the joint and supplies the guns for many movies. I was brought up with guns, and I have used them under licence extensively in the pre-Hungerford climate of Great Britain in a gun club and at competitions, and then I got reacquainted with them in the Royal Marines … and I was positively gagging to get hold of some of these beauties. But c’est la vie.
Judging by the Deleted Scenes I think we can expect an extended cut of the movie at some point. Running in film chronological order, and sans any commentary to explain their removal, we have some banal banter and a rather naff enquiry about the team’s moniker, which plays like a homage to the famous “what mean expendable” moment on Rambo II, and then some truly fantastic excised fight material from the airport battle. This outstanding sequence allows some marvellous moves from Toll Road, Hale Caesar and Maggie, who utilises a hockey-stick to put some hurt on the bad boys.
I had high hopes for the Gag Reel but the giggles are few and far-between, I’m afraid. Repeatedly fluffed lines are apt to cause more yawns that yukks, although I did like Sly’s observation of “I can’t wait till she gets to the word ‘plutonium’ ”,when Nan Yu struggles with her dialogue. Van Damme becomes quite annoying with his false takes and you can see why his alleged many interpretations wound-up on the cutting room floor.
For the record, the UK release ditches two featurettes – one on the 80’s stars that spawned the new franchise, and one that takes a look at some real mercenaries. Thanks a lot for jettisoning these for us, Lionsgate. You’re all heart. Points deducted for that.
I found it fairly easy to swipe away my misgivings with and complaints about The Expendables 2 during its theatrical run amidst the celebration of muscular and heroic machismo that dominated the summer period, but they have snaked their way behind enemy lines upon viewing the film now. It now struggles to actually excite me, or inspire the rock-jock, weight-slinging armchair-hero in me. I’m no longer as proud to see the Sly, the Stath, the Damme and the Chuck doing their thing with aching, aging limbs. In fact, the film now feels quite flat and empty and almost completely devoid of the immense kick-ass valour that propelled its darker-hearted predecessor. I cannot understand how people can bang on about this one being better than the first. It is a pure farce of a film, and intentionally so I should add. There may be some bloody CG welters of gruesome slaughter, but this feels so tepid when compared with the ball-crushing, limb-snapping excesses that some of us savoured previously. The screenplay is most certainly not better. How on earth can people claim that it is? It’s worse. Van Damme is horribly underused and the Gag Reel totally reveals why this is so. His bad boy shows timid hints of what should have been great villainy, yet his presence is severely truncated and considerably less than the one-note standard for scumbaggery that we expect from such a role. He really squanders all his energy during a HUGELY DISAPPOINTING final scrap with Sly that, despite the Italian Stallion’s pre-release boasting is so very NOT “one for the ages” !
The opening salvo is definitely awesome and probably worth the price-tag alone, but the ensuing bouts and fire-fights become disjointed and tedious and loaded with unfulfilling climaxes, when the original movie built up and up in terms of action and excitement. This feels like it works in reverse.
The transfer features a faithfully horrible image that just looks – and accurately so, I will point out – as though someone has dropped the print in the pig-sty. Some digital manipulation mars a woeful-looking picture still further with an image that can’t decide if it wants grain, or not. And the 7.1 audio, which should bring the house down with its much ballyhooed 11.1 Neo:X optimised mix, brings an enormous amount of surround activity into play yet, for my money and memory of its cinematic presentation, seems to neglect the bass. So much so that the 7.1 or 5.1 configurations can seem quite crowded with stuff flying around – which is certainly nice – but also quite “safe” when compared to the gut-punching dynamics of the first film’s imperious mix.
Extras-wise, we get some neat stuff, but the UK is still shafted when compared to the US edition … and neither sees fit to include the awesome ComicCon session with the cast, which would have been stellar.
Overall, the mayhem-junkie in me now feels quite dissatisfied with this entry in the Expendables franchise. The comical overdose and overcrowded nature of the guest-list now grates and the film feels quite cluttered and stupid. Arnie is rubbish in this, and so is Bruce. Both may have their excuses for this – Arnie’s rusty return to the genre and Brucie’s extended cameo-paycheck ticking-over until Looper hit the jackpot – but this still lets their ardent fans down. Both are hamstrung by a pitiful script that just ladles on the one-liners and the stupidity and Willis, especially, is screwed-over with a complete character-enema from the tough nut we met first time around to a smirking comedy-stooge. I was once looking forward to Part Three, but this enthusiasm has now been diluted.
I’ve talked a fair bit about how opinions on films can change over time (Licence to Kill, War of the Worlds) and this has been only a matter of months, yet I found The Expendables 2 to be perilously close to becoming a snoozefest on home video, which surprises and hurts all the more when I’d been so looking forward to seeing it again. This time around, it seemed to lack … well … everything that I once tried so hard to endorse. Perversely, an extended cut may help get me back onboard, so fingers crossed on that.
I don’t want to say it, fellow bullet ‘n’ bicep junkies … but Part 2 has, indeed, got the potential for becoming completely expendable.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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