Sylvester Stallone has had one of the strangest careers in cinema history. He’s had hit films for the last four decades. But he’s also had very public failures. The ups and downs are intense, as he made his way through being an action star to doing bad comedy to going direct to video, to his current resurgence (which came ten years after he tried to reinvent himself in Copland). Basically, he’s happy to coast and do garbage like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot if the money’s good. But between Rambo and Rocky Balboa, Stallone was one the comeback trail, and with The Expendables, Stallone had his biggest hit in ages. By getting together such action stalwarts as Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lungren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Eric Roberts, and Terry Crews, he had a multi-generational, multi-ethnic man on a mission movie. My review of The Expendables on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Stallone stars as Barney Ross, who works with Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Crews). They’re mercs, and they get assignments from Tool (Mickey Rourke), and hang out together afterwards, throwing knives and getting new tats. In comes an assignment from Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), which leads to a cameo from the Governator. The assignment is to take out an evil drug running general (David Zayas) and his CIA connection James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Lee and Barney scout the mission, and Barney meets a pretty girl (Giselle Itie), which makes him want to complete the mission. Also, Gunner snaps at the beginning of the film, so he goes rogue to help the enemy.
A man on a mission movie should have well defined archetypes dealing with terrible situations. Unfortunately, Stallone can’t deliver that. He just gets stars together, which is not the worst thing, but for the most part his character building is garbage. Couture is sensitive, that’s the joke. Crews is wasted, as is Jet Li. Li’s story is that he wants more money for his non-existent family. This leads him to get in a vehicle with Stallone so he can ask for more money, but really happens so he can be a part of a fist-fight. The scripting is so terrible that the naked machinations of most of the action beats are readily apparent. The film has fun when it pairs Statham with Stallone, and the two have an easy (though somewhat forced in terms of the quipage) chemistry together. When they go scouting the film is at its best, as they have the best action sequence in the movie.
The action scenes start well, with Lundgren blowing a guy in half, but from there it just gets wearying, and it becomes apparent quickly that no one’s heart is in it. If you enjoy watching these actors on screen, you’ll probably get your money worth, but the story and pretty much everything that goes with it is not all that well done. This is vaguely reminiscent of the sort of rat pack-ish movies where famous people show up, and feel that they’ve done their work by doing so. But for the most part, the main actors don’t have the same sort of defined personality that them just showing up is enough. That’s what happens when you hired action stars, they don’t often have that sort of charisma.
Lionsgate Blu-ray is excellent and presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and 7.1 DTS-HD surround. The film looks and sounds great, as to be expected. The film comes with a DVD and digital copy as well. The film comes with a commentary by Stallone, which is fairly honest, but also the “ultimate Recon Mode” which features the commentary, and video interjections from Stallone and many of the cast and crew (including Lundgren Couture, and Crews, albeit briefly) along with behind the scenes PIP footage. This is followed the entirety of the film’s Expendables panel, with Stallone and most of the cast, and hosted by Harry Knowles (45 min.). This is followed by an extensive making of called “Inferno” (92 min.), and it’s followed by a post production featurette called “From the Ashes” (27 min.). Between the two, there is tons of great information on the making of the film, Stallone’s process, and how post has changed over the years. It’s one of the better behind the scenes pieces of the last couple years. There’s a Gag Reel (5 min.), and a deleted scene (1 min.), the trailer, a TV spot, and a poster gallery. There are also bonus trailers and BD-Live content.