Stoic soldier of fortune Barney Ross and his unstoppable team of mercenaries are hired to take out a tyrannical South American dictator, but they soon find themselves facing off against a former CIA operative gone rogue.
Most males who were alive during the 80s and early 90s rejoiced when they heard Stallone was setting out to film a send-up to the action movies of old. He was going to gather together every action star he could get his hands one (sadly Van Damme wasn't included) and create a movie piled full of manliness and machismo. A movie that relied more on real explosions and real fire than on CG and special effects. He wanted to create an old school action movie that appealed to the fans of Rambo and Die Hard So, the question is, did he succeed? Yes and no.
The plot is pretty straight forward. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a gang of mercenaries who work for whoever is cutting the biggest check. Don't worry, they aren't ruled by money. They have principles. They're the good guys, but that doesn't negate the fact that they're badasses. The team is comprised of new and old action stars. Jason Statham and Jet Li represent the older generation of action stars who have been doing this for a while now, while guys like Terry Crews and Randy Couture offer some new blood to the mix. Throw in a disheveled and altogether unbalanced Dolph Lundgren and you've got quite the mix of hard-punching, muscle-bound soldiers.
Barney Ross has a level head. He never overdoes anything. He thinks about everything in a very logical fashion. He's exactly what a team like this needs, a pragmatic leader. Bruce Willis makes a cameo as a mysterious employer who wants to hire Barney and his team to help out in an island country called Vilena. The country has been taken over by an evil dictator, who is being controlled by a wealthy bad guy who wants to use the country's resources to produce cocaine.
So far so good, this has all the basics for an over-the-top action movie, the likes of which we haven't seen for at least a decade. Today action movies have become a high-gloss version of what they once were, but The Expendables isn't afraid to get down and dirty. Unfortunately, even though Stallone has gathered together all his buddies, and has crafted a story and movie that is full of gun fights, explosions, hand-to-hand combat scenes, and gore, there's still a feeling that some of the modern day gloss has carried over. Many of the combat scenes are filmed with the ever-popular shaky-cam technique that I don't think held much place in action movies of old. Here, while martial arts masters like Statham and Li battle henchmen with perfectly choreographed moves, and deadly accuracy much of it is incoherent as the camera swings and cuts so fast that most times the actors are blurred.
The Expendables succeeds when it relies on its huge action pieces. We've gotten so used to seeing special effects and CG takes on explosions, that we've forgotten what it's like to see a real building explode and burn.
While The Expendables doesn't offer us a completely faithful vision of the action movies of yesteryear, it still provides a heaping helping of fun mixed with just the right about of manly sweat and blood. When Stallone and Statham turn that big plane around and start blowing away a line of Vilena army men, followed by a huge explosion, it's hard not to sit back and smile.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Expendables comes with a dual-layered UHD66 Disc and a Blu-ray Disc of the film. The Blu-rays are Region A Locked. There is an insert for a Digital HD copy as well. The discs are housed in a hard, black plastic case with a cardboard sleeve too.
The UHD release of The Expendables is presented in 4K Ultra HD with an HEVC H.265 encode in 2160p and a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Expendables was filmed in Super 35mm and finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate before this release, which was up-converted to 4K UHD with an impressive HDR10 / WCG grading.
You're going to notice an uptick in detail and color here for sure, enough so that you'll want to re-buy this release if you're a fan of the film. I wouldn't say this new 4K UHD release changes the format or will win awards, but for fans of the action franchise, this is by far the best this film has looked so far. The film has a dark tone throughout with flashes of deep primary colors. Explosions show red and orange fire nicely, where you can see embers change color as they rise and fall.
The rich orange and yellow in the fire look excellent. Neon signs provide a good color boost and the inside of the tattoo parlor is ripe with warmer colors to soothe the palette. You'll be able to see every ink color on Stallone's body nicely here, as it pops right off the screen, for better or worse. Most of the other moments have a steely gray and blue look and are steeped in darker tones. The HDR certainly ups the ante in color, by showing us varying shades of blues, blacks, and grays, and while you shouldn't expect a bright image here, it is more realistic and looks pretty fantastic. Like I said, if you're a fan of the film, you're going to enjoy this upgrade.
Moving on to the detail, which has a slight uptick, but it's nothing really to write home about. Closeups reveal facial stubble and individual hairs on the actor's faces, as well as some nice gore wounds and makeup effects, which always look good. Beads of sweat and drops of blood stand out too. The tactical uniforms show good stitching and explosions show tons of detailed debris flying all over the place. The heavy CGI scenes look a bit soft and perhaps a little fake, but that is the case sometimes with 4K. It's not an overt hindrance to the viewing experience, but it is noticeable. Black levels are deep and inky without any crush, and the skin tones are mostly natural. There were no major instances of any banding, aliasing, or video noise, leaving this video presentation with solid marks for fans.
This UHD release of The Expendables has an English: Dolby Atmos track that is completely demo worthy of an action movie. If you want to showcase your new audio system and Dolby Atmos setup, then by all means, put this disc in and watch your friends be blown away. The word of the day here is "loud" and this mix certainly delivers on that notion from start to finish, and with plenty of heft to back it up. This movie is turn-it-up-to-11 loud with guns blazing, bullets flying, explosions exploding, vehicles roaring, and people yelling.
With all of these effects happening at once, it could be difficult to hear details. However, this Dolby Atmos track nails it with the newly designed overhead effects -- you'll be able to hear the debris fall overhead, bullets whiz by, and planes soar past. Every car engine, explosion, and gun blast packs a powerful punch with a ton of bass that will rattle your bones and walls. Your entire speaker system will have a wonderful workout. Each sound is loud and well balanced with excellent directionality that fully immerses you into the center of the audio chaos.
The rock score always adds to the suspense of each scene and the ambient noises sound excellent. The dialogue is crystal clear and easy to follow throughout, although some of Stallone and Rourke's dialogue can be a bit mumbled, but that's really just the actor's dialect and not a transfer problem. If you like your sound loud, immersive, and full of explosions, this is one of the best.
This 4K UHD release does not contain any bonus material. However, the Blu-ray version contains all of the previous extras on the original Blu-ray release.
Audio Commentary – Stallone is alone on the commentary, but there's something about the guy that keeps you listening all the way until the end. You wouldn't think it by looking at him, but the man is one of the most thoughtful directors I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. He delves deep into not only how he made the movie, but why. He talks about his motivations, what it's like working with certain actors. He shares how he likes to direct because he's been on both sides of the camera and he knows how actors want to be treated. He dives into a world of psychology here with his characters and describes what really motivates them and pushes them to be who they are. This commentary is a must listen. Stallone knows what he's talking about, and takes great pride in what he's made.
Inferno: The Making of 'The Expendables' (HD, 92 min.) – By far this is one of the best, most intensive Making Of features out there. Nothing remotely promotional here. This is like a diary inside the mind of Stallone the filmmaker. It's a candid look behind the scenes as Stallone directs the movie. It covers day one to the last day of shooting. It shows the obstacles that had to be overcome, like Stallone's numerous injuries on set. It shows Stallone yelling instructions to his crew like a man on a mission. Really, it's just amazing to see him work. He's relentless. Stallone also narrates this feature, giving us even more insight into his thought process as a director. This making of is almost as enjoyable as the movie itself.
From the Ashes: Post-production (HD, 26 min.) – Another making of documentary that sheds light on how Stallone approaches the editing, sound mixing, and test screening process. I've never seen a special feature that included the questionnaires filled out by audience members at test screenings, but here that information is not only included, Stallone talks about how those suggestions helped make the film better. It shows him present as the original score is written, as the scenes are edited, and as the sound is mixed. He's there every step of the way and it's just amazing to watch.
Comic-Con 2010 Panel (HD, 46 min.) – Harry Knowles from Aint It Cool News hosts a panel for 'The Expendables' at Comic-Con. After watching the two making of features this was a bit of a letdown. It's much more EPK, but still, Stallone offers insight into the movie and his thought process as a director. Plus if you were at Comic-Con, maybe you'll be able to pick yourself out in the crowd.
Deleted Scene (HD, 1 min.) – Only one deleted scene here. It's more of an extended scene that was cut out at the beginning during the pirate scene. Dolph Lundgren tells a really bad, and mostly incomprehensible joke. I'm sure it was cut because of those two reasons.
Gag Reel (HD, 5 min.) – Line flubs, and miscues. This is your standard gag reel. Most of the actors are already laughing and we don't know why. A few funny parts, but nothing you haven't seen a million times before.
Marketing Archive (HD) – A theatrical trailer, a couple of TV spots and a poster gallery are all contained here.
Ultimate Recon: An Interactive Bonus View (HD) – This is a picture-in-picture option that plays along with the movie. It offers behind-the-scenes views of the sets that they used in each scene. It shows the crew at work creating the scene that you're seeing. Stallone's commentary is spliced in at certain segments and used to supplement the experience. There are also points where members of the crew show up and the movie shrinks into a little window as the crew member talks about certain subjects. The first of these is when one of the producers shows up and describes the time and effort that went into the shoot in New Orleans when Statham goes to his girlfriend's house.
The Expendables is a fun film that has spawned a few sequels with more on the way. Stallone really hit gold by making a fun and enjoyable action film with all of his action buddies from the 80s. Full of one-liners, explosions, and recognizable faces, this first film is a great start to a film franchise. The newly mastered 4K video and HDR look excellent, but would probably only be noticed by fans of the film who've seen it before. If this is your first time into The Expendables, you won't notice much in the way of HDR. On the other hand, the Dolby Atmos audio is simply phenomenal (and loud!), is the perfect audio option for this entertaining action film, and makes this package worth buying all on its own. There are no new extras here, but all the previous ones are imported over on the Blu-ray Disc. Highly Recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.