Wednesday, December 21

Some quick thoughts on The Expendables (Director's Cut) (2011)

Upon repeat viewings of Sly's geriatric twilight-life crisis, the single biggest problem, and the issue most likely alienating those looking for something other than big dumb action, is how The Expendables places the onus on the audience to have a general sense of the characters and story based on prior experiences with big dumb action flicks before witnessing a single frame. In other words, the viewer is dropped headlong into the proceedings without your traditional first installment set-up. The film is aware that most moviegoers have seen this all before with its conceit being while there's nothing new here, that's never been done with such a dream team of genre heavyweights/regulars.

Such "concept action" is both refreshing and frustrating. It's nice to skip the usual formalities to get to what you came, or paid, to see. To venture into another genre, this is one of the big quibbles I have with Freddy vs. Jason (2003). For such a horror fan wet dream come true, the film drags through the parts involving the living when most only care about is seeing two slasher titans tear each other asunder. While The Expendables lacks much of this bullshit, what's there that isn't exploding bodies or bricks feels like little more than vignettes for each big marquee name to chew away at. Statham gets the girl, Lundgren goes nuts, Stallone's eyes look fucking weird, Couture gets a speech, Rourke bares his lack of soul, and so on...

So when Stallone intros this new Director's Cut Blu-ray, in costume on the set of the sequel, stating this version is his intended, "more human" vision; I couldn't help groan just a little. Some character building would definitely help, but its brutal edge need not be dulled. Thankfully, or perhaps annoyingly, it's essentially the same film with so many predominately small alterations that it becomes tough to keep track. Not only has Stallone added new chunks, but also trimmed/deleted bits, re-ordered scenes, replaced specific shots with different angles, and changed certain dialogue passages. Most surprisingly, Lundgren's Gunnar Jensen is the most fleshed out of the characters in the DC adding more dimension to what was a flat performance in the theatrical version.

What's sorely lacking is any change to Jet Li's embarrassing Ying Yang. We still get his unexplained rambling about needing more money for his family and being shorter than the rest of the team. Li's English is painfully rusty yet there's a clear sense he'd rather be doing another historical mega-epic in his homeland than playing sixth fiddle in an ensemble cast. Given how quiet Li's involvement in the sequel has been, it's a good bet "Ying Yang" will be the one to meet the slab in the sequel. This would also make sense with the arc of Lundgren's character. Maybe Yang and Jensen are on a dangerous sidejob for extra cash in which Yang is mortally wounded with Jensen desperate to save him. Yang dies and despite being the man that almost killed him in the first film, Jensen now finds a reason to live and never betray the team again to avenge Yang's death. Queue the resurrection of Dolph Lundgren.

The two most obvious changes are the opening credits and final siege after the enormous palace denotation. The credits have a meditative tone as we watch quiet moments with each of the team members on the flight home after mutilating a dozen or so Somali pirates. The huge climatic battle now has Shinedown's Diamond Eyes playing in its entirety, and while that sounds potentially irritating, it actually greatly helps the manic energy of the sequence over the theatrical's choice of Brian Tyler's score.

So while this Director's Cut may not change the opinion of those that didn't like the prior cut, those that enjoyed it will find a better, leaner, and meaner version of a big dumb action flick that certainly doesn't escape that label even with the myriad of well-intended "human" changes. The sequel has the potential to make this film better if it manages to build off this one's unanswered questions. The only problem with this Blu-ray is how there's zero supplemental material covering the extensive work done to create this new version. Not even a new commentary. Boo.


robotGEEK said...

Saw this at the store the other day and while I was excited and "almost" picked it up, I didn't want to be let down if it was one of those where they just added like maybe 2 minutes of extra footage. It never stated on the DVD how many more minutes of extra footage there was so for me, that was cause for concern. But I guess that makes sense since you say he shortened scenes, rearranged sequences and whatnot. Thanks for the heads up! I think it's worth a purchase after all.

Anonymous said...

I think it should be a 2 disc set with both versions...they try everything to milk a movie these days, so annoying...theatrical, uncut, directors cut, extended cut...damn....I dont like the first EXP so much, so I dont care about either version. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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