December 26, 2011

When The Expendables dropped last year, many felt that—while Sylvester Stallone’s heart was in the right placed—the film failed to live up to expectations (there’s also a strong, vocal minority that love the film, and we should all just go ahead and assume now that they’re going to take issue with this statement).  Surprisingly enough, one of these people seems to be…Sylvester Stallone, who introduces the new Director’s Cut of The Expendables by saying, “I liked the theatrical version, but I love this (version)”.  Have improvements been made?  Is the film really and truly better?  And how can one tell, if one immediately forgot the first film almost as soon as they’d seen it?  Find out in my review of The Expendables: Director’s Cut, after the jump.

The Expendables movie imageA whole bunch of people thought that The Expendables sucked.  A whole bunch.  Because I’ve written about The Expendables before and suffered the wrath of Stallone fanboys who haunt the internet, waiting to pounce on any fool who’d dare to suggest that anything Stallone does isn’t gospel, I know that there’s going to be—shall we say—disagreement with this sentiment.  But the numbers don’t lie, people:  The Expendables has a 45% on Metacritic and a 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that somewhere between 55 and 60% of people were not happy with the way that Stallone’s action-heavy vanity project turned out.

That’s not surprising, really.  What is surprising is that Stallone is amongst that 55-60%.  At least, that’s what we can gather from the introduction to The Expendables: Director’s Cut Blu-ray, where Stallone talks about how test-screenings and second-guessing led him to release a version of The Expendables that he wasn’t exactly in love with.  Stallone doesn’t go so far as to say that his original cut “sucked balls”, but he does say that the film wasn’t in line with his original version of the script, and that while he “likes” the theatrical cut, he “loves” this new one.

“Well,”  I thought, “This should be interesting”.

In the past, I’ve seen director’s cuts that I felt improved upon the original version (Natural Born Killers), director’s cuts that seemed like a step sideways (the Payback: Straight Up cut), and director’s cuts that utterly undermined what I loved about the original in the first place (the god-awful Donnie Darko director’s cut, which seems to confirm all the unfortunate suspicions that we might have after seeing The Box and Southland Tales), so I was curious to see what category the Expendables director’s cut would fall into.  And then, I realized that I could barely remember anything about The Expendables beyond the fact that I didn’t really like it.   And so, I was faced with a choice:  rewatch The Expendables theatrical cut, then watch The Expendables director’s cut, and then compare…or just watch the Expendables director’s cut and review that film without making the obvious comparisons.

The Expendables movie imageBecause watching roughly 3 ½ hours of Stallone-based mayhem was not something I felt up to the task for, I have opted for the latter.  Maybe if the original Expendables had been a film I’d enjoyed (do with this information what you will:  I have going-on-a-thousand films in my collection, films that I know damn well I probably won’t watch more than once, and—until Collider sent me this disc—a version of The Expendables was not among them), I would’ve welcomed the task.  But after upwards of thirty seconds of consideration, it just seemed too exhausting.

Besides, I can plead a fairly strong case for reviewing a film on its own merits (without turning said review into the world’s most tedious compare/contrast essay).  You might argue that the sole reason of a director’s cut is to compare the film to its original incarnation, but I will politely disagree because…well, shit, I’m not watching this movie—with any amount of alterations made—two more times.  Just not happening.  If you feel this invalidates my opinion of Stallone’s new cut, well, you’re free to go elsewhere.  Everyone else can meet me in the next paragraph, where we’ll get to the reason we’re all here today:  a post-mortem of Stallone’s latest attempt to turn The Expendables into a good movie.

Here’s my sneaking suspicion:  Stallone wasn’t thrilled with the critical response to The Expendables, and with a sequel on the horizon, he figured that he might be able to secure a few more asses in a few more seats if he were to somehow rerelease a better version of The Expendables on home video.  A cut here, a cut there, and maybe a few hundred thousand more people show up on opening night when The Expendables 2: Every Guy That’s Ever Hoisted a Gun on Film hits theaters.  Or maybe I’m just being cynical, and Stallone really did have “something” else to “say” with this cut of the film.  I’m certainly no closer to the truth after watching this new version, because—from where I’m standing—this new cut of The Expendables is just as lifeless and tedious as the first one was.

The Expendables movie imageBecause I can barely remember the particulars of my first experience with Stallone’s film, I have very little basis for comparison here.  And so, it seems to me that this is still a movie where big, lumbering, kind-of-ugly dudes stalk around onscreen, dispatching swarthy-looking greaseballs with ridiculously overpowered machine-guns and intimidating-looking knives.  It’s still got this totally ineffective subplot about Jason Statham’s attempts to land a wife.  It’s still awkwardly put-together and the action scenes still feel kind of unoriginal.  I totally get what Stallone was going for here—and it’s true that action fans have been demanding a film like this ever since the heyday of the genre back in the 80’s—but I simply don’t feel like this film lives up to those demands.  It’s just not all that good.

I will say this, though:  I don’t think The Expendables is terrible.  It’s a cut above, say, a Steven Segal flick that you’d catch on Showtime at three in the morning.  But I think that a fair amount of that has to do with the size of the budget that Stallone was working with, not with the quality of the writing or the acting.  The writing’s really obvious, with scenes that are clearly intended to make “tough guys saying tough and sometimes comical things to one another” read as “swaggering, charismatic machismo”…but the writing’s not sharp enough to make all that tough-talk charming.  And the acting’s just, I mean, good God, have you seen Dolph Lundgren try to act lately?  I’ve got shoes that can emote more convincingly.

I’m not going to bother recapping the plot here (it’s the same, as far as I recall), and I’m not gonna bother doing the thing where I force myself to say a few nice things about the film (you know what you’re getting into here, and that’s either “your thing” or it isn’t).  This is a review for a film that’s already gone through the review-wringer twice now, after a theatrical and home video release, so all you really oughtta care about is whether or not The Expendables: Director’s Cut is worth double-dipping for (I’m assuming that you already own a copy of The Expendables;  otherwise, why would you be interested now?).  Here’s my answer:  if you’re an Expendables completist, then yes, you’re going to want to have every version of The Expendables that Stallone releases upon our unsuspecting populace.  But if you’re wondering if this version drastically improves on the original and is thus worth adding to your collection, the answer’s no.

the-expendables-directors-cut-blu-ray-coverOh, wait!  I do have something nice to say!  The Expendables: Director’s Cut looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray, and the sound mix is noticeably good (I don’t normally notice the sound unless it’s really, really well done, so Stallone did something very right here).  Sure, it’s Blu-ray, and yeah, I’m watching this on an LED television, but still:  great-looking.  If only the film this video quality was in service of was worth a damn.  By the way, the film runs 114 minutes (ten minutes longer than the original, if you’re keeping score at home) and features a whole bunch of extras:  an intro to the film (both the menu and the film itself), a featurette about the film from Spike TV, a “making-of” doc (“Inferno”, which is actually kind of fun to watch, oddly enough), a featurette hilariously titled “Sylvester Stallone:  A Director in Action”, and—last and certainly least– a terrible music video for a song called “Sinner’s Prayer” (yeesh).

Look, I really like Sly Stallone.  I love the icon that he is following his journey through the 80’s, and everything I’ve ever read about the dude seems to indicate that he has a true love for film and the film geek community (let’s not forget that he subjected himself to several days’ worth of questioning from the notoriously infantile Ain’t It Cool News crowd).  I think he’s still got it in him to make great movies, and I think that he was on the right track with The Expendables.  I’ll say this, though:  even though the end result just doesn’t do it for me,  I’ll still give Expendables 2 a chance.  Stallone’s got enough juice with me to get me to fall for this trick twice, but I’m really hoping that—with the sequel—he makes the film we’ve been wanting all along.

My grade?  C-

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