While it's surprising that the generic plot of this star-studded sequel is apparently the best they could come up with, The Expendables 2 is never less than ridiculously entertaining. Adding genre icons Chuck Norris and Jean Claude van Damme to the mix, giving bigger roles to Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzengger and ramping up the number of one-liners is a smart move by writer/producer Sylvester Stallone – as is drafting in director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), who shoot's the film's action sequences with real panache.
Sure, there are some clunky character moments and painful dialogue – and Jet Li is woefully under-used – but this is easily recommended to those of us brought up on the meatheaded movies of the 1980s. There's already talk of a third instalment – count us in.
Picture: The Expendables 2's Blu-ray picture quality is solid, although it will never become a poster boy for the hi-def brigade. West has opted for a natural-looking colour palette (as opposed to, say, the ramped up hues of Avengers Assemble or the post-production-tweaked tones of Magic Mike), which is fine, but it does mean the 2.35:1 HD image is awash with some rather drab browns, greens and blacks for much of its running time.
There's also a large amount of grain, at its most noticeable during some of the poorly-lit interior scenes (inside the crew's aeroplane, for instance), that can be distracting and limits the sense of image depth. Yet in other areas, including close-ups and the Bulgarian location work during the opening act, detail levels are sky high.
Picture rating: 4/5
Audio: Lionsgate offers two sound mixes here – a Dolby Digital 2.0 version for late-night listening (no thanks) and a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that's optimised for 11.1 DTS Neo:X surround (a world's first).
The latter is something of an audio triumph, working with the film's bountiful battle sequences to deliver a serious workout for your speakers and sub. Bullets and rocketry zip around the soundstage, putting you in the heart of the dumbed-down action, and dialogue is clear, while the returning score by Bryan Tyler has plenty of mid-range impact. And that's just in 7.1 mode – if you're lucky enough to be running an 11.1 system you have to get this disc. Thanks to specific flags in the mix, the Neo:X processing delivers a surround experience that it's hard to believe is not a properly discrete 11.1 affair.
The opening scenes contain some outrageously OTT action sequences and the sound is just as awesome. The height channels immediately pull the action up into the middle of the screen and create a much more three-dimensional soundstage. This is used to superb effect as the team's knackered sea-plane takes off and the camera angle is suddenly very low on the other side of the dam wall. The sound pans from high-front to rear-back, only losing height as it comes down towards your surround-back speakers.
The extra width information is no less jawdropping, as it serves to de-locate the front speakers completely. Rather than the sound panning across three obvious hot-spots at the front of the room, it comes at you as a more cohesive and solid whole. Cross-camera bullets have greater sense of distance and incidental sounds seem more present but less obtrusive - there's heaps of information being sent to the wide speakers and their relative volume in the mix has a wide dynamic range.
Our only gripe with The Expendables 2's audio is some fairly obvious compression. To make the sound ever ‘louder’, much of the action has been run through a compressor to bring up quieter elements. This means that moments that should really standout, such as the bridge explosion in the opening act, don't carry the same impact as the rest of the mix is pushed to the limits anyway.
So, not perfect – but still an absolute showcase for 'optimised' Neo:X 11.1 channel surround sound.
Audio rating: 4.5/5
Extras: This single-disc release features a decent selection of extra features, but we wouldn't be surprised to see a further Blu-ray appear some time in the future (as with the original movie) that offers more. You have been warned...
Anyway, the highlights here are the chatty and detail-heavy director's commentary (although we'd have loved some input from Sly) and a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that describes how the monster cast was put together.
In addition, you get another featurette about the real-life weaponry used in the movie, hosted by star Randy Couture, a gag-reel, DTS Neo: X tester and a selection of deleted scenes. The latter are curious, as they include two fight sequences (one involving Couture and Terry Crews, the other with Nan Yu) that, quite frankly, could easily have been left in, plus a bizarre cameo from tennis star Novak Djokovic that was wisely trimmed.
Extras rating: 3/5
We say: An enjoyable action extravaganza with delicious audio
Lionsgate, Region B BD, £25 Approx, On sale now
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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