Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Eric Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Daniels
Running Time: 113 min.
“Double dipping” is a fairly common practice for studios these days. If a film you love comes out on blu-ray and has a weak visual transfer, you can pretty much hold your breath until the “Deluxe Anniversary Edition” comes down the pike with better picture and a boatload of special features. As such, even the most ardent Stallone fans were a bit skeptical when the “Extended Cut” of “The Expendables” was announced. Considering that Stallone directed and co-wrote the theatrical version, how much of a director’s cut could this be? It was hard not to look at this disc as a cash-in on the impending release of “The Expendables 2.”
Fortunately, I can report that this is not the case. The Extended Edition is clearly the film that Stallone would have liked to have released in theaters back in August of 2010. While the Extended Cut adds about 11 minutes to the film’s runtime, let’s face it: the original “The Expendables” is not a Merchant Ivory production. There was never the chance that those 11 minutes would reveal untold character depth and plot development. What the added runtime does do is flesh out the Expendables’ personalities a bit, plug up a few plot holes, and provide more movie for the people who enjoyed the film the first time around.
What’s important to note about this director’s cut is that Sylvester Stallone re-edited the film from start to finish. This means he actually used alternate takes that what we saw in the theatrical version. It’s a subtle difference that some viewers might not even catch but it definitely adds a different take on film. For instance, previous scenes that featured Jason Statham in a moral jovial mood – the ‘lighter’ takes – have been replaced by a more brooding Statham, who is clearly still distraught about his girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) leaving him for another guy. Carpenter gets more screentime this time around as well. In contrast to Statham, Stallone’s character is painted as more of a brick wall, the kind of guy you can’t really go to with your problems because he’s such an unfeeling slab of man. Statham even goes so far as to call him “Dracula’s life coach” and the two of them are much more at odds this time around.
Of course, any time you go back to a film and reconstruct scenes like this, there’s always the chance you won’t have enough coverage to make it work. The Extended Edition has a much more loose, stitched-together feeling, even more so than the theatrical cut. There are a few times when you hear a character speaking off camera and it’s obvious they were dubbed in at a later time. I’ve always wondered about the scene where Stallone explains the Vilena mission to Statham and Jet Li while they stare at a computer screen – the camera never once shows their mouths moving or any of the actors sharing the same room. It’s possible that because of the scheduling problems of getting all these high-profile action stars together, “The Expendables” was cobbled together from what footage they could get at any given time. The Extended Cut seems to exacerbate this problem.
Stallone’s reconstruction of the film extends to the action sequences, which were quite honestly in need of some work. Sure, the gun-based violence was pulled off with aplomb in the original but most fans were disappointed by the hand-to-hand combat, particularly Jet Li’s fight with Dolph Lundgren. I’m sure the fact that Jet Li requires that his team, including Cory Yuen, choreograph all of his fights didn’t help matters when Stallone was trying to direct the fight scene. Add in the language barrier, that Jet Li is getting older and his handlers don’t want him to be in any kind of danger, and the size difference between Li and Lundgren, and I can see where this fight – although a dream for action fans – would be a nightmare for Stallone to shoot.
Stallone’s obviously re-edited the sequence as best he could and while it doesn’t compare to anything in “Fist of Legend,” it’s a much more satisfying brawl in the director’s cut. Stallone wisely offers more build up to the fight, tones down the frantic nature of the editing, and selects better camera angles. Jet Li comes across as much more of a capable bad-ass in this cut, at least until Dolph Lundgren gets his mitts on him at the last second.
The big finale, in which Stallone and company take on an entire island of enemy soldiers and mercenaries, receives the most benefit from the Extended Edition. This cut removes the most fake-looking instances of computer-generated blood and gore that plagued the theatrical release and slows down the editing. Now the camera cuts seem more in time with the music, giving a nice rhythmic quality to the final battle, and each fight seems to flow into the next. Stallone jumps from his battle to Steve Austin to Jet Li taking on Gary Daniels, ramping up the tension and excitement as he does, and the transition this time around is seamless. The finale no longer comes across as choppy bits of action put in a blender. The only downside I can see is that the climax now feels like it goes by much faster.
The Extended Edition is not without its drawbacks. While “The Expendables” has a decent story structure for an action movie, the dialogue in this flick was never Stallone’s shining moment. Without the inspirational monologues of “Rocky Balbao” or the melancholy soul-searching of “Rambo,” Stallone doesn’t have much to fill this movie with except slow-witted banter about the Expendables’ lady troubles and anger management problems. The Extended Cut means that all the awkward dialogue exchanges of the original are now twice as long, including the bit about Randy Couture’s cauliflower ear. Some of this stuff was hard enough to sit through the first time around, let alone when it’s been doubled in length. “The Expendables” is a fun movie but it’s plagued with tin ear dialogue, superficial characterization, and not enough screentime for most of its supporting cast. The sequel certainly has plenty of room for improvement.
The director’s cut of “The Expendables” is not a dramatic reinvention of the material but it is clearly the movie that Stallone would have released in theaters originally if he had more time in the editing room and a bit more creative freedom from Lionsgate. I’m sure some viewers will still find the theatrical cut superior, in the sense that it keeps the painful talking bits to a minimum and keeps the plot moving, but I can’t image die-hard Stallone fans being dissatisfied with the Extended Edition. The mood is a bit more brooding, the worst special effects have been removed, and the action flows much better. From now on, if I’m going to watch “The Expendables,” I’m opting for this version.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 6.5/10