When the first film in The Expendables franchise was released, it was both ahead of its time and simultaneously felt intentionally dated. Often humorous—occasionally unintentionally—The Expendables films resemble action releases from the 1980s, which is fitting considering the impressive cast of veteran action stars. At the same time the films seem to belong to another decade, this franchise was also the first to benefit from the novelty of a beefed-up ensemble cast of movie stars. Simply put, without The Expendables, there may never have been The Avengers. It served as a return for Sylvester Stallone, both as an action star and as a filmmaker, resulting in the revival of several of his most popular 80’s franchises (Rambo, Rocky Balboa).
Joining Stallone throughout the franchise’s four films is an assortment of action stars, new and old. In the first film Jason Statham has a considerable co-starring role as Lee Christmas, and by the fourth film he has taken over as the lead protagonist. Other established action stars include Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, along with several WWE wrestlers trying out acting careers. The first film also co-stars Terry Crews for both muscle and comedic relief, Mickey Rourke in a few confounding dramatic scenes, and brief cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of these major 80’s action stars returned in larger roles for The Expendables 2, along with Chuck Norris as an occasional ally and Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain. The Expendables 3 added Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford, while the latest installment includes international action stars Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, who each brought action acclaim to their home countries of Indonesia and Thailand.
The storylines in these films are often overly simplistic, and not necessarily important to enjoyment of them. In the first one there are bad guys in South America and our heroes are the mercenaries hired to stop a dictator from terrorizing innocent people. The second film is slightly connected by the return of Willis’ character, who sends the team on another mission to save the world from a brutal group of mercenaries. Unlike our heroes, this team is led by a man (Van Damme) willing to become a terrorist for hire when five tons of hidden plutonium is discovered. In The Expendables 3, the team goes up against arms dealer and co-founder of the mercenary group, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). Despite once belonging to them, Stonebanks sets out to destroy The Expendables. The Expendables 4 (released as Expend4bles) brings some of the gang back, along with newcomers played by Megan Fox and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, this time to take down a mysterious unknown terrorist named Ocelot. Although Christmas is benched after a failed mission, this doesn’t stop him from going on a rogue solo mission to assist the team aboard a ship disguised as an American aircraft carrier.
The plots of these films are never complex, as little else matters beyond each action sequence and the one-liners spoken in-between. Each installment in The Expendables franchise contains an excessive amount of masculinity, extremely violent action, all peppered with campy and self-aware jokes. With over-the-top action being the primary highlight of each film, these are welcome releases on 4K Ultra HD. The SteelBook release contains not only the 4K discs for each film, but also Blu-ray copies containing the special features for each movie. There is also a digital code to stream each of the films.
Although the increased resolution is not quite as impressive as one might hope, the HDR makes the colors of each practical explosion jump right off the screen. It is brighter with even more depth than the Blu-ray release (which is also included as a supplemental disc to the package, as well as the vehicle for the additional special features). The sound is another highlight of the enhanced presentation, as these movies are both filled with thunderously macho soundtracks filled with roaring engines, massive explosions, and high caliber gunfire. There are no new special features on the first three films, which were previously released individually on 4K Ultra HD. The primary reason for buying the exclusive SteelBook release, other than the enhanced presentation of the films, is the opportunity to own all four films in a package as bad-ass as the content contained within.
For those unaware of the previously released special features from the Blu-ray discs, each includes director’s commentaries and a plethora of featurettes. The first film comes with both a making-of feature, as well as a postproduction documentary. The second film has featurettes about the casting, the weaponry from the film, real-life mercenaries, and even one about the 80’s action films that inspired the franchise. Both films also come with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and promotional materials. The Expendables 3 also includes a making-of documentary, two featurettes, a gag reel, and one extended scene. More importantly, as the only PG-13 release, the third film comes with an unrated cut available only on the Blu-ray disc. The latest film in the franchise was also the most disappointing at the box office, which may explain why it is lacking the same efforts in the special features. Even without the same effort as the first three films, Expend4bles does contain an audio commentary with director Scott Waugh and two behind-the-scenes promotional featurettes.
The Expendables Franchise SteelBook Collection is available exclusively at Walmart, and contains a stylish cover with a plastic sleeve that adds another layer to the original artwork. While the cover features an animated skull chomping on a cigar, the removal of the plastic sleeve turns the cigar into the smoking barrel of a machine gun. The only complaint I have about this package is the way the discs are stored, stacked on top of each other in two slots rather than each having their own place to be housed. The danger of this is that the discs may get scratched by rubbing against each other, and they also have a higher likelihood of falling out in the package, as was the case when it was shipped to me. This is unfortunate, because everything else about this release is perfect for collectors and action fans alike.
Entertainment Value: 9/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 9/10