A self-admitted control freak, Stallone made some very savvy casting decisions with The Expendables. The recent resurrections of his two signature franchises were populated largely by television actors and relative unknowns. Interest in the new movie, by contrast, was cemented by its all-star cast.
Some of these guys have very little, if any, marquee value on their own. Steve Austin, Randy Couture, and Dolph Lundgren are B-movie guys who can't open movies on their own. Terry Crews is a more versatile actor, but with even less name recognition. The stroke of genius was in casting younger stars Jason Statham and Jet Li.
For all the press about the '80s action stars supposedly dominating The Expendables, Statham and Li were barely known by U.S. audiences until the past decade or so. Including these guys was a very smart move on Stallone's part, adding a much-needed hip quotient that certainly helped reel in a younger demographic. Statham delivers possibly the best performance in the movie as knife expert Lee Christmas. This was perhaps aided by his character's having a somewhat more fleshed out backstory than the others. Li is actually underused as Yin Yang, though he has some excellent fight scenes late in the movie.
Of course, scoring killer cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the movie an immense marketing boost. Their brief, playful scene with Stallone is a highlight of the movie. Mickey Rourke, who, Stallone explains in the commentary, was on loan from Iron Man 2 for only 48 hours, turns up a few times. Rourke absolutely nails the pivotal scene in the movie, a mournful monologue about regret. In a movie dominated by explosions and chase sequences, he lends some much-needed depth and heart to the proceedings.
The Expendables Blu-ray boasts a flawless 1080p high definition transfer. I sampled a few scenes from the included standard DVD for the sake of comparison. The superior quality of the Blu-ray was immediately apparent. Whether in bright daylight or dark night scenes, the detail is incredible. Much of the climactic battle was filmed at night, but all the action is vividly rendered. While the actors are fighting and shooting it out in dark, shadowy tunnels, everything remains sharp. Much of the interior and night scenes are drenched in a bluish hue. But the sunny Brazilian vistas make a nice contrast, with the deep greens of surrounding foliage and red soldiers' uniforms bursting right off the screen. The deeply lined and craggy faces of some of the primary actors are presented with unflinching clarity. In every way, this is one great-looking Blu-ray.