THE EXPENDABLES 2 – Brian Tyler
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Had it been made in 1989, The Expendables 2 would without a doubt have been the biggest box office draw of the year. At the height of the action hero era, any film with a cast that included Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis alongside Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Norris… well, the testosterone quotient alone might have been enough to make any cinema screen explode with sheer masculinity. Add in modern action stars Jason Statham, Liam Hemsworth and Jet Li, a competent director in Simon Wells, and a concise and self-aware screenplay, and you have a film that is both a nostalgic throwback to that macho era, and an enjoyable contemporary popcorn adventure that pulls no punches when it comes to blood, bullets, fists, and slow-motion walks towards the camera. Stallone stars as the leader of a band of good-guy mercenaries for hire, who are sent by the CIA into the mountains of Albania to retrieve the contents of a safe lost in a plane crash. It looks like a walk in the park, until one of their number is killed by the suavely ruthless (and unambiguously named) arms dealer Jean Vilain – played with icy coolness by Van Damme – who is also after the contents of the safe, and all hell breaks loose as the Expendables look for revenge.
Also returning for a second bite at the cherry is composer Brian Tyler, who wrote the score for the first Expendables movie in 2010, and is Sylvester Stallone’s current composer-of-choice, having scored Rambo for the writer-director-star in 2008. Much like the film, Tyler’s music for the sequel is better than its predecessor. The core thematic elements of the first score return here, including the powerful march that acts as the score’s centerpiece, but the underscore itself seems tighter, more focused, and more compositionally interesting than it was first time around. Not that there’s anything wrong with the first score – on the contrary, it’s a solid and enjoyable action romp – but The Expendables 2 just feels like a more well-rounded experience in general. Written for a large orchestra and enhanced by a bevy of electronic effects that support rather than overshadow the live players, the score basically plays as one long action cue: it starts loud, gets louder, and finishes at its loudest, only stopping to pause for breath occasionally. While I can certainly see how some might find such a score exhausting, I have been a fan of Tyler’s balls-out action writing for many years, and hearing a modern action score with as much energy, orchestral creativity, and passion for the craft as The Expendables 2 has is refreshing indeed in this day and age.
The super-masculine Expendables March ushers in the score in “The Expendables Return”, a beefy theme with deep, powerful brass fanfares and martial percussive riffs. The cue explodes into the first of several thunderous action sequences, all flashing strings and driving drumbeats, underscoring the machine gun mayhem and rocket-powered rambunctiousness. What I like about Tyler’s music in these cues, and others like it such as “Fists, Knives and Chains” and “Rest in Pieces”, is that you can actually hear the orchestra at work; the clarity of the orchestrations allow the trumpet punches, trilling horns, string runs and percussion hits to shine through, without being flattened or overwhelmed by themselves or, worse still, the electronics, which Tyler sensibly relegates to a supporting role, enhancing and giving flavor and color to the score rather than dominating it outright.
Performances of the main Expendables theme in cues such as “Track ‘Em, Find ‘Em, Kill ‘Em”, the heroically upbeat “Making An Entrance” and “Party Crashers” give the score a sense of togetherness. There’s some superb tension-buildup and release in “Countdown”, some unusual metallic ethnic percussion in “Bad Way to Live”, and it all builds up to an epic conclusion through cues like “Dueling Blades” and “Escape”, which are exhausting as they are exhilarating. The score takes a moment to contemplate its surroundings in cues like ”Respect”, which features a rumbling bass performance of the main theme that gradually grows into a noble and patriotic anthem for fallen comrades, while in “Reparations”, the first moments of “Rescue”, and the latter half of the aforementioned “Bad Way to Live” you can hear a solemn, tinkling piano and a subtle electric guitar motif underneath the rest of the orchestra, a rare moment of drama and introspection in an otherwise relentless sequence of musical carnage.
As many have mentioned in reviews of his previous scores, more than any other composer Brian Tyler seems to have picked up the mantle of Jerry Goldsmith in the way he writes over-achieving, complex orchestral action music for films which, in other hands, would receive little more than simple percussion hits and repetitive string ostinati. It is greatly to Tyler’s credit that he continually seeks to write clever rhythmic patterns, have sections of the orchestra playing off each other in unexpected ways, and generally give his players much more interesting things to do than the average composer would. It shows that Tyler clearly takes his job and his craft seriously, writing the best possible music for his projects, whatever they may be.
One of the other strengths The Expendables 2 has as a listening experience is its comparative brevity; under normal circumstances Tyler likes to present as complete as possible a score, front loaded with the best cues at the beginning, and filled out with as much material as will fit on an 80-minute disc. While this is commendable in terms of wanting to give fans as big a bang as possible for their buck, it can often be detrimental to the overall experience of actually listening to the score in one sitting – as good as the music usually is, 80 minutes of relentless action can be desperately tiring, almost to the point that you almost can’t wait for the thing to end. By keeping this CD to a relatively speedy 57 minutes, you get a full taste of what the score has to offer, with all the best bits and main thematic statements intact, without it wearing out its welcome or giving the listener a headache. Bravo to the album producers.
In a Hollywood dominated by interchangeable action scores from the Remote Control school of thought, it is so encouraging to see a composer like Brian Tyler continue to blaze a trail for those of us who still yearn for the days when interesting, complex, fast-paced orchestral writing was the rule rather than the exception. He’s one of the last holdouts of his generation who seem to value the technique and craft perfected by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, and long may it continue. I may be hearing The Expendables 2 through rose-tinted headphones for that very reason, but I can’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed this exceptionally talented composer’s work here for those exact reasons, and anyone who enjoyed his work on scores like Eagle Eye, the Fast and Furious franchise, Rambo, or Battle Los Angeles will find this score much to their liking. If there’s another Expendables movie in Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s future, I certainly hope Tyler will be back.
Buy the Expendables 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Expendables Return (4:40)
- Fists, Knives and Chains (3:05)
- Track ‘Em, Find ‘Em, Kill ‘Em (4:54)
- Making An Entrance (4:08)
- Respect (3:58)
- Rest in Pieces (2:55)
- Preparations (3:15)
- Party Crashers (5:19)
- Rescue (4:43)
- Countdown (4:25)
- Bad Way to Live (3:41)
- Vilain (2:42)
- Dueling Blades (4:32)
- Escape (4:28)
Running Time: 56 minutes 45 seconds
Silva Screen SILCD0-1393 (2012)
Music composed and conducted by Brian Tyler. Orchestrations by Dana Niu, Robert Lydecker, Tony Morales and Sarah Schachner. Album produced by Brian Tyler.