This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist. expendables 4
The Expendables franchise has always existed as a kind of AARP for aging action stars, a way for Sylvester Stallone and company to keep doing what they (used to) do best: shoot guns at dozens of faceless goons and grunt masculine bon mots at each other. Despite the genius of the premise, these movies seldom hold together as a unit — a murderer's row of action cliches whizzing past its nostalgia-riddled viewers in an HGH-fueled haze. The fourth installment, the absurdly titled Expend4bles, is no different, a barely legible fever dream of CGI explosions and mumbled banter between septuagenarian action heroes of decades past. But Expend4bles is even worse, as director Scott Waugh drags his sorry mix of has-beens and never-weres through the team's cheapest, most disposable, most…. expendable adventure yet.
Christmastime Is Here
Stallone already had aged into his sixties when the first Expendables hit in 2010; he's 77 now, which means The Expendables 4 is dead-set on passing the torch from Stallone's Barney Ross to his knife-happy second-in-command Lee Christmas, played by the still spry, still bankable Jason Statham. To that end, Waugh and the writers waste little time setting up this new status quo, as a bombastic chase through an abandoned warehouse in Libya (the opening crawl hilariously specifies that it's “Gaddafi's Old Chemical Plant”) leads to new baddie Rahmat (Indonesian action star Iko Uwais) taking Barney out of commission with a well-placed missile.
Blamed for the blunder, Lee gets disinvited from The Expendables, leaving his ex Gina (Megan Fox) to lead the team while he's stuck taking odd security jobs for obnoxious influencers. But when the chase for Rahmat and the nuclear detonators he's stolen leads the team into a trap on a cargo vessel carrying the big bomb, it's up to Lee to rescue them, with the help of a mysterious ex-Expendable (Thai legend Tony Jaa) he picks up along the way.
From there, the movie becomes the same whirling-dervish stunt showcase viewers have come to expect from an Expendables picture, held together with the thinnest of character throughlines and confusingly shot action. The shaky, fast-cutting nature of the battles has long posed a problem in this series, and Expend4bles falls into that trap again, whether it's Statham weaving around cargo boxes on a dirtbike with machine guns strapped to it or Jaa using his signature Muay Thai fighting style on mercenaries, everything whizzes by as a hazy impression. The cheap cinematography — filled with lots of horrid green screen and TV-show framing — does these titans few favors. Statham comes out smelling the best out of everyone, but that's because he can do this stuff in his sleep and has the baseline charisma to carry a scene.
“You Should Go Back to Not Talking”
The same can't be said for the rest of the team, especially as the overstuffed cast list gives the supporting characters little time to shine. With only Stallone, Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture returning, the film rushes through introductions to a host of new characters, all of whom get a few scant moments of screentime to themselves. There's 50 Cent's Easy Day, a bargain-bin replacement for Terry Crews (who has very good reasons for not wanting to return to the franchise); Jacob Scipio's Galan, the fast-talking son of blink-and-you'll-miss-him Expendables 3 member Antonio Banderas; Levy Tran's Lash, whose personality consists of a blonde wig, some tattoos and a bladed chain; and Fox herself, who leads her team with a businesslike pout and a tactical midriff top. (The film flirts with an on-again, off-again relationship between Gina and Christmas but keeps them apart for so long it has little time to develop.)
Seeing the series finally fold in some of Southeast Asia's rich action talent should help amp up the excitement, but the film fumbles Uwais and Jaa in inexcusable ways. Despite lending his signature ferocity and physicality to the film's villain, Expend4bles sidelines Uwais for most of the picture; it also doesn't know what to do with Jaa, giving him far too much English-language dialogue and not enough chances to do what he does best. Add to that leaden, obnoxious jokes about golden showers and whether alcoholism makes you a better shot, and the whole thing becomes a fairly miserable experience.
Expend4bles feels less like the next installment in a beloved franchise and more like the aborted pilot for a straight-to-streaming spinoff shoved into theaters at the last minute. It feels perfunctory, a film made out of obligation rather than genuine inspiration. Maybe, instead of trying to refresh the franchise with some new, old faces, it's time to put the team out to pasture.
RATING: 3/10 SPECS
Expend4bles is currently playing in theaters. We’ve got the latest on movies in theaters now.