Out of all the franchises out there, The Expendables isn’t one where yet another sequel would be expected. After the first film, which opened to decent profit off its premise of teaming iconic action stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and every other icon your dad grew up on in one movie, a sequel, The Expendables 2, performed even better. The same luck was not held by the threequel, The Expendables 3, whose watered PG-13 rating and pre-release leaks led to the lowest turnout yet. Now, almost ten years later, the hilariously named Expen4bles tries to pump some new life into this long-thought-dead brand.
The R-rating is back, and all the gore that comes with it, although this seems to be a bit of a monkey’s paw situation as the vast majority of the cast does not return for the fourth entry in the franchise. When the biggest name on the marque is Statham and the biggest new arrival to the cast is Megan Fox, it seems things may have truly run their course.
Nevertheless, The Expend4bles does just fine given its prognosis. Directed by Scott Waugh, The Expend4bles rains down the righteous fury of a perfectly serviceable direct-to-video actioner, with its rough edges sanded down by a decent amount of fun to be had.
[Warning: Slight spoilers and impressions of Expend4bles are below!]
Stallone, Statham, and (some of) the boys are back in town
Going over the specifics of the plot line of Expend4bles is a remarkably thankless task. All you need to know is Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his merry band of misfit mercenaries, including Jason Statham, Randy Couture, and Dolph Lundgren, are back along with new members played by Megan Fox, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. They’re hired by CIA agent Marsh (Andy Garcia) to apprehend Rahamut(Iko Uwais), who is in league with “Ocelot”, an adversary Barney failed to capture 25 years ago. What follows is the requisite manner of fireworks, bloodshed, and banter.
Stallone and Statham are still as great as ever here. Their quippy camaraderie remains charming, lived-in even. The same goes for Lungdgren and Couture who, for the most part, maintain a solid sense of continuity with their characters from the previous three films.
The new blood is mostly good as well. 50 Cent remains a surprisingly affable screen presence, Scipio’s twitchy, cocky new recruit earns a few laughs here and there, whereas Megan Fox is a convincing badass. It’s hard to look away from the sexualization of both her character and Levy Tran‘s, who the camera leers on for an uncomfortable amount of time. Moreover, the fact that each is paired off or “shipped” with male characters of the team.
To address the massive elephant in the room, so many of the cast is missing here that it’s impossible not to be distracted. The star power, by proxy, is nearly drained out of the film. Now instead of all the action heroes of yore, it feels like the home video leftover version of The Expendables team.
Iko Uwais, who has steadily made a name for himself in such action modern classics as The Raid duology, and The Night Comes for Us, feels sorely misused. Worse yet, Andy Garcia looks like he’s counting his paycheck on screen. Thank goodness for action legend Tony Jaa, who gave his absolute all to the role of Barney’s associate Decha which resulted in by far the best action sequences in the film. Jaa and the stripped-back Expendables team keep morale high enough to duct-tape a movie together.
Expend4bles is in search of a story
The script for Expend4bles might as well not even exist. It’s a limp excuse to bring these characters together for another adventure. Any intrigue that comes from the idea of the identity of “Ocelot” is drowned out by weak reveal after weak reveal. Upsettingly, the film makes a decision to sideline one of the franchise’s most cherished leads for the majority of the runtime. It comes off as hasty, and the script’s treatment of foreign countries and women lacks any sort of tact. In other words, it’s a throwback in the worst ways.
The screenplay, written by Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams, and Kurt Wimmer, director of Equilibrium and Ultraviolet, of all people, seems like it was written within painfully clear constraints. Some actors had more of a commitment than others, and despite a hefty $100 million price tag, corners seem to have been cut that demanded most of the film be set on a freight ship. It’s disconcerting to see the cogs in the machine quite this much.
Where the script does work is the amount of one-liners given to each of the crew members. Expend4bles is funny. Really funny! Seeing this cast rag on each other in snappy, cutting ways doesn’t get old. It nearly saves the whole picture, in fact, with the action sequences pulling the rest of the heavy lifting.
An adequate amount of firepower in Expend4bles
Most elements of Expend4bles are messy. That extends to the look of the film. Oftentimes, the cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones looks extremely cheap. With clear green screens and a lack of visual personality, it’s as cookie-cutter as it comes. Yet, the action itself does just fine.
Scott Waugh directs a series of gory set pieces that accentuate the physicality of its performers. A vehicular-based mission in the first act, and the whole film’s second half on a boat, are packed to the gills with all sorts of spectacle. There may be a distinctive lack of reasons to care, but at the very least there are plenty of fist-pumping, body-exploding gorehound pleasures to satisfy the crowd of teenage boys sneaking their way into this film.
And that’s where it becomes harder to evaluate Expend4bles by a regular metric. It’s by no means a great or even good film. Its answer to the intricacies of whatever the hell is supposed to be going on in the film is a shrug. But its target audience will walk away with enough of a half-smile on their face to make the enterprise worthwhile.
Unambitious, but serviceable, Expend4bles provides enough likable action stars participating in crunchy set pieces to show there’s still some life in this series.
My rating for this film:
Expend4bles is in theaters tomorrow! Will you check out this film in theaters? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.