EXPEND4BLES Review: Belated Fourth Entry in the Franchise Disappoints, Underwhelms
What started more than a decade ago as a way for multi-hyphenate Sylvester Stallone to chill out with his movie-star buddies, make a low-effort, if still bankable, action flick, and collect a paycheck at the same time (i.e., The Expendables) has, over the course of two, now three, sequels devolved into a drab, dismal, dreary series that does no one involved with its production any favors, least of all Stallone.
It’s a shame, if mostly because previous entries in the series, while at their best uneven quality-wise, contained the occasional set piece, bit of modestly memorable dialogue, or not quite past-their-prime performers (or rather their stunt doubles) engaging in all sorts of wildly improbable, possibly impossible, stunt work, usually with firearms in hand and inexhaustible clips on their persons.
That was then and this is now, as in nine years later since the third, least memorable entry, unimaginatively titled The Expendables 3, arrived in cinemas around the globe to a muted, shoulder-shrugging response. Never exactly an idea-rich series, it seemed all but dead.
Since then, though, a fourth entry has gone into and out of development, Stallone exited the series (only to return shortly thereafter), and a script has gone through multiple veteran screenwriters. A spin-off centered on Stallone’s co-star, Jason Statham, and his character, Lee Christmas, almost went into production before being folded back into the fourth, Christmas-centric entry.
Expend4bles (The Expendables 4) opens, not with Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, or Statham’s, but with new series addition Iko Uwais as Suarto Rahmat, a vicious, cold-blooded mercenary who slices-and-dices, tortures-and-kills his way into a lightly guarded Libyan facility. Rahmat is on the hunt for nuclear detonators for — what else — a nuclear weapon he and his amoral employers hope to use to start another world war and profit handsomely from the military-industrial complex.
In what can be only described as the shortest flight ever recorded, Ross, Christmas, and their team of misfit mercenaries, including Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), a onetime traitor to the Expendables cause brought back into the fold with an all-is-forgiven wink and a nod; Easy Day (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson), a new, character-less member added for demographic purposes; Toll Road (Randy Couture), an old standby, brought back for nostalgic reasons; and Galan (Jacob Scipio), the newest addition to Team Expendable; take a briefing from a senior CIA officer and onetime Ross associate, Marsh (Andy Garcia), jump into Ross’s twin-engine, propeller plane and minutes later, land in Libya, presumably from the West Coast of the United States.
It’s not the first nor the last time the screenwriters decided to throw real-world logic out of a plane at 30,000 feet without a parachute.
Given its proximity to the prologue, it shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise that the Libya mission goes predictably sideways, though Christmas, in another underdeveloped plot turn, falls into the outs with the team, leaving him unemployed, restless, and more importantly, unencumbered to dig into the why’s and wherefores of the botched mission. Before that happens, however, Christmas takes a security gig for a wealthy social media influencer. It goes as badly as expected, though it’s probably only a quarter as funny as the screenwriters imagined when they wrote it all down.
With Christmas split off from the team, Expend4bles becomes – for better or worse (often the latter) — less of a team or ensemble effort than a Christmas-centered one. That leaves the team, now headed by Christmas’s on-again/off-again girlfriend, Gina (Megan Fox, sadly underused), often on the sidelines, waiting for Christmas to catch up to them or vice versa. While they’re off on another mission, Christmas does get to bond with another one of Ross’s longtime friends, Decha (Tony Jaa), a once ruthless, government-sanctioned killing machine, who’s adopted a pacifistic, Zen-like existence.
Points to the Expend4bles's producers for adding Jaa, along with Uwais, both next-level martial arts and action stars in their own countries, to the fourth film. While Jaa doesn’t appear until the second half, Uwais pops up intermittently, usually to remind the audience of his superior fighting skills, specifically with two-baton-like weapons, each sharpened to a deadly point. Jaa uses a small curved blade to take out a virtual army of interchangeable henchmen.
Alas, Uwais and Jaa never come face-to-face. Expend4bles saves Uwais for Statham’s character and while their final confrontation doesn’t disappoint, it’s hard not to imagine how much more memorable it would have been if Uwais and Jaa, and their respective fighting styles and weapons, had faced off.
That dream match-up between Uwais and Jaa will have to be left to the imaginations of action fans. Until that happens, they’ll have to reconcile themselves to sitting through a handful of relatively well-choreographed, cleanly shot action scenes involving Uwais, Jaa, the Gina-led Expendables team, or Christmas going rogue, slaughtering a seemingly endless procession of faceless, aimless goons in spectacularly unimaginative ways. Or not, as the case might be.
Expend4bles opens Friday, September 22, 2023, in North America via Lionsgate (visit the official site for more information).
- Scott Waugh
- Kurt Wimmer
- Tad Daggerhart
- Max Adams
- Jason Statham
- 50 Cent
- Megan Fox