EXPENDABLES 4 ½
2023, R, 103 mins.
Jason Statham as Lee Christmas / Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross / 50 Cent as Easy / Megan Fox as Gina / Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen / Tony Jaa as Decha / Iko Uwais as Rahmat / Randy Couture as Toll Road / Andy García as Marsh / Jacob Scipio as Galan / Levy Tran as LashDirected by Scott Waugh / Written by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams
EXPENDABLES 4 (or EXPEND-FOUR-BLES to phonetically read its title) is pure excrement, a sequel made all the more scandalously bad when one stops and considers its cost to quality ratio.
This third sequel in the series of throwback action pictures that Sylvester Stallone ushered in way, way back in 2010 cost a reported $100 million dollars to produce.
That's a one with two zeroes afterwards followed by the word million.
Seeing this film within 24 hours of also screening Gareth Edwards' sci-fi opus THE CREATOR left my jaw perpetually open in shock.
That audaciously ambitious and epically staged film cost less than EXPENDABLES 4.
Let that settle in for a bit.
If I were teaching a film course, then I would make watching these two films mandatory back-to-back viewing for those that want to see how two diametrically opposed Hollywood blockbusters made use of their resources. One did so splendidly, whereas the other (hint...it's EXPENDABLES 4) looks appallingly cheap, like some sort of throwaway direct-to-video/streaming effort. I can't recall ever seeing a film this expensive that looked so shoddy.
Yes...yes...I've been somewhat of an apologist for this franchise. I would even add that I've been mostly forgiving of its offerings. The first EXPENDABLES had the cool novelty factor of seeing director and co-writer Stallone gather together some of the greatest icons of action film lore to make an unapologetically bloody ode to the lean, mean, and unpretentiously impactful genre pictures of the 80s (many of which Stallone himself starred in). I mostly enjoyed the ridiculously high testosterone quotient of the introductory installment, and even when it was lacking in some areas, it more than made up for it by seeing this grouping of action hero royalty (Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, and Jet Li, to name a few). I think the series hit its qualitative peak with 2012's EXPENDABLES 2, but then fell flat with the neutered PG-13 rated third entry in 2014, which left me in a position of not really craving any more sequels to come. Nearly ten years later and we now have a fourth, and it's pretty apparent very early on in EXPENDABLES 4 that it really strains to drum up the very appeal of what made its predecessors uniquely enjoyable.
Gone are Willis (for obvious reasons considering his health)...and Schwarzenegger...and Jet Li...and Wesley Snipes...and Chuck Norris...and Antonio Banderas...and...and...in their place we get...
...Megan Fox, 50 Cent, and Andy Garcia.
That, and Stallone (deferring directing and writing duties this time to Scott Waugh and Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams respectively) looks really tired and bored to death in this entry in what appears to be a glorified cameo to net him a quick pay day. Here's the plot (if one can label what this film has of one): A violent arms dealer named Suarto (THE RAID REDEMPTION's Iko Uwais) is leading a massive infiltration at a chemical factory to collect some detonators that he needs to bring back to his boss with an itchy nuclear weapon trigger finger. CIA agent Marsh (Garcia, looking oddly displaced), decides to hire the current crop of Expendables to stop Suarto and collect those detonators. The team leader remains Barney Ross (Stallone) with his right-hand man in Lee Christmas (Statham), the latter of whom is having relationship woes with his newest girlfriend (and Expendable member in waiting) Gina (a nearly comatose Fox). After reacquainting at a local watering hole, Ross and Christmas gather the rest of their team - including old school members Gunner (Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newcomers Lash (Levy Tran), Galan (Jacob Scipio) and Easy Day (50 Cent), and eventually Gina - to do battle against Suarto and stop this madman at all costs. Roadblocks and setbacks do come up, which forces the team to improvise.
Where - oh where - do I even start with EXPENDABLES 4?
How about the ways this sequel totally fumbles the ball by barely retaining much of the all-star assembled cast of the last two films?
Wasn't that the chief selling point?
Hell, the last one was so bloody jam packed with stars that it created massive Photoshop headaches for the theatrical poster designer (that's a lot of floating heads to put on!). Instead of maintaining the good will of maintaining all of the participants of the franchise, EXPENDABLES 4 settles on either semi-unknown stars (at least to western audiences) or some stars that probably have no business being here in the first place. The original motive was to gather together over the hill action heroes and give them one last kick at the can (or several kicks at the can for the series). There's a point in the story here when the makers are trying to position Statham as the new focal point of interest as the film's lead, which is fine considering that he can definitely carry action pictures. But so many of the actor assets from before are mournfully gone now. With so few franchise members returning here, Waugh and company migrate focus to a series of dull and uninspired newcomers. Despite Uwais and (appearing later in the film) Tony Jaa being the only additions this time worth their weight in the genre, everyone else brought alongside them elicits ample groaning. When the Expendables team itself fails to excite, then that's a major problem.
And, yeah, 50 Cent and Megan Fox are not suitable Schwarzenegger and Willis replacements at all. I've read that the producers wanted everyone from Jack Nicholson to Pierce Brosnan to Clint Eastwood to join the squad this go around. That's probably an ultimate wish fulfillment fantasy. To be fair, I would never take serious points off of the past EXPENDABLES films on a performance front, but here everyone seems so stiff and mannered, and those that aren't bored (and do try) give crushingly bad takes on their respective characters. Uwais is a mighty fine on-screen martial artist, but as a charismatic and memorable villain (coming off of ones played by Jean Claude Van Damme, Eric Roberts, and Mel Gibson), he barely registers here. 50 Cent is an emotional black hole and is mostly blank faced throughout. Megan Fox fares just as badly and never once comes off plausibly as a rough and rugged military fighter (she looks like she just came off a runway). Poor Garcia is embarrassingly out of his element here. And, as mentioned, Stallone is barely (not an exaggeration) a fixture in the story or action here, leaving Statham to pick up the leftover pieces of the film and somehow make it work. He's fine, in a phoning it in kind of way. Some bad films are cursed with having just one terrible performance. EXPENDABLES 4 is littered with several.
The only thing that could have saved this sequel from total junk status are the action sequences, but so many of them are staccato editorial hatchet jobs that it becomes hard just to discern the geographical particulars and character spatial relationships at times. When one or two of the set-pieces do kind of work (like a late donnybrook between Statham and Uwais) there are several more that miserably fail because of dreadful choreography and migraine-inducing cutting. Hell, even the explosions and blood-letting look suspiciously fake now, and so many of the sequences seem to be the product of mishandled greenscreen work versus actual location shooting around the world (I suspect that the blood itself was CG'd in later as opposed to using on-set blood packs in case the makers were trying to get a PG-13 again, but then decided to go hard-R and just digitally inserted the gore later). I'm still blown away by how visually mediocre this film is with the money at its disposal. Did I already tell you that EXPENDABLES 4 cost $100 million? Where did it go? Outside of Stallone and Statham, it clearly didn't go to its B and C-list cast. Catering, maybe? I dunno. It's not on screen. That much I can tell you. Even though I didn't fully embrace the first EXPENDABLES, Stallone (as director) at least gave that film a tactile sense of grittiness. It felt like a Canon Films grindhouse action picture of old. By direct comparison, EXPENDABLES 4 is distractingly plasticized and artificial looking throughout; it's as if every shot were airbrushed with a shaky and unsure hand.
Some of the writing choices betray these actors
as well. Don't even get me started on what happens to one character
(whose identity I won't reveal to avoid spoilers), the aftermath of that,
and then the conclusion of it all. EXPENDABLES 4 commits a massive
creative sin in terms of not sticking to an actual narrative landing point
(as far as establishing some sense of finality for one of these heroes).
It's all mind-game playing smoke and mirror gimmicks as far as the
script goes, which frustrated and angered me in equal dosages. EXPENDABLES
4 is an act of woeful desperation throughout and one that fails on almost
all intended metrics. This third sequel isn't even enjoyable in a
retro B-grade trash kind of way because of how lazily executed it all is.
No one's heart seems in it. The fan servicing nostalgia factor
of before is beyond gone now. EXPENDABLES 4 is a sequel that very
few were screaming for, made by many people in front of and behind the
camera who apparently could care less about the final end product. It's
as D.O.A. of a fourth film in a franchise as I've ever seen.
Christmas (for reasons I won't get into so late in a review) has taken a job as a security guard for an insanely pompous and preposterously rich social media influencer. When this live streaming jackass gets perturbed when Christmas won't handle menial tasks and tries to make a mockery of him, the disgruntled ex-EXPENDABLES member bashes him repeatedly in the face as his millions of subscribers watch on. Now, that was funny and satisfying. There's a potentially good spin-off here just waiting to get made.