When I first saw the trailer for a new Expendables movie, I had to check whether it wasn’t a fan-made edit. The dodgy CGI aside, what could be the reasoning behind making a sequel to a film that came out almost a decade ago? “We heard you loud and clear,” claimed the marketing around the film Expend4bles, while arguing how its fans wanted a gritty and violent comeback of its action stars.
The previous three Expendable films always tethered on a line that made them fairly accessible late 80s action-fueled flicks. Well, at least the first two surely did. People don’t go in expecting to see a compelling story but an adrenaline rush dose of bonkers mayhem that Hollywood has simply stopped having fun with. The initial films delivered a long-awaited moment where Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger finally appeared on the big screen together. The second film particularly permeated this heightened clash of ridiculousness in a – dare I say it – coherent way. It stemmed from the film’s cheeky self-awareness and the fact that it was savvy enough to supply its own self-critique.
The fantastic chemistry balanced the firepower of the set pieces Stallone’s Barney Ross and Statham’s Lee Christmas shared on screen, while the other ensemble of the cast went on to prove why these films wouldn’t be half as much fun if they relied on brainpower. The third film showed what happens when zero brainpower becomes the only drive for the film – even the hemorrhaging score couldn’t rescue that film from its downright mediocrity and redundant action.
Nine years later, what I least expected from the fourth film in the franchise was to deliver on the buddy-cop nature that its two leads seemed to have harnessed once. The fact that the film barely has that is just one of the many big reasons why it may as well be one of the worst action films we’ve gotten in a while.
The film starts with a group of baddies stealing a nuclear weapon, led by Suarto Rahmat (the breakthrough actor from The Raid films). His motive? To start a war between the United States and Russia. To stop him, the ragtag team that is The Expendables must step in, albeit this time leaving out the best members from the earlier films. We have Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Easy (50 Cent), Galan (Jacob Scipio), and Toll (Randy Couture) all leading the team and overseen by their toothpick-chewing (so 80s) handler Marsh (Andy Garcia). When things go awry, the team will have to track down the weapons before it gets too late to avert a nuclear catastrophe.
Seeing the 77-year-old Stallone return as Barney should trigger the feeling of a worn-out character who contemplates seeing the world pass him by. Even when the unfinished action around him virtually pushes you out of the film, the nostalgia urges you to cling to his charismatic persona. That’s until the film leaves him out of the action, making even the seemingly approachable 100-minute runtime of the film unbearable.
While the fatigue had already begun to set in when the last film decided to coast off these stars’ legacies, “Expend4bles” just comes across as hollow mimicry of the same actors’ past works. While there was once an instinctive tongue-in-cheek cheesiness to the scripting, now there’s just a bunch of loud and lazily staged action that doesn’t make any use of the talented cast. Once, where the insistently nostalgic soundtrack seemed complimentary to the action on screen, here it comes across as if the film can’t revel in the ambitious weight of its own promise.
While the plot twists in these films are never played for the surprise element, here they feel like an insult to the fans that the marketing held foremost. Perhaps it explains why the only female character here (played by Megan Fox) – who is given the same fighting move twice – comes across as out of place because she doesn’t have anything remotely to compliment. I don’t know who finds the imagery of her pairing up with these action stars sexy, but I’m pretty sure the film won’t even satisfy those viewers. Perhaps it should’ve gotten the same direct-to-OTT release that Scott Waugh’s abysmal “Hidden Strike” (which I think is a better film even though it was pretty bad) had gotten.