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The Expendables 4 ★



Director: Scott Waugh

Cast: Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, 50 Cent, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Levy Tran & Andy Garcia

Release: 22nd September 2023

If there was ever a film that suffered a mid-life crisis, then it would be Scott Waugh’s Expend4bles.

To put the statement into context, the appeal of The Expendables is the notion of 80s and 90s action stars joining forces to relive their glory days in action cinema. The elements that made them famous: the quotable one-liners, the brutal kills, the big guns, the massive explosions, and the deaf-defying stunts – all packaged and celebrated into a series of movies about mercenaries who like to make a lot of noise on their missions! Add into the mix the current generation of action stars (which is where Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas comes in), and you should have a recipe for a good popcorn flick. So, why do these films continually feel like missed opportunities?

Part of the reason comes down to a franchise at war with its own identity. No one expects Shakespeare here, so we can collectively agree on the expectation, especially on its fourth outing. These films were never meant to be taken seriously. However, with the essence of a ‘dumb fun’ movie, the Expendables series cannot find the right balance to marry the silliness with its themes. Action scenes are cut short, never reaching the point of peak satisfaction. When it seeks a deeper resonance around ageing, grief, sacrifice, past grievances and loyalty – adequate ‘meat on the bones’ for characterisation to care about their warring circumstances – it never positions itself to capitalise on those moments. The franchises’ half-assed attempts to look within either come off as unintentionally comedic (such as Mickey Rourke’s monotone speech in the first Expendables film) or disinterested to see it through. Jokes feel lazy and tiresome. Villains are one-dimensional. Camaraderie lacks zip and energy, and ensemble characters don’t get enough on-screen opportunities to flex their muscles. It wouldn’t be a surprise if audiences saw every adventure as forgettable.

At least Expendables 1-3 possessed occasional moments of magic. Wesley Snipes, Chuck Norris (in full meme mode), Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger understood the assignment regarding the unserious meta-energy these films needed to keep them entertaining. The same can’t be said about Expendables 4 (or Expend4bles as it is marketed). Without question, this is a soulless entry into the franchise. 

When films such as The Raid (and its sequel) and John Wick: Chapters 1-4 have pushed the boundaries of action cinema, Expend4bles shows its outdated age. In a plot revolving around a failed mission to retrieve nuclear warheads in Libya, resulting in an unexpected loss, the lack of creative freshness and innovation can be traced to writers Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams, whose script indulges in the worst kind of impulses to carry through its apocalyptic storyline. Firstly, the story is predictable from start to finish, where every twist and turn lacks genuine surprise. Secondly, its dialogue – captured, dated and locked in a time capsule from 2021 – is unearthed with every cringeworthy mention of ‘golden showers’ and dressed up as male bonding. Last but not least, the sexual objectification of Megan Fox’s Gina, reducing her agency into a hysterical, argumentative eye candy in her on/off relationship with Lee Christmas. It’s one hell of a flex watching a film rapidly lose its 80s/90s D.N.A. with every passing second of its 100-minute runtime and transform into a generic, run-of-the-mill action movie (and not even a good one at that).

Ironically enough, it starts off solidly with Iko Uwais’ Rahmat introducing himself doing what he does best – taking names, kicking ass. Jason Statham steps forward as the lead, showcasing his one-man army bravado and revenge, setting up an intriguing showdown between the two fighters. However, that enthusiasm quickly evaporates with bizarre decision-making made by the production.

With a $100 million budget (the same price bracket as Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer), its post-production is a visual nightmare. The use of green screens is obvious and noticeable. Its editing is a structural mess, either randomly cutting away from battle scenes in Libya to introduce Barney riding his motorcycle in New Orleans to retrieve his ‘lucky ring’ (accompanied with a visual dick joke) or ripping a page out of Taken 3’s book with excessive cuts in its fight scenes.

Aside from a few highlights such as a dirtbike chase on a ship, Tony Jaa’s knife-stealing scenes and 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P. used as a hilarious ‘needle drop’, Waugh’s film doesn’t have much to offer in its dull and lifeless story. Its lack of care and attention is a case example of a “cash grab” concept rushed to the big screen without a justification for its existence, and in the process, manages to find new lows that even fans will find it hard to justify. Veterans Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture, once again, are left with very little to do, while the new additions of 50 Cent, Levy Tran and Jacob Scipio might as well be cardboard cutouts with the little narrative given to them. As for the film’s villain, Uwais shines as one of the few bright spots. But he, too, is a victim of bad choice editing cuts that never captures the full essence of his fighting prowess.

Nevertheless, nothing can save Expend4bles, illustrating how incredibly messy Waugh’s film is. Whilst its predecessors varied in quality, its fourth outing is comfortably the worst. This franchise is past its prime—time to put it out of its misery and send it to the retirement home.

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