"Expend4bles" stars Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Megan Fox, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, and Andy Garcia. Released on September 22, 2023, the film has the Expendables team getting drawn into a nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States.
The film is directed by Scott Waugh, who also directed "Act of Valor", "Need for Speed", "6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain", and "Hidden Strike". It is the fourth installment in the "Expendables" franchise. If you have a world-threatening problem, your best solution would be to call the police, the CIA, or the Marines. If they're unavailable, you call some of the best old-school action stars on the planet to get the job done. Don't let their ages fool you because they'll kick your ass if you do. 2010 was the year Sylvester Stallone united the biggest action-heavy stars, both old blood and new, for a gun-toting and bloody extravaganza known as "The Expendables". While far from a unique action classic, "The Expendables" was well-received for its cast, action sequences, and homages to the blockbuster films and stars from the 80s and 90s. As a result of its financial success, it spawned a franchise consisting of sequels, an ongoing comic book series, and video games. Following an unfortunate misstep with "The Expendables 3" regarding its quality and rating change, the franchise returns from its near-decade-long retirement to revive the usual adult-rated carnage we expected from the first two installments. But is it enough to reinvigorate people's interest, or is it time for the action series to remain in retirement? Let's find out.
The story once again centers on "The Expendables", a team of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone) and second-in-command Lee Christmas (Statham). Their latest assignment has the team traveling to Libya to confront mercenary Suarto Rahmat (Uwais), who plans to steal nuclear warheads for the mysterious Ocelot to start a war between the U.S. and Russia. However, their mission was jeopardized, resulting in Barney getting killed in action. As a result, Lee was replaced as leader by CIA agent Marsh (Garcia) and Lee's former girlfriend Gina (Fox), a CIA operative. Lee sets off to help the team avenge Barney's death and prevent Rahmat from destroying the world.
"The Expendables" was the first R-rated movie I watched in theaters a year before I reached the appropriate age group. Thankfully, I saw it with my guardian: my late grandfather from my mother's side. Long story short, I had a lot of fun seeing all of these action stars, both classic and new, on the same screen talking smack and decimating despicable people in a bloody fashion. However, it was its 2012 sequel, "The Expendables 2", that made me a fan of the franchise, as it embraced the concept through its humor, R-rated action, and chemistry between the cast. As for "The Expendables 3", I thought it was an enjoyable watch despite not being as good as the second installment. Its PG-13 rating didn't help much to capitalize on that film's quality either. These movies were undoubtedly flawed, but seeing the old-school action stars under one roof is enough to call them guilty pleasures.
So, after nearly a decade, we're finally reunited with this unique mercenary team for another round of chaotic mayhem. Granted, the long wait and absence of several franchise veterans, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Terry Crews, are concerning. However, I'm still ecstatic about it regardless since it has several substitutes in the cast that captured my intrigue, including Megan Fox and Iko Uwais from "The Raid". These additions continue the franchise's tradition of uniting old-school and recent action stars to introduce to a new generation of fans while delivering action-packed chaos. These elements are part of what made the previous three installments fun and chaotic treats for action fans. Unsurprisingly, "Expend4bles" is no exception, for better or worse.
On the better half, the film offers exactly what you would expect from a movie about old guys shooting down baddies and bantering at each other. It's a loud and explosive extravaganza that's as corny as a daytime soap opera but can also be charismatic if you're in the right mood. However, it's also no surprise that its fundamental plot offers nothing besides what is given to attract newcomers and general moviegoers. If you're going into "Expend4bles" expecting an action masterpiece like "John Wick", you'll quickly be disappointed with the result. It delivers a straightforward and formulaic story that solely allows the brutality to do the talking instead of the emotional stakes given.
This is due to the film struggling to maintain its interesting ideas to make it stand out from the other installments. "Expend4bles" took a bold risk by having Lee Christmas be promoted as the main character while Barney takes a back seat due to unforeseen circumstances. Regarding Barney and Lee's relationship throughout the franchise, this idea could've played a crucial role in its plot, in which Lee struggles with losing his "brother-in-arms". This leads to him taking responsibility as a leader, a role given to Gina, to help the team prevent World War III. In other words, it's another Jason Statham-led vehicle through and through. This element would've added some much-needed depth to these expendable mercenaries. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. While the characters maintained their charismatic natures regarding their chemistry, the movie's story failed to deliver anything beyond that to make them more than just.…well, expendable.
Instead, "Expend4bles" goes for a basic revenge story that's similar to "Expendables 2" and Expendables 3". One of the team's members gets injured or killed, and they fight like hell to avenge them. Nothing more, nothing less. Although, regarding the execution, "Expendables 2" retains its status as the proper way to handle this type of narrative. "Expend4bles" does have its moments that I admittedly enjoy, but they're not enough to overcome its bare-bones screenplay. Along with its humorous yet corny dialogue, predictable twist, and conclusion, it's easy to see that this is the weakest installment in the 13-year-old adult-rated franchise. But one question remains: did I have a good time watching "Expend4bles"? Honestly, yes, but only because I knew going in that I wasn't expecting anything else from an "Expendables" movie.
Part of the reason is the cast, consisting of returning and new blood. While far from award-winning, they put in a decent effort to provide entertaining performances. One of the best parts of the "Expendables" movies is the chemistry between Stallone and Statham as Barney and Lee, respectively. Their friendly banters and charm never failed to make me smile whenever they were not killing anyone. Unsurprisingly, their chemistry in "Expend4bles" is no different, with the first act being my favorite part of the film. Sure, Stallone isn't in the movie as much as Statham, but who cares? They're a delight to watch, and it's a shame that this film is Stallone's final appearance as Barney because I don't think the franchise going forward would be the same without him. I also didn't mind Statham getting more screen time as the main lead because I still enjoy his butt-kicking presence, even though the direction toward Lee could've been better storytelling-wise. Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture were also respectable in their roles as Gunner and Toll Road.
As for its newcomers, they each have their moments, but not enough to make them stand out like the supporting actors in its predecessors. Seriously, there's no way they can top Chuck Norris's cameo in the second film. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson was fine as Easy Day, but he made me wish they didn't get rid of Terry Crews. Megan Fox continues to be hit-and-miss (mainly the latter) as a B-movie action star regarding her performance as Gina. Jacob Scipio channels his inner Antonio Banderas to portray Galan, the son of the team's former member Galgo from the third film. He was okay, too. The only highlights of the supporting cast are Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais as Decha and Rahmat, respectively. Jaa's role is small, but it is quickly compensated by his shining moment in the movie's climax. As for Uwais, he's just as badass as I expected from him despite him being a by-the-numbers antagonist. Also, his fight scene with Statham was immensely satisfying.
For the action scenes, "Expend4bles" corrected the third film's mistake by bringing the franchise back to its R-rated roots. If you've seen the first two "Expendables" movies, you'll know how violent and mature this latest installment is. It's got explosive carnage, brutalities, and even some swearing and sexual content. Unsurprisingly, the movie easily delivers the entertainment values and intensity of its action sequences, thanks to Scott Waugh's direction. Waugh may not be the perfect choice to continue the franchise regarding his flawed track record, but he periodically knows how to delight his intended audience. I would even say I enjoyed it more than his previous film, "Hidden Strike". Sadly, the only elements holding him back are his direction toward the drama and the visual effects. The drama aspect felt lackluster due to its inconsistent pacing and cliches, and the film's visuals made it a massive downgrade from the previous installments. Despite its attempt to provide slickness in specific scenes with the cinematography, the movie's magic was watered down by the CGI and green screen effects that resembled a video game from the 2010s. If you thought the visual effects from the recent MCU movies were terrible, you clearly haven't watched "Expend4bles".
Overall, "Expend4bles" revives the action-packed franchise with a minor pop instead of a massive boom as intended. The film delivers what we expect from the previous movies: a piece of explosive and corny mayhem filled with classic and recent action stars kicking butt and taking names. It's unsurprisingly a fun ride, but that can only take this installment so far regarding the subpar execution of its direction and story. The cast was mildly entertaining, with a couple of bright spots, and the action scenes were brutally satisfying. Unfortunately, its flawed direction, bare-bones script, predictable elements, and mediocre visuals prevented it from being anything more than expendable. From a critical perspective, it's the weakest installment in the franchise, both narrative and quality-wise, sadly beating out the third "Expendables" film. However, all that matters is whether I had a good time watching it, like my experiences with the previous installments, which I did. If you enjoyed the "Expendables" movies for what they were, you'll likely feel the same way with "Expend4bles". If not, then this film isn't going to win you over. My only advice to you before going in is don't expect anything special from its story and enjoy the mayhem.