Director Scott Waugh has created an Expendables, sorry Expend4bles, film that lacks everything that once made the franchise fun.
It’s been a troubled decade for the Expendables franchise. The Expendables 3 turned to a bloodless PG-13 rating and younger supporting cast in an attempt to attract new viewers. Instead, it alienated much of the series’ core audience without bringing in anyone new. The planned fourth entry immediately entered development hell, and series writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone announced his departure from the franchise prior due to creative differences. Stallone eventually came back, but not before most of the rest of the cast decided to leave, too (most notably, Terry Crews left the series when producer Avi Lerner made threats of career sabotage if Crews didn’t drop a sexual assault lawsuit against Adam Venit).
Which is why Expend4bles (no, really, they’re calling it that) has its longtime ensemble reduced to just Stallone (in a heavily reduced role), Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture. The film is smart enough to add Iko Uwais (The Raid) and Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) in supporting roles but not smart enough to properly showcase their talents. And the other prominent additions to the cast are Megan Fox, 50 Cent, and Andy Garcia. Far from the bevy of experienced action stars the series is used to working with.
“Some relationships are expendable.”
The film finds the Expendables in a bit of a rut, fittingly enough. Lee Christmas (Statham) has ruined his relationship with his girlfriend Gina (Fox) but maintains a friendship with boss Barney Ross (Stallone), who struggles with the guilt of having outlived so many of his teammates. Which is why the team jumps at the chance when CIA agent Marsh (Garcia) offers another shot at the mysterious “Ocelot” Ross had failed to defeat years before. But the mission fails, leaving Ocelot in possession of nuclear weapons. Discarded by the CIA, Christmas must avenge his mentor and prevent World War III.
“Get in, losers. We’re going shopping.”
Look, no one is pretending The Expendables franchise has ever been high art. But it’s always been fun to see extras blown to bits by action stars thirty years past their prime. Now, with the bulk of its stars gone and Stallone clearly looking for an out, the franchise just isn’t fun anymore. Meta dialogue about the struggles of casting and coordinating schedules for such a large ensemble has vanished. In its place is Stallone and Statham saying the only reason they still do this sort of thing is for the money.
And while Jacob Scipio (whose part was clearly meant to be Antonio Banderas reprising his role from the previous film) does shout a Mean Girls reference during a shootout, which is nice and all, the franchise’s habit of having action greats deliver classic quips with a wink and a nod has been blown to pieces.
The script by Kurt Wimmer, Max Adams, and Tad Daggerhart is notable for being the first time in the series Stallone hasn’t received a writing credit. Clearly, it’s not fair to say the film’s failings fall entirely on Stallone’s lack of creative involvement. But it’s certainly symbolic for how far removed Expend4bles feels from the rest of the series. Stallone has been a big part of the heart of this franchise, and trying to move the series forward without him just feels hollow. Comedy and action were also big parts of the series. They’re now replaced with lengthy bouts of exposition and muddled CGI. So what’s left?
An action icon does not an Expendable make.
What’s left is Jason Statham. The star has not at all subtly been set up as the new lead of the franchise. Which raises the question of… why? Statham is an established action star and undoubtedly a gifted performer. But he’s already starring in much more successful action franchises (this is his third sequel this year after Fast X and Meg 2) and a steady stream of independent projects. They wouldn’t call it The Expendables if it was about watching men at the height of their careers. Millenium and Lionsgate should have learned this from The Expendables 3 but alas. While watching Expend4bles it’s clear that Statham, despite all of his talent, is wildly out of place.
The Expendables series was once an opportunity to feel nostalgia for the greatest hits of a bygone era of action filmmaking. Now it’s indiscernible from the bargain-basement action films getting dumped onto streaming services with minimal fanfare. No pain, no shame.
Expend4bles is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.
EXPEND4BLES - 4/10