'Expend4bles' Forgets Wh4t M4de the Fr4nchise Enjoy4ble

Directed by Scott Waugh

Starring Jason Statham, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy Garcia, Sylvester Stallone

Photo: Yana Blajeva

BY Julian BataPublished Sep 22, 2023

Nearly a decade removed from its predecessor, The Expendables 4 (or officially, Expend4bles, which raises the question of why the last one wasn't called 3xpendables) is deep in the thralls of a crisis. Barely clinging to the iterative charms of its heyday, the film halfheartedly attempts to reclaim the glory of a series that already felt like a throwback in 2010.

Led again by Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, the ragtag mercenaries known as the Expendables return to stop World War III from breaking out between the US and Russia. Joining the crew are Megan Fox, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Levy Tran, Tony Jaa and Jacob Scipio, alongside old familiars Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren. Envisioned as a series closer, this entry feels barren and devoid of the purpose that propelled the franchise's initial launch, as big names pulled from past entries either get limited screen time (Stallone) or are altogether absent (Schwarzenegger and, more understandably, Terry Crews). The few returning cast members bring some well-worn charm, and if the flaccidly meta jokes about aging can be stomached, the golden oldies' relative charisma buoys otherwise drab dialogue. 

Director Scott Waugh guides the action slickly and with enough clarity that one could hardly be bored — but, given a limp aversion to practical blood and guts, even a return to an R-rating can't make the film compelling. To that end, series newcomer Jaa is an unquestioned standout, whose few moments of martial arts fisticuffs are viscerally leaps and bounds above the CG-laden shootouts mustered up by his co-stars.

Aside from Jaa, most additions unfortunately fail to freshen things up. Scipio and Tran are left searching for any amount of meat within the material they've been thrown, while Curtis gives an all-timer sleepyhead performance that's downright dire. Fox swings for the fences, but drums up a big fat goose egg for her efforts as pseudo-lead and love interest to Statham. Credit where credit is due, her acting is relatively impassioned among even the biggest names here, but she still remains characteristically wooden. 

The trouble really starts, however, with our coldhearted antagonist Rahmat, played by the Raid's Iko Uwais. Expend4bles fails to play off of his renowned physicality by practically planting him into the ground for a largely sedentary and humourless performance. Criminal!

When the first Expendables arrived on the scene, it undercut its cheekiness with a touch of the mercenary misanthropy found in Stallone's then-recent Rambo, fronting a surprisingly dour tone and a self-serious villain that felt too detached from the film's cheeseball appeal. Only through the 2012 sequel's willingness to ham things up, with playful panache emanating from the villainous turn by Jean-Claude Van Damme, did the franchise signal a truer return to 1980s schlock form. It was humorous and spirited in its own way, and a timely reaffirmation in the face of a retro-driven pop culture revival for the coming decade.

With its gloomy bad guy and starkly unpleasant tanker ship setting, the renewed graveness in Expend4ables is a symptom of not only franchise regression, but also something more troubling from a film disinterested in engaging its audience intellectually: the thing is just no damn fun. The whole production has an air of uncoolness that's about as permeable as late-2000s programming on Spike TV. 

Sex appeal and human chemistry in Expend4ables feel as authentic as anything out of a beer commercial, with a soundtrack to match — thumping hard rock tunes that do more to trigger teen memories of sports bars with emotionally avoidant stepdads than they do the cinematic age of bare-chested bombast and musclebound men. It's borderline miserable to anyone outside the terminal spectrum of "middle-aged Hooters savant." In a film so thematically preoccupied with the idea of meaningful sacrifice, in that we leave something worthy behind, the franchise ironically sputters out into a finale likely to be forgotten in the annals of some Redbox rental station.
(Cineplex Pictures)

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