Despite an hour-long high-octane climax, Scott Waugh’s Expend4bles is a mind-numbingly boring final installment that seemingly forgets to construct its action sequences properly.
*This review of the movie Exp4ndables was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.*
Here we are again with another installment of The Expendables franchise, and one that promised to bring back the glory of a no-holds-barred, gritty and explosive R-rated action flick like the first two Expendables movies did. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of the franchise, but The Expendables 2 is tons of fun and is, in my opinion, severely underappreciated. On the other hand, The Expendables 3 is not very good, and we can all agree that the franchise should’ve never done a PG-13 movie (the unrated version isn’t any better, though).
So, with the latest installment, Expend4bles, hopefully going back to the glory days that The Expendables 2 brought was certainly a good sign that the installment would be worth watching. And while it is somewhat better than The Expendables 3, it unfortunately doesn’t do much to at least make us want to turn off our brains and enjoy the mind-numbing, bloody spectacle in front of us.
It doesn’t help that the opening scenes are rough, with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) tasked to prevent a mercenary named Rahmat (Iko Uwais) from stealing nuclear warheads for a mysterious arms dealer codenamed “Ocelot. Reunited with Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and new additions Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Galan (Jacob Scipio), the team travels to Libya to stop Rahmat from delivering the warheads. However, the mission goes horribly wrong and Christmas is booted off The Expendables after they disobey a direct order.
The team is now led by Gina (Megan Fox), who traces Rahmat on a ship that plans to explode its nuclear warheads in Russia to start World War III. The Expendables now have to stop Rahmat from blowing up the ship and find who this “Ocelot” is before it is too late. And that’s where a good chunk of the movie is set, on the ship where our protagonists have to face off the villains one by one. Christmas, of course, disobeys his firing and travels to find Decha (Tony Jaa), a former member of The Expendables who agrees to team up with him, and the two go on the ship and help Gina and the rest of the team defeat Rahmat.
Sylvester Stallone’s role in the film is limited to a few scenes, and you can tell how he simply doesn’t care about the franchise he helped jumpstart with the first movie. He seems completely checked out of the proceedings, even if director Scott Waugh and writers Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams attempt to convey the stakes as larger-than-life and world-threatening. I wouldn’t be this phoned-in if you’re telling me that a nuclear warhead has the potentiality to jumpstart World War III, but that’s just me.
None of the supporting cast are any better either, with the exception of Statham, who seems to have the most fun out of Expend4bles’ star-studded roster. But that’s only because he has the most material to work with, every other character has virtually nothing of interest to do, especially Couture and Lundgren, whom the film consistently reminds us are there, but aren’t in any way integral to the plot. 50 Cent seems to be friendly with Stallone, but, and I’ll try to be as nice as possible here, can’t deliver a line with the right intonation or at least a modicum of emotion to make his performance feel convincing. Fox and Levy Tran’s Lash, who replaces Christmas once he’s booted off the team, fare better, but not by much.
Andy Garcia also stars in the film as a CIA agent named Marsh, and while his performance isn’t that memorable in the film’s first-two thirds, it gets progressively worse as the movie reaches its final moments. Waugh also doesn’t seem to have seen The Raid and The Raid 2, because he wouldn’t have wasted Iko Uwais on this level – Rahmat is a pitifully boring, one-note, antagonist, who looks menacing but is surprisingly, and easily, fought by The Expendables once they all team up.
Now, some will argue that no one watches Expend4bles for the plot and performances, which is true. Stallone has phoned it in since the first installment (though his chemistry with Statham and the rest of the group felt more alive), and the plot has always been ridiculously paper-thin. We want to watch The Expendables for the bloody action, and the over-the-top kills, and it’s part of the reason why fans hated The Expendables 3 so much. None of that was found in the third film.
It saddens me to say that none of the action scenes are any good. The Libya chase is bogged down by shoddy green screen effects and an over-reliance on jumpcuts, while the core, hour-long boat climax is, at times, entertaining, but gets increasingly dull as the runtime progresses. There are a few fun action flourishes, particularly involving Statham’s comedic timing and Fox, but they are so few and far between that they do little to impress. And an action film featuring both the talents of Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais that does absolutely nothing with them feels criminal in this day and age. Even worse, Waugh and cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones never craft any of the film’s action sequences with any proper visual skill – they feel completely artificial and hold no cinematic weight.
People who are just looking for a quick “in-and-out” mindless action movie may find some enjoyment in Expend4bles. But compared to the incredibly constructed action of The Expendables 2, Expend4bles is a joke. If they wanted to bring back audiences for an actual “hard R-rated” installment, there would’ve been actual care put into how the action was staged and shot, because what we ultimately get is a lazy and uninspired fourth outing that basically tells all of us that the franchise should be laid to rest once and for all.
Expend4bles is now available to watch globally in theaters.