The last time we got ‘The Expendables’ movie, the result was the overlong third movie in 2014 that committed one of the cardinal sins for a testosterone-fueled action-film franchise. The cardinal sin in question? Diluted the franchise’s original R-rating in favor of a mainstream-friendly PG-13. Big mistake and the introduction of a younger team? Ditto for that.
With the long-gestating ‘Expendables 4’ – stylized as ‘Expend4bles’ – finally arriving after a nine-year gap, it’s nice to see the franchise get its act together by restoring the R-rating. The fourth movie also sees a different director at the helm – a tradition that began with Stallone, Simon West, and Patrick Hughes, and here, we have Scott Waugh. The director was last seen in the long-delayed ‘Hidden Strike,’ which made its streaming debut on Netflix for most parts of the world back in late July.
Apart from its much-needed return to its R-rated glory, ‘Expend4bles’ is thankfully scaled down to a reasonable 104-minute length – the same runtime that dominated the first two movies. The story – credited to genre veteran Kurt Wimmer with additional inputs from Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams – is simple enough. This time, the original Expendables team, including Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture), are joined by a new team member, Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) on a mission.
Their mission revolved around flying to Libya to stop Suarto Rahmat (Iko Uwais), who led a private army to steal nuclear missile detonators for his mysterious client, who was nicknamed Ocelot. When the mission goes awry, one of the Expendables is being held responsible for the failure, leaving the CIA agent-in-charge, Marsh (Andy Garcia), with no choice but to kick him out of the team.
Long story short, Gina (Megan Fox), who is Lee’s new girlfriend, is now in charge of the Expendables team. Together with additional team members, Galan (Jacob Scipio) and Lash (Levy Tran), they are soon on a new mission to hunt down Rahmat.
‘The Expendables’ franchise has always been a popcorn entertainment since the first movie. The kind that demands you to leave your brain at the door, sit back, and just enjoy the show. Even so, that doesn’t excuse this fourth installment for being awfully generic. The paper-thin story looks as if it was written on the fly. It’s not like the movie doesn’t try to break its formula, which can be seen with one of the characters from the Expendables team and a twist concerning the real identity of Ocelot.
But all of this barely matters since the story is hastily put together, and the characters here basically go through the motions. There are some decent action sequences, but most are forgettable or incomprehensibly shot with lots of blink-or-you’ll-miss quick cuts and jittery cam.
While it’s good to see Waugh bring in Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, where the latter plays Lee’s ally, he botches the opportunity of giving them a memorable fight worthy of their respective martial arts skills. Sure, we have Statham vs. Uwais later in the movie, but it was disappointingly short-lived. Tony Jaa gets to strut some of his Muay Thai moves, but the haphazard camerawork ultimately refrained us from appreciating the fight choreography.
The new addition of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jacob Scipio, and Levy Tran bring nothing significant to the table. For instance, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s Easy Day looks bored the whole time and devoid of the personality of an action star. But it was Megan Fox who fared the worst as Gina. The fact that she’s all glammed up with noticeably thicker makeup and her come-hither look makes me feel as if she’s trying too hard to steal the show from this otherwise male-driven action movie.
The recurring cast is a mixed bag, with Stallone taking a backseat with a significantly smaller role to make way for his co-star, Jason Statham. The former’s barely-there appearance is sorely felt since he’s the major force to begin with. ‘Expend4bles’ already lacks star power, unlike the ones seen in the first three movies.
So, dealing with being reduced by Stallone’s Barney Ross made me feel like the filmmakers are missing the whole point of watching an ‘Expendables’ movie. Put it this way, can you imagine, say, a ‘Rambo’ movie with the man himself served only as a secondary character or a glorified cameo appearance?
Statham is stepping up in the lead role in ‘Expend4bles’ and if you are wondering why, that’s because this fourth movie originated as a spin-off titled ‘Expendables: A Christmas Story’ during its initial planning stage, only to be subsequently revealed as another sequel in the franchise instead. Likewise, fans and viewers who have grown accustomed to Statham leading an action movie will find more of the same from him. His usual devil-may-care charisma and action-star persona remain intact.
But since this is an ‘Expendables’ movie we are talking about here, it feels odd because it looks more like a typical Jason Statham actioner than an ensemble film. The latter particularly rings true with the so-called ensemble cast lacking screen time to justify their appearances as a team.
Just like ‘Hidden Strike,’ the CGI is as horrendous as one of those bargain-basement DTV action flicks. I hate to say this, but ‘Expend4bles’ is easily the worst movie in the franchise. And with the OG action heroes getting too old and the “new” blood isn’t any better since the third movie, I guess it’s time for the franchise to call it quits.