Expendables 4, aka Expend4bles, is the fourth installment in the nostalgic Expendables franchise, had big shoes to fill, or rather, big explosions to match. Known for their unabashedly over-the-top action sequences and a star-studded ensemble cast of aging action heroes, the Expendables movies have carved a unique niche in the world of cinema. However, with Expendables 4, directed by Scott Waugh, it seems the franchise has taken an unexpected detour, abandoning the elements that made its predecessors so endearingly entertaining. Instead of embracing its signature cheesy charm and nostalgia for 80s and 90s action cinema, this latest installment feels like a straight-to-DVD relic from a bygone era.
From the trailers, viewers were primed for a simple, yet promising premise: a mission to prevent nuclear weapons from triggering World War 3. While straightforward, the film’s execution leaves it feeling like a hollow shell of its former self. As customary in the franchise, Expendables 4 opens with a high-octane mission, replete with action-packed explosions, immediately reminding audiences of the type of film they’ve signed up for. However, the twist here is that the mission in Libya is led by Rahmat (Iko Uwais), whose ruthless pursuit of a Libyan General positions him as a clear protagonist, hinting at an eventual showdown with the Expendables. With Uwais’s background in action series like Raid and Wu Assassins, his presence suggested a potential shift towards martial arts. Regrettably, his skills are underutilized.
Expendables 4 begins to falter after the initial action sequence. Viewers are reintroduced to the Expendables in action, but the excitement of once again seeing the beloved crew quickly diminishes. Megan Fox’s character, Gina, Christmas’s (Jason Statham) new love interest, enters the scene clad in revealing attire. Her debut involves berating and demeaning Barney (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of the Expendables, and Christmas, Barney’s right-hand man, setting a tone that continues throughout the film. While the franchise previously showed women as formidable team members, as seen with Ronda Rousey in Expendables 3, Megan Fox’s role relies heavily on sexualization rather than establishing her as an action star. While Rousey’s introduction was also scantily dressed, Expendables 3 showed her ability to contribute to the team immediately. Unfortunately, the film never allows Gina to demonstrate the same combat or leadership abilities as her counterparts leaving her feeling like eye candy more than a deadly mercenary. It’s a disappointing misstep that seems to prioritize aesthetics over the iconic action stars and martial artists that the series is known for.
Yet, amidst the disappointments, there is a bright spot in the reunion of Barney and Christmas. Their on-screen chemistry harkens back to the camaraderie of longtime comrades who have weathered many adventures together. A barfight featuring former World’s Strongest Man Eddie Hall serves as a reminder that, while Sylvester Stallone may be aging, Jason Statham still possesses the action chops. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team as they prepare to confront Rahmat and the global threat he represents.
Returning characters Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) bring new dimensions to their roles, with Gunner’s newfound sobriety adding depth to his character and Toll Road maintaining his status as the demolition and cauliflower ear expert, now with more lines. However, the familiarity with past crew members ends here. Easy Day, played by 50 Cent, feels out of place, symbolizing the franchise’s decline in star power when resorting to a rapper with a few subpar action films under his belt. Galan (Jacob Scipio), the son of Antonio Banderas’s character from Expendables 3, attempts to emulate his father’s charm but falls short, mirroring the film’s struggle to recapture past glory.
This trend persists as the film’s subsequent action sequences rely heavily on CGI reminiscent of early 2000s effects, rather than aligning with the expectations of a 2023 action blockbuster. The decision to kill off a major character is further cheapened by unconvincing CGI, undercutting the emotional weight it could have carried. After the failed mission to capture Rahmat, the team regroups with the notable absence of a key member, leaving room for newcomers like Lash (Levy Tran) and Gina to join the team. Unfortunately, their introductions lack the depth they deserve, leaving them overshadowed by the established characters.
For the remainder of the film, the burden of carrying the action and acting falls heavily on Christmas, with only Jason Statham and later Tony Jaa as Decha, a former knife-wielding Expendable delivering standout performances. Unfortunately, the remaining cast members appear to be merely going through the motions, both in dialogue and combat. Here is where Expendables 4 loses its sense of identity. Apart from forced humor and recurring references to previous films, it often feels like an entirely different action movie than its predecessors. At times, the movie seems like a spinoff, as Christmas embarks on a solo quest to rescue the rest of the cast, who is sidelined after being captured in one of the biggest eye-roll moments of the film.
Unlike Expendables 3, which skillfully introduced a new team alongside the old guard, Expendables 4 fails to establish an emotional connection with the new characters, resulting in a disjointed team dynamic. Expendables 3, which saw the old guard of the Expendables mentoring the new generation, evoked some emotional connection as it gradually built up the new team. In contrast, Expendables 4 fails to establish such a connection among its ensemble, to the point where the group just can’t resonate with the viewer.
Compounding the film’s issues is the consistent undercutting of Christmas’s character throughout the narrative. His decisions are frequently questioned, painting him as less heroic than intended. When he chooses to save a team member during the first mission, he is chastised for letting a sacrifice go in vain, despite other characters making similar choices in the franchise. Moreover, when he eventually rescues the team, it is revealed to be part of Gina’s plan to get captured in the middle of the ocean with a nuclear weapon, solely so that a single person can swoop in and save the day. The climax of the film, where Christmas appears to finally achieve redemption, is ultimately undermined by the predictable twist laid out in the movie’s first act that renders much of the preceding events meaningless.
This twist is bewildering. Not only because of its predictability as the characters quickly return to normal, seemingly unaffected by the significant loss and sacrifices made during the mission, but because every single character goes through something harrowing and character-altering before the status quo returns. It’s a glaring departure from the moral code the Expendables have upheld for nearly 15 years. If the film’s intention was to focus on Christmas, it ultimately undermines his character in more ways than one, whether to pave the way for unexpected twists or to elevate other characters over him, ultimately leading to disappointment.
Expendables 4 appears to have lost touch with the essence of the franchise that got it to this point. The explosions, cheesy humor, and callback oneliners ring hollow as its ensemble fails to live up to the cast that came before it. The film squanders its R-rating on forgettable CGI deaths and superficial sexualization, missing an opportunity to enhance intimate, well-choreographed fights that could have been. The film’s twists are painfully obvious and protracted, leaving viewers hoping in vain that they won’t come to fruition. Were it not for the standout performances of Jason Statham, Iko Uwais, and Tony Jaa in their action set pieces, Expendables 4 might easily be mistaken for a straight-to-DVD release that relies more on explosions and R-rated deaths than genuine, pulse-pounding action.
Expendables 4 is playing now in theaters.
Expendables 4 might easily be mistaken for a straight-to-DVD release that relies more on explosions and R-rated deaths than genuine, pulse-pounding action.