As a massive fan of ‘The Expendables’ franchise I was eagerly awaiting this fourth chapter in the action extravaganza. The films might not be instant classics but they were certainly entertaining, and seeing an ensemble of action legends all come together onscreen was always a fun ride to take – a novelty that I enjoyed immensely. So it comes as an absolute sucker punch to see that ‘The Expendables 4’ (or ‘Expend4bles’ as no-one is calling it), is a complete waste of a concept, a good ensemble, and a franchise that still had a lot to offer audiences. A woeful script, peppered with atrocious dialogue, completely wastes open goals of opportunity and delivers a TV-movie level actioner that’s disappointing on practically every level.
The plot involves Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) banding together the latest iteration of his Expendables Special Forces team, under the guide of government agent Marsh (Andy Garcia), to stop some stolen nuclear devices from being activated. His right-hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) joins up with old regulars Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture). Along for the ride are new recruits Easy Day (50 Cent), Galan (Jacob Scipio) and Lash (Levy Tran), with Lee’s on again-off again girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) also in tow.
No-one goes into these films expecting Oscar-worthy scripts, but the dialogue this time around is especially wooden and has no natural flow to it whatsoever. We know these people can act because we’ve seen it before, but ‘The Expendables 4’ seems to have been mapped out with no consideration for what’s come before, a complete lack of character development and a basic misunderstanding of what a classic 80s action film was all about.
The cast do what they can with the poor material laid out in front of them. Sylvester Stallone is in it more than I expected, but it’s still woefully underusing him and his talents. Jason Statham must be exhausted because he’s carrying this entire film on his back, but even he can’t work miracles in these trying circumstances. Megan Fox is a decent actress when she has the right material (‘Jennifer’s Body’ is an absolute classic and she is brilliant in that), and I’ve been a fan of her work in the past. She is obviously a siren, and dutifully portrays this in the film. But her character is so thinly put-together it’s absurd. She will no doubt get stick for this film, but a better writing team can easily make her character useful, and not just the seemingly obligatory eye-candy.
Dolph Lundgren’s character has historically been wasted in this franchise as an inside-joke that no one asked for. His comic relief is awful, and that’s no fault of his own. It’s completely down to the awful writing he has had to endure. Lundgren is a good actor – give him better material for the love of God. An absolute waste of a talent. Andy Garcia chews up the scenery, 50 Cent offers nothing of real substance and Levy Tran is completely wasted as Lash. However there are some positives. Randy Couture is still solid and Tony Jaa steals the film as Decha, a former ally of Barney who helps Lee out mid-film. Iko Uwais is always a joy to watch onscreen, and Jacob Scipio does a fantastic job playing Galan (who is meant to be Antonio Banderas’ character’s son). Banderas was meant to reprise his role of Galgo in this movie, but scheduling conflicts prevented it. So, (in the only good move the writers made with this entire film), they repurposed the character to be his son. Scipio does a remarkable job channelling Banderas trademark charisma.
How it took four writers to come up with this story is beyond me, but we have Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams and Spenser Cohen to thank for this mess. Not forgetting Scott Waugh’s poor direction which frequently opts for close-up action when a wider shot would have been far more satisfying to see the impressive set-pieces play out in. The fight between Jason Statham and Iko Uwais was great, as was any scene featuring Tony Jaa, but its impact was always affected by the way the sequences were put together, from its cinematography right down to its editing. Thankfully this isn’t ‘Taken 2’ levels of bad epilepsy-inducing action, but it also doesn’t hit its (very easy attainable) marks. Do the basics right and you win half the battle.
‘The Expendables 4’ is a massive missed opportunity and a complete waste of a chapter. Especially when we’ve had 3 very enjoyable movies already. And with the cast aging out soon, it seems like this is even more wasted time to deliver action fans a good, all-star ensemble. It was a long gap of almost 10 years between ‘The Expendables 3’ and this ‘Expend4bles’ mess, so we are running out of time. So please hire better writers and a proper action director if we are to get one more round with these characters. There is a market for this if anyone is willing to actually invest the proper time and attention this franchise needs. The fans deserve a much better finale than this.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Megan Fox, Randy Couture, 50 Cent, Dolph Lundgren, Andy Garcia, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Levy Tran, Jacob Scipio Director: Scott Waugh Writer: Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams, Spenser Cohen Certificate: 15 Duration: 103 mins Released by: Lionsgate Release date: 22nd September 2023