Expend4bles (United States, 2023)

September 25, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Expend4bles Poster

If Expend4bles was simply hampered by lazy writing and indifferent acting, it might not matter. After all, to be fair, those descriptors fit the earlier installments of the series – The Expendables, The Expendables 2, and The Expendables 3 – and they turned out mostly okay (especially the first sequel, which was enjoyable for what it was). But, when it comes to movie #4, there’s a sense that no one cares anymore. Not Sylvester Stallone, who was instrumental in the franchise’s genesis. Not director Scott Waugh, a journeyman filmmaker still trying to make something worthwhile. And not audiences, who have grown tired of generic action movies in general and this kind of low-rent James Bond crap in particular.

I’ll admit I approached Expend4bles with a degree of skepticism, wondering how it could work with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis out of the picture (although Willis wasn’t in #3 either). After all, the original raison d’être for The Expendables was to gather as many over-the-hill action stars as possible and throw them together for one last hurrah. The Expendables 2 came closest to realizing that goal but it was clear by The Expendables 3 that the concept had run dry. Time to move on. Apparently, “moving on” constituted jettisoning Schwarzenegger, limiting Stallone’s screen time, and adding Megan Fox to the mix.

Expend4bles features a storyline that would make an elementary schooler chortle at its lack of originality. This isn’t second-rate 007, it’s third-rate Fast and Furious. Something about stolen detonators and nuclear material. The bad guy, Rahmat (Iko Uwais) is some kind of martial arts expert whose abilities would make John Wick envious. He’s working for a secretive boss whose identity is so easy to guess that revealing it probably wouldn’t constitute a spoiler (although I will refrain from doing so). The latest group of Expendables – which includes leaders (and best friends) Barney (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Staham); returning members Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture); and newcomers Easy Day (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson), Gina (Megan Fox), Galan (Jacob Scipio), and Lash (Levy Tran) – is charged by Marsh (Andy Garcia, replacing Bruce Willis who was originally tabbed to reprise Church) with resolving the matter and saving the world from destruction. A disastrous raid on Gaddafi’s former weapons warehouse results in the removal of both Barney and Christmas from the cadre, thereby putting Gina and Marsh in charge for a last-ditch attempt to stop Rahmat and his boss. Meanwhile, Christmas goes it on his own.

Expend4bles is really a Jason Statham vehicle; in fact, it was originally designed as a Christmas-centered spin-off. The decision to sideline Stallone for most of the movie is a problem since, although Statham has been in all the films, everyone thinks of this as a Stallone franchise. Although there’s nothing wrong with Statham’s performance, this continues an unfortunate recent career trend of appearing in wretchedly conceived and written productions. Whatever chemistry he might share with Stallone is too little to be worth mentioning. Megan Fox is intended to incorporate some sex appeal and female empowerment, but those things come without any discernable acting ability. And Waugh’s “male gaze” is apparent in a late scene when she enters wearing a tight-fitting, partially see-through top. The movie’s treatment of her character hearkens back to a much earlier action movie age when women were props. (Scenes in the trailer that indicate a Mr. and Mrs. Smith vibe are misleading.) No one else merits mention because even legitimate actors like Andy Garcia give embarrassingly wooden performances.

The series’ bread-and-butter are the explosions and fight scenes and neither reaches the low bar of “barely acceptable.” Many of the pyrotechnics have rather obviously been enhanced by CGI. (Fire and water are things computer generated animation has trouble with.) The fight scenes are badly choreographed and edited in such a spastic way that they become difficult to follow. And most of the action is so pedestrian that it could double as an Ambien alternative. Expend4bles feels like a movie that never should have been made for a franchise that, having lain dormant for nine years, didn’t deserve a resurrection.

Expend4bles (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2023-09-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1