Principal Cast : Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy Garcia.
Synopsis: Armed with every weapon they can get their hands on, the Expendables are the world’s last line of defence and the team that gets called when all other options are off the table.
I’ve had a lot of fun with the Expendables franchise over the journey, from the cool nostalgic farce of the original, to the bombastic follow-up and even the hard-PG third entry, all of which delivered body-shredding violence, throwback 80’s quips and a sense of entertainment for the sheer sake of it. Sadly, the fourth entry into this increasingly self-aware property veers into stupidity a little too far, lacking any sense of verisimilitude and defeating itself through incompetent screenwriting and atrocious acting. With all three original films, the joke was on the screen; taking has-been action heroes (and some newbies) and throwing them into explosion after explosion. With Expend4bles, however, the joke is on us.
Statham, Stallone, Couture, 50 Cent, Megan Fox and a gaggle of reprobate action heroes from across the globe band together to stop nuclear annihilation when a mysterious arms dealer, known as Ocelot, threatens armageddon and World War III. I’m pretty sure there’s a fake death, nuclear explosion, last-gasp saves, a blind Dolph Lundgren running gag, and a man pissing on a bulkhead to be enjoyed in this movie, but your enjoyment of it will rest on an ability to overcome various structural, creative and narrative problems this film contains.
Look, nobody ever declared this franchise particularly intelligent, but at least it was enjoyable dumb fun. The films knew what they were trying to be, and the writing, characters and stupid, stupid plots honouring cheesy 80’s genre staples whilst enjoying the best modern filmmaking could accomplish. You could kind of tell, though that the well was going to run dry at some point, particularly when all the Big Guns (Willis, Schwarzenegger, Norris, Li, et al) decided they’d had enough and vacated the opportunity to return. Indeed the well has truly run dry: for this fourth instalment, we’re saddled with minimal Stallone, maximum Statham, and a swathe of Lundgren, 50 Cent, Tony Ja, Uko Iwais, and renowned action heroine Megan Fox (!) a part of the Expendable team sent in to save the day. Not exactly top-teir for this property, let’s be honest. Still, it’s always good to see The Stath™ having a great time wasting fools, although had he been given decent lines to utter as he hacks, shoots, obliterates and mauls his way through this orgy of excess and shit green-screen CGI I might have been inclined to give the whole thing a pass.
The problem is one of scripting, and holy hell is it awful. Diabolical exposition and “gags” from award worthy writers like Kurt Wimmer (seriously, this dude should never be let near a pen or film camera again), Max Adams and the inexplicably named Tad Daggerhart ruin this movie completely – a breezy action chuckle-fest shouldn’t be so hard to accomplish and yet under the guidance of director Scott Waugh (Need For Speed…ugh) the “fun” aspect of this destructo-fest is entirely absent. Instead, Statham, Stallone and even paycheck-collector Andy Garcia stroll through a preposterous plot about stolen nuclear keys, carving through an absolute legion of faceless henchmen, most of whom end up murdered in the most casual, brutal manner possible, all for our vicarious enjoyment. If only anything here mattered, if only we cared about these characters, but alas, we did not.
Worse than the terrible script (which is really terrible, let me remind you), is arguably some of the worst acting on a screen I’ve seen this year. Typically a good actor offers hope of salvaging even a terrible screenplay a little, but not even the chiseled jawline of the Stath, or the striking handsomeness of Megan Fox’s lip fillers, can salvage anything akin to watchable “acting”. Line delivery is wooden and stiff, exposition comes in the form of glib trailer-lines before another murder, and even the likes of Randy Couture, Tony Jaa and Uko Iwais, as cool as they all are in real life, feel forced into this uncomfortable film with the subtlety of pubic warts. Stallone, the great mumbler himself, is near-unintelligible most of the movie, growling his dialogue through the aural compositing of shattering bones, exploding heads, and cacophonous explosions. Yikes, nobody leaves this film with any dignity intact.
If nothing else, at least the direction feels decent. Action sequences are well orchestrated to be easily followed by dull audiences, as Waugh’s editing choices and near breathless pace make for enthusiastic viewing despite the enormous deficits working against him. The overuse of green-screen and CG is either the dumbest or the smartest thing this film does, because it harkens back to legitimately awful 80’s cliches that will work for a viewer of a certain age, or work against you if you ain’t. Either way, it’s an acquired taste of minimal effect, used far too often and with enormously distracting tonality. The audio mix is, naturally, deafeningly clustered, with gunfire, screeching car tyres, snapping bones, spurting blood and even copious explosions attempting to expel that tiresome You Will Be Entertained Whether You Like It Or Not filmmaking style deployed by the likes of Michael Bay. Excessive, yes. Worth it? Not one jot.
Expend4bles might just be the worst film I’ve seen in 2023, and if not it’s easily the worst film I’ve seen in 2023 that was released in 2023. Utter carnage and off-handed one-liners do not a compelling story or engaging characters make, you need something to give the audience a reason to watch, and when the best you can muster is Megan Fox and a man named after currency then you’re on a slippery slope to nopesville. This is a terrible movie, make no mistake. It’s awful to watch, is completely unenjoyable to the viewer, and with any luck spells the end of this until-now dependably incoherent, but tolerable, franchise. Avoid it if you can.