When I was growing up, my family always had a good time with each movie in the Expendables series. They were never meant to be high art, but as far as throwback action blockbusters went, they couldn’t be beaten. You have to admire it when a film series is openly about getting a bunch of action movie stars together just to make a movie that action movie fans of the 80s and 90s would salivate over. Who wouldn’t want to see Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and Randy Couture team up to fight a whole host of bad guys just for the fun of it? Each new installment was an excuse to revel in the action of a bygone era, and they were always enjoyable. Granted, the third movie lost its way a bit by focusing on a new cast of action stars instead of the veterans, but it still delivered the thrills.
The same can’t be said for Expendables 4, stupidly titled Expend4bles because the English language hates us. For a film series that is entirely about reliving the glory days, Expendables 4 goes beyond feeling like a relic and at times feels like a parody of itself. All of the elements that made the earlier films in the series as fun as they were are missing, leaving us with a film that barely feels like a finished product. It’s cheap, it’s lazy, and it did the one thing a movie should never, ever do: waste my time.
Director: Scott Waugh
Release Date: September 22, 2023 (Theatrical)
Unlike the earlier films in the series, Expendables 4 follows Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), who is on a mission to avenge the death of Sylvester Stallone’s Barney. How did Barney die you may ask? The Expendables were sent on a mission into Libya to prevent nuclear detonators from falling into the hands of a mercenary named Rahmat (Iko Uwais). Rahmat is serving as the middleman for a mysterious arms dealer named Ocelot, someone whom Barney has apparently had a grudge with for over 25 years that we’re just finding out about now, of course. The mission to stop Rahmat goes belly up, costing Barney his life, leaving Christmas a thirst for vengeance despite being booted from the operation due to his actions inadvertently resulting in Barney’s death. But whether he’s on the mission or not, nothing is going to stop Christmas from avenging the death of his friend by killing the people responsible for it.
I think it says a lot when I could tell in the very first scene that Expendables 4 was going to be a bad movie. In that scene, we witness Rahmat’s assault on the compound in Libya where the nuclear detonators are, but we don’t see the whole assault. We only witness a fraction of it before it unceremoniously dissolves into our introduction of our protagonists. The plot is only loosely established and we have no idea what’s happening and why what we’re watching is even important. We don’t even know what Rahmat is stealing until several minutes in when the film cuts away from introducing Barney and Christmas to go back to the first scene and continue it from the exact same place where we left off. It then keeps cutting back between the two scenes, killing any and all momentum the film is trying to develop. It’s a bizarre editing choice that doesn’t enhance the plot in any meaningful way.
I know that nobody cares about the plot of an Expendables movie. Again, they’re vehicles for action movie stars to still have some fun and make a simple paycheck, but at least you could tell the actors were having fun before. Here there’s hardly any joy. No witty banter between the cast, few if any one-liners, no over-the-top action setpieces, just some generic action scenes. Actually, I take that back. Generic action would at least provide some of those highs since a competent director would know that’s what action fans want to see. Expendables 4 feels more like a parody action movie you would see on TV in another movie that is supposed to look bad as a joke.
On that same note, the film just doesn’t look good. I already said how the editing was slapdash and poorly thought out, but the amount of poorly executed green screen sequences is almost comical. Whenever an action scene crops up, you better believe it zooms in close to the actors making a gritty and serious face only to look like they don’t exist in the environment. This is rampant in the first action in Libya and while it isn’t as present in the following scenes, the fight choreography more than makes up for that disappointment. It’s fine, if unremarkable, but there’s nothing truly entertaining about it. There are germs of fun ideas, like seeing a knife vs. tonfa fight, but it’s not enough to excuse the weak hand-to-hand combat and the piss-poor gun sequences.
It’s frankly a miracle that this movie was able to get just above 90 minutes because it shouldn’t have been able to. The story doesn’t really have a second act. We have our inciting incident with Barney’s death, then the cast is shuffled along to a boat where the climax immediately begins and lasts for what feels like half of the movie. It’s not that the movie drags, but rather when the film decides it’s time to pick up the pace, it turbo charges to the end with no time for the stakes to escalate gradually. Because of this, no one feels fleshed out, whether it be our returning heroes, the new cast members like 50 Cent who join the team, or the antagonists who barely have any presence.
Plus Expendables 4 does absolutely nothing new that other entries in the franchise haven’t already done. The returning cast members just reiterate running jokes from earlier in the series and they’re, of course, not as funny as they were originally. The new humor is weak at best, ranging from golden shower jokes to satirizing influencers, giving me only a weak chuckle at best. It’s just all so boring to watch. There’s no life or energy to this film. This feels like a bizarre obligation, but to whom I don’t know. It’s been nearly a decade since Expendables 3 and after a slog of a production, which included Stallone exiting the production and then returning, the pandemic halting production, and almost two years from when filming ended to now, it seems like nobody wanted to make this movie. The only person who may have wanted this film to see it finished would be Jason Statham if only so he could become the new lead of the franchise, but since Expendables 4 was meant to be the end of the franchise, what was even the point?
Just what is the point of all of this? In a year that gave us some fantastic action movies like John Wick: Chapter 4, movies such as Expendables 4 feel completely pointless. Action movies have progressed so far since the last Expendables movie came out, but even then that doesn’t really sit right since the franchise has been all about reliving the past. This is just a bad movie, an awful movie really, that satisfies absolutely no one. This is an insult to action movies everywhere since the film hardly puts in any effort and trudges through a barely-there plot to get to action sequences that fail to deliver on all fronts.
If it tried in any capacity, then maybe I could be somewhat generous to it. But Expendables 4 can’t even be bothered to give the bare minimum. It can’t even be bothered to capture the same dumb fun of the first few films. Expendables 4 thinks you’ll watch it because you’re stupid and you just want to see action and explosions. It’s pathetic, and I don’t want anything to do with this franchise anymore.