Expend4bles – or The Expendables 4, for people who know what an “a” looks like – is an action sequel marketed as an apology. One of its earliest trailers opened with the declaration that “we heard you loud and clear,” and proceeded to highlight tweets from franchise fans enraged by the PG-13 rating slapped on Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and co’s previous murder spree, 2014’s The Expendables 3. And, sure, Expend4bles is violent. But it’s hard to imagine any of those disgruntled customers having their hunger for guts and gore satiated by what amounts to a bunch of copy-and-pasted, CGI blood splatters.
What they’ve been offered, essentially, is Hollywood’s equivalent to a disinterested babysitter leaving their pint-sized charge alone with an out-of-battery iPad, a single tub of Play-Doh, and a two-little bottle of Pepsi. Expend4bles has a vague understanding of what you like, but no resolve to make sure you have fun. You can figure that one out yourself.
Schwarzenegger is long gone from the franchise, presumably happy at home with his pet donkey and miniature horse. Bruce Willis is, of course, retired; but there’s also no sign of previous Expendables Jet Li, Harrison Ford or Chuck Norris. Stallone is back on-screen, but gone are any of his creative responsibilities behind the scenes (he directed the first, and was credited on the screenplay for all three previous films). Instead, he seems to be marinating in some post-Creed phase of his career, content simply to look twinkly-eyed and wistful as he pats the next generation on their backs.
In short, Expend4bles is missing the crossover of veteran action stars that was supposedly the entire point of these things. And, since the next generation here is, by process of elimination, Jason Statham, Expend4bles has simply been rebooted as a Jason Statham film. His flat cap-loving knife expert Lee Christmas is forced to go mano a mano with a few mercenaries in search of a mysterious buyer of nuclear missiles. Toss in a megalodon or a Dwayne Johnson and we could be onto something – Statham’s a reliable star, always in on the joke enough to save his own skin. But Expend4bles is a Statham film created with minimum enthusiasm.
This time around, his team includes not one but two women (gasp!) – Christmas’s wife, Gina (Megan Fox), a highly trained, CIA agent version of the woman who vapes in your face outside of a bar, and Lash (Levy Tran), whose characterisation is, from what I can gather, “perpetually horny”. Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren return, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, for no concrete reason, joins as well. It appears Antonio Banderas may, at some point, have signed back on only to change his mind, which would explain why Bad Boys for Life’s Jacob Scipio was hired to play his character’s son and deliver an impeccable impression of the man.
And, since fans complained that a martial arts superstar like Li was thoroughly wasted in a martial arts-less role, Expend4bles has thrown in both Ong-Bak’s Tony Jaa and The Raid’s Iko Uwais and packed the film with hand-to-hand combat. However, it is ruthlessly cut in a way that actively prevents us from seeing half of what’s going on: fights, explosions, stunts, even any time Gina and Christmas kiss (does the film think it’s going to catch cooties?). Presumably, it’s to cover up the shoddy CGI work, which may as well have been compiled out of pieces of Clipart. It’s a $100m film with almost no trace of that $100m actually visible on screen. Expend4ble indeed, then.
Dir: Scott Waugh. Starring: Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis ‘50 Cent’Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais. 15, 104 minutes.
‘Expend4bles’ is in cinemas from 22 September