“A pale shadow of what we loved back in the original, Expend4bles feels like it’s on life-support that’s about to be withdrawn.’
I really wanted to enjoy Expend4bles.
I grew up during the 1980s. During the decade, there were plenty of all-guns blazing, gung-ho action movies in cinemas. Most of these starred Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Chuck Norris (apologies to Michael Dudikoff.) When the first Expendables was released in 2010, it was like a throwback to those glory days of big muscles, plenty of guns, and loads of casualties. I loved it, even though it couldn’t quite match those heady days. The Expendables 2 doubled down on the mayhem and even featured Chuck Norris in a supporting role. And I loved it.
By the time The Expendables 3 rolled around, we were handed a PG-13-rated movie that didn’t do us or the makers any favours. That’s not to say it was bad. It wasn’t, it just wasn’t what we expected or wanted. Stallone himself has said that going down the PG-13 route was a mistake. And he’s 100% right. So, when the fourth film was announced and was confirmed to be going back to R-rated mayhem, we got excited. Back in the sandpit it belongs in, it would be a return to the blood and violence of the first two entries. It would bring the franchise back to its best. Right? Wrong.
Armed with every weapon they can get their hands on and the skills to use them, The Expendables are the world’s last line of defence and the team that gets called when all other options are off the table. But new team members with new styles and tactics are going to give “new blood” a whole new meaning.
Where to begin? The film, once again, isn’t bad. But then again, it just isn’t very good. For the most part, it is quite simply dull. Too much time is spent on unneeded dialogue, build-up, and set piece after set piece which don’t grab our attention. Add in some really poor CGI effects and it isn’t a good blend. For a $100 million movie, you’d expect the effects to be to par. Not so. I’d have to compare them with a really cheap straight-to-DVD or straight-to-streaming movie. The kinds where you can blatantly see that things have simply been superimposed over the negative. Yes, they really are that bad.
Throw in a lacklustre script that doesn’t engage hardly, some pretty wooden acting performances, a distinct lack of heart, and plot twists that are so predictable, and you’ve got a run-of-the-mill, average action movie. This isn’t what we’ve come to see. We want to be entertained. We want thrills, spills, action, and buckets of violence and gore. While we do get the occasional decent action scene, and plenty of violence and blood, there isn’t enough to entertain us. And do we feel engaged with the characters? Like hell we do. Plus a terrible score which is an insult and you’ve got a film with serious problems.
THE RETURNING CAST
To be honest, the returning cast fit back into their roles with ease. Jason Statham as Lee Christmas is the lead this time around. It is on his shoulders that the film rests. And to be fair, he does a good job with what little he has to work with. While not quite the usual Jason Statham movie, it does feel like one of his previous movies at times. And I pretty much enjoy those films of his. With a better script and some better performances, he could easily carry the franchise forward. At least we get to learn more about his backstory here. Somehow though, I don’t think he’s going to get the chance.
Dolph Lundgren as Gunner once again brings some decent intentional laughs. The main butts of the jokes at his expense this time come via his new hairstyle and his need for glasses to be able to shoot straight. Lundgren takes a one-dimensional character and drags it out into a vital cog in the wheel of the film. The same can be said for Randy Couture as Toll Road. When both Lundgren and he are on screen together, we feel as if we are on safe ground. Very familiar ground perhaps, but safe ground nonetheless. The pair play off each other well. And Couture is in on the joke regarding his deformed ear. He even provides an explanation a couple of times. And both times, we can’t help but laugh.
Sylvester Stallone has what is in reality an extended twenty-minute cameo role as Barney. And here is where a serious problem arises. We are so used to seeing Stallone front and centre in these movies, that it feels like an important part is missing. We already know going in that this is Stallone’s final appearance as Barney. And I can’t say I’m surprised.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he took one look at the script, how his character has been changed and not for the better, and simply said “Ok, I’ll do a cameo and then I’m out, period.” This isn’t the finale we want for Barney, despite the film being decent enough when he’s on screen. Once Stallone is out of the film, it nosedives to the ground.
THE NEW CAST
With the exception of four of the newcomers to the cast, the rest are forgettable. You know a film is in serious trouble when even the great Andy Garcia can’t save it. Garcia, an actor who is loved and admired simply phones in his performance as Marsh, a CIA agent and an old friend of Barney’s. He simply isn’t given enough to do. And when he does, for the most part, he looks as bored as the audience.
Megan Fox is miscast as Gina, a CIA operator and Christmas’ ex-girlfriend. For someone who is a leader and a member of The Expendables, she comes across as a little girl playing at war. And that’s never a good sign with such an important role at hand. Megan Fox can deliver great performances at times. This isn’t one of them. She is so wooden and stilted with her delivery of dialogue here, that you could mistake her for a tree. A very pretty tree but a tree all the same.
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Easy Day just looks like he doesn’t want to be there. For a new character that is supposed to be someone Christmas and the team can rely on, he comes across as just a whining waste. At no time do we ever feel invested in him or his character. He appears, says some dialogue, shoots a few people and then retreats into the background again. The musician/actor deserves better. As do we.
JACOB SCIPIO AND LEVY TRAN
Jacob Scipio and Levy Tran are two new members of The Expendables. And both make themselves more than welcome. Scipio as Galan, the son of Galgo (Antonio Banderas from The Expendables 3) is wonderful. His mannerisms as Galan mimic Banderas in every way. We can truly believe he is his father’s son. His delivery of speech, the way he conducts himself, and just the way Scipio plays the character is better than the film deserves. If there is to be a fifth film (don’t count on it though), then Scipio has to be brought back to give the film that spark that he tries to inject here.
Levy Tran as Lash is equally as good. She doesn’t seem to have much to do to begin with but once she gets into her stride, watch out. Just when you think Lash is just a token female character, she gets to engage in a fight scene that is choreographed and performed to perfection. The scene is something the writers and director did manage to get right. But without the enthusiasm and fun that Levy Tran injects into the character, it would be yet another failure. However, from what was written as a paper-thin background character, the actress has managed to make her become a vital, fleshed-out tough-as-nails female who I’d love to see again.
IKO UWAIS AND TONY JAA
But by god, Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa steal the film from out of everyone. The pair are out of this world as the villainous Suarto Rahmat and former Expendable Decha respectively. Uwais is always watchable and he remains so here. Again, his role is simply just the token villain who is supposed to do nasty, evil things before getting his comeuppance. But Uwais makes the character so much more than that. In fact, it appears as if he has been told to slow down or not give us his full repertoire of martial arts prowess. For the most part, he is restrained in his moves, relying on guns and knives. But once he is unleashed, he commands the screen.
Tony Jaa as Decha appears as a simple fisherman when we first meet him. But within seconds, he launches into a fighting style that blows us away. Decha has turned his back on his past. He now only wishes to be a peaceful man, not interested in war or violence. But of course, he goes back to his old ways with dramatic, violent and incredible effect. From the second Jaa shows a little of what he can do, we are hooked. Sadly for us, the pair of Uwais and Jaa don’t get to share a scene together. And that is a shame as to see the pair go one-on-one with each other would have been awesome and could have gone a long way to making the film better than it is.
DIRECTION, WRITING, AND SCORE
The film is directed by Scott Waugh and he tries to make the best of what he has to work with. Which isn’t a lot. He manages to instal some visual flare into proceedings despite a shoddy script, some seriously bad CGI effects, and some actors who look like they would rather be somewhere else. But he is handicapped by a screenplay that leaves a lot to be desired. It is the second film in a row where the director has been let down by a poor script and bad effects, his previous effort being the Jackie Chan/ John Cena movie Hidden Strike. Waugh is a good director who is being let down by other departments in his movies.
The screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams, based on a story by Spenser Cohen, Wimmer, and Daggerhart is execrable. It takes everything that we love about the franchise and throws it overboard, creating something that if wasn’t backed up by Hollywood heavyweights and a big budget, would sink to the bottom of the bargain bin trash. Between them all, you’d expect to at least have something that would be halfway decent. perhaps we were expecting too much.
The score by Guillaume Roussel, taking over from the series regular composer Brian Tyler is godawful. Anyone expecting even a small blast of Tyler’s theme from the previous three movies is in for one hell of a disappointment. The score reminds us of those scores from the cheap and cheerful Cannon movies of the 1980s. But compared to the score here, those were Academy Award-winning compositions. It really is that bad.
Despite some really good, meaty violent action sequences and some really nasty deaths, the film feels like the final, sad chapter of a once great action franchise. Make no mistake about it, this could be the death knell for the series. A pale shadow of what we loved back in the original, Expend4bles feels like it’s on life-support that’s about to be withdrawn. While there are some signs of life hidden within the film, it isn’t enough to keep it alive for long. To make matters worse, the film is instantly forgettable as soon as we leave the cinema. And for this franchise, and the actors it contains, that isn’t good.
Can the franchise continue after this film? It could indeed. Should it continue? That is doubtful, to say the least. Unless someone comes up with some fresh ideas, a good script, and dare I say it, brings back some of the characters who are sadly missing from this one (not even a brief cameo from any of them), the franchise could be dead in the water. Without Stallone, the franchise has lost a seriously large part of its appeal. While Jason Statham could carry the franchise forward, it remains to be seen if he gets another chance in a fifth film. From what used to be a must-see, highly enjoyable set of movies, the franchise has finally become like its title. Expendable.
Expend4bles is distributed by Lionsgate and will be in cinemas from Friday, September 22nd.
Future of the Force News Editor,Liverpool F.C fan,Halloween Movie Fan, Friday The 13th movies fan, Star Wars Fan, Star Trek Fan.