Directed by Scott Waugh.
Starring Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Andy García, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Lucy Newman-Williams, Sheila Shah, Daren Nop, Cody Mackie, Dan Chupong, Nicole Andrews, Adam Masto, Kenny ‘Cowboy’ Bartram, Karim Saidi, Samuel Black, Mike Möller, Lee Charles, and Tjaša Perko.
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 defense 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.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Expend4bles wouldn’t exist.
The novelty of The Expendables series, which sees legendary action stars in their geriatric years teaming up to save the day, has long run its course. Playfully titled Expend4bles (my Alexa device pronounces it phonetically, just like that, which might be funnier than any of the attempted one-liners in the movie), it also doesn’t help that these diminishing returns are being countered with additions like Megan Fox and 50 Cent, names that might move the needle of interest in the wrong direction if anything. In fairness, there are some noteworthy inclusions, such as The Raid martial artist Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, with the former serving as a villain who bafflingly does more speaking and threatening than fighting.
Of course, the main attraction is the mainstay members of the mercenary task force, once again headed up by Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross, his right-hand man, longtime friend and blades expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), working together and commending underlings such as demolitions expert Toll Road (MMA fighter Randy Couture), sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and some newer recruits such as a perverted shooter rambling about golden showers (Jacob Scipio), Easy Rider (the previously mentioned 50 Cent, who gets one of the only slightly inspired bits of fun), and Lee’s new former CIA agent girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) whom he makes love to during an embarrassing cringe take on blending combat and intimacy.
While once again acknowledging that their years pulling off these missions are numbered, the crew is ordered by Andy Garcia’s Marsh to prevent World War III by intercepting an attack on a Libyan chemical plant by Iko Uwais’ Rahmat, as he is gathering detonators and other ingredients to set off a nuclear bomb. The villain’s motives are as generic as they come, and I’m not sure why anyone would expect anything different, which is also acceptable to a degree. What really matters is that these movies serve as final hurrahs to the action stars of yesteryears while giving some up-and-comers a popularity rub.
The problem is that Expend4bles desperately wants viewers to believe it is doing something subversive and different, with a failed initial mission that calls into question whether the older mercenaries working the job are still capable enough to do it. This leads to an admittedly amusing segment where Lee Christmas, between frequent verbal arguments with Gina, temporarily gets out of the game and begins taking up odd jobs, such as a personal bodyguard for a chauvinistic social media influencer’s luxurious poolside party. The man stands around degrading the women while insulting Lee. Needless to say, things don’t end well for the influencer.
When director Scott Waugh (using a script from the crowded screenwriting team of Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams, with a story credit for Spenser Cohen, all based on characters created by David Callaham) settles for routine action, it’s not only bland and unremarkable, although thankfully coherent and watchable, but features laughably bad CGI blood splatter that makes one wonder if two versions exist; a PG-13 presentation (similar to the much-maligned Expendables 3, mostly for that very reason) just in case Lionsgate wanted to keep ticket sales accessible to younger audiences, and this R-rated cut where anything remotely bloody seems to have been digitally inserted in postproduction.
There are short bursts of life here and there, mainly with choice one-on-one battles between ensemble members that come far too late in the experience to make a difference in enjoyment. No one should be surprised by what is really happening during the plot of Expend4bles (I hope not, considering the pathetic desperation coming from the nonstop misdirect), but there is a movie worth making regarding what it does tease.
There’s nothing wrong with these movies having no interest in exploring these mercenaries as characters, but it is frustrating that these filmmakers don’t have the guts to stick to their guns when momentarily doing so. It falls back on dull save the world heroics with largely disappointing action, wasting its ensemble. To quote the poetic lyricist 50 Cent, I don’t know what you have heard about Expend4bles, but it is mother****** C-R-A-P
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com