Expend4bles is passable entertainment if taken as a B-movie, but it’s a disappointing entry into a series that never lived up to its promise.
PLOT: The Expendables go after a team of mercenaries connected to a legendary arms dealer whose identity is unknown.
REVIEW: Millennium Media has taken nine years to develop a fourth entry into the Expendables series. Things have changed in the near-decade since the last movie, which is reflected in the fact that this series instalment is much smaller scale than the ones that came before it. It’s primarily a spin-off entry for Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas, with the titular Expendables only supporting our hero on a personal mission, with Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross contributing little more than a cameo.
While that’s undeniably disappointing, Expend4bles is still a fun enough action flick if you keep your expectations in check. The budget seems much smaller than it was for the previous films, with abysmal CGI. Most of the action is confined to a cargo ship, as the Expendables infiltrate a vessel carrying a nuke. The ship is commanded by a deadly mercenary played by The Raid star Iko Uwais and his mystery boss, who’s only a mystery if you’re REALLY rusty as far as action movie formulas go.
The best way to enjoy Expend4bles is to view it as a Cannon Group-style b-movie. It’s the kind of turn-your-brain-off action movie I would have enjoyed on TBS as a kid and a decent vehicle for Jason Statham, our solo lead. Sure, some of the older Expendables like Dolph Lundgren’s Gunnar and Randy Couture’s Toll Road are there, but they have so little to do that you can understand why Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger sat this one out.
Some new blood is added to the crew, with Jacob Scipio playing the son of Antonio Banderas’ character from the third film and 50 Cent playing a recruit who quickly finds himself at home in the gang. Like in the third film, the Expendables are co-ed, with Levy Tran and Megan Fox among the new additions. Of everyone, only Fox has a substantial part, with her and Christmas on-again/off-again in the romance department. This is actually one of the movie’s best parts, as Statham and Fox play well off each other, and their banter is entertaining. If you’ve caught any of her DTV movies in recent years, you’ll know that Fox’s acting has been good lately and she has solid action chops. She fits nicely into the crew. Andy Garcia is also around as the new CIA suit, filling in for Bruce Willis’s Mr. Church, with him going along with the gang on their big mission and having a blast chewing a ton of scenery.
However, the movie is Statham’s baby, with Christmas briefly getting himself thrown out of the gang and forced to take on a solo mission to get back in with his mercenary bros. Statham is given a sidekick in Tony Jaa’s Decha, while Iko Uwais is the baddie Christmas has a score to settle with. While it’s a bummer that Jaa and Uwais never mix it up, one of the better things about the movie is that Statham, for once, takes some licks in the action scenes. Typically, his fights are very one-sided, but Uwais is a formidable opponent when they finally go mano-and-mano, with Uwais landing enough blows that the battle is better than anything we’ve seen from Statham in a long time. Still, it’s a shame that Jaa and Uwais have yet to have a major scrap on-screen, as in their last movie together, Triple Threat, they were allies.
Again, Expend4bles is a more modest movie than its predecessors, so keep your expectations as far as the scale of the action goes in check. It’s more of a contained, old-school action movie in that regard, which isn’t a bad thing. My biggest problem is how bad some of the CGI is, even when it’s just basic greenscreen, while the script, which has three credited writers, could be a whole lot better. The dialogue is stilted (with much of it mumbled so badly that you may not be able to decipher much), and the jokes are beyond corny, with 50 Cent blasting music by – you guessed it – 50 Cent during one of the big action scenes. But, taken as a straight-up B-movie, it’s still passable entertainment. In some ways, the stinginess of the production makes it feel like more of a Cannon film than the other movies in the franchise. Director Scott Waugh (Need for Speed) keeps the movie rolling along at a nice pace while benefiting from an R-rating, unlike the controversial PG-13-rated third film. While it’s probably too basic to give the franchise a second life at the box office, and Stallone was likely wise to scale down his participation, it’s still a decent enough shoot-em-up. However, it’s another disappointing entry into a series that was never quite as good as its cast and premise suggested. Of them all, The Expendables 2 was probably the best all-around movie, and even if this one isn’t terrible, it’s still only marginally better than the third film.