The Weakest Movie in the Franchise

For decades, Sylvester Stallone has been the face of many iconic franchises.

The Expendables movies have always been beneath Rocky and Rambo, but admittedly better than — for example — Escape Plan. This series started out with two hard-R old-school action movies. The Expendables 3 was rated PG-13 in an attempt to bring in a younger audience (which Stallone himself later regretted), leading to the worst box office performance of the series.

Nearly a decade after that movie’s lackluster release, we have Expendables 4 — or as the marketing calls it, Expend4bles.(I can only imagine this was from the same person who came up with Scre4m and Fant4stic.)

None of the Expendables movies have been impressive, but the latest movie shows how returning to a franchise’s R-rated roots isn’t a surefire win. Did we learn nothing from A Good Day to Die Hard? Expendables 4 is mind-numbing, an awful entry into the series that stood no chance of being one of the better installments in a franchise that — much like its heroes — is long past its prime.

While this movie features franchise veteran Stallone returning as Barney Ross, Jason Statham takes the reins of this action franchise as both the protagonist and producer. This marks Statham’s fourth movie of the year after Operation Fortune, Fast X, and Meg 2: The Trench. He’s been booked and busy, but he’s also been playing the same character for decades. The only other two remaining stars are Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture. Expendables 4 no longer features the famous faces of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes, Terry Crews, and Jet Li, who all had their reasons for not returning. This creates a gaping hole in the franchise, and Expendables 4 did not fill it well.

This action sequel features the screen presence of 50 Cent, Megan Fox, and Levy Tran, none of whom have the cinematic legacy or charisma of the aforementioned stars. Jacob Scipio plays the son of Galgo, Banderas’s character from the third movie. The only reason I can imagine for why Galgo isn’t in this movie is that Banderas didn’t want to return. To fill his place, we have Scipio doing an impression of Banderas’s motormouth character. None of their characters are interesting. While none of the Expendables movies are known for their characterization, these characters are simply not fun to watch. Tony Jaa is a welcome addition to a series where he would truly belong, but he gets saddled with cringeworthy dialogue. You care about these characters the way you care about plastic action figures.

Now, the least this movie could do is give us a good villain. This series has seen villains played by Eric Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Mel Gibson. The villain of this movie is portrayed by Iko Uwais. On paper, Uwais is a fantastic casting choice. Anyone who has seen him in The Raid movies, Headshot, or The Night Comes For Us knows how incredible of a martial artist he is. However, like many martial artists, Hollywood does not know how to use him. Uwais has been underused in American movies like Mile 22, Stuber, and Snake Eyes. This is yet another example of a movie that does not play to his strengths. He’s one of the best fighters to grace modern martial arts cinema, yet he does not get a single fight until the final act.

When we finally get the fight, most of it is framed in medium closeups. Expendables 4 is directed by Scott Waugh, who has never helmed a positively received action movie before. His filmography includes Need for Speed and the latest John Cena/Jackie Chan movie, Hidden Strike. He’s not the worst action director working in Hollywood, but his fight scenes are never as good as they could be. The framing and shot choices are only acceptable, and when you have action directors like David Leitch, Christopher McQuarrie, and Sam Hargrave in the industry, you must be doing better than “acceptable.” The movie offers a bit of fun here and there, particularly during the final set piece. However, it’s another one of those movies where it’s fun while you watch it, but you don’t remember it once the credits roll.

As this is a hard-R action movie, Expendables 4 brings back the blood splatters of the first two movies, but it never feels particularly brutal. The characterization makes this movie suffer, as Uwais plays a disposable villain. His fighting skills could have been a threat early on, but the opening sequence that is supposed to introduce us to him fades out before we get a chance to see it. A later scene where his character is threatening to shoot a child could have been effective, but the child’s performance is horrible. The child does not look scared at all, despite seeing his mother dead on the floor, his father tied up, and having a gun to his head. It seems as if Waugh’s direction for the child was to act like a mannequin.

But the acting from the adults is not much better. Jason Statham is playing Jason Statham in this movie. If you’ve seen any of his other movies, you know what to expect from him. But 50 Cent and Jaa are surprisingly poor here. Fox’s sex appeal is on full display, and she barely has any characterization beyond that. Andy García also hams it up as his character, who also has some really laughable dialogue. You’ll roll your eyes at the predictable dialogue and underbaked screenplay.

Oh, and have I mentioned the green screen? It’s obvious, jarring, and oh-so-ugly here. A few of those shots are in the trailers, and it’s surprising how obvious it is that the characters are in front of a fake background. Furthermore, an early scene — which should be the most emotional moment in the series — feels entirely empty because of both the screenplay and direction. Expendables 4 lacks the novelty of seeing ’80s and ’90s action heroes like Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Ford lean into their famous personas. Instead, Stallone makes a glorified cameo, Statham beats up a misogynistic social media influencer, and 50 Cent…says some dialogue.

Empty, vacant, and devoid of purpose, The Expend-four-ables was best left MIA — it’s dead in the water.

SCORE: 3/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 3 equates to “Bad.” Due to significant issues, this media feels like a chore to take in.

Disclosure: ComingSoon attended a press screening for our Expendables 4 review.

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