REVIEW: Expend4bles (2023, dir. Scott Waugh)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 103 mins

UK Distributor: Lionsgate

UK Release Date: 22 September 2023

WHO’S IN EXPEND4BLES?

Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy García, Sheila Shah

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Scott Waugh (director), Max Adams, Tad Daggerhart and Kurt Wimmer (writers), Jeffrey Greenstein, Eda Kowan, Jonah Leach, Avi Lerner, Yariv Lerner, Gisella Marengo, Jason Statham, Kevin King Templeton, Les Weldon and Jonathan Yunger (producers), Guillaume Roussel (composer), Tim Maurice-Jones (cinematographer), Michael J. Duthie (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The Expendables are recruited for a new mission…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON EXPEND4BLES?

Just when you thought that Jason Statham couldn’t star in a stupider movie this year than one where he chases after giant prehistoric sharks with explosive harpoons on a jet-ski, along comes Expend4bles to literally blow Meg 2: The Trench out of the water.

The thing is, though, while Meg 2: The Trench was dumb, it was at least fun to watch, in a way where you can get drunk and have a laugh along with it with your friends. Not so much Expend4bles – which, given that title, shows that we have learned nothing from the days of Fant4stic and S1m0ne about awkwardly substituting letters for numbers in movie titles – which would still be utterly braindead and infuriatingly nonsensical no matter how much alcohol you pour into your system.

To add insult to injury, it is also by far the worst entry in this action series. Yes, even more so than the previous franchise-low that was The Expendables 3, which for as bad as it was at least felt like a theatrical movie. This one screams as though it was initially commissioned as a blatant knock-off of The Expendables, but then given the budget of a bottom-shelf direct-to-video movie from the mid-2000s, the kind that would have starred a bunch of lesser-known WWE wrestlers trying to become action heroes. Except, for whatever reason, they cast actual action heroes instead and then put it up on the big screen, a place where a movie of this quality should never have been put.

The plot can be described very simply as the stupid man’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Like that film, though of course nowhere near as compelling, there’s a bad guy – in this case, The Raid star Iko Uwais – who’s nabbed some nuclear devices, and the heroes, here being the mercenary team known as the Expendables (consisting of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Megan Fox, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jacob Scipio and Andy García) have to go in and stop him from igniting them.

It may sound like I’m leaving out other details, but Expend4bles really is that light on plot. Sure, other stuff happens – including one member who conks out early on, and some big mystery surrounding who the real bad guy is – but the overall plot, like most other things in this movie such as character development, structure, pacing, dialogue, general filmmaking practises, and basic storytelling logic, is almost never on its mind. Instead, it’s an endless bombardment of aggressively machismo bollocks, set to constant explosions and gunfire with gratuitous violence left and right, in between juvenile humour about big, muscly men comparing penis sizes and mocking peoples’ hair or height when they’re not gratuitously shooting holes into anything that moves, while the majority of women are there to be attractive eye candy with little to no personality or autonomy to speak of.

It’s not as though the other movies in this series were wholly innocent of celebrating such rampant masculinity as much as this one does, but the intent was clearly to homage the types of 80s action hero vehicles that most of the actors actually starred in back in the day. That seems to have been entirely lost on the filmmakers here, including director Scott Waugh who, similar to his awful take on the video game series Need for Speed, quadruples down on the obnoxiously macho energy to a point where it no longer even seems to be aware that it’s a homage of past action movie eras. Instead, Expend4bles is a charmless and chillingly patriarchal relic, with not even an ounce of charisma to justify its senseless plotting, tonally disruptive editing – one moment, Stallone and his buddies will be joking about golden showers (because of course they do), and the next moment will be of the villain shooting a family in cold blood – and tongue-in-cheek dialogue so awful that it wouldn’t even make it into a porno spoof of The Expendables.

Although, I reckon that a porno spoof would have slightly better production values than this film, which doesn’t even attempt to hide how shockingly cheap it looks. It’s a film that is clearly stretching every penny it has, to where it ends up stranding the action and the actors on a boat for the entire second half, just so they can reuse the same sets and locations, even though it makes certain action sequences like a motorcycle chase look and feel wildly implausible. There are shots where characters are standing around or simply looking through a peephole in a door, and the green-screen backgrounds – because, apparently, shooting on-location was too much of a cost – will be sticking out like a sore thumb, because the dimensions between the actor and the environment around them look proportionately off, and they presumably didn’t have enough in their effects budget to clean some of it up, or at the very least appear less fake. The same goes for the gore effects which, despite the film fulfilling its promise of being bloodier and more extreme than the lighter-toned Expendables 3, coats the blood in excessive and shoddy CGI which immediately takes you out of the movie, because you can tell you’re looking at something created in a computer rather than practically on-set.

Most alarmingly, the novelty of seeing these action heroes work together or against each other on-screen, arguably the main selling point of the entire Expendables franchise, has seriously worn off. The few returning faces look like they’re there to merely fulfil a contractual obligation, to where you don’t blame one of them for jumping ship at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, the newer faces get very little to do other than swap dumb one-liners with each other – or, in the case of Megan Fox, spend the entire movie looking unnaturally airbrushed, with nary a wrinkle to show she’s the least bit human, all while being treated like just as much of a mere sex object than she was under Michael Bay’s direction all those years ago.

When not even some of the most iconic action stars seem that interested about being in Expend4bles, then there’s no reason why audiences should be interested in watching it, especially when it’s of such appalling overall quality that a theatrical release should never have even been considered. It’s a franchise-killer if ever there was one.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Expend4bles is an atrociously made and misguidedly masculine action sequel with enough nonsensical action, dreadful dialogue and plotting, and uninterested performances to kill the franchise off for good.

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