- Directed by Scott Waugh
- Written by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams
- Starring Jason Statham, Megan Fox and Sylvester Stallone
- Classification 14A; 103 minutes
- Opens in theatres Friday
Just how hard is it to properly kill a guy these days? Only a few weeks after the sloppy bloodletting of The Equalizer 3 and Netflix’s Heart of Stone, Sylvester Stallone and his depressingly diminished crew of tough guys return to complete 2023′s unofficial trilogy of second-rate slaughter in The Expendables 4 (which producers would prefer you call Expend4bles, though you’ll likely prefer to call it nothing at all).
Pitched as a return to creatine-spiked form after the PG chaos of 2014′s watered-down The Expendables 3 – the franchise’s never-say-die lifespan is as stubbornly enduring as that of its headlining muscle-head – this fourth outing dispatches dozens of goons and thugs with bloody abandon. (Oh, to be the foley mixer on this movie, compelled every day to find new and inventive ways to make a “head goes squish” sounds.) The problem is that for all its R-rated ambitions, none of the kills in Expend4bles is particularly inventive, memorable, or even base-level fun. For a movie centred on the cathartic pleasures of mercenary murder, the only death wish that audiences will walk away muttering is one directed straight at the screen.
With Stallone’s Planet Hollywood pals Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis having long had their fill of this franchise – each for their own distinct reasons – and having run through just about every other 1980s action hero already, our lead Expendable must settle for a hodgepodge of co-stars who all look like they’re surprised to be here. When they don’t seem to be eyeing the exit.
Jason Statham is back as the same character he always plays – a bald British bad-ass – which, hey, no complaints. And regular background lunkheads Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren have once again been roped in to trade tired snipes between acts of all-American snipering. But their ranks are diminished by the likes of such unrivalled superstars as Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson, Megan Fox, and a guy doing an open-mic night impersonation of one-time Expendable Antonio Banderas (Jacob Scipio). If the first Expendables was Stallone’s A-Team, he’s blown past the bottom of the alphabet here.
The plot is … listen, no one needs to know. Something something something bad guy steals nuclear detonators and only the black-ops heroes in Stallone’s crew can save the world. There are covert dossiers, double-crosses, and ticking-clock extractions. Audiences don’t, and shouldn’t, come to any Expendables film expecting narrative ambition or even cohesion. So long as there is impressive bone-crunching sandwiched between knowingly eye-rolling one-liners, then it’s a job well done. Unfortunately, director Scott Waugh and his small battalion of screenwriters cannot seem to punch up the formula beyond the faux force of a limp slap. And it is one that lands directly in the face of the audience.
Waugh – who should know better given that he’s a former stunt performer himself, not to mention the younger brother of Gerard Butler’s go-to collaborator, Ric Roman Waugh – earns slight bonus points for throwing Thai martial arts legend Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) and Indonesian phenomenon Iko Uwais (The Raid) into the mix. But then he immediately loses those gains by wasting his cast’s talents with sloppy fight choreography and an overreliance on digital-heavy set pieces, including some truly embarrassing green-screen staging. Meanwhile, there could be a cottage industry of discourse written about just how Waugh’s film treats Fox, the actress reduced to such lazy and egregious sex objectification that it would embarrass her old Transformers boss Michael Bay.
The stogie-clutching Stallone seems to have the right idea, though, sitting on the sidelines for most of the film while Statham leads the action. Perhaps the 77-year-old is exhausted. Perhaps he read the script. Perhaps he’d rather be working on his actually interesting series Tulsa King. Or perhaps the man is just a stickler for continuity – it wouldn’t be a Sylvester Stallone franchise if it didn’t die an undignified death two sequels too late.