The Expendables are back, albeit with a different lineup. This time they are hired by C.I.A. Agent Marsh (Andy Garcia) to enter Libya, with them being tasked to stop deadly mercenary Rahmat (Iko Uwais) from stealing nuclear warheads. It is revealed that Rahmat works for the mysterious Ocelot, a terrorist who years before took out most of Barney Ross’ (Sylvester Stallone) team.
After a stunt filled car chase, the Expendables find themselves outnumbered, with Christmas (Jason Statham) disobeying a direct order in order to save Barney. This disobedience leads to Christmas being removed from the team, with his girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) inexplicably taking over.
While Gina assembles her team, Christmas heads off on his own mission to bring down Rahmat and uncover the true identity of Ocelot. On the way he gets some assistance from Decha (Tony Jaa), an old friend of Barney’s and a former Expendable.
It’s hard to believe that its been 13 years since the release of The Expendables (2010). I remember back when Sylvester Stallone was doing promotion for Rambo (2008) he spoke of his desire to make an action film that would bring together a collection of the action stars from the 80’s and 90’s. It seemed too good to be true, but Stallone did exactly what he said he would by creating a film filled with action legends, with the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren all starring alongside Stallone. Whilst not perfect, The Expendables was a ridiculously entertaining actioner that harkened back to the action classics many of us grew up on.
Following on 2 years later, The Expendables 2 (2012) was even more enjoyable than the first, giving us even more gruesome R rated carnage than before. Additionally, director Simon West’s sequel brought in even more action legends than the first entry. Not only did Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis have more substantial roles, adding to the fun was the inclusion of Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins and best of all, Jean-Claude Van Damme in a rare villainous turn.
Many felt that The Expendables 3 (2014) was a step in the wrong direction for the franchise, with the filmmakers making the ill-minded decision to make this third outing PG-13, severely going against what attracted action lovers to the first two films. Although I agree that this sanitized approach done more harm than good to the series, there’s still a lot to enjoy in Patrick Hughes third entry, with a series of large scale set pieces featuring some of the best action of the franchise, only hampered by the noticeable lack of blood and guts. There’s also the addition of Mel Gibson as the film’s main antagonist, with the screen veteran chewing the scenery with aplomb.
There had been talk of a fourth film in the series not long after the release of the third film, but it has taken until now for this to become a reality. The usual creative differences and behind the scenes drama are the main reason it has taken so long for another Expendables to reach the screen. At one point Stallone announced he was finished with the series entirely, with him being unhappy with the direction the series was taking. He eventually agreed to return after much support from his fellow cast members.
There was also talk of a spin off that would primarily focus on Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas, although it would seem that this was developed into what has become Expend4bles. Returning to the hard R action of the first two films, it would appear that the filmmakers listened to their audience for once. However, the real question is how does Expend4bles compare to what has come before.
Sadly it doesn’t. Director Scott Waugh has certainly created an entertaining actioner, with its barrage of high kicks and bullets sure to put a smile on most action lovers face, but it pales in comparison to the previous films. Even the third, with its adherence to a PG-13 rating was a better film all round.
Waugh does his hardest to keep us entertained, with the film still including the quality action set pieces the series is known for. Bringing in Alan Ng and the Jackie Chan Stunt Team certainly brings a freshness to the action, with the fight scenes having a slightly different flavor than the previous films. The fight choreography is clearly of a high quality, but like many Hollywood productions there is sometimes a tendency to shoot the action too close or utilize unnecessary shaky cam. Thankfully this isn’t the case throughout the entire film, but now and again it becomes a problem.
As good as the fight choreography is, it would have been nice if there were more fights included in the film, with a lot of the action being of the gunplay variety. Even the fight scenes we get should be longer. The anticipated fight between Statham and Uwais is expectedly exciting but it is way too short considering how its built up during the film.
Then we come to the terrible CGI. I can’t say I was exactly surprised by this aspect. Anyone who has seen a Millenium production in the past will know how lazy they can be when it comes to special effects work. Expend4bles features some of their poorest work yet, with the production seriously cutting corners in regards to the CGI, with much of it resembling a PS2 video game. This is a shame, as most of the practical effects on show are well done.
Even so, I am willing to overlook these gripes, as all of the Expendables films have had some issues in their production. However, one issue I can’t ignore is the lack of notable action stars, with several of the original lineup sitting this one out.
While it’s nice to see Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais on screen, with them being suitable replacements for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews etc, other additions such as Megan Fox and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson bring little to the table and are constantly overshadowed by bonafide action stars. It would seem the producers are forgetting what made the Expendables franchise great, with it being an opportunity to give veteran action stars another shot at cinematic glory. Now it seems they’re more interested in replacing them with younger models which goes against what the franchise was built upon.
Even though there aren’t as many legends this time round, there’s still a good few to keep us old timers entertained, with Stallone and Statham still proving to be a winning team, although Stallone takes a back seat this time round, with Statham becoming the de facto lead. Some fans may be disappointed by how little Stallone actually appears in the film but I wasn’t really surprised considering the previous talk of how the film was meant to be a passing of the torch.
It’s not as if Jason Statham isn’t an action star in his own right, with him being more than capable (and then some) of leading the franchise. As expected, his action skills are on full show, with most of the film’s best action scenes belonging to him. His most memorable action scenes feature him fighting alongside new addition to the team Tony Jaa where they brutally take down a horde of terrorists, then there’s the aforementioned finale where he goes mano o mano against Iko Uwais.
In fact, this is much more of a Jason Statham vehicle than it is an Expendables film. Although the team still get their own share of the screen time, for the most part this is Statham’s show, with it almost feeling like the spin off that was originally planned.
While Statham shares great chemistry with Stallone, the same can’t be said with his love interest Megan Fox. The introduction to Fox is terribly done, with her in the middle of an insane rant which does nothing to endear the audience to her character. Stretching credibility even further, it is revealed she is actually a member of Barney’s team. Fox is seriously miscast here, with her looking as if she is going to a photoshoot rather than going into action.
Further stretching believability is when she is put in charge of the team. At this point we have seen nothing to prove that she would be qualified for this and it seems strange she would be chosen over Statham or even Couture who have meant to be part of the team for decades. But no, let’s give the job to the expressionless model who we haven’t even been given a chance to know.
Fox isn’t the only female member of the team, with Levy Tran faring much better as the deadly Lash. Tran isn’t given much in the way of character development but impresses in her fight scenes, with one memorable sequence having her and Tony Jaa teaming up to take out a rather tough mercenary.
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson doesn’t fare as well, with his character having zero in the way of personality or development. He just shows up at the start where Stallone exclaims him to be a new member of the team. That’s all we ever get to know about him, although there are scenes where he talks as if he’s a veteran member of the team.
Of the other new additions to the team, both Tony Jaa and Jacob Scipio make an impression. Like Tran & Jackson, Jaa doesn’t really get much of a character, with him being an old acquaintance of Barney’s. Even so, with Jaa that’s not so much of a problem as he makes up for it by kicking ass. He gets a couple of well done fight scenes that more than prove he’s still got the moves. My only gripe is I wish there were more of them.
Scipio is good fun as new member Galan, the son of Antonio Banderas’ character Galgo who appeared in the third film. While Banderas is missed, Scipio turns out to be a decent replacement with his character proving that the apple doesn’t fall so far from the tree. Galan is as manic as his father, with Scipio seeming to enjoy doing his best Banderas impression. At the same time, one wonders why they didn’t just cast Banderas himself rather than getting someone to do an impression.
Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture are always great value in these films, with my only issue with them being that they never seem to get enough to do. Lundgren is still a great comic relief, with jokes about his hair and deteriorating vision bringing the laughs. He doesn’t get as involved in the action here, but even then I was just glad he was still involved.
Couture gets slightly more to do than the last film, which could be down to the fact there are less members in the team. Like Lundgren, Couture is just a likeable presence with his stories about how he damaged his ear raising a smile. He also gets more of an opportunity to get involved in the action, although not as much as I would have liked.
On villain duties is the deadly Iko Uwais, with his character Rhamat being an especially evil creation. During the opening moments of the film we see him brutally slaying several opponents to then see him murder a young boy. Clearly he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
I did think that Uwais was somewhat underused. He does get to show off his martial arts skills on several occasions, but for those that only know him for The Raid (2011), be prepared to be disappointed. Uwais is probably the most physically threatening villain of the series so far, but he is also the least memorable. This isn’t surprising when you consider we have had Eric Roberts, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson on villain duties previously, all of whom brought a lot of personality to their roles.
At least Uwais got a chance to show off his skills. Strangely there are several martial artists wasted in the film, with them being shown on screen to quickly be taken out without getting a chance to show off their skills. The likes of Mike Moeller and Dan Chupong feature for mere minutes and are both completely wasted.
The script by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams will never win any awards, but there is still some memorable dialogue even if the script does take certain liberties with characters. Some of our heroes act quite out of character at points, mostly just to move the plot along.
One of the most noticeable parts of the script is the total absence of Stallone as writer, with him having a hand in the screenplays of the previous three films. This is actually the least involved Stallone has ever been with the series, with him not even listed as one of the producers.
As well as the absence of Stallone as either writer or producer, another previous contributor is also noticeable by his absence. The first three films were all composed by Bryan Tyler, with his scores being perfect accompaniments to the on screen action. He is replaced by Guillaume Roussel this time round, and to be honest I can’t remember anything notable about his score other than wondering why the iconic Expendables theme wasn’t used. Roussel has proved to be a talented composer with his other work, but his score added very little to the on screen action.
Expend4bles is definitely the weakest entry of the series, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had, with there being enough carnage on display to keep less discerning action fans happy. There has been talk about the possibility of an Expendables 5, but unless Millenium decides to up their game I feel this may be the last time we see Barney, Christmas etc.
Plot: 2.5/5 Acting: 3/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3/5