“Expend4bles is an embarrassingly cheap action movie, and one of the worst films of the year so far.”
- Jason Statham's reliably commanding star turn
- Action sequences that are impossible to follow
- Shockingly bad VFX throughout
- An underbaked plot
- A one-note central villain
The ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have impacted the entertainment industry in numerous unfortunate ways. Until Hollywood’s studios give the two guilds and their members the wages and protections that they deserve, the strikes will continue to take a toll on the industry at large, too. If there is a silver lining to be found in the double strikes’ impact on Hollywood — outside of the general labor conversation it’s helped propel to the front of American culture — perhaps it’s that none of the actors in Expend4bles had to promote it. The film is an embarrassment for all involved.
The fourth installment in a series that has never truly justified its existence, Expend4bles is an insultingly cheap action movie. If the Expendables franchise was originally designed to celebrate the film icons at the center of it, then its latest entry is the antithesis of that idea. It’s a movie that leaves most of its actors stranded in the unforgiving lands of awful green screen backgrounds and saddled with dialogue that, at times, looks painful for them to deliver. Not only does it make many of its stars look bad, but it traps them in a film that feels like it could have been written, shot, and edited by AI. That would, at least, explain why the whole movie feels so regurgitated, robotic, and lifeless.
Coming nine years after its franchise’s third installment, Expend4bles picks up with Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the two best friends that have long been at the head of the film’s eponymous team of elite mercenaries, and follows them as they take on a dangerous mission in Libya. While there, they cross paths with Suarto Rahmat (Iko Uwais), a deadly assassin working for a mysterious agent of chaos known only as “Ocelot.” Their confrontation with Rahmat inevitably takes a tragic turn and forces Expend4bles to spend most of its second half operating as both a save-the-world thriller and a straightforward revenge film.
The movie’s plot is largely nonsensical and made even more so by how quickly it speeds through each of its potentially dramatic moments. The film’s editing, overseen by Michael J. Duthie, renders it a confusing collection of time jumps, illogical action sequences, and jarring cuts that not only fail to cover up its obscenely bad visual effects but also rob its few tactile hand-to-hand combat scenes of much of their impact. Together, Duthie and director Scott Waugh fail to establish any kind of perceptible rhythm or pace throughout Expend4bles, cutting recklessly from one angle and scene to another with no apparent thought or sense of intention. The film’s odd, disorienting editing is, perhaps, best illustrated by how it begins.
Expend4bles opens with a surprise attack on a Libyan chemical factory by Uwais’ Rahmat but abruptly cuts halfway through the sequence to New Orleans so that viewers can see Stallone’s Barney hop on his motorcycle just in time for the film’s title card to hit. The movie then spends an unjustifiably long time on a bar fight instigated by Barney and takes a few minutes to introduce three new players, Gina (an overqualified Megan Fox), Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Marsh (a visibly checked-out Andy García), before journeying back to Libya so that its heroes can interrupt the very Rahmat-run attack that kicked everything off 15 minutes earlier.
Had the transitions between these sections been handled with even a modicum of artistry, Expend4bles’ first act might not have come across as confusing as it does. There is, however, no sense of directorial purpose to be found in the film, nor any of the rough-and-ready confidence that was, at least, present in the franchise’s first three installments. The movie looks like a cheap, direct-to-DVD action thriller — the kind that chooses to so belligerently ignore the budgetary limitations that it feels designed to end up at the bottom of a bargain bin. Its special effects would fit in better in a PS2 video game than a 2023 blockbuster, which only makes how heavily integrated they are throughout it all the more bizarre. The same goes for the film’s frequent use of green screen backgrounds, which imbue even seemingly harmless dialogue scenes with a distractingly uncanny quality.
Most of the movie’s stars, including Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, García, and Jackson, appear barely present in their scenes, and Waugh fails to take advantage of those who are actually keyed into what’s going on. Statham and Fox, in particular, do their best to lift up their scenes, but their efforts are nullified by the film’s screenplay, which is incapable of deciding whether Fox’s Gina is an overdramatic banshee, hopeless romantic, or capable mercenary. Given Statham’s status as one of our last truly great action stars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Expend4bles is at its most watchable whenever it lets the actor simply make his way through his legions of enemies.
There are very minor pleasures to be found in Expend4bles, including a knife fight between Statham and Uwais that reminds you, if briefly, of the purpose action movies like it are typically meant to serve. The film’s highlights are few and far between, though. It’s a cheap mess that, at no point throughout its overlong 104-minute runtime, makes any artistic, professional, or financial sense. It’s a disaster through and through, the kind of black spot on its stars’ filmographies that is best left tucked away on a faraway shelf so that everyone can just forget it ever existed.
Expend4bles is now playing in theaters.
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