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The Expendables 4 producers on returning to the franchise and the state of action movies

A group gathers around in The Expendables 4.

Producers Kevin King-Templeton and Les Weldon believe The Expendables 3 abandoned the successful formula established in the first two films. King-Templeton and Weldon don’t think the third film is bad, but they admit it strayed away from the core themes of The Expendables franchise. The Expendables 3 was rated PG-13, a drastic shift from the R-rated action and comedy in The Expendables and The Expendables 2. With negative reviews from critics and fans, The Expendables 3 became the lowest-grossing film of the trilogy at $214 million worldwide. The third film is also ranked last out of the three on most lists of the best Expendables movies. For comparison, The Expendables grossed $274 million, and The Expendables 2 earned $314 million.

Like most good Hollywood stories, King-Templeton and Weldon have a shot at redemption with the fourth Expendables film, Expend4bles. In the film, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and the rest of the Expendables must stop terrorists from stealing nuclear weapons and starting World War III between Russia and the U.S. According to King-Templeton and Weldon, Expend4bles returns to its “roots” with fun action, witty banter, and an R-rating.

Below, King-Templeton and Weldon spoke with Digital Trends about the R-rated action and violence in Expend4bles, the chemistry between Stallone and Statham, and the state of action movies in 2023.

The cast of The Expendables 4.

Digital Trends: Does it feel weird promoting the film without the actors [due to the ongoing actors’ strike]?

Kevin King-Templeton: Yes. In a perfect world, you’d be talking to two actors instead of both of us. So, yes, it’s very strange.

Les Weldon: We’ve done interviews before, but yeah. I mean, this is a very exciting project. We’ll do our part to help get the word out there. This is something that I think we’re giving back to the fans in terms of the way the movie is made, the way it was directed, and the fact that it’s kind of going back to its roots.

I feel [a fourth film] has been talked about since the third one came out almost 10 years ago. Was there a point in this process where you never thought it would happen? Did you move on? Did you always want to return to it?

King-Templeton: I mean, I didn’t like how the third one was received. I think neither of us did. I think we always wanted to put it right, but you never know in life. There was always the desire to do it, but these are massive films to put together scheduling-wise. Story-wise, it takes a while. It’s not easy to put them together. The timing has got to be right.

But yeah, I always wanted to do another one. I didn’t like how the last one – I don’t necessarily think it was a bad movie – I think we strayed away from the core of the first and second. I definitely wanted to, along with Les, wanted to go back to the R-rated version of the franchise.

Weldon: Yeah, and demand is there for that kind of a thing. This is a movie that has big personalities and is bigger than life, and if you shrink down the action and make it PG/PG 13, to me, that does a disservice to the film, the actors, and the whole process. On this one, we knew we couldn’t stray from that. In fact, we pushed it even a little bit further and said, “We’re going to make sure everything here is what the fans expect.”

I’m curious. With the third film going to PG-13, was that a studio decision? It was emphasized in the new trailer that the fourth film would be rated R.

King-Templeton: It’s so long ago that I don’t remember.

Weldon: I don’t remember, to be honest. I really don’t. I wouldn’t blame one particular person. I know there’s a lot of discussion about it, and it ends up being, “Well, maybe there’s going to be new fans.” I don’t quite remember.

King-Templeton: Hindsight is 20/20. You can’t be an armchair quarterback. It didn’t quite pan out the way we all wanted it, but you move on. You learn.

Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone stand next to each other Expend4bles.

In the fourth film, I always look at Sly and Jason. They have so much chemistry together. They know what the audience wants, and they give it to them. Why do you think their chemistry has been so good throughout these films?

King-Templeton: It’s the X factor. You don’t know. I mean, you can get big actors together, and there’s no chemistry. These two, they have a lot of chemistry. I don’t know how many cockpit scenes we have with both of them in every movie. The banter between them, the dialogue between them, Sly’s got Jason’s number when it comes to his rhythm, pace, and delivery. They both complement each other. I wish there was a formula for it, but it’s just chemistry.

Weldon: There’s just something fun about it, having two big actors and big characters one-upping each other. There’s just an enjoyment to that. It’s a fun thing. Amid all the chaos in the world and in their world, it really makes for the experience to be a fun experience. It releases tension. I think that that’s really the success of the film, because … yeah, you need the right kind of action. But at the end of the day, it’s the characters in the film that really bring the audiences in and keep them coming back.

What new actors were you most excited to bring in?

King-Templeton: I mean, I think I think they all carry their weight. We got each one incrementally as we went along. For the Jason love interest, I mean, we had a lot of conversations about that. Then, when we decided on Megan [Fox]. We all agreed she would be a perfect fit for that.

Don’t ask me why, but it just seemed to work. Megan’s got that sexiness about her, but she’s also got this toughness about her as well. The Christmas character kind of likes that. There was good chemistry between them. Then Iko [Uwais] and Tony Jaa. Tony Jaa was brilliant in the movie. I mean, I didn’t expect him to be so good. We actually had him for his fighting. Did you see the movie, Dan?

Yeah, I’ve seen it.

King-Templeton So you saw. Tony came across as so cool and fresh. It’s exactly what we were looking for. And Iko was the ultimate – I mean, the fight sequences.

Iko’s a god. The Raid is perfection.

Weldon: Such a nice guy, too. They were both a pleasure to work with. I mean, the whole cast was a pleasure to work with. That’s what’s great about these films. You get like 10 of the greatest actors in action that you can wish for, and you put them together, and you go, “OK. How is this going to work? Is it going to be a nuclear explosion, or is going to be like a big kind of feast, if you will?”

That’s what it is. It’s such a pleasure to have them all there. They’re all very respectful of each other. They all want to contribute. They all want to help each other. I know Kevin probably feels the same way, but it’s always a pleasure.

King-Templeton: Yeah. I wish I had stories of actors smashing up the trailers and refusing to come out, but it just didn’t happen. This is a fun action-adventure franchise. That’s how they approached it. They came on set. Everyone’s got a super amount of respect for each other. Everyone’s helping each other. “You can do that. I’ll do this. How about this?” They were all collaborative, which you have to be for a movie of this size. If you’re not, it’s just going to get bogged into the mire and just become untenable. We didn’t have any of that.

I thought we made a good choice for the actors. I think they worked together. I thought the chemistry was good. I thought 50 Cent was great. It’s not easy coming into an existing franchise and making your mark. But 50 is a big personality as well. I thought they all brought their own weight to it, and they all pulled their own weight.

EXPEND4BLES (2023) Official Trailer - Jason Statham, 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren

Is there a white whale of someone you wanted that you couldn’t get? Is there someone you wish you could have brought in?

King-Templeton: Not on this one. I think we pretty much got who we went after.

Weldon: Yeah, I think so. Again, we think of actors that could come into an Expendables movie, but the first thing we try to look at is the story and the characters we have. You might have a big actor out there who could possibly fit in this marquee thing, but is he really right for the roles you have available without having to tweak the whole story?

We had this story. We were pushing forward with it, doing the best we could with the characters there. Then, bringing the characters in that would enhance our base characters, if you will. That would complement Jason’s Christmas character. And 50, who would help with Dolph [Lundgren], Randy [Couture], and other characters. They could all thrive in this environment and not get lost.

King-Templeton: Yup. You can’t throw too many people in, Dan. You’ve got to give them all a chance to flesh their own characters out.

Do you see this franchise continuing? At the end of filming, Sly posted this heartfelt goodbye, saying he’s passing the baton to Jason. Is this wait and see how it does with audiences, or are there always talks about trying to continue the franchise?

King-Templeton: Again, this franchise is fan-driven. I never like to think about too far ahead. This is in front of us. Let’s open this movie first. I’ve been involved in all four of them, as Les [has]. Never thought about Expendables 2 while I’m doing 1 or Expendables 3 while I’m doing 2. It’s a dangerous way of looking at things. Let’s see how this does. It’s a massive amount of work to put this in. It’s coming to fruition. It’s been like four or five years of work just to get this out. I can’t even think. It’s going to be fan-driven. That’s all I can say.

Weldon: Kevin and Les won’t decide the fate of the Expendables. Trust me, it’s the fans.

Sylvester Stallone wears a beret in Expend4bles.

Both of you have produced so many actions over the years. What is the state of action movies in 2023? I feel like we’re at a really interesting time. Superhero movies have dominated the culture, but you see this fatigue happening. You see movies like John Wick and Extraction and Plane making a resurgence. From your perspective, where do you see action movies going?

King-Templeton: I think that there’s space to coexist. I mean, you can’t eat your favorite meal every night. You got to change. I’m a fan of a lot of superhero movies, but I prefer the real action and the hard action. No one in our movie puts a cape on and flies through the air, or spins webs and goes from pillar to post. I don’t mind that, but this is not what we are.

We are in the same genre as John Wick and Extraction and that kind of thing. We use a lot of the same crew … . We cross-pollinate. I’m a fan of that type of action. I don’t hate Marvel movies at all. I think they’re fun, but I’m a true action aficionado. That’s what I like to make.

Weldon Yeah. I think whether there’s fatigue or not for the Marvel Universe and those kinds of films, that’s almost neither here nor there. It’s cyclical sometimes, too. There are different genres that seem to pop up, but hard action films have been here since the ’80s. I mean, that’s like 40 years or more. They still exist, and there is a fan base for that.

They seem to be sometimes excluded by some of the bigger studios, but there is still an audience there. That’s why movies and franchises like The Expendables, John Wick, and Rambo keep going. Some people get surprised and go, “Gosh, I can’t even believe people still watch that.” Well, they do because it is a genre that people enjoy no matter what period.

Expend4bles is now in theaters.

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