Sylvester Stallone‘s ragtag team of mercenaries are back in action in Expend4bles, or more reasonably titled The Expendables 4, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend. This one is a more lighthearted improvement over The Expendables 3 but doesn’t quite reach the action movie heights of The Expendables 2, though its debatable whether any of these films differ all that much in quality.
But are the titular Expendables really back? Expend4bles is a little different than previous installments, which have featured 80s and 90s action movie icons such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Scott Adkins, Gary Daniels, and (ahem) Kelsey Grammer.
For much of Expend4bles, on the other hand, the titular team consists of series stalwarts Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture, joined in this installment by action superstars such as Andy Garcia, Megan Fox, 50 Cent, Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys For Life), and Levy Tran (MacGyver).
Now these guys… they really live up to the title. Even the movie itself considers them expendable, and so this elite mercenary team spends the majority of the running time chained up in a tanker off the coast of Russia. Series star Sylvester Stallone, too, is missing in action for most of the movie.
Instead, Expend4bles is the Jason Statham show, and on that level, it delivers. After a disastrous opening mission in Libya results in a major narrative shift (though the charred body identified by the item the previous scene went to lengths to introduce shouldn’t fool anybody), Statham’s Lee Christmas is booted from the team as they embark on a mission to the East China Sea to prevent WWIII… and immediately fail.
Christmas, meanwhile, heads to Thailand to find the one person who can make things right: Decha (Ong Bak‘s Tony Jaa), former elite mercenary who has given up all that to lead the humble life of a fisherman. He won’t join the fight, but he will helpfully give Christmas what must be a 2,500-kilometer ride in his tiny skip to catch up with the tanker before it delivers a nuclear warhead off the coast of Russia (note: the geography and logistics in Expend4bles may feature slight inaccuracies).
Expend4bles‘ lengthy midsection is largely solo Statham action, with a nice assist from Jaa and (especially) The Raid‘s Iko Uwais, who plays the main baddie; a climactic fight scene between Statham and Uwais is this film’s modest action highlight. The brief scenes featuring the “new” Expendables team, now led by Fox’s character, are largely relegated to plot exposition or comic relief.
Ultimately, however, none of the characters in Expend4bles feature the positive attributes like honor or integrity that made the action movie icons of the 1980s the truly memorable heroes of the era. The characters played by Stallone and Statham here are brutish thugs who needlessly initiate a barfight in the film’s opening scene, and if they end up saving the world by the end, it was only ancillary fallout of their seething rage. Get these guys a Mr. Miyagi.
Expend4bles is likely to disappoint fans of the series walking into this movie expecting not only action movie icons from previous eras, but a narrative and characters that that deliver on those terms as well. Statham, Jaa, and Uwais help make this at least a competent contemporary action movie that will be passable fare for more undemanding audiences, though it doesn’t really warrant a trip to the cinema.
In a banner year for action movies that has included highlights like John Wick: Chapter 4, Extraction II, and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Expend4ales delivers on a far more modest scale. It does, however, feature the second-best use of 50 Cent‘s P.I.M.P. in a 2023 feature, after Cannes winner Anatomy of a Fall.