review expend4bles expendables 4

Expend4bles is cheap and boring

1.5 out of 5 stars

Within the first few minutes of Expend4bles, it’s clear the audience is in for a bumpy ride. The effects are cheap, the action incoherent, the context weak. As we move beyond the cold open to New Orleans, a stiff Barney (Sylvester Stallone) enlists his buddy Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) to help him get back a beloved piece of jewellery he lost in a bet. Feigning a bad back, Christmas does most of the fighting in a rough and tumble-bar fight. Not long after, the pair, joined by the Expendables team (rounded off with new additions including 50 Cent), are off to Libya to prevent a mercenary from stealing nuclear warheads for the mysterious Ocelot. 

Though running at around 100 minutes, Expend4bles’s plot is paper thin and brimming with stilted conversation. One-liners are delivered with all the energy and charisma of a computerized voice system, and character dynamics hinge on tired clichés. If the Expendables franchise ever had a glimmer of enthusiasm or dynamism (I’m not sure it ever did), it’s all lost in this rushed and nonsensical film.

By all accounts, I’m not the target audience for a film like Expend4bles. It’s a movie geared towards action fans who prefer loud shootouts and fiery explosions. The movie is an adolescent fantasy, a world of mercenaries imagined by boys on the brink of puberty who think girls are still mostly gross. The film’s treatment of any adult themes, including complex romantic relationships and dealing with grief, is offensively bad. Megan Fox is never not in full makeup; tits hiked to the heavens. She’s presented as hypersexual and shrill, embodying pornographic fantasy and incel nightmare. 

Macho filmmaking doesn’t have to be this dumb or childish. Though it seems borderline offensive to compare this with male-dominated cinema of the past, in movies by filmmakers like Clint Eastwood or Sam Peckinpah demonstrated a coarse, if not fragile, sensitivity. The men would blow each other up but similarly have complex and paradoxical inner worlds. Their strength and masculinity did not shield them from pain, and their shackles often caused even more heartache. 

Sylvester Stallone Expend4bles
Sylvester Stallone in Expend4bles

No part of this film feels rooted in the real world. For inscrutable aesthetic reasons, even establishing shots rely on dirt-cheap CGI rather than dirt-cheap stock footage, which would have been more effective. Characterizations are flimsy, and motivations are difficult to decipher. The narrative, though easy to understand, is also needlessly complicated. The few moments that work are broad comic moments, such as Christmas’s brief sojourn as security for the world’s most obnoxious social media star and a needle drop of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” during an action sequence (though it’s a distant second in terms of P.I.M.P. needle drops in 2023 cinema — Anatomy of a Fall has them beat!). Andy Garcia is also playfully deranged in the role of a CIA agent. 

Though not exclusive to this film, the casual dealing of death in action films of this kind has always seemed weird to me. Though there are certainly loose rules around killing within a wartime context, much of the murder in this film feels unusually casual and even petty. The Expendables may be outsiders for a reason, but it’s also tricky to celebrate them as heroes when they’re obviously callous and careless sociopaths. The cognitive dissonance required to enjoy the elaborate brutality feels alien, and though the entire film fails to transcend the surface-level understanding of human behaviour, it still irks. 

Will Expend4bles please viewers of the franchise? Possibly, if seeing your favourite stars stumble around in front of green screens is enough to make you happy. The movie feels like the absolute minimum in terms of effort from an otherwise (mostly) talented cast. It’s rife with clichés, features one of the most predictable plot twists in recent film history, and feels like 20 minutes of story packed into 100 minutes. ■

Expend4bles, directed by Scott Waugh

Expend4bles opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 22.

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