As the song playing over the final credits suggests, the boys are back in town.
With Expend4bles (or Expendables 4), Stallone, Statham and the rest have returned for one more mission and, potentially, revive the fading franchise. As with the rest of the Expendables films, Stallone emphasizes stars who have built a name for themselves in past actioners but may have fallen out of the limelight.
If anything, the best aspect of this franchise has always been its ability to resurrect heroes from 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, giving them new life in style that made them famous. There’s a certain joy in seeing actors that you grew up with return to the big screen for a couple of hours of madness and mayhem. And Stallone knows how to honour the past while punching through the present.
This time around, Expend4bles finds Barney (Stallone) and Christmas (Statham) fighting for their lives against a mysterious villain with vengeance on their mind. But when a job goes horribly wrong, a tragedy forces the team to reload and retool with new members. Suddenly, Christmas and the highly skilled Gina (Megan Fox) must lead their team onto the ocean in an effort to recover a nuclear device before the start of World War III.
Admittedly, Expend4bles leans on the classics. In the spirit of Rambo, Commando and countless others, this entry is very much a revenge film. In the vein of Diesel’s Fast and Furious franchise (in which Statham also features), Expend4bles cares little for physics or logic in the name of fun. And, frankly, it often works. (A motorcycle chase aboard the ships hallways is noteworthy.) Battling their way through a ship that’s under siege. (Pun intended), this crew fights for honour and is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Here, good guys decimate everything (and everyone) in their path in order to bring the bad guys to justice.
Without question, the highlights of this elderly franchise are its new additions. But, while previous entries have enlisted ‘bigger’ names such as Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, this crew admittedly feels slightly smaller. Even so, everyone gets their moment to shine. Tony Jaa remains one of Hollywood’s best (and, frankly, forgotten) martial arts stars, while the villainous Iko Uwais continues to show his incredible physical skill and speed.
What’s interesting is that the franchise seems to recognize the sort of masculine mayhem that it once celebrated may be going out of style. With the addition of Megan Fox, and Levy Tran, the film acknowledges that Expendables crew are an old boys club that pushes women to the side, ignoring their incredible skills. In this way, Expend4bles actually shows some real promise as it attempts to move beyond its ‘boys will be boys’ mindset.
But, at the same time, the film isn’t entirely sure on how to do that.
Although Fox and Tran are given opportunity to show their skills, they are still treated as secondary to the manly bravado. This is especially true for Fox who feels as though her primary role is ‘eye candy’, even though she’s helping lead the team. (And, again, the film does close with a rousing rendition of ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.)
And this is where Expend4bles begins to show its age. Despite its tone of ridiculous fun, the script still lets the team down. Characters, especially women, are told that that they’re equal… but still fight for screentime up against the big boys. What’s more, even though there’s a lot of potential and promise here with this cast, the kitschy dialogue feels… well… kitschy. To compare it once again to the Furious films, Expend4bles doesn’t seem to have the same sense of self-awareness and silliness that makes Diesel’s crew endearing. Instead, the film seems to believe it’s as cool as it would have been in the 80s, leaving the audience to wonder if they really are too old for this ship.
While it remains to be seen if the boys will be back again in Expendable5, one hopes that they continue to evolve. This is still a franchise that feels like a good idea and might actually be heading in a healthier mindset. But, in order for this to come back to life, future entries need a writer who truly understands what sorts of stereotypes are expendable.
Expend4bles is available in theatres on Friday, September 22nd, 2023.