The Expendables 4 review: Don’t fear the reaper
The Expendables 4 is, in a word, expendable; an embarrassing, hilariously bad echo of its testosterone-fuelled potential with all the oomph of a limp pinky-dick.
Near the beginning of EXPEND-four-BLES, the camera drifts across Sylvester Stallone’s chopper with the same nostalgic coziness as Maverick’s Kawasaki, scored to the reflective strumming of Kaleo’s ‘Backbone’. It nearly fools you into thinking you should hold affection for what you’re seeing, but given it’s awkwardly spliced in after a gung-ho cold open and we’ve never really been given a reason to care about anyone in this franchise – nearly is the operative word.
The real sin is that The Expendables should have been an Avengers-level idea for the movies; a group of remarkable, cross-generational action heroes teaming up for an ’80s-hued bloodbath every few years. The first was entertaining, the second nailed the formula, and the third was a yawn-fest – but, crucially, the whole enterprise has rarely felt like anything more than a cash grab, one that appeals to the wink-wink, point-and-cheer sensibilities of a moviegoing catchment outside the MCU (myself included).
Nearly 10 years on, the fourth and final entry makes what came before look like The Godfather trilogy; it’s a legacyquel that sours and turns its near-non-existent legacy into a bigger joke.
The boys (and girls) are back in town in The Expendables 4
There’s a lot of eye-rolling padding around the plot, so these are the barebones: in Libya, Suarto (Iko Uwais) is trying to get the keys to a big ol’ nuke from Gaddafi’s old base. So, Marsh (Andy Garcia, playing the movie’s unspoken replacement for Bruce Willis’ Mr. Church) tasks Barney (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and co. with stopping it. Things don’t go quite to plan, and a huge boat is also involved.
The crew has evolved somewhat: there’s no Terry Crews, Jet Li, or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the periphery, but we still have Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren, and the new recruits include Megan Fox, 50 Cent, Jacob Scipio, and Levy Tran. Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Wesley Snipes, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, or Antonio Banderas are never alluded to, nor are Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Vilain (ha!) or Mel Gibson referenced – continuity has no place here; “mission first.”
Yet, even with a streamlined, fresh-faced group, it ain’t much of an ensemble piece. This is a Statham joint with an incidental supporting cast; even Stallone, whose geriatric commando rears his head to quip and throw the odd strongman over a table (a great appearance by Eddie Hall), feels like a minor character. Scipio’s “world-class pervert” is a trite motormouth, 50 Cent doesn’t bring any of his Den of Thieves juice to the party, and Couture and Lundgren linger in the background with puffed chests and crap jokes about the former wrestler’s cauliflower ear (the movie’s approach to one of their character’s alcoholism is also so predictable).
Each line that comes out of Fox’s mouth is a double-barrel blow of cringe, and scenes between her and Statham feel like Mr. and Mrs. Smith stripped of all the eroticism; it’d border on parody if it weren’t so flaccid. She shouldn’t shoulder the whole blame: the screenplay comes from Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams, and the direction from Scott Waugh. The result is a disjointed, mortifying experience (one scene with a so-called influencer made me disassociate like Armchair Thriller’s silhouette in the cinema) that musters one type of laugh: the unintentional kind, but at least there’s plenty of that.
The ugliest movie of the year
Inevitable defenders will say, “Turn your brain off and just have fun.” You know what? They’re right, and all of the film’s issues could be tolerated, if not forgiven, if the action was up to snuff – but it isn’t. The movie is a maddening yo-yo between actual practical effects and some of the worst, most shameful green-screen shots you’ve ever seen; to liken them to the PlayStation 3 graphics would be a matter of humiliation, kindness, and truth.
Oh, and don’t get excited for the guts-and-glory bite of that R-rating: the gore is near-exclusively made up of that unconvincing, ugly, gloopy CGI blood once splattered at red-and-blue 3D glasses by the Final Destination franchise – at least that had the courtesy to entertain us first. You may feel the need to watch Rambo IV to wash the taste of the VFX out of your mouth.
The choreography here isn’t dreadful; in brief flashes, the movie comes alive when the tusslin’ pivots to the likes of Uwais, Tony Jaa, and Levy Tran, the latter of whom is jaw-clinchingly nifty with some sort of barbed chain. Fox also has some action chops, twirling around and executing goons with grace. But it’s sorely missing the eye and confidence of a filmmaker who can let them go to town, with fights hindered by the Mile 22 tendency to rattle the camera and cut around the most crunching hits. Then again, that’s the whole point: these flickers of life come and go because the whole endeavor’s stone cold at its core.
The Expendables 4 review score: 1/5
If “they’ll die when they’re dead”, The Expendables 4 is the ultimate death knell.
The Expendables 4 hits cinemas on September 22. You can check out our other coverage here.