2023, R, 103 min. Directed by Scott Waugh. Starring Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis Jackson, Megan Fox, Iko Kuwais, Andy Garcia, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Sept. 29, 2023
As audiences argue endlessly about the future of film distribution, it’s important to remember that not every film benefits from a theatrical release. Some films were meant to be seen on streaming or home video – with the modest expectations and niche(r) audiences those platforms entail. So if you are still waiting to see if Scott Waugh’s Expend4bles is a must-watch before it leaves multiplexes, take heart: This might just be the rare case where the biggest possible screen is the absolute wrong way to watch a thing.
For years, Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) have led the Expandables, a covert military force that operates in combat zones where the United States cannot be seen. But with the years taking their toll and Lee’s relationship with partner Gina (Fox) on the rocks, the two men find themselves thinking about life after the Expendables. But when notorious terrorist Suarto Rahmat (Kuwais) steals a cache of nuclear warheads, Barney and Lee must round up the usual suspects to save the planet one more time – even if the cost is heavier than they could imagine.
As the fourth film in the franchise, Expend4bles wants to jump in where the series seemingly ended more than nine years ago, tapping into Statham’s (still plentiful) star power and staging fight sequences that celebrate the martial arts stylings of its supporting cast. There’s only one problem: From aging actors to a preponderance of middling digital effects, the franchise has slipped from the bottom rungs of Hollywood blockbusters to the upper tiers of direct-to-video actioners.
Gone are former A-list talent like Harrison Ford or Antonio Banderas, or even former main eventers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson. In their place are home video headliners like Curtis Jackson and Tony Jaa, performers that mean more to the action community than the general public. We may live in a golden era of action steamers and stunt choreographers-turned-filmmakers, but Expend4bles never learns to embrace its own limitations. It strains for spectacle and only intermittently delivers on its actual strengths.
No better example of this is the film’s middling usage of Iko Kuwais. Bigger directors have also tried and failed to give the Indonesian martial artist his big stateside break. Peter Berg chose to edit Kuwais’s fight scenes down to abstracted nothingness in Mile 22, and Kuwais has only popped up intermittently in other action movies – a casting wink from filmmakers who want us to know that they, too, have seen the far-superior The Raid series. Why only Beyond Skyline director Liam O'Donnell recognizes him as a better hero than a villain, we may never know.If you are a Waugh family completionist – cataloging each film from Scott or older brother and frequent Gerard Butler collaborator Ric Roman – then there’s probably just enough life in Expend4bles to justify the price point. But with so many domestic and international action movies now available with these same actors, it’s hard to give more than a second thought to the fourth movie in a franchise that took nine years to find its way to the screen. Go watch The Night Comes for Us instead.