Director Scott Waugh returns a 21st-century action franchise to its R-rated glory for the fourth entry in Expend4bles from Lionsgate. Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, and Max Adams pen the screenplay from a story by Spenser Cohen, Wimmer, and Daggerhart.
Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), a knife expert and second in command of his team, is enjoying retirement with his girlfriend, a CIA agent named Gina (played by Megan Fox). However, he can't resist the call to action when his old friend and former team leader Barney Ross (played by Sylvester Stallone) approaches him with a new mission. They aim to take down a terrorist organization led by Suarto Rahmat (played by Iko Wuwais), planning to smuggle a nuclear weapon that could potentially ignite a conflict between Russia and the US.
Assisting Christmas and Ross on the mission are old friends demolition expert Toll Rodd (Randy Couture) and sharpshooter Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). There's also some new blood in the mix, including sniper Easy Day (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) and martial arts experts Decha (Tony Jaa) and Lash (Levy Tran).
It has been nine years since The Expendables, an ensemble cast of action heroes and heroines, last appeared on screen. The franchise's third film had a low gross due to its PG-13 rating and an early leak on torrent sites. Does the fourth film bring the franchise back to its former glory days?
For the most part, the fourth entry in the franchise, which initially started as our spin-off for Jason Statham's character of Lee Christmas, oozes a cash grab and studio involvement. The plot is reminiscent of numerous action films from the eighties, and honestly, while I'm a fan of Sly, we could've quickly taken his character out of the film and still had the same final product.
The series' charm always gave the action heroes a chance to shine equally and a sense of brotherhood. The fourth installment introduces a new concept, with only the core group of soldiers from the previous part continuing to fight. While they mostly travel alone, occasionally they work together. However, this individualistic approach undermines the sense of community emphasized in the earlier films.
In addition, in the latest installment, two women join the team. However, their inclusion feels forced and out of place in this predominantly male world characterized by formidable men, masculine humor, and strong friendships. Granted, Ronda Rousey was in the last film, but that came off more as stunt casting than anything.
Megan Fox, as Gina, is capable of better than the material she's given here, and the studio has the mindset of having her be more focused on striking poses rather than delivering an action heroine performance. Levy Tran, as Lash, is also underutilized and does not engage in much fighting. Considering all these factors, it would have been better if these characters were not included in the film and instead given their own spin-off first and possibly showing up in a reunion film.
The film's antagonist is easy to spot a mile away, and the usually reliable Iko Uwais is only here for a check, and it shows. Despite my gripes with the film regarding the action, some moments made me smile, even with the horrible CGI. Expend4bles isn't a fresh start for the franchise, but we will get a reboot knowing Hollywood execs in a few years.
Final Grade C-
Expend4bles is in theaters now.