Securing Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson for your film requires a bundled deal with one of his popular songs. There’s no other rational explanation for the absurd sight of a boombox blaring ‘P.I.M.P.’ on a freighter in the middle of the North Pacific during a rescue mission. However, logic isn’t The Expendables 4’s strong suit, nor is anything else of substance, for that matter.
Outgoing leader of The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross, takes a backseat in this new installment, putting Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas in the spotlight. While Lee isn’t officially in charge, that responsibility falls to his partner, Gina (Megan Fox), a newcomer to the franchise. Nonetheless, he dominates the screen time by rescuing his teammates and saving the day.
Initially, the mercenaries are assigned the task of preventing a terrorist from obtaining nuclear weapon codes. When that mission goes awry, they must thwart a detonation on a cargo ship near Russian territory. Gina leads a team consisting of regulars Gunner Jansen (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture), along with new recruits Easy Day (Jackson), Galan (Jacob Scipio), and Lash (Levy Tran), most of whom spend the action-packed movie in confinement.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t exactly an ensemble piece. Statham, poised to take over The Expendables both literally and figuratively after Stallone’s departure, is the primary hero and focal point. After being ousted for his role in the initial blunder, he covertly shadows his former comrades.
They fall into an ambush, leaving him to handle nearly everything alone. The Fast and Furious star expertly maneuvers around the boat, dispatching adversaries with sharp wit and humor. Meanwhile, Gina and the rest contemplate their escape, opting for a method that involves prolonged on-screen urination.
While plot description might not make for profound analysis, The Expendables 4 features so many bewildering choices that it’s hard to ignore. Directed by Scott Waugh, every feeble twist is accompanied by another moment of sheer, head-scratching absurdity, to the point where one wonders if they were simply making things up as they went along.
Renowned Indonesian actor Iko Uwais plays the film’s antagonist, Suarto Rahmat, and considering his background in films like The Raid and The Night Comes For Us, he’s poised for a significant breakthrough in American cinema. A skilled martial artist and stuntman, he’s disappointingly sidelined, relegated to negotiating through a screen before being pushed aside for the real villain, hardly even clenching his fist on camera.
At least Uwais has some company, as Tony Jaa aids Statham in traversing from Thailand to international waters. Jaa is given slightly more to do, engaging in a skirmish on the deck against some henchmen, but even then, it’s limited and a wasted opportunity that Jaa and Uwais don’t get a chance to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
By the way, my use of the term “skirmish” is generous. The Expendables 4 never finds any real momentum, and when the team starts to get cornered, there’s no tension because most of them seem unfazed by the bullets flying around. They don’t show any signs of being bloodied or bruised, or display any tangible exhaustion. You’ll be more fatigued watching this extravagant nonsense unfold.
While most of them have a moment to shine, obvious body doubles and excessive editing make it all resemble one of countless run-of-the-mill thriller movies. The right-hand man to Uwais appears ready for a showdown against Tran – a brief moment of excitement – until he stumbles and knocks himself out.
If you were to watch this without any knowledge of the previous instalments or the title card, you might mistake it for satire in the vein of Hot Shots! Part Deux, albeit notably less clever or self-aware. Statham commandeering a motorbike with attached machine guns for a chase through the bowels of the barge would seamlessly fit into a marathon of the Fast and Furious movies in chronological order. If the entire film were like that, it would be an uproarious good time.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For a film purportedly costing $100 million to produce, it comes across as astonishingly low-budget. Glaring green screen effects and shoddy visuals abound, and the cast of The Expendables 4 is the smallest yet (without any high-profile cameos like Harrison Ford or Arnold Schwarzenegger), leaving you questioning where the money was allocated.
There’s also a peculiar, discomforting nihilism at play. After a period of sobriety, Lundgren’s character reverts to alcohol mid-fight, akin to Popeye ingesting spinach, but it’s a deeply unfunny, flippant, and regressive portrayal of addiction and substance dependence. Meanwhile, a guy whom we see Statham and Stallone beat up in a local bar at the start gets killed and laughed at, seemingly for the crime of holding Barney to a fair bet.
If you’ve ever pondered how to distinguish between silly and stupid, The Expendables 4 makes it straightforward. The Fast and Furious films are silly: extravagant, exaggerated, explosive, and excessively dramatic in every conceivable way. The Expendables 4 is stupid: senseless, asinine, cynical, and simply tedious. Something is indeed expendable here, but it’s not the characters.