Sequels, and sequels of sequels, have trouble differentiating themselves from their brethren from time to time. But Expendables 4 (or Expend4bles, as this fourth and final entry in the mercenary-based action series has been marketed), indisputably takes the cake for recycling previously used material in a not exactly fresh context. At least the final third — and maybe more — of this jokey, fight-filled and increasingly effects-driven last hurrah is nearly a twin brother to the climactic stretch of last month’s waterlogged Jason Statham extravaganza Meg 2: The Trench, wherein the rugged Brit takes on — and once again prevails over — a sea monster that makes Moby Dick look like a backyard swimming pool pet. It really is a shameless “borrowing” that’s impossible to ignore if you’ve seen Meg 2, as the tireless former male model with perfectly maintained facial stubble once again earns his status as master of the seven seas.
The all-star macho-man cast, through the first three entries beginning in 2010, featured the more than muscular lineup of Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li and Randy Couture. In addition, the likes of Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mickey Rourke, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth and Jean-Claude Van Damme turned up for either one or two films apiece, as the trio of pics bravely withstood general critical dismissal to rake in nearly $600 million worldwide. However, revenues did drop severely with the notably inferior third installment in 2014, which at the time marked the end of the ride.
More from Deadline
For some time there were no visible signs that the star-studded franchise was likely to rise from the dead, but when Stallone decided to come on board others followed, resulting in a pretty solid cast led by Statham.
The initial stretch is, perhaps unavoidably, hokey but not unagreeable given the company involved. The familiar and, let’s face it, old faces are all provided with entrances and something resembling a homecoming as they turn up in a big old-time barroom, where the usual good-natured rough stuff prevails — you’d almost think you were back in the Old West given the combined years of those involved. No matter if you’re a serious fan of these guys or not, there is something familiar and comforting seeing this old gang together in such numbers. You know some bad stuff lurks around the corner but, having survived this long, everyone is pretty larky about things and ready for a little fun.
And a little fun is what you get — about as much as you’d rightfully expect at a class reunion where almost everyone is on the far side of a half-century. But at a time when 70 is the new 50, especially where movie stars are concerned, they’re all pretty sharp and in great shape compared to what prevailed in previous generations. To be sure, they may lament or joke about the passing of the years in self-deprecating ways, but these film stars who have, more or less, stood the test of time and can still deliver in kick-ass ways that belie their actual ages (whatever they may be) when the script lets them. The interplay is reasonably fun for short stretches. Where else are you going to see Jason Statham reading the want ads for a job?
But there is serious stuff to attend to: Did Statham remember to get his stubble-trim this morning? Would you believe there’s a nuclear bomb on their ship that is heading for the China Sea? Or is there really a giant sea creature that looks exactly like the one in Meg 2 swimming around that means to eat anything and everything it can sink its enormous teeth into? Could there actually be two Meg 2s?
So after a quick trip partway around the world, it’s Statham and a giant fish battling it out in ways that look absolutely identical to the way they fought each other the last time, in Meg 2. It might be passably interesting to watch except for the fact that we already saw it a month ago. Couldn’t the writers think up something new? Maybe they intended to fix it up but then the writers’ strike came along and they couldn’t work on it anymore.
Despite the incidental amusement provided by the many name stars who turn up here for differing lengths of time, Expendabes 4 is ambushed by its own utter lack of new ideas or better ways to use the talents of the many charismatic actors who did turn up to work for various lengths of time. But one thing for sure: we definitely don’t need a Meg 3 anytime soon. Get busy with something else.
Title: Expendables 4
Release date: September 22, 2023
Director: Scott Waugh
Screenwriter: Kurt Wimmer & Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams
Cast: Jason Statham, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy Garcia, Sylvester Stallone
Running time: 1 hr 43 min
Best of Deadline