EXPEND4BLES. Explosion of Mediocrity [REVIEW]
In this movie, there is a scene in which a sniper played by Dolph Lundgren repeatedly misses his target, allowing the villain to escape. The creators of the film displayed a similar lack of accuracy; they had a few aces up their sleeves but lacked the skillful hand to bring this action to success. The jokes completely missed the mark, the plot twists turned out to be easy to predict, and the neck-breaking action, instead of eliciting emotions, only brought a shrug. Meanwhile, the characters and the actors playing them resembled lifeless and characterless paper figurines. That’s where I could actually end the review, but since I’ve already invested my time in a trip to the cinema, I’ll expand my opinion.
The plot, as is often the case in this genre, is not very complicated. However, the stakes are very high. A mysterious villain with Asian features (Iko Uwais) attacks Gaddafi’s chemical plants in Libya with his squad. The goal is to steal detonators for nuclear weapons, which could trigger a third world war. To prevent this, a high-ranking gentleman (Andy Garcia) authorizes a mission for a team of misfits led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). He contacts his brother, Lee (Jason Statham), and friends from the “Expendables” crew (Dolph Lundgren & Randy Couture + new members – 50 Cent & Jacob Scipio). The action moves from Libya to Thailand and then to an aircraft carrier sailing in the Andaman Sea toward Russia (although filming took place in London, Bulgaria, and Greece).
The director of this film, Scott Waugh, worked as a stuntman for a long time – among other things, he was Andy Garcia’s double in the movie Desperate Measures (1998). It’s a shame that he left room for computer graphics and pyrotechnics, forgetting that for genre fans, what matters most are the heroics of the characters, their physicality, and their skills pitted against technological achievements and spectacular scenery (as is the case lately in the Mission: Impossible series), not green screens in a closed studio (which is more the domain of science fiction). The film’s budget reportedly approached $100 million, which, in my opinion, is absurd – it could have been done much cheaper and much better.
A good idea, at least for me, was recruiting three Asian martial arts cinema specialists at the announcement stage. The first is Iko Uwais from Indonesia (The Raid, The Raid 2: Berandal, Headshot), the second is Tony Jaa from Thailand (Ong-Bak, The Protector), and the third is Alan Ng (Wing-Lun Ng) from the famous Jackie Chan Stunt Team, who served as the stunt coordinator here. Moreover, Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa are on opposite sides, so there was a perfect opportunity for a long and spectacular fight scene in the style of old-school Asian martial arts films. It could have been beautiful, but at every stage of production – from the screenplay to the editing – shoddy work was done. Incompetence was attempted to be covered up with huge explosions, but paradoxically, they only reveal an excess of CGI, which, in turn, makes it feel emotionless to watch, lacking even a hint of the campiness that classic action films possessed.
Another thing that completely failed in this story is the introduction of a feminist theme. I am not opposed to strong female heroines, and girl power films can sometimes pleasantly surprise (I would gladly see Pom Klementieff in the lead role in an action movie, as she did a great job in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning). Unfortunately, Megan Fox in Expend4bles performed terribly. Her plastic acting is even more pronounced here because she has scenes that require her to play various emotions. And although Jason Statham is not among the most outstanding actors, he appeared much more natural – he exudes more ease and self-confidence. But despite his charismatic personality, he cannot defend a poorly written character. Since I mentioned the feminist theme, it’s worth adding that another tough lady joined the team, a tattooed Vietnamese woman named Levy Tran. And although she didn’t get much screen time here, it’s worth remembering her because she already has some experience in martial arts. She trains in Filipino escrima, Thai boxing, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and in 2019, she received an award in the Action Next Wave category at the Artemis Women In Action festival.
The title of the series, Expendables, was borrowed from the movie Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), where the main character answered the question “Why did they pick you?” with “I’m expendable”. And the English title of the fourth part of The Expendables turns out to be very ironic – because this sequel about written-off, expendable heroes is a completely unnecessary piece of cinema, devoid of directorial finesse, and adding nothing to the genre. It’s especially a shame for Jason Statham, for whom this was supposed to be the beginning of a new series where he would take over from Sylvester Stallone. The film’s poor reception on its opening weekend and probable financial losses will surely remove the idea of investing in another sequel from the producers’ minds.