1 of 5 | Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) returns in "Expend4bles." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Expend4bles is the most bombastic action movie of the year. In an era of more elegant set pieces, the film, in theaters Friday, proves there's still nothing like a good old explosion.
The fourth Expendables opens at Libyan dictator Gaddafi's former chemical plant. The film's villain, Rahmat (Iko Uwais) raids the factory to steal nuclear detonators from the current general.
Barney Ross' (Sylvester Stallone) mercenary team, The Expendables, has some new members. Gina (Megan Fox), Easy Day (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) and Galan (Jacob Scipio) join Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner (Dolph Lundgren).
CIA agent Marsh (Andy Garcia) commissions the Expendables to find Rahmat's boss, Ocelot, and retrieve the detonators.
By 2010, it was already refreshing that The Expendables featured the kind of big explosions that had gone missing from modern action movies. Thirteen years later, big explosions still work.
Every mission on which the Expendables go involves them firing heavy artillery and blowing stuff up. The Expendables have a lot of new toys, like dune buggies that they drop from their plane.
The whole second half of the movie takes place on an aircraft carrier, which could be limiting, but the location is home to plenty of explosive mayhem. No other movie has a motorcycle chase on a ship.
The transitions from practical stunts to close-ups are not as seamless as in movies like The Fast and the Furious franchise. There are a lot more visual effects than there would be in the '80s action movies that inspired this franchise.
That's just the reality of movies in 2023 -- that the filmmakers staged any set pieces on location is a gift these days.
The fight scenes are filmed a little closer and edited a bit choppier than would be ideal, but they are not indecipherable. Fight coordinator Alan Ng makes sure that whichever two actors are fighting, the choreography makes the most of their skills.
For a franchise in which every sequel could be a standalone adventure, the effort Expend4bles makes to maintain continuity is appreciated. Barney and Lee's banter shows that, even though it's been nine years since Expendables 3, this still is The Expendables and not just some other all-star action franchise.
Toll Road will still tell everyone who asks why he got cauliflower ears because the original Expendables made Couture's MMA injury his character's obsession.
Galan is the son of Antonio Banderas' character from Expendables 3.
Gunner's recovery from alcoholism could have been taken more seriously, but it does address what he's been through in the previous movies.
Both the returning characters and the new characters are clearly defined. There is not a lot of time to give each a distinct personality, but their behavior distinguishes who they are in the group.
Lee and Gina are romantically involved. While it would have been nice to explain what happened to Charisma Carpenter's character from the first two movies, it does make sense that only another Expendable could keep up with Lee.
Lee and Gina are essentially doing Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but it works. They're both hot and they're fun together.
The team picks up more partners during the mission, such as Thai boat captain Decha (Tony Jaa) and the newest Expendable, Lash (Levy Tran). New partnerships work. Statham and Jaa have as much chemistry together as Statham has with Stallone.
Throughout the mission, the team bickers. They don't always have the greatest zingers, but they keep the film light.
The point of the dialogue is just to give everyone something to say and get through exposition. Even Garcia embraces the lowbrow bravado of tough guys just swearing at each other.
The plot is so absurd and it keeps adding twists. It's just a vehicle for action, so making sense is a low priority. Far more movies have made far less sense.
It begins at Gaddafi's base and only gets bigger from there. The film also has some fun with Lee's side hustles in-between Expendables missions.
Stallone is in a lot more of this movie than his "and" credit would suggest. It is clearly his passing of the torch to the rest of the team, but he's in the whole first 30 minutes to do so.
He created The Expendables to bring the new action heroes and the classic action heroes together. If it is indeed time to transition to the next generation, and Expend4bles shows they can carry the flame, literally, for their mentors.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.