Sequels, including sequels of sequels, may struggle to set themselves apart from their peers. However, Expendables 4 (or Expend4bles, as this fourth and last installment in the action-based mercenary franchise has been billed) unquestionably wins the prize for reusing previously used material in an unoriginal setting. The climactic sequence of last month’s underwater Jason Statham extravaganza Meg 2: The Trench, in which the tough Brit battles and once again defeats a sea monster that makes Moby Dick look like a backyard swimming pool pet, is at least a third of this jokey, fight-filled, and increasingly effects-driven last hurrah. It really is a flagrant “borrowing” that’s tough to overlook if you’ve watched Meg 2, as the tireless former male model with flawlessly groomed facial beard once again wins his place as lord of the seven seas.
Through the first three films, which started in 2010, the all-star macho-man cast included Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Randy Couture. In addition, actors like Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mickey Rourke, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme appeared in one or more of the films as the trio of pictures bravely overcame widespread critical skepticism to earn close to $600 million worldwide. Revenues did, however, significantly decline with the release of the third film in 2014, which signified the end of the ride at the moment.
For a while, there were no outward indications that the illustrious franchise was set to make a comeback, but when Stallone chose to join forces, others soon followed, creating a reasonably strong cast headed by Statham.
Given the company, the opening stretch may be unavoidably corny but is still acceptable. You’d almost think you were back in the Old West given the combined years of those involved, but the familiar and, let’s face it, old faces are all given entrances and something approximating a homecoming as they arrive in a large old-time barroom, where the usual good-natured rough stuff prevails. Whether you are a die-hard fan or not, it is familiar and reassuring to see this old crew together in such numbers. Despite the fact that horrible things may be lurking around the corner, everyone has survived this long and is generally chirpy and up for some fun.
And that’s what you get: a little enjoyment, about what you should reasonably anticipate from a class reunion where practically everyone is past their fifty-year mark. However, in contrast to what was common in earlier generations, they are all in terrific shape and rather sharp at a time when 70 is the new 50, particularly when it comes to Hollywood stars. These movie stars have, more or less, withstood the test of time and can still perform in kick-ass ways that belie their actual ages (whatever they may be), when the screenplay allows them to. Sure, they may lament or jest about the passage of the years in self-deprecating ways. For brief periods, the interaction is amiable. Where else will you see Jason Statham looking through job postings?
However, there are important matters to handle: Statham, did you remember to get your beard trimmed this morning? Would you think that their ship, which is sailing toward the China Sea, has a nuclear bomb? Or is there actually a gigantic sea creature swimming around that resembles the one from Meg 2 and is determined to eat whatever it can get its massive teeth into? Could there be two Meg 2s in existence?
After a brief journey halfway around the globe, Statham and a big fish engage in combat in ways that are quite similar to how they did so in Meg 2. If we hadn’t previously seen it a month ago, it could be passably fascinating to watch. Why couldn’t the authors come up with something fresh? Perhaps they had plans to rectify it, but when the writers’ strike started, they were unable to continue.
Expendabes 4 is stymied by its own complete lack of new ideas or better methods to harness the abilities of the many charismatic performers who did turn up to work for various lengths of time, despite the incidental amusement offered by the several name stars who turn up here for varying amounts of time. But one thing is certain: a Meg 3 is not something we will need any time soon. Get involved in something else.