Look. There’s very few times a movie leaves me giddy and grinning ear to ear. EXPEND4BLES, the latest in the action movie sendup series featuring Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone, is one of those.
It’s cartoonish and violent in a way that’s surprisingly tasteful- that is to say that there aren’t lingering shots of blood fountains. Instead the blood fountains are simply just displayed in their natural habitat- amid explosions, gunfire, and some really sick camera work.
There’s not much plot to spoil for EXPEND4BLES, and maybe that’s for the better- the team of mercenaries once again see themselves with a new batch of recruits, before once again embarking on another mission that the world’s most overfunded military is apparently too delicate to do.
You Don’t Understand My Love For The Expendables
Now, I know historically, words like “It’s a cartoon” or “There’s almost no plot” are used in a derogatory way. Reader, I promise you. When I describe EXPEND4BLES as either of these things, I mean so with nothing but adoration in my heart.
The carnage of this movie is done in a way that’s clearly been refined over the franchise’s history- it’s not quite as over-the-top as Expendables 2’s Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwartzenegger massacre, and the smaller cast of newbies definitely gives each character more of a chance to shine. When I say it’s a cartoon, I mean it’s made in the same hallowed visage of golden age Looney Tunes. Every act of violence in this movie is entertaining to watch, and so much more than just a shaky cam to cover up some VFX muzzle flares.
There’s some genuine creative decisions at play here- during an earlier setpiece in the movie set in Libya, the vehicle sequences are shot in such a way that everything looks like miniatures. Is there a higher meaning to this, that the Expendables are just toys in the game of warmongerers? I doubt it. But it looks cool. As a scholar of Michael Bay I’m so used to things looking bleak and unreadable that it’s just nice to have a visual treat every now and again.
The effects can be a bit rough, admittedly- some close ups during a chase sequence look either like blatant green screen or technical feats of stabilization. But it does a good job of stopping me from tuning out like I normally do in a Hollywood action sequence, and there’s merit to be had for that.
Open Your Mind (In Da Club)
Arguably the weakest part of EXPEND4BLES would unfortunately be the characters themselves. Like the Looney Tunes, you’re not going to get a deep dive into the inner psyche of Foghorn Leghorn. I mean, there’s a character who literally exists for the joke that he talks more than he actually does. I wasn’t expecting deep, existential writing, and I didn’t get it.
The main reason this comes up as a flaw to me is the fact that EXPEND4BLES incorporates people I never thought I’d see in a kind of military blitz movie- namely, 50 Cent and Megan Fox. Megan Fox’s character seems consigned to the same role she’s always made to play- she’s hot, and she’ll step on your balls if you think she’s stupid. For the purposes of the movie she’s fine, I guess, I just kind of wish the cast had a bit more vision of what they could do with an actress whose most memorable roles include a man-eater and a girl who shares screen time with CGI horrors.
Meanwhile, 50 Cent somehow gets it even worse, with what appears to be writers so afraid of playing into stereotypes that he’s just another ex special forces guy meant to explain to you just how unorthodox the Expendables methodology really is. Considering how much of the movie is about Christmas and Barney’s relationship, it’s not like I want him busting in and stealing the spotlight- I just kind of wish they gave him a role that only 50 Cent could fill, in much the same way Megan Fox has a very Megan Fox role. Yeah, I was literally complaining about it one paragraph ago, but at least in that case I can see the arithmetic at play.
Arguably the best character out of this is Tony Jaa- admittedly I’ve not seen his non-Monster Hunter body of work but the man is having the time of his life in this movie, and you know what? Power to him. He’s a delight every time he comes on screen, and I’m glad he gets some of the best fight choreography in the film.
There’s not much I can say about EXPEND4BLES that I haven’t already said. It’s a great story about relationships, and, more importantly, violence. In a world of drab military shooter violence, it’s actually fun and kind of cool. More importantly, it’s another movie with Jason Statham in it, meaning I can watch all of his movies back to back and see just how little he ages on-camera.
If anything, my only complaint would be it doesn’t go hard enough on the crazy. While previous Expendables movies have always had people fall back on guns this one felt like the most borderline anime nonsense we’ve had in weapon distribution- I’d have love to have seen it go even further. Still, without breaking from its original core messaging, it’s a neat little package soaked in a cartoonish amount of blood, with Tony Jaa’s smiling visage standing over it.
Yeah, watch this one.
Early screening provided by Warner Bros Pictures Malaysia. EXPEND4BLES is now showing in Malaysia.
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- It's just a fun movie
- It's visually interesting
- Jason Statham ages like Coca-Cola- he's timeless
- Not enough interesting use of 50 Cent