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Expend4bles Review: Even Nostalgia Has Its Limits

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In a franchise known for its ensemble cast of aging action heroes, audacious stunts, and a nostalgia-driven love for a bygone era of action cinema, “Expend4bles” takes the helm almost a decade after its last predecessor. From Sylvester Stallone’s brief appearance to a meandering plot that feels as unexplosive as a wet firecracker, the film attempts to extend the life of a series that might have been better off concluding earlier. While it brings in a few intriguing new faces and boasts some glimmers of its former glory, it largely reads like a last gasp of a franchise gasping for air.

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Directed by Scott Waugh, “Expend4bles” trades heavily on the once-sterling reputations of Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone. Yet, the erstwhile action stalwarts appear less as titans and more like cameos in their own movie. Stallone’s Barney Ross makes an early exit, leaving Statham’s Lee Christmas to grapple with his conflicted feelings and an uneven crew of newcomers, such as Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Megan Fox, whose performances range from perfunctory to downright forgettable. Though the franchise once dazzled audiences with Easter Egg appearances by legends like Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger, its once-sparkling ensemble now feels like a collection of second-stringers—less an all-star team and more like action cinema’s equivalent of a community theater production.

The film’s narrative swings between tired clichés and banal platitudes, as our heroes pursue a villainous mercenary terrorist hell-bent on igniting World War III with stolen nuclear detonators. The action sequences, once the series’ strong suit, have lost their visceral oomph. Featuring renowned martial arts specialists Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, one might have expected dynamic, adrenaline-pumping sequences. Instead, their talents are squandered in action scenes that are often clumsy and poorly edited, a disservice to their martial arts prowess and a disheartening departure from earlier films. It’s akin to serving fine wine in a plastic cup—it simply doesn’t do justice to the quality of the ingredients.

To be fair, the earlier films tried to be joyous romps that didn’t take themselves too seriously. They embraced their absurdity, delivered surprisingly emotional moments, and delighted in their own spectacle… though weren’t very good. “Expend4bles,” however, falls prey to a 21st-century malaise. Its action feels more synthetic, largely due to an overreliance on underwhelming CGI and greenscreen effects, which sap the kinetic energy from its set pieces.

That’s not to say the film is entirely devoid of highlights. The chemistry between Stallone and Statham still crackles in the few scenes they share, providing a fleeting glimpse of what the franchise used to be. Some of the humor lands, albeit in a “dad joke” kind of way, offering a necessary respite from the film’s more tedious stretches.

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But these moments are exceptions rather than the rule, making it hard to recommend “Expend4bles” even as a guilty pleasure. It feels like a missed opportunity to either revitalize a beloved franchise or give it a dignified send-off. Instead, it lingers uncomfortably in between, not quite bad enough to be good, and not good enough to be memorable. In a world where action franchises are continually reinventing themselves, “Expend4bles” feels like an artifact of an era that has long since passed it by.

In the final tally, “Expend4bles” is less an homage to the action epics of yesteryear and more a reminder that some things are best left in the past. Avoid this one, because even nostalgia has its limits.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5.

Expend4bles is in theaters now.

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