I Watched The Expendables For The First Time, And I Have No Idea How We Got To A Fourth Movie

I was shocked when I first learned The Expendables 4, a.k.a. Expend4bles, was not just happening, but as a theatrical release. Despite being an action movie lover, I haven’t had much interest in The Expendables franchise since I saw the first trailer for the first movie way back when, so the news made me wonder what I was missing out on. So I decided to watch the 2010 movie recently to see what the hype was about, and all I can say is I’m not surprised The Expendables 4 is struggling with critics and at the box office against The Nun II

I watched The Expendables with my Netflix subscription to see what the hype was about, hoping to understand how this franchise made it to four movies. After the credits rolled, I had no answers to my question, and am still wondering how this franchise spawned three sequels after a first entry that was below par for the action genre.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in Expendables 2

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Expendables Francise Has Made A Lot Of Money 

Before I get too deep into tearing down this franchise, I need to take a chance to acknowledge that there was definitely an audience for these movies along the way. While critics were never on the side of these movies, the first movie had a worldwide gross of $274.5 million per BoxOfficeMojo with a reported $80 million budget. That alone would score any film a sequel, and when that sequel makes $315 million, that’s going to turn into a third movie. 

All this is to say that until seemingly very recently, there were people seeing these movies. People, plus money, equals sequels. So, I am being a bit facetious when I ask the question of how a fourth movie happened, but for the sake of looking at the overall product as an action fan, I still am scratching my head about what so many saw in it. 

Jason Statham in The Expendables

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Expendables Tried Way Too Hard To Make Every Actor Look Badass

When every character is trying to act like the toughest man in the room, the whole scene falls apart into pure comedy. I couldn’t help but bust out laughing watching Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that church scene all try to out-tough each other, and it just devolves into some bizarre pissing contest. Weirdly enough, it flies in the face of Stallone’s recent comments about action heroes, as none of these characters keep their mouths shut and just perform heroic deeds. 

What really makes it underwhelming for me is that in normal circumstances, I’d expect the real tough guy in the room to stay silent and let the wannabes talk. The way The Expendables plays it is everyone is that shit-talking wannabes, and there’s no badass to set everyone straight. It’s just two hours of dudes hurling empty threats and insults at each other between fight scenes, and it’s way goofier than I’m sure was intended. 

Jason Statham in The Expendables

(Image credit: Lionsgate )

The Action Of The Expendables Is Below Standard For The Genre

The Expendables is promoted to feature some of the best names in the action genre, and yet, the movie is chocked full of moments in which the action is well below the mark for a movie like this. In an age where the John Wick franchise is crafting awesome fight scenes more elaborate than a Star Wars lightsaber battle, I was watching a then-62-year-old Sylvester Stallone struggling to maintain a consistent run so that he could catch a plane. 

The physical limitations of the stars aside, there are scenes in The Expendables where the fight choreography feels nonexistent. Take the opening scene, in which the heroes stand in an open room, fire at the enemy terrorists and somehow dispatch them all with zero casualties. Is it badass or is it just lucky that they decided to start firing before taking any form of cover? So much of this movie has moments where it looks like it’s a miracle the heroes aren’t injured at the very least, to the point I think they subconsciously are aware they’re in a movie and know they can’t be hurt. Why else would Lee Christmas jog directly through an enemy camp solo while tossing random grenades into bunkers? 

Jet Li in The Expendables

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Level Of Disrespectful Humor Directed At Jet Li’s Yin Yang Is In Poor Taste

The first Expendables movie includes Jet Li, which, at first glance, feels like a nod toward the actor’s various accolades in Hollywood as an action star. In execution, Yin Yang (the only character with a nickname that directly ties to his cultural background) is frequently shown to be the weakest of the group. At one point, Terry Crews’ character refers to the crew as four-and-a-half men, referring to Li’s size. Yin Yang is often the punchline in the movie rather than the hero alongside the rest of the crew. 

In my opinion, it’s pretty damn disrespectful to an actor who carried the action genre with some damn good movies throughout the 2000s. If Dolph Lundgren is owed flowers for his accolades in cinema leading up to The Expendables, you can’t tell me Li didn’t deserve more respect for his work in Unleashed, Cradle 2 The Grave and Fearless. He would’ve beat Gunner’s ass if Barney hadn’t stepped in, and he deserved more than a patronizing response in the movie’s ending about that happening. 

The Action Genre Has Evolved Past The Expendables Franchise In 2023

After watching The Expendables, I went on a search to see what the top action movies of 2010 were. The Expendables took the top spot that year, but in 2012, The Expendables 2 was absent from many top lists I browsed. The same is true of the third movie, and the further you continue, one thing is clear: the action genre evolved throughout the 2010s, and gone are the days when we’re beckoning for the olden days of the ’80s action stars. 

That might be my opinion, but in an opening weekend where The Expendables 4 pulled in only  $8.3 million, I don’t think it’s a bold take. The numbers indicate there are fewer audiences looking for this franchise, perhaps because there’s a lot more quality competition now in 2023 than there was when the original movie came out. Hell, even looking at the top action movies of 2022 list I put out, there’s not a single entry I’d put anything Expendables-related over. 

I originally decided to watch The Expendables to understand how the action franchise remained successful throughout four entries, but given the recent headlines about the fourth movie’s struggles, I may just have wound up with the answer for why it had diminishing box office returns opening weekend with every entry. As an action lover who has enjoyed many films in this genre with all of the talent that appear in these movies, I say with all do respect it may be time to put this franchise out to pasture. 

The Expendables 4 is out in theaters now, and while it may not be my bag, I’m sure there are still fans out there who are interested in seeing it. As for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to check out the original movies, all three are currently available to stream over on Netflix.