Originally a send-up of the goofy action movie franchises from the 80s and 90s, The Expendables has seemingly dropped this shtick in favor of becoming a big action series itself. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. After all, who wouldn’t want to see 50 Cent and Iko Uwais in the same movie or Jason Statham getting kicked in the head by Megan Fox?
At their worst, The Expendables films are still serviceable action flicks that pride themselves on cracking as many jokes as they can in between hundreds of explosions. But, with the pending release of Expend4bles, aka Expendables 4, we may see the formula shaken up a bit.
Originally envisioned as the potential final film in the series, this latest entry in The Expendables franchise has taken some interesting turns based on it’s recently-released trailer. Aside from featuring multiple new members on the titular mercenary team, we may see Stallone’s character pass the torch onto an established favorite, as well as feature the highest stakes the series has seen yet. Let’s take a look at a pair of theories we’ve put together based on what we know so far.
Jason Statham Takes the Reins
While The Expendables were always about the team as a whole, the de facto face of the franchise leading up to Expend4bles has undoubtedly been Sylvester Stallone. Due to a variety of reasons, however, we may see another member of the crack-shot mercenary team take the reins as the leader: Jason Statham.
From as early as the first film, Stallone has been heavily involved in multiple areas of production. He wrote and directed the first film, for one thing. Though he would write the following two films in the series, Stallone’s creative involvement would be drastically reduced after the third Expendables film, no doubt amplified by a lengthy period of development hell and a middling performance at the box office. He even debated returning to the series due to creative differences but opted to make a limited return to pass the torch onto a new central protagonist.
That new protagonist is Jason Statham. It has to be, given how his character is the main focus in the Expend4bles trailer. A quarter of it is devoted solely to him sparring with Megan Fox, his one-on-one brawl with Iko Uwais is given some focus later on, and what will likely be a significant plot point in the film — Statham ultimately leaving the mercenary lifestyle for something quieter — is briefly brought up. Stallone himself would even mention that “Statham is 80 percent of it” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Stallone’s departure from the series, along with a change in leadership for the team itself, feels symbolic for the future of The Expendables. Four films across almost fifteen years is a good run, and much like the classic franchises that the series was originally a tribute to, things tend to wind down after enough years tick by.
The Final Expendables Film
With every sequel to an action film, there’s always a need to go bigger and bolder. But while that could work once or twice, eventually, the need to outdo what came before becomes so great it can turn a series into an excessive parody of itself. While The Expendables isn’t exactly known for being subtle, there are only so many adventures you can have with this band of mercenaries before things get stale.
Every Expendables film tends to tell a story we’ve seen all seen before, slowly escalating onto bigger and bigger stakes. In order, we’ve seen this team of mercenaries do the following: overthrow dictators, locate refined plutonium, hunt down arms dealers, and stop a nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
Admittedly, that last one feels a bit on the nose. But seeing as we’re jumping from the possibility of nuclear war to outright attacking a boat carrying atomic weapons, there’s not a lot else that can be done, barring the introduction of something fantastical. With nukes usually being the be-all and end-all of warfare, wouldn’t it appropriate to see it signal the end of The Expendables?
Almost ten years after the last entry, one last “hurrah” for The Expendables feels appropriate. Stallone passing the torch onto Statham is the perfect setup for a somewhat open ending where our gun-toting heroes continue saving the world — but instead of screening in theaters, the adventures happen in our imagination. It’s a pleasant thought. Many prominent action franchises found their legacies somewhat muddled with unnecessary sequels that either failed to live up to their predecessors or otherwise failed at the box office.
Then again, if you’re a cynic, there’s always room for a sequel. The Expendables already went to Hell and back if a certain tie-in comic series is considered canon. Why not have The Expendables go to space? Why not have an international remake of every Expendables film? The sky is the limit when all you have to do is ship something to theaters. If the trailer is to be believed, “they’ll die when they’re dead.” That may be, but box office returns will likely determine the true fate of this long-running action franchise.