Despite their tired box office returns and aging stars, The Expendables films are continuing, with a proposed fourth instalment defibrillating the franchise from seemingly certain death. Whilst the second seemed to hit the right self-aware attitude, The Expendables 3 reverted to a self-serious tone that counteracted against the films’ overall purpose: to deliver some good old-fashioned 80s action nostalgia. So, if The Expendables 4 is going to work, it’s going to need a fresh set of teeth.
But first, we’ve got to lose a few teeth. The cast for the previous films grew to silly extents, with the unnecessary inclusions of Kelsey Grammar and Ronda Rousey joining the already large ensemble, made up of the likes of the straight-faced Sylvester Stallone, the slurry Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine/’A Thousand Miles’ fame. So, instead of the extensive banner of names strewn over the poster, I’d like to dial it down a bit, with five actors that I believe would make ideal candidates to bring the bullets and blood squibs back to our screens in the best possible way.
1: Jason Statham
Yeah, I know, Statham is already a member of the Expendables crew. But there’s no guarantee that he’ll return. And yet, as an unadulterated Stathamer, I think he deserves a retrial, at the head of the pack. The reason why? Because unlike the other stars of The Expendables, Statham has tapped into and harnessed that wonderful trick that actors often forget is in their arsenal: not taking themselves so seriously.
Think Spy or The Fate of the Furious. Statham played roles that perfectly suited his persona: gruff, rough and tough enforcers. But more than this, he was willing to mock that persona in inventive ways. The Fate of the Furious finds Statham’s Deckard utilising his killer skills to protect a baby in a carrier, of all things. Spy has Statham’s Ford list off all manner of accomplishments that one wouldn’t be surprised to hear the real Statham admit to, such as “Nothing kills me. I’m immune to 179 different types of poison. I know because I ingested them all at once”. Statham’s steely tongue is visibly in his cheek and could be vital to getting people back on board with a franchise that should be relishing in its corny antics.
2: Jackie Chan
How is this up for debate? Police Story, Drunken Master, Rumble in the Bronx. The master of the ‘Are you freaking kidding me? How did he do that?’ stunt and the star of the above martial art flicks, Chan is a no-brainer, a charismatic action star that could give The Expendables franchise some well-needed practicality.
Furthermore, Chan is supremely charismatic, but in need of a true Hollywood hit. Disappearing into obscurity somewhat, aside from his consistent involvement in a number of kid-friendly projects such as The Spy Next Door and The Lego Ninjago Movie, Chan could do with a canvas such as The Expendables 4 to remind action fans why they loved the drunken master to begin with. Give Chan an inanimate object like a phone case or a litter picker and let him go to town on some insurgents: The Expendables needs to go full Chan.
3: Kurt Russell
The Cash to Stallone’s Tango, Kurt Russell is the walking, talking, mulleted definition of charisma. From the gruff government agent, Snake Plisskin, to the oblivious yet hardened Jack Burton, Russell has made a name for himself in the action genre, playing across the spectrum. Seeing as The Expendables franchise cannot seem to broker a peace between a comedic and serious tone, perhaps Russell could prove essential to calling a truce between the two.
Moreover, Russell has experience with some of the greatest directors in the business: John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino have been frequent collaborators with Russell over his illustrious career. Why do I bring this up? Because, up until this point, The Expendables has had a somewhat muted directorial palette. Getting a director on board with some real energy and distinction could give The Expendables the boost it needs to get its arthritic limbs motivated. Russell is the man to make that happen.
4: Tom Cruise
As with Chan, there’s no actor as dedicated to the craft of the stunt as Mr Cruise. From his insane skyscraper spiderwalk in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, to an even more ambitious dance in underwear and white socks in Risky Business, Cruise is known to fully give himself over to the physicality of his roles. And with such a strong history in the action genre, his inclusion in The Expendables roster feels vital.
Think about it. Rather than the same old CGI slump, let’s invest in a top-of-the-range tank or helicopter, have Cruise pilot it and have some fun with the kind of real-time explosions and destruction that’d peak Michael Bay’s blood pressure. With a typical Cruise quip and some clever camerawork to prove that it’s really the all-American hero behind the wheel, we could be onto a winning formula.
5. Danny Trejo
Machete himself, Trejo isn’t as big of a name as the likes I’ve proposed above. And yet, Trejo too can stand toe-to-toe with a number of big league action stars such as Steven Seagal and live to tell the tale. With a brooding, aged expression, Trejo has the look of an Expendable. But more importantly, he’s famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for his brutal character roles, a risky ruthlessness that could bring a needed grit to the action sequences.
Of course, the tone needs to remain self-aware. But the action needs to adopt an adult-orientated aesthetic. Because The Expendables forgets that it has a particular audience: those who rate and appreciate the action flicks of the 80s. With enough blood spilled to make Dracula spool over in excitement, The Expendables could return to the inherent ridiculousness of those films, producing a contemporary chuckle over what was once taken seriously. And, for anyone who hasn’t seen Machete or it’s follow-up, then you should know that Trejo is the man for the job: in one scene in the first Machete, he uses an opponent’s intestine to rappel down a wall. Yeah, that’s all you need to know really.
So there’s five suggestions for the Expendables 4 roster: some classic, some contemporary, some crazy Trejo. But what do you guys think? Some feel that The Expendables franchise should retire for good. However, I think there’s life left in the cadaver. With some fresh faces, a blood squib heavy action aesthetic and the Stath leading the charge, I reckon we can coax out that self-aware spirit that has remained hidden within the franchise (but hopefully not for much longer).