They’ve been away from our screens for nearly a decade – but now, the ragtag bunch of action heroes known as The Expendables have returned for a brand-new mission.
Initially rumored to be the franchise’s closing chapter, producers Kevin King-Templeton and Les Weldon – who have been on board since the 2010 original – are now quick to dispel that notion. Just as the movie’s tagline jokingly threatens, “they’ll die when they’re dead”.
As Weldon told Zavvi: “Never believe anybody who says it’s the last one – if the fans are happy and want another one, then we’ll be wanting to make another! It’s been years since we first started hearing from fans about making a fourth movie, but when you’re dealing with this many stars, it’s impossible for it to come together overnight.”
King-Templeton added: “Life is all about timing; it’s not just the challenge of getting all the marquee names in the same place at the same time, you must give them enough time to get back into fight training before shooting begins, as these movies are very demanding of them. Scheduling is always the biggest challenge – you blink and suddenly eight years have passed, and we’re only just preparing to shoot!”
The pair are veteran action movie producers and are both keenly aware that thanks to the near-decade gap between films, this also needs to function as a soft reboot of sorts. Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas has taken over as the group’s leader, with Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross showing up in a smaller role, but surrounding them are predominantly new characters, most notably CIA agent Gina (Megan Fox) and Easy Day (50 Cent).
It was a creative decision designed to bridge the gap for newcomers and pre-existing fans, with the producers looking towards one specific franchise as inspiration for how to perfect this approach.
“These movies aren’t designed to be episodic”, King-Templeton continued. “We don’t want to pick up where the last one left off – we want this franchise to be like James Bond, where we throw you straight into an action sequence, and you can immediately get on board with it even if the leading man is completely different to the last time.
“The Bond movies mostly avoid overlapping narratives and take place in different locations; the only thing that overlaps generally is the action, but even that’s packaged in completely different ways depending on the director who’s making it. We want to give the fans what we want, while also making sure it has its own distinct flavour.”
And the main thing the fans wanted this time was a return to the R-rated action of the first 2 movies, after a divided response to the PG-13/12A rated threequel. There’s plenty of bloody carnage on display here, but audiences may have been thrown off by the first trailer, which hinted that this would be surprisingly closer to an action-packed romcom starring Statham and Fox than a typical Expendables outing.
Don’t let the marketing deceive you, as the movie couldn’t be further from the genre if it tried: “You couldn’t call it a romcom, but the chemistry between Statham and Fox is unbelievable!”
So, if each Expendables outing aims to have its own distinct flavour, what does Expend4bles offer that was lacking from the previous trilogy? As King-Templeton explained, the key to finding a new angle came from going back to basics.
“The fans have demanded we go back to our roots with a hard R-rating, and we did that by integrating some legendary Asian fighters into the franchise; their brand of action brings a whole new flavour to the film, which enhances everything beyond just adding new characters, or throwing the familiar ones into a brand-new setting.
“Plus, the way the story was constructed allowed Jason to step up a bit more front and centre. This isn’t exactly a new take, as we know more of Lee Christmas is what our fans crave, but it helps make this into a slightly different beast than before.
“We know Jason was excited to be leading the guys this time around – it’s only a little step forward from how we’ve previously seen him, but he was still excited to be firmly in the spotlight this time around.”
While this isn’t going to be the Expendables swansong, the pair do confirm it may be a while before they return, as no work has yet begun on a fifth instalment. They have a bucket list of action stars they’d love to join the franchise, but first, they need to make sure the fans they made this movie for hail it as a return to form.
“It’ll all be decided by them”, King-Templeton concluded. “I don’t like looking too far ahead – it’s dangerous to do that, so let’s walk before we run, and make sure we’ve surpassed everybody’s expectations for this one first!”
Expend4bles is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 22nd September.