Variety is the spice of life, both in general and certainly within comics as well. That holds true for comic book movies too, especially when many sites will run any and all news on subjects like Star Wars, James Bond, and Star Trek due to the fact that comics exists for those franchise and just about any other that you can think of. While we might not be going that far here, I do like to have a little leeway. Manga certainly offers that, as do less superhero-oriented projects like imprint titles (“Sandman“, “Preacher“, “100 Bullets“, etc.) and horror series (“The Walking Dead“, “Outcast“, “Tales from the Crypt“, etc.). It helps to spice things up around here and keep us from getting burned out on solely talking about superheroes and supervillains day in and day out.
So, in that spirit, we will occasionally add another project or series to the fold that at least has ties to the comic book world, be it an offbeat original film superhero like Darkman (check out our retro reviews here, here and here!) or something like The Expendables 4! Believe it or not, three months ahead of the release of the first film in 2010, a prequel miniseries involving the franchises characters arrived on store shelves, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment. I have not yet read it, but I intend to.
While certainly not the greatest action franchise in the world, it is certainly a fun one, both due to the throwback, nostalgia-filled vibe of it all and the camaraderie of its stars. The existing three films in the series might be dumb as hell and not necessarily what one might call “great cinema”, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have fun watching them (particularly the second one). I freely admit that I will be in line for the latest installment when it arrives in theaters.
How are we getting an Expendables 4 when the last one didn’t even clear $40 million domestically at the box office, you might ask? When the three combined have a budget of $280 million and a cumulative domestic haul of only $225 million? The answer is Asia. China in particular. While these AARP-aged, well-toned, muscular sacks of meat might not bring home the back in the USA anymore, they are still megastars elsewhere on the planet, with the existing trilogy pulling in an additional $560 million internationally on top of the above $225m. That’s certainly not an achievement to scoff at and it’s really no wonder why a fourth is on the way when the series can score worldwide numbers like that.
According to Variety, Nu Image/Millennium have scored a large equity and distribution deal for The Expendables 4 through their Chinese business partners. As a result, the film is expected to lens next year in Bulgaria (as well as at least some shooting in China) ahead of a 2017 release. That gives us a three year gap between last year’s The Expendables 3 and the new outing, which is a year longer than the gaps between the other installments. The extra time should serve the franchise well, helping prevent over-saturation a bit, but also primarily due to co-lead Jason Statham’s latest resurgence in popularity. Audiences really took to the action stars turns in this year’s action-comedy hit Spy, as well as (to a lesser degree) his villainous role in the seventh Fast and Furious film. The gruff star is expected to return to the car-fu franchise in Fast 8, meaning EX4 can ride that wave as it follows that film’s April 2017 release months later when it (I’m assuming) hits in August. Similarly, Stallone is expected to get a bump after his return to his bowler hat and blue collar affectations as Rocky Balboa in Creed later this year.
What should we expect in terms of casting? No word is given on who will feature this time out, but given the history at hand, I expect the majority of the series’ players will come back. Stallone and Statham are guaranteed, and Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture might as well be considered that way too. Terry Crews’ and Wesley Snipes’ participation will likely hinge on their TV series work. Antonio Banderas also had a film financed as part of this new deal, Security, so it looks like his relationship with Nu Image & Millennium continues and he should (thankfully) be back.
For better or worse, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s schedule seems to be wide open thanks to the stumble that Terminator: Genisys took earlier this year, so a co-starring turn from the Austrian Oak certainly isn’t out the question. Jet Li has famously been ambivalent about whether or not he remains involved in the series, but Chinese financing (and likely a nice paycheck) have secured small roles for him in the past two entries, so don’t be surprised if that happens once again. Bruce “UGREEYLAZY” Willis infamously ticked off Stallone last time out when he asked for two much money to reprise his role of CIA sleazebag Mr. Church from the first two films. While they have supposedly buried the hatchet, I’m skeptical as to whether or not he will get an invite to return. Same goes for Mickey Rourke, who hasn’t appeared since his gloriously hammy turn in the first one. Harrison Ford took Bruce’s spot last time out as CIA grump Max Drummer. Ford may well be willing to come back, should they ask, but his commitments to Star Wars VIII and Blade Runner 2 might prevent it.
We are two paragraphs into potential returning cast members and I’m still not done covering them all yet. I dig this series, but they seriously need to cull the roster, be it leaving characters out going forward or (preferably) violently killing a chunk of them off in EX4. Continuing on, Kelsey Grammer was an unexpected, but fine addition to the series in EX3, so a return of his Bonaparte character would certainly be welcome. Lastly, we have the baby-faced quartet that is Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz. Lutz is a bit of a Nu Image/Millennium staple, so I’ll be surprised if they don’t rope him back in. The latter two don’t seem to have much going on and could easily be left out without much fuss. Or maybe bring them back and kill ’em off? Ronda Rousey is one that, if she’s willing to show up, should be locked down soon before someone else grabs her. Like it or not, she’s a rising star and they’d be lucky to have her again if they can pull it off.
What would I like to see, especially since the budget will reportedly be north of $100 million this time? I’d like to see the franchise back off on cameos (Arnold, Li, Ford, and Robert Davi were a waste in the last one) and put that money into the production budget instead. Nab a good director, perhaps a returning Patrick Hughes or maybe someone like Lexi Alexander or Isaac Florentine, and give them the resources necessary to create some show-stopping set pieces. When it comes to the cast of characters, as I said above, some trimming is needed. Open with the team (or perhaps that are two teams working in unison now) getting slaughtered at the hands of a new villain. The survivors regroup to take him or her down. Is it cliche as hell? Absolutely, but it’s also necessary at this stage. Besides, it’s not like any of the plots have been original thus far.
I’m not going to get into wishlists for new actors joining the franchise. I could sit here and pound out who else I would like to see join the fray and why. There’s just too many names to go through, be it big shots like Kurt Russell, mid-level dudes like Michael Biehn, action heroines like Gina Carano or Cynthia Rothrock, or C-listers like Thomas Ian Griffith. We’ve seen people showcased from all categories thus far and I have no doubt that will continue going forward. I certainly wouldn’t mind them taking up Dwayne Johnson’s offer to show up as an Expendable-assassinating baddie. Nor would I object to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s idea of him returning as Jean Vilain’s vengeance-seeking twin, Claude Vilain. Yes, the idea is hysterical and ridiculous, but this is Van Damme we’re talking about. Hell, give me both working in tandem. Above all, just give us a cohesive film from start to finish that doesn’t feel as tame as the first, as trimmed as the second, or as patchwork as the third. Use the money where it counts and give us something truly worthy of the franchise’s concept.
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