The Expendables 4

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 11/21/23;
Lionsgate;
Action;
Box Office $16.71 million;
$29.96 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong/bloody violence throughout, language and sexual material.
Stars Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy Garcia.

The first “Expendables” film in 2010 offered the intriguing premise of assembling a team of action all-stars as a paramilitary mercenary squad tasked with carrying out dangerous international missions. Subsequent installments expanded the roster to an almost absurd level of action talent, even if some of the bigger stars were basically relegated to cameos. The box office underperformance of the third film in 2014, however left some doubt as to the sustainability of the franchise.

Thus, despite receiving a theatrical release and a comprehensive marketing campaign, The Expendables 4 (or Expend4bles in the parlance of Hollywood’s cutesy naming conventions) almost feels like one of those direct-to-video franchise extensions that used to be more prevalent in the heyday of DVD.

At least they dragged out a few of its geriatric regulars to try to justify its existence, though a majority of the cast ends up being sidelined for most of the movie, turning it for the most part into just another Jason Statham action vehicle.

The story involves Statham’s Lee Christmas character seeking revenge when a member of the Expendables is killed during a botched mission to stop terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons. When Christmas is benched by the Expendables’ new CIA handler (Andy Garcia) on the subsequent mission to stop the terrorists from using the stolen nukes to ignite World War III, he decides to go anyway, which comes in handy when the rest of the team is captured.

Statham does his best to carry the proceedings across the finish line, but he isn’t given much to work with. The screenplay is saddled with trite dialogue, stilted performances and plot twists that, while predictable, ultimately don’t make a lot of sense.

Though billed at 103 minutes, the story manages to resolve itself in just over an hour and a half, leaving a whopping 11 minutes of credits.

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Expend4bles might offer a few moments of enjoyment for the franchise’s most ardent fans, but this is clearly a franchise that is a shell of its former self.

The bulk of the action takes place in two extended set pieces — first a chemical weapons plant in Libya, then a barge transporting the nukes to be detonated off the coast of Russia. It’s amusing to see the producers in the bonus materials talk about wanting to film “real” action in order to live up to the reputation of the franchise, when the final product looks like it was passed through a CGI filter.

This may be a case where the need for a ultra-high-definition presentation didn’t do the film any favors, as the visual effects look so clean they might as well be from a video game, rather than have the kind of gritty look a film like this needs. Too many close-ups of the actual stars in the middle of stunts look like obvious process shots.

The director for this installment is Scott Waugh, whose previous works include 2012’s Act of Valor, an actioner that employs the gimmick of casting real Navy SEALs, and the recent Hidden Strike, the Jackie Chan-John Cena team-up filmed in 2018 that was shelved for five years before surfacing on Netflix.

The Blu-ray includes a solo commentary track from Waugh, as well as two behind-the-scenes featurettes: the 17-minute “Bigger, Bolder, Badder: The Expendables in Action” about the stunts, and the 19-minute “More Than a Team: New Blood Meets Old Blood” about the cast. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer. The extras are included on both the 4K disc and the regular Blu-ray of the film.

A Steelbook collection of all four “Expendables” films on both Blu-ray and 4K disc is available at Walmart for $69.99.

Walmart exclusive “Expendables” collection Steelbook

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

DIGITAL REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
Box Office $28.14 million;
$19.99 VOD, $24.99 Digital Purchase;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence and brief strong language.
Stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah.

Fans of “G.I. Joe” know four traits about Snake Eyes, the mysterious black-clad commando of the team, that tend to stay consistent throughout the various iterations of the lore: He doesn’t talk, he wears a mask because he’s disfigured, he was an American soldier before joining G.I. Joe, and he trained in martial arts with the Arashikage ninja clan alongside Storm Shadow, who would go on to join Cobra.

This prequel look at Snake Eyes’ origins doesn’t bother with three of them and instead focuses solely on the ninja stuff.

What we do get is enough of a departure from established lore that it’s hard to tell who exactly this movie is for. Fans won’t be interested in a Snake Eyes movie in which he talks and doesn’t wear a mask, and for mainstream audience the movie plays more like a generic fantasy about a ninja family feud. References to the counter-terrorist team G.I. Joe fighting the global terror group Cobra are at least shoehorned in to connect it to the franchise’s main storyline.

Another common trait in previous depictions of Snake Eyes in comic books, cartoons and the earlier “Joe” movies was that he was a white serviceman who took up with the Arashikage clan, making for something of a cultural dichotomy (not unlike The Karate Kid).

It’s a heck of a legacy for a character that started off as an action figure molded in pure black as a cost-saving measure to round out the first wave of a collection of soldiers in the early 1980s.

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But, fearful of any hints of cultural appropriation in these hyper-sensitive times, in this movie he’s played by Henry Golding, who is half Asian (Malaysian on his mother’s side, British on his father’s). Snake Eyes is presented as the son of a spy who is murdered, taking his name from a set of loaded dice rolled by his father’s killer to determine his fate.

Growing up seeking revenge, Snake Eyes is recruited into the Yakuza by Kenta (Takehiro Hira). In a scene reminiscent of Batman Begins, Kenta orders Snake Eyes to kill a man caught spying on the Yakuza, but Snake Eyes instead spares his life and helps him escape. That man, Tommy (Andrew Koji), is the heir to the leadership of the Arashikage clan, and also the cousin of Kenta, who was cast out by the clan and seeks revenge of his own.

Tommy welcomes Snake Eyes into the clan and trains him in the ways of the ninja. The clan’s mission is to guard an ancient magical stone that can burn people with the power of thought, a weapon that Kenta wants to get his hands on so much that he’s aligned with the Cobra agent the Baroness (Ursula Corbero). She’s being tracked by “G.I. Joe” trooper Scarlett (Samara Weaving), thus providing Snake Eyes a connection to his future team.

The plot turns on a series of betrayals and double crosses, and there’s plenty of action to make this a decent run-of-the-mill martial arts movie. But with the “G.I. Joe” label slapped on, the character at the center of it doesn’t feel much like the Snake Eyes fans know.

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Among the extras included with the digital version of the film, and which also will be available with the future disc release, are five deleted scenes that run about 30 seconds each — too short to have much impact.

There are also four featurettes: the nine-and-a-half-minute “Enter Snake Eyes,” a look at the making of the film; “A Deadly Ensemble,” about the cast and the characters they play; a seven minute look at the Arashikage clan; and a three-minute short film about the history of Snake Eyes’ sword, Morning Light. Interwoven throughout is an interview with Larry Hama, the comic book writer who created the original storylines for most of the characters.

Snake Eyes arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Oct. 19. Note that the 4K edition does not include a regular Blu-ray copy.