Expend4bles review – cigar-smoking Stallone leads way as retro franchise lumbers on

<span>Photograph: Yana Blajeva/AP</span>
Photograph: Yana Blajeva/AP

There is room for debate about whether the number 4 in EXPEND4BLES – as the title is rendered on the poster – looks sufficiently like the letter A. Next time, it will be easier with EXPENDABLE5, then three movies later it should be EXPENDA8LES, and for the 50th film they can go for a classy Roman numeral to please the classicists: EXPENDABLES.

Anyway, the lumbering giants of yesteryear action-movie product are back, although given how long they have been around, the avowedly retro nature of their style is less important and has perhaps vanished altogether. Sylvester Stallone returns as the team’s leader, Barney Ross, wreathed in bonhomie and cigar smoke but with a limited presence, rather like the constitutional monarch of the Expend4bles, with his effective prime minister being Lee Christmas, played once more by Jason Statham. Statham is the one returning cast member to bring some genuine oomph to the proceedings, with his distinctive transatlantic voice: a kind of cockney-with-a-twist-of-Chicago, delivered in that husky semi-whisper, like a lost Mitchell brother from EastEnders – although there are also times when he resembles Johnny Vaughan on steroids. Dolph Lundgren is back once again as Jensen, enduring some joshing from his comrades about his hairpiece, and Randy Couture encores as Toll Road. Newcomer Andy Garcia ambles cordially in and out as Marsh, the group’s CIA minder.

The newbies in the team include Curtis “Fiddy Cent” Jackson playing someone named Easy Day, Megan Fox as Christmas’s ass-kicking girlfriend Gina and Levy Tran is another superhot martial arts person called Lash. The Expendables are letting women into the fold, but they have to be young and attractive, and the gang are evidently uninterested in the whole age-gap discourse. The Expendables in the past have had an unlovely habit of patronising Asian cast members, but they more or less refrain from that here with two martial arts stars: Indonesian Iko Uwais as Rahmat, a ruthless terrorist, and Thai actor Tony Jaa as the gang’s ally, Decha.

As ever, the guys are texting it in – or most of them, as Statham always looks as if he could handle some comic dialogue (or any sort of dialogue) if he was given the chance. The fight scenes are fine, but the digital effects really are moderate, all expense spared, with some crashes and explosions that look as if they were created on an iPhone app.

The idea now is that fanatical bad guy Rahmat has captured some “nuclear detonators” and, under instruction from a shadowy off-camera supervillain codenamed Ocelot, he intends to cause a nuclear explosion in Russian territory, making it look as if the US is responsible, triggering a limited nuclear war that will hugely enrich Ocelot. Only our heroes can stop it happening, but this will involve settling some bad blood between Christmas and the rest of the gang.

And so it rolls interminably on, and maybe advances in AI and digital avatars mean that even death will not stop these people. Let’s hope the strike by the US actors’ union, Sag-Aftra, succeeds, if only to prevent this.

• Expend4bles is released on 22 September in the UK and the US, and on 5 October in Australia.