The Big Picture
- The Expendables franchise was initially uncertain about how well all the action stars would work together, but the first film was a huge hit, allowing fans to see multiple stars in one film.
- The creative team learned to give audiences what they want, including a high level of violence and a compelling story, rather than trying to guess and provide what they think the audience needs.
- The introduction of new characters was done strategically to contribute to the story and provide refreshing interactions with existing characters, such as Megan Fox’s banter with Jason Statham and the sparks flying between Dolph Lundgren and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
For over a decade, fans have been on a journey with a cast filled to the brim with action stars in the Expendables franchise. With the fourth film in the series, Expend4bles, arriving in theaters across the United States today, audiences are in for another round of butt-kicking action and quippy one-liners. While members of the cast and the directors have changed, producer Les Weldon has stuck with the series since the premiere title, which was helmed by long-running star Sylvester Stallone. In an interview with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff, Weldon chatted about the remarkable run the films have had and what he and the rest of the production team learned along the way.
“The original Expendables was an experiment of sorts,” Weldon explains, “We didn’t know what would happen bringing all these action stars together. I mean, was that gonna be just everybody’s ego, too big to even fit on the set? Was it going to be a love fest or somewhere in between?” While the team may not have known how the stars would interact or how fans would receive the film, the first installment was a huge hit. “Clearly, people loved it, and they responded to it,” Weldon says, “They loved having these guys, which maybe they didn’t have the time to go out and see, you know, five or six movies they were making, they could now see all five or six movies in one film.” With legendary action names like Stallone, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, and more starring in the original feature, anyone can see why longtime fans of the genre poured into cinemas to catch the madness.
As the film series grew, Weldon says that the creative team better understood what audiences were looking for, “You have to let a franchise like this breathe, and you have to, in essence, expand the story. And I think the evolution of it is, coming to this fourth one, we’ve realized a couple of things – we realized we shouldn’t try to outguess the audience and give them what we think they need in terms of a rating or the amount of violence, or we know Expendable fans, they love that visceral experience, they love the crunch.” Noting that it’s more than just the high-octane fight scenes bringing viewers to the theater, Weldon added, “Secondly, we sort of understood that, really, the story is king here. That story has to work, and it doesn’t always work by just bringing in a bunch of actors with cameos because they have an interaction with one of the Expendables and then they kind of go off, and it was like, ‘Oh, that was cool to see him, but what does that have to do with the story?’”
The Introduction of New Characters
Ensuring that every new character played an important part in the movies was of the utmost importance to Weldon and the rest of the production team. “Any new characters that come in, they have to contribute something to the story, and they have to contribute to some kind of refreshing, even of all the other characters in there. In a sense, for example, we could have brought somebody in, and they’re bumping heads with Jason [Statham] or doing whatever. Instead, it’s much more fun to have somebody like Megan Fox, who can play tough and play sexy, and you see her banter … and to see her physicality and to see them grappling and wrestling. That gives Jason’s character kind of a new light and a new twist.”
Weldon says that another example of giving the characters more depth by adding that refresh can also be seen in the interactions between Lundgren and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s characters. “Dolph’s character can become a little bit too low-key, if you will, but you bring someone like 50 Cent in, and now there’s some sparks flying. So what we had to do is we really had to focus on the most important thing, that’s the story and the characters that work, that the audience can also get behind and enjoy.”
Expend4bles is now playing in theaters.