Spoiler alert: This story discusses the ending of The Expendables 4 (in theaters now). Stop reading if you don’t want to know.
This is a disturbing conspiracy theory: Is someone killing off the iconic old men from The Expendables 4?
First clue: Leader Barney Ross (77-year-old Sylvester Stallone) dies early in the R-rated action movie. It makes sense. It’s been a long road to the franchise for Stallone, who was a comparatively sprightly 64 when he assembled fellow aging action stars for 2010’s The Expendables.
Still, leaving a plane crash early without unleashing a dying rage seemed suspicious, even if the franchise’s remaining OG team Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, 56), bespectacled reading sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, 65) and Toll Road (Randy Couture), 60, rallied around Ross’s death and the fried hand of his comrade. A charred limb with Ross’s distinctive skull ring is the only thing left.
Then, brace yourself, Tall Road is stabbed in the stomach and Christmas faces such a demise that he tells his dead friend, “Looks like we’ll see you soon, Barney.”
“When you’re Unstoppable, you’re allowed to die,” says director Scott Waugh. “It’s your job.”
Will Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross die in The Expendables 4?
Barney appears to be dead. He was the only one on the transport plane that caught fire. But The Expendables doesn’t do DNA tests to make sure it’s really Barney underneath the ruins (sorry). They’re just running and gunning to get revenge on villain Rahmat (Iko Uwais) along with newcomers Gina (Megan Fox), Easy Day (50 Cent) and CIA operative Lash (Levi Tran).
But as they try to stop a world-altering nuclear bomb plot orchestrated by a mysterious terrorist named Ocelot, Toll Road is stabbed and Christmas is left to the last bullets in a gunfight.
“We liked the idea that after Barney died, we would just kill off all the old people one by one,” says Waugh. “Even Statham is great at coming out with that cry: ‘Make my sacrifice count!’ That’s the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the franchise.”
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In fact, everyone survives. Barney takes off (literally) in a helicopter taking off just in time to shoot the rogue Expendables newbie, CIA agent Marsh (Andy Garcia), who is secretly the terrorist Ocelet. (Supplies do not perform background checks.)
March is so destroyed that its smoldering remains help The Expendables 4 earn an R rating.
Christmas speaks for America when he joins Barney in the helicopter and wonders out loud, “Hey, are you dead? What the hell is going on?
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After saving the world, Barney again has time to explain what happened with the fake death. It all has to do with Barney’s ring. The valuable jewelry was stolen by rough bikers earlier in the film, leading to a bar fight between Christmas and a diminutive biker nicknamed “Jumbo Shrimp” (Mike Moeller). Lee hit him in front of Barney (bad back), but that wasn’t the end of Jumbo Shrimp.
It turns out that Barney secretly put a gagged Jumbo Shrimp on his plane for the mission. As the plane fell, Barney pulled Jumbo out of hiding, placed the ring on Jumbo’s hand, and placed the wide-eyed enemy in the fiery pilot’s seat. Barney then secretly and safely parachuted out, keeping his death a secret.
Barney explains that he had to fake his own death in order to uncover Marsh’s betrayal that he saw in past missions, a secret move that is only taught in combat spy school.
Toll Road survives, Lee escapes. Stallone and Statham, the still-breathing core characters of The Expendables, are made for any potential fifth film. This will require the franchise’s wheels to hold up at the box office, with a 16% positive rating on review site RottenTomatoes. (Consumables don’t read reviews.)
Why is The Expendables 4 rated R?
There are many reasons why 2014’s The Expendables 3 tanked at the box office with $39 million compared to 2012’s The Expendables 2 which grossed $85 million. Waugh believes The Expendables 3’s PG-13 rating, compared to the R rating of previous films, played a big role.
“They really tried to tone down the brand to get a PG-13 rating and not spill all the blood. And the audience was outraged,” says Waugh. “They love authentic, graphic violence.”
The Expendables 4 wears the R like a red badge of goofy bravery, even touting its limited rating in the trailers. The payoff comes in moments like the chase scene, where Christmas blows up the upper half of an enemy’s body with a massive pistol.
“We can do it, we are the Expendables,” says Waugh. “It’s really a testament to the first two films.”
What happened to the nuclear bomb in The Expendables 4?
When it looked like Marsh would be able to create a nuclear bomb that would change the world and the Expendables would take the blame, Barney and Christmas banded together to save the day. Barney not only destroys Marsh, but also sinks a ship containing a nuclear bomb, which explodes underwater.
A nuclear explosion is a big leap from Oppenheimer’s reality. But Waugh insists the explosion is based on underwater atomic testing by the US Navy.
“So all I can say is that the Navy did it,” Waugh says. “So why not recreate it on screen?”
Speaking of bombs, the final scene finds all the celebrating Expendables gathered in a bar where they collectively destroy Christmas for shouting, “Count my sacrifice.” There’s a dramatic line that even The Expendables doesn’t cross.