Right from the get-go, The Losers makes damn sure to tell the audience that they’re watching a really cool movie. The movie has it all: shaky hand-held camera work, freeze frames, jump cuts and the requisite “group walking towards the camera in slow motion” scene—reassuring the audience that they are indeed watching an awesome film. If you want explosions, vehicular mayhem, gadgets and guns then The Losers should be right up your alley. However, if you want anything else, like say clever dialogue, interesting characters, good acting or a coherent plot—then The Losers is not for you. The film is an exercise in action movie cliché and trying too hard.
Spoilers to follow
Here’s what you need to know: a crack team of special forces operatives, codenamed the Losers, are on a mission in South America. They are ordered by their handler to take out a villa belonging to a drug kingpin. However, the Losers soon discover that the villa is filled with children that the kingpin has been using as mules. The Losers are principled soldiers of fortune; fine with assassinating adults, but not kiling children. Much to their handler’s dismay, the team disobeys orders by rescuing the children first, and then completes the mission. This failure to follow orders leads their mysterious handler, known only as Max, to order an airstrike on their location, destroying the extraction helicopter that was at the time full of the children the Losers just rescued. Presumed dead, the team vows revenge against the person responsible, and the rest of the film plays out exactly like you’d expect.
The film has a pretty solid cast headlined by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, Chris Evans and Zoe Saldana. They’re all playing fairly standard action film roles: Morgan plays Clay, the take charge commander of the group; Elba plays Roque, second in command (Come on, quit typecasting this guy!) with a temper and a love for large knives; Chris Evans is Jensen, the smart ass tech guy; while Zoe Saldana plays Aisha, the femme fatale with a mysterious past. These are stock characters, and as such, the actors don’t have a hell of a lot of room to move around in the roles. They all do their jobs, but most of the actors just look bored and uninterested in the dialogue they’re spouting, which is a criminal waste of three very talented actors if you ask me. Morgan is a charismatic actor, but even his self-assured bravado can only carry a movie so far. Anyone who has seen HBO’s The Wire knows what Elba is capable of, but his character and motivations are paper thin. Give an actor like that something interesting to do! Evans turns in a good comedic performance, but you’ll also see shades of the physicality and weapon proficiency that he’s going to need as Steve Rogers in Captain America. Like the rest, he’s not given much to do though. As for Saldana, she may just not be that good of an actress, I couldn’t tell either way; I have yet to see her in a role where she impressed me.
The only standout performance of the whole film is Jason Patric as the spy-master Max. His motivations in the film are cartoonish at best and Dick Cheney-esque at worst—American Flag lapel pin and all. Steal and set off some weapons of mass destruction, blame terrorists and then profit from the ensuing conflict. But his motivations don’t really matter, what really matters is that Patric is having a blast playing the villain. Max is a horrible, violent human being, and yet every time he’s off screen you’ll wish you were watching a scene with him in it. Max and his second in command, Wade (Holt McCallany), have a very entertaining dynamic, which was sadly one of the only highlights of the film for me.
The real shame is that in the hands of a better director, The Losers could have been a really entertaining movie. The comic book by Andy Diggle was great (or at least the first two volumes that I read were), and on paper the story makes for a highly entertaining read; on film though, it just comes off as hackneyed. How is it that the visuals in a film are so outmatched by the art from a comic book? I mean this as no disrespect to comic book art or the very talented artist Jock—in fact its his great art that informs much of the look of the film—but a film, even if it is a comic book adaptation, should at least try to bring something new to the table. Director Sylvain White manages to wring every last drop of cool out of Jock’s art, and then proceeds to beat it like a proverbial dead horse.
The Losers comes off like Michael Bay without the balls or, dare I compliment the man, filmmaking savvy. I get the feeling that White knew the movie was fairly shallow, so he tried to ride the style-over-substance train. His efforts ultimately fall flat because the sense of style he attempts to infuse the film with has already been done to death, and in many much better films. The Losers is one comic book movie where I’ll recommend you stick with the comic book.