Directed by Sylvain White
We meet the military unit self-dubbed “The Losers” as they’re preparing for a mission to take down a Bolivian druglord, and we’re immediately given a sense from their camaraderie that this is a tightly-woven unit who’ve been on many missions together. Led by Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the group is comprised of talented experts with catchy nicknames like Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short), Cougar (Óscar Jaenada) and Jensen (Chris Evans), each of them bringing something to the table. This time, the assignment hasn’t gone as planned due to the involvement of a man on their walkie called “Max,” and the group are left stranded in Bolivia, believed to be dead, until they meet the mysterious and beautiful Aisha (Saldaña) who agrees to help get them back into the United States with information on Max that help them find and kill him.
Those who’ve read and enjoyed the comics should be pleased with the way director Sylvain White has remained incredibly faithful to the storyline from the first year of the series–more than a few scenes are taken straight from the books–pulling things together into a concise form while altering the structure to create a far more effective linear story. He also adds a number of cool original ideas that enhance the nature of the story like the concept of environmentally-friendly bombs called “Snukes.”
As much as the movie maintains the humorous nature of the comics, it’s a strange tone for a movie especially when taken too far, because you end up with a group of military personnel constantly cracking jokes while in the most dangerous and deadly situations. It continues the trend of breaking away from bringing realism to comic-based movies and establishing something far more heightened without going nearly as far as something like “The Spirit.” All the quipping, as much as it’s the best part of the movie, does detract from the story at times to the point where those unfamiliar with the comics might get lost.
Either way, the casting is absolutely inspired with the movie’s champion and savior being Chris Evans as Jensen, the group’s tech expert. This guy is always on, keeping things light with his hilarious riffing and raising the movie’s tone whenever he’s on screen, whether he’s singing Journey in a high falsetto or trading quips with the rest of the cast. As Johnny Storm, Evans was the best part of the “Fantastic Four” movies and that’s the case here as well. Appealing on another level entirely is Saldaña’s ability to ooze tough sensuality in her role as Aisha. Obviously, there must have been a reason to change her character from Arabic to Latina–possibly to avoid stirring up controversy among Muslims?–but it means her character has a very different personality. White does a fine job capturing her finer attributes to keep the guys’ attention focused on her without ever marginalizing her character’s importance to the story.
Essentialy, the movie is as much of a throwback to action movies of the ’80s and ’90s as the comics, but White takes a far more tongue-in-cheek approach rather than one meant to be taken seriously. Even a moment where the heroes walk in slow motion towards the camera seems to be done in fun, a clear nod to Michael Bay, rather than because White is trying to be some sort of “artiste.” Nostalgic references couldn’t be any more obvious than the bad guy Max, played with nonchalance and flair by Jason Patric, relishing his role as the type of over-the-top sociopath who’ll kill anyone who accidentally missteps. His interaction with his henchman Wade is particularly amusing.
Without a question, White’s a strong filmmaker when it comes to the storytelling and knowing when to let his cast do their thing, but he falters is in his attempts to create a distinctively stylized film, using different looks for different scenes, whether it’s a moody, shadowy tone in one scene or quickly moving cameras and edits in another. Granted, much of that is also inspired by the look of the comic book, but similar to the tone, it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to the screen because it’s hard to adjust to. White’s proclivity for close-ups and fast editing in particular distracts from the fight sequences which are meant to be visceral but really come across as choreographed. The visual FX aren’t great either, especially the CG fire added to the explosions, which looks cheesy and fake. At least it’s used to enhance some of the more impressive stuntwork including a climactic action set piece that’s almost worth the price of admission on its own.
The results wind up somewhere north of Dominic Sena’s “Swordfish” but slightly south of Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces,” which gives you some idea where your head should be at in order to enjoy the movie. Regardless, White has insured “The Losers” joins “Kick-Ass” and “Watchmen” among the current wave of comic-inspired films that lose a bit by remaining faithful to their source material, but still offer enough entertainment value so they work just as well on their own merits.