A friend forwarded me a review of The Losers by the Hollywood Reporter, and I was a little startled to read the opening sentiments: “The Losers is a cartoonish nonstop action movie in which characters zip around the world, breaking, entering and blowing things up without any pretense to logic,” it begins. “It’s a world devoid of any geopolitics, connective tissue, human backgrounds or ideals other than greed and self-preservation.”
I nodded along, in complete agreement.
Then I realized THR meant that as a criticism.
This is as brisk and nimble a comic book movie as you will find – sleek to the point of slippery. And I liked it that way (hey, who doesn’t love a slip ‘n slide). Now granted, I’m the culture guy here (not the comics guy), so I have no idea about how faithful things are. But this movie felt to me like I was watching a comic book. From the editing rhythm to the spontaneous shifts of tone and locale (Miami to Los Angeles in three seconds flat), from the urgent yet rushed emotions to the way the tables are turned in the blink of an eye, this is indeed, as THR says, “an action film designed for those suffering from ADD.”
ADD, or those who are just growing a little sick of every single action film posing as some sort of revelation.
(More on Techland: The Secret Comics History of “The Losers”)
Yes, there’s a place for dark, contemplative character studies, like The Dark Knight. Sure, we can skew pop art towards the darker end of the emotional spectrum, like Spider-Man 2. We can go topical, and comical, with something like Hellboy or Iron Man. But we don’t need that from every movie. While Iron Man allowed Robert Downey Jr. to run wild, I went into Sherlock Holmes and was bored sick by all the needless convolution. A couple weeks ago, I sat down for some Krakken goodness at Clash of the Titans, only to watch Perseus and Zeus rambling on and on, through one heavy-handed ethical monologue after another.
For the love of god: There are times when you just need to show a hint of a smirk. Not every film needs to be Hamlet. Or hell, Gladiator. When your tagline is “Release the Krakken!” believe you me, we’re not making a full emotional investment in the thing.
So when The Losers starts almost mid-sentence, at breakneck speed with some smirking super warriors, I perked right up. And before we even see the opening credits, we’re storming a drug compound with some hard-ass special forces experts. One by one, they decimate their enemy, and director Sylvain White tips his hand, with a highly unusual visual scheme. With each and every kill shot, White freezes the frame. Just for maybe half a second. But the result is that we start to get little pull-away moments – just like a comic book – little framed kill shots in the fog of war.
Now I was sitting next to critics who audibly scoffed at all these overt stylistic devices. Meanwhile I was just lapping it up. I can’t remember another film that constructed a fight sequence like this, and I thought it was a creative way of conveying the fact that yes, these “losers” are, in fact, invincible, and yes, we’re operating in a world where the normal rules of gravity and logic don’t quite apply. They are the heroes, these are their stories, and this is an action film…a very good action film.
(More on Techland: The Losers Aren’t So Loser-y)
I know there’s been much discussion about which Losers this Losers is referring to. I’ve been told this movie is the latest incarnation of the franchise, which shifts the action to the present, and reveals the villains as not enemy-combatants on the field of battle but white-collar criminals high up in the federal government. In the original version of the comics, our heroes where “losers” because they were war heroes who had lost men under their command. In this version, they are losers because they’ve been abandoned by their government altogether, reduced to your average Joes. They are just like you and me, screwed over by the halls of power. It’s a cynical twist – but it’s this cynicism that goes a long way towards making The Losers work. It’s really an anti-government story, with patriots trying to fight their way back in from the outside. To destroy their government to save their country. And in this way, the movie takes on the same outsider POV as something like The Bourne Identity, gaining traction because we’re always in danger, always on the outside looking in, always trying to find the real answers as to why Max (Jason Patric) betrayed these soldiers and left them for dead.