Comic book-turned-movie turns up the boom-boom-pow
Directed by Sylvain White
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans
With Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk all chugging along in their own successful movie franchises (plus Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern busy filming their debuts), it’s no surprise that Hollywood is running out of A-list comic book characters to exploit. Lately, the poor movie industry has had to make due with relatively unknown properties like Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of fantastic stories on the back shelves of your local comic book store. (As both comic and movie, for example, Kick-Ass is bloody good fun.) But movie studios hoping for a little name recognition are S.O.L. when it comes down to stuff like Surrogates. (Yes, that non-successful Bruce Willis sci-fi film you didn’t see was based on a comic book you’ve never heard of.)
The latest unknown-outside-of-San-Diego-Comic-Con property to get the cinematic treatment is The Losers. It began life in 2003 as a DC/Vertigo series written by Andy Diggle and illustrated by Jock (yeah, just Jock). The straight-to-the-point story introduces us to a colorful band of CIA black ops agents hunting down a nasty drug lord in Bolivia. Leading the team is gruff Capt. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). He’s backed up by goofy intelligence man Jensen (Chris Evans), knife-wielding nasty Roque (Idris Elba), soft-spoken vehicle specialist Pooch (Columbus Short) and super sniper Cougar (Óscar Jaenada).
When the Bolivian mission goes awry, putting 25 little children suddenly in harm’s way, our rough-and-tough triggermen call it off. That doesn’t go over well with their mysterious supervisor, who orders up a good nuking and tries to get our team killed in the process. The Losers survive, though, and—like all guys of this type in just this sort of situation—they go gunning for revenge.
As a comic book, The Losers stands out. Pure action comics—devoid of superpowered shenanigans—are somewhat rare. But translated into a movie, the story feels rather routine. There are enough twists, turns and double crosses to keep things snapping and popping along, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. In fact, catch the trailer for this summer’s big A-Team movie before the screening and you’ll likely experience some serious déjà vu.
Fortunately, The Losers makes up in visual pizzaz what it lacks in narrative innovation. The film is shot in what 15 years ago would have been called “MTV style.” (Today, that would pretty much mean it looks like “Jersey Shore.”) Colors are lurid, edits are quick, freeze-frames are common, camera shots are composed at rakish angles and the film occasionally cuts to illustrated comic book panels. It’s a campy, self-conscious, look-at-me way of making a movie, but it fits the subject.
The cast members do exactly what they should under just these circumstances: They have fun with it. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (fresh off Watchmen) turns a sex scene with limber Zoe Saldana (Star Trek) into a slam-bang wrestling match (and why not?). Idris Elba (“The Wire”) gives good glower. Chris Evans amuses as the team’s motor-mouthed hacker. (Between this and Fantastic Four and the upcoming Captain America film, he’s looking like the go-to comic book actor.) Altogether, they’re cartoonish without being cartoons. Only Jason Patric (hey, where you been since Speed 2: Cruise Control, bro?) takes it a step over the line. His big-baddie-behind-it-all is less of a super villain and more of a super dick, undercutting some of the tension of the film’s climactic showdown.
At the end, there’s also the lingering feeling that the filmmakers started to think, “Hey, we could make a franchise out of this!” Instead of an easily wrapped-up ending, we get a couple of unresolved notes hinting at a sequel that will probably never come. It’s not unfinished, per se. Just not as satisfying as it could have been.
At the end of the day, The Losers is a movie about guys who run around blowing things up, cracking wise and striking bad-ass poses. What more do you really want from an action movie? Ignore the deficit of logic and revel in the surfeit of neon-colored explosions, and The Losers is boombastic popcorn fun.
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