Monday, April 14, 2014

So Close, and Yet So Far From Being Perfect (The Losers)

Like I said this morning, today is a double-header, mostly because I realized somewhere in here that I have missed out on a lot of awesome Chris Evans movies and I need to rectify that. Now. (Next on the list are Snowpiercer and Sunshine, which I have somehow not seen because I am deeply deprived.) Anyway, this morning we talked about why Push should have been an awesome franchise-builder, but it wasn't. This afternoon, let's discuss how The Losers has pretty much the exact same problem, but for totally different reasons.

The Losers came out in 2010, based on the long-running comic from Vertigo by Andy Diggle and Jock. It follows the comic pretty closely, starting with a group of special forces soldiers, fondly called The Losers, running an op down in Bolivia. They're supposed to take out a drug kingpin, but the cartel decides to use kids as human shields, and then the Losers can't signal their air support to back off, and then some crazy guy named Max (Jason Patric) tells them that they screwed up his perfect plan, and blows up their helicopter. Only they weren't on the helicopter. Twenty-five Bolivian children were.

Pissed off and assumed dead, the Losers decide to go after Max, clear their names (they're being called rogue agents and being blamed for the whole thing), and take their lives back. It's a rollicking fun adventure of a movie, with a very talented, if oddly eclectic, cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Clay, the Losers' commander, while Idris Elba plays Roque, his second in command. Chris Evans is their tech specialist, Jake Jensen, and Oscar Jaenada plays their utterly silent and hilariously weird sniper, Cougar. Columbus Short comes in as their transportation guy, Pooch, who likes to refer to himself in the third person and has a terrifyingly awesome pregnant wife named Jolene (Tanee McCall-Short). 

Also, Zoe Saldana is in this as Aisha Al-Fadhil, who just so happens to be the daughter of that drug kingpin they took out, but who wants revenge on Max more than she wants to kill the Losers at this particular moment. Most of the time.

So the movie is an adventure. It's about the Losers tracking down Max, with Aisha's help and funding, and then trying to kill him. It was also clearly supposed to start a franchise, as the movie ends with one of those, "Maybe we'll get him next time," kind of deals, and we all get to sit and enjoy the wacky for a minute. 

The basic plot of the film is that Max killed the drug kingpin in order to stop him from telling the world what he was up to, and then he "killed" the Losers in order to keep it quiet. Then he bought an experimental technological bomb that will utterly destroy everything in its path, and wants to unleash it on LA. The Losers won't let that happen. Hijinks ensue.

In contrast to Push, the whole movie is fun and engaging and action-packed and enjoyable. It is also, however, forgettable. There are no meaningful philosophical lessons to discuss, no deep and profound thoughts about the human condition, nor even any slightly head-bending processes or emotional conundrums. Max is uncomplicatedly bad, and his motivation is clear, but also simple. He's a bad guy. The Losers are good guys. They will stop him.

So while, like Push, this movie gets a ton of points for its racially diverse cast, its fantastic female characters (who tragically never talk to each other, and I wanted them to be best friends), and its general fun, it loses a lot because it's just It's eh. I wanted it to be amazing, but it was only kind of okay. Like, the kind of okay where there's nothing wrong with it, but it's not enough to build a franchise on or even enough to make me want to watch it again. I don't regret the two hours I spent watching the movie, but I'm also not rushing off to force every single one of my friends to see it either.

And this makes me sad. I really do want to love this movie. I adore all the little character touches in it: that Cougar is almost completely mute, but still the snarkiest mofo on the team, that Jensen is completely and unabashedly supportive of his eight year old niece and her soccer team, that Clay has a really bad habit of attracting psychotic, dangerous women who try to kill him, that Pooch always talks in the third person, and that Roque is just this side of homicidal maniac. I enjoy those touches, and I love the way the characters work together. It's super clear that everyone involved was having a blast.

But there's still something missing. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I think it really does come down to depth. While I appreciate all of these characters, and I like them, I don't really care about them. Not deeply enough. Not to the point where I am gnawing at my fingernails, praying they'll be okay.

I don't need a necessarily morally complex hero, nor do I need it all to be shades of gray or super depressing in order to like a movie. But I do need something to hold onto. Some humanity amidst all the jokes and explosions. I don't need it to be complicated, but I do need it to mean something.

Part of the problem might stem from the fact that this is an adaptation of the comic book, and a pretty faithful one from what I can see. While ordinarily I am all in favor of faithful adaptations, this one just doesn't work, because the source material didn't really give us much in the way of personal stakes. You tell us that the Losers have all been declared dead, but aside from Pooch and Jolene, we never see any actual consequences of that. We also never see the scene where they decide to pretend to be dead. We skip straight over that. And while that does streamline the beginning of the movie, I think that's the point where the audience checks out. We can't invest in characters when we don't know anything about their hearts. I needed to see that scene.

I needed to see Cougar sitting there, quietly thinking, before adding in that his being dead would break his abuela's heart, but he needs justice for the children. I needed to see Jensen trying to figure out if he could be officially dead but still let his sister and his niece know he was okay, because they're all the family he has and he loves them so much and he can't be dead for them, okay? I needed to see Pooch absolutely devastated, because he'll never get to see Jolene again, or at least not for a long time. I needed to see Roque standing back, a little uncomfortable because he has no one to miss him, no reason not to be dead. And I needed a funny moment when they all realize that being dead would solve a ton of Clay's problems and make it a lot harder for his psychotic exes to track him down.

I needed that. I needed to know who these people were emotionally before the story started so that I could care about who they become. Instead, I got action sequences and jokes. I love action sequences and jokes, but I love them when they elaborate on things I already know, or show me parts of the characters I want to see. 

It's all about the feelings, guys. Movies without transformation, or without deep and meaningful character development and interactions, are just screaming white noise and a bunch of colored light. We're the ones who attach meaning. We need it.

This movie needed it.

So I'm frustrated. The Losers has all of the elements of a movie that I should love, but it wastes them. It has a great script, funny dialogue, a racially diverse cast of talented people, awesome female representation, and it just doesn't work.

I mean, on the plus side, most of these people went on to bigger and better things. Jeffrey Dean Morgan did a few years on Magic City, Chris Evans is Captain America, Zoe Saldana has since done another Star Trek movie and will be in Guardian of the Galaxy, Idris Elba is John Luther and Thor's Heimdall and Pacific Rim's Stacker Pentecost, Oscar Jaenada did Pirates of the Caribbean, Columbus Short is on Scandal, etc.

But all of that just kind of makes me sadder. They had all these awesome actors in a room together, making a movie that could easily have become an action franchise, and they just threw it all away, because the executives forgot one very important thing: We go to the movies to see a story. And stories are made up of people.

What a waste.

Mommy and Daddy are fighting again.


  1. Wow, that's a great cast. I'll have to see this one, even if it doesn't hang together.

    Have you seen Not Another Teen Movie?

    1. Yes, yes I have.

      I actually saw it before I saw any of the movies it's spoofing. Still loved it, which is the sign of a good parody.