As the world continues to be gripped by the wave of excitement around Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan's team-up on the forthcoming 'Superman' project, another comic book adaptation hits shelves yesterday, new to Blu-ray and DVD. A few months back 'The Losers' was lost among other releases when it hit cinemas - thanks in no small part to an unavoidable similarity with 'The A-Team' - but it deserves consideration as an entertaining genre adaptation that delivers on its premise without ever offering much new. Unlike 'The A-Team', 'The Losers' wasn't gifted the luxury of either nostalgia or a huge budget and lavish promotion pre-release campaign, and unlike that other renegade elite Task Force movie, it also never really strays irredeemably into the realm of self-parody or pantomime.
An elite US Special Forces team are sent on a search-and-destroy mission, but have a change of heart when they see a group of children hostages being movied into the target area. Their about-turn is resisted by shady commander Max, so against orders, they abort the mission and attempt to rescue the hostages, and then watch as their original evac aircraft is shot out of the sky on Max's order (who believes them inside).
Presumed dead, the team is stranded: they meet and are aided by Aisha, a woman who claims to know how to get to Max and who offers her help on the proviso that Max dies. The team then embark on a suicide mission to kidnap Max and exact their revenge, but naturally, things are never going to be that simple.
In the lead, we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan (that ridiculously rugged, handsome Javier Bardem doppelganger) channelling a late 80s, early 90s action movie charisma as team leader Clay. It is a succinct piece of casting, in that respect, as Morgan's demeanour matches the unpretentious manner in which 'The Losers' sets about celebrating the no-holds-barred. high-octane thrills of a good old-fashioned dust-up movie. Sure, there might be limited fare in the way of compelling back-story, or incidental narrative development when the action is turned down and people aren't shooting each other, but when the dial hits the top of the action scale it's very much good fun.
There is a problem with the nostalgic aspects: the villain Max is occasionally just too contrived as a bad-guy, his malice is so forced and over-the-top that he isn't even remotely believable. I said in my Superman villains article that the nemesis of a film requires a level of humanity and charm to make them more affecting, playing on the perverse empathy an audience feels for them up until the point that they become irredeemable. Max simply does not have that characteristic in his repertoire and is cartoonish even for a comic book villain. Jason Patric does pretty well with the material, and he managed to make my skin crawl a few times, but in order for me to really feel a villain, he has to have a spark of humanity left, and the script made no such accommodation.
The rest of the acting performances do exactly as required: they give the characters (who aren't exactly written in any depth at all- this being an actioner/comic book hybrid) enough to carry the action from one scene to the next. They are all likeable enough, and there are enough recognisable character traits from pretty much every major action film committed to the genre to make each a near archetype of the genre (just look at their names: Pooch, Jensen, Cougar, Roque). Crucially, they don't get in the way of any of the action, which is their chief responsibility- the only thing that slightly compromises that effect is the accidental association of Idris Elba's Roque with his other, far more villainous sibling Stringer Bell meaning it is difficult not to suspect that Roque is a plant or a mole and when it turns out that he isn't exactly as he seems it's a little underwhelming.
The film also offers another opportunity to see Chris Evans on comic-book adap duties, though his dry-witted tech-nerd is probably a million miles away from what he will bring to the screen as 'Captain America'. His is one of the most watchable of the performances of the Special Forces team, as he is somewhat generously given the funniest material to play with (a lot like his 'Fantastic Four' duties then) and he looks good- already visibly bulked up in advance of his work as Cap.
The one enduring criticism I have for 'The Losers' is the manner in which it ends - way too many movies seem more concerned with setting up possible sequels, rather than offering a resolved finale and 'The Losers' sadly continues that trend. It's just not satisfying to have a final scene or sequence that builds up to a narrative point beyond the end of the film itself, and if the sequel doesnt arrive (as in the case of 'Jumper' and TV series 'FlashForward'), you cant help but feeling a little cheated. Why not stop looking way into the distance and consider the ask at hand?
Overall, 'The Losers' is a good comic book adaptation action movie: the plot details may be as expendable as the baddies and the characters may be rather unfortunately under-developed but there is enough fidelity to the comic book spirit and energy, and some sharp enough dialogue to make up for everything the film lacks. It is certainly a fun way to spend a couple of brainless hours, and The Losers' greatest redemption lies in the fact that it makes no attempt to be anything beyond a great big, silly mess of fun.
Beautiful. The hyped up palette used to keep in spirit with the film's comic book roots is vivid and incredibly vibrant, and the transfer to high-definition does it brilliant justice, making regular colours seem as hyper-real as is frequently used in the comic medium. Detail too is phenomenal- you need only look at Jeffrey Dean Morgan's character-heavy face to see how well the transfer has retained those levels, as the various lines and rugged facial hair looks immaculate.
The sound too is very well transferred- the action movie staple sound-effects sound incredible, and crucially dialogue remains clear and crisp even when the levels of ambient noise are high.
Nothing spectacular: the 'Zoe and the Losers' featurette is a look at the Aisha character, with cast and crew interviewing her- it seemed a little odd to me to give her character extra-special attention considering she was no more compelling than any other, and the choice seems to have been based entirely on Zoe Saldana's charm and the fact that she is the only woman involved. 'Band of Buddies: Ops Training' meanwhile is a three-part behind the scenes mini-feature which somewhat needlessly tries to explain the genesis of some of the action scenes (little surprise that the video game world had a lot of sway- but do we really need to be explicitly todl the fact?).
The Losers: Action-Style Storytelling is a bit of fluff dedicated to the original comic's artistic team- writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock- and gives them the opportunity to tell everyone that they thought their creation was always a cinematic comic book. Self-congratulation much?
There's also a solitary Deleted Scene/ Alternate Ending, and its inclusion only adds to the feeling that the ending didnt really deliver (the deleted scene is by far the superior of the two). And then there's a 14 minute advert for 'Batman: Under the Red Hood', which does look very good- but 14 minutes? That's a little much when the longest featurette included is only 2 minutes more.Zoe and the Losers (6 mins) Band of Buddies: Ops Training (16 mins) The Losers: Action-Style Storytelling (10 mins) Deleted Scene (1 min) First Look: 'Batman: Under the Red Hood' (14 mins) 'The Losers is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.