Full disclosure: I’m a fan of the comic book The Losers is based on. And when I say “a fan,” I do not mean “I read the comics and enjoyed them.” I mean “I own a page of original art, which I had framed.” I mean “I hosted a contest on my blog to put the comic in peoples’ hands.” I mean I will at least glance at anything writer Andy Diggle and artist Jock do from here on out. I am a fan of The Losers.
But I’m also a skeptical movie-goer with a “cautiously optimistic” approach to even my most anticipated movies, and given The Losers’ premise, it was all too easy to imagine a strictly generic actioner with some lame quips and CGI explosions. I may be a fan, but I’m not a mark.
So it’s with great joy (and some small measure of relief) that I can report The Losers is exactly what I wanted it to be: a pure manifestation of the ragtag-band-of-lovable-mercenaries/revenge plot action movie that lifts all the best stuff from the comics and knows when to cut the fat. The Losers (the comic) was inventive, politically savvy and loads of fun. And while The Losers (the movie) largely cuts out that political savvy, I found I didn’t mind so much.
Briefly: the Losers are a special ops team comprised of a leader (Clay, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), tactician (Roque, played by Idris Elba), transporter (Pooch, Columbus Short), sniper (Cougar, Óscar Jaenada) and communications and computer expert Jensen (Chris Evans). After they go off the playbook and opt to save a group of children from a drug lord’s home before the jets they’ve called in can firebomb the place, the evil CIA mastermind Max (Jason Patric, having the most fun he’s had in years) attempts to wipe them all out. Max thinks he succeeds and the Losers go into hiding, until the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana) pulls them out of hiding in her own quest for revenge.
Max, for his part, is hatching a scheme to get a bunch of experimental bombs into the hands of the enemies of America in order to kick off a war or something. That subplot doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but to be quite frank it makes a lot more sense than the comic book Max’s motivation, so I let it slide. Don’t get too hung up on it; this isn’t a Bond movie.
Yawn, right? Laid out bare like that, the movie sounds like it was assembled by committee, or perhaps a random drawing. But as with the comic, it’s not what the story is but how it’s about it. Clay’s the gruff, salt-and-pepper leader type, but he fills his role with genuine joy; his relationship with Aisha could be routine but is anything but. Their love scenes merge “kiss kiss, bang bang” into one verb.
Or take Jensen. In movies like these there’s always the wiseacre who’s there to throw in the necessary quip to break up the tension. This role can be a pretty painful one if the actor is lame or—God help us—wacky.
But this is Chris Evans. I’ve always liked Evans; he was hilarious in Not Another Teen Movie and was just about the only reason to watch the Fantastic Four movies, and he’s proven his dramatic chops in Sunshine and the otherwise tiresome Street Kings. As Jensen he’s lively, intelligent and competent, and most of all he is, like everyone, having a good time. The Losers as a movie was partially envisioned as a deliberate breakaway from the recent Bourne-inspired super-serious action/spy movies. Fun is the name of the game.
And it is fun. Screenwriters Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt figured—rightly—that the comic’s primary appeal was its endless invention. I dare not reveal how the Losers pull off many of their stunts and heists, because I don’t want to ruin the fun for you. I’ll just say their con games are audacious.
The Losers is not a great movie, but it is a very good movie, indeed much better at this sort of thing than any other movie has been in a very long time. These are charismatic people having fun kicking ass. What more, on the cusp of summer, could you ask for?