Thursday, 3 June 2010

Review - The Losers

Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, one of those tracks which epitomises eighties rock music, plays a prominent role on the soundtrack to The Losers. It's fitting, in a way, that something so of its time, yet still universally loved, is not only used in The Losers, but used to far greater effect here than it was when given to the latest dreary X-Factor winner or the saccharine Gleenyboppers on the tele. This is the original version, and by far the superior version, doing one of the things that the eighties did best.

Which is also what The Losers does. The original comic, written by British scribe Andy Diggle (currently doing stellar work on Daredevil) and illustrated by Jock (who, with Diggle, crafted one of my favourite Green Arrow stories of all time in Green Arrow: Year One), tells the story of a group of special-ops military commandos who are framed for a crime they didn't commit, then fake their own deaths before going up against Max, the shadowy government figure responsible for their woes. The comic itself (and I'll admit, I'm a latecomer to it, having only now read the first two collections) has elements of a tense thriller, featuring corporate espionage, government conspiracy and characters whose motives remain unclear. It also has a sense of fun running through it, and plenty of action scenes to boot.

The Losers in movie form is a bit different. In certain areas, it's a pretty faithful adaptation. The Losers themselves are exactly like their comic book counterparts, and the storyline is basically the first volume of the collections, with bits of the origin thrown in for good measure. However, tonally, it's quite different. The film mostly jettisons the thriller elements, choosing instead to go down the route of a big, balls to the wall, flat out action movie. And a damned good one at that.

Gone is the idea of Max being a shadowy government figure, becoming instead a massively over the top bad guy, played with camp aplomb by Jason Patric. Also changed is Wade (Holt McCallany), a deadly mercenary in the comic, here he becomes Max's tough-guy, and not too bright, henchman, who you know from the off one of the Losers is going to have to have an epic showdown with. Both characters are straight out of movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon or Commando, and they both provide a lot of the fun of the movie.

Not to say the Losers themselves aren't fun. Quite the opposite. Chris Evans as Jensen, the Losers computer expert, probably gets the lion’s share of the laughs, but each of the Losers has their moment, and each is perfectly cast as well. Which is the other reason this film works so well. Instead of going for your usual action hero type, the producers have wisely cast actual actors in these roles, something which again worked quite nicely in the eighties (witness Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, or Alan Rickman and, yes, Bruce Willis in Die Hard). The strength of the cast in the Losers means that, despite Evans best efforts, no one member quite steals the show. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Clay, the Losers leader, proves once again why he was the best thing in Watchmen, and sparks up great chemistry with Idris Elba, playing Clay's right hand man and the Losers second in command, Roque. Likewise, Columbus Short as Pooch, the teams wheelman, and ├ôscar Jaenada as Cougar, the quiet sniper, are both spot on. It's hard to pick a favourite among the team, which is testament to the actors ability to work together, and, quite surprisingly, leads to The Losers having one of the strongest ensembles of the last few years.

Zoe Saldana as Aisha is also well cast, though like the bad guys, she’s changed a bit from the comic, being a bit softer, though by no means any less deadly.

Director Sylvain White handles the action well, without having to resort to all that shaky cam so prevalent in today’s action movies, but clearly also has an eye for comedy. He shoots with a confidence belying someone with such a relatively small amount of experience (prior to this, probably his biggest movie was I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer).

The Losers isn’t a film which is going to change your life in any major ways, but it is a lot of fun. This summer was billed as the summer when the action movie came back, just like they used to make, in the shape of The A-Team and The Expendables. Unfortunately for them, The Losers beat them to the punch.

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