The Losers has been released on the heels of Kick-Ass, a comic book adaptation that audiences love and will probably always prefer. That’s a shame. The Losers is, in my view, a winner – vastly superior as an action spectacle, a comedy, a character study, and above all, a story. This means that, while it certainly revels in all manner of fun comic book violence, it also has the ambition to be about more than violence; we’re engaged because we’re actually being told something. I left the theater feeling not empty and sad, as I had with Kick-Ass, but energized, entertained, and satisfied instead. This is how the movies are supposed to make you feel, right? For the first time in what felt like ages, I was confident that I had gotten my money’s worth.
Based on the comic book series created by Andy Diggle, The Losers begins in Bolivia, where we find five tough CIA agents on a mission to take out a ruthless drug lord at his compound. They are: Jake Jensen, a hacker (Chris Evans); “Cougar” Alvarez, a long-distance sniper (Oscar Jaenada); “Pooch” Porteous, the pilot (Columbus Short); William Roque, the second in command (Idris Elba); and the team leader, Franklin Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). When the mission goes wrong and ends in the death of twenty-five innocent children, our five men realize that they’ve been set up by a mysterious figure known only as Max and vow to have their revenge. They’re no longer CIA – they’re the Losers.
They’ve officially been declared dead in the U.S., leaving them stranded in Bolivia without money or a way to get home. Then along comes Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who repeatedly proves she isn’t quite what she seems; she meets Clay as he dines on steak in a seedy dive, and although she comes onto him in the least subtle of ways, their retreat to his hotel room doesn’t end the way one would expect. Long story short: She claims she knows where Max is and can get the Losers home. Clay is immediately taken with her. Pooch, Cougar, and Jensen are willing to go along with her. Roque, however, isn’t convinced, nor is he sold on the idea of revenge against Max. All he wants to do is get out of the game and live the rest of his life.
And speaking of Max (Jason Patric), he never seems to be in the same place twice, always travelling around the world making deals with shady people for his own equally shady purposes. What is his scheme? Let’s just say that it involves one of the coolest terrorist weapons ever conceived of for a comic book adaptation. How fitting for a man with the most extraordinary sense of humor, always with the sarcasm, the dry wit, and the homicidal tendencies (God forbid the wind should accidentally blow aside an umbrella if you’re holding it over his head). Funny and oh so bad, Max is the most deliciously evil movie villain since Colonel Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds.
Great humor can also be found amongst the Losers, especially Jensen, who, despite not having seen her for some time, is devoted to his niece and her school’s Soccer team. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which he must improvise a way to escape the security guards in a Miami office building; with a little help from Cougar, he pretends to have telekinetic abilities, which he says gives him the ability to shoot bullets with nothing but his pointed fingers. He seems to enjoy Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and so too does director Sylvain White, seeing as he strategically has it playing during some of the more intense actions sequences. You’d think it would be a horrible fit, but no – it’s actually quite amusing.
And as for Clay and Aisha, not only are they a pleasure to look at, their subplot is also very intriguing, probably because both are troubled characters with goals in mind, neither able to reach them without the other one’s help. I know it’s an awfully overused critical observation, but it’s true: Morgan and Saldana have great onscreen chemistry, not merely as love interests, but also as occasional adversaries. In some ways, that’s even harder to achieve; it takes more effort for actors to fight well than to love well, probably because fighting is generally more realistic.
What fun this movie is. There aren’t enough like them these days. Sure, you can spend your money on Kick-Ass, but I think you’d be doing yourself a great disservice. The Losers is proof that even comic book adaptations can successfully be more than mean and mindless depictions of violence. Yes, there’s plenty of action, but there’s also a plot, and it involves characters who are not only magnetic, but are also given some depth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s final sequences, both of which display a goofy sweetness I found very appealing. Obvious work went into the screenplay. Obvious work went into the whole film. When movies like this come around, it makes me wonder why many other comic filmmakers don’t try a little harder.