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In Association with
The Losers (2010)
Director: Sylvain White

review by J.C. Hartley

It's some time since I reviewed the first two volumes of The Losers comic, as created by the British team of Andy Diggle and Jock, for DC's Vertigo imprint. Hollywood had come calling even then, so clearly this film has been stuck in one of the circles of 'production hell' in the meantime. Unluckily this release has coincided with the massive publicity drives of two other movies that seem to share some of the plot themes. Elite special services squad wrongly accused of going rogue; surely that's The A-Team? A team of experts in various martial fields up against impossible odds: Stallone's Expendables, anyone?

In the book, the Losers come across a horrible unpalatable secret that reveals the depravity of their CIA masters. The mysterious figure operating under the codename Max orders their destruction, but they survive, re-entering the USA with the help of CIA-insider Aisha who has her own vendetta against Max. The nature of the original secret is only slowly teased out in the book, as is the identity of Max; the film makes much clear from the outset, simplifying plot strands for what will probably be a single film, although the director has said he would like to tell the rest of the story.

Acting as 'spotters' for an aerial strike against a drug lord's base in Bolivia, the Losers are forced to intervene when they try to rescue children being used as 'mules'. Attempting to call off the air strike, their radio message is interrupted by someone calling himself Max who issues a warning. Rescuing the children and confronting the drug lord, Losers' leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen) discovers that the drug operation is somehow linked to Max and that this whole operation is either a revenge mission or intended to silence former allies. The Losers give up their ride home on a Black Hawk helicopter in order that the rescued children can be airlifted to safety, only to see the chopper shot down, an obvious attempt on their own lives. They throw their dog tags among the burning wreckage and go on the run.

Still in Bolivia, Clay and the team are approached by Aisha (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek) who says she can get them back into the USA in return for them taking Max down. In the book, Aisha is identified as a CIA operative, but here the suggestion is only slight with Aisha appearing in a tailored suit and with photo-ID to welcome the team back into the country, and later when she gains access to a compound where the team has been captured.

The ensuing plot of the film draws upon the first two volumes of the collected series of the comicbook, and returning to re-read them I was pleasantly surprised at how largely faithful an adaptation it is. Inevitably, there are simplifications and some coarsening of characterisation, there is also a toning-down of some of the criticism of American foreign policy.

Max (Jason Patric) is at times the kind of Bond villain that the Daniel Craig era has ushered in. His rather simplistic raison-d'�tre is to sell advanced weapons to volatile nations, engendering the kind of global war footing where the CIA can regain its influence. He has some witty lines and exudes a menacing amorality, but crosses into offensive caricature in a scene where he shoots his parasol-girl point-blank for stumbling and letting the sunlight touch his face.

The team itself is brilliantly conceived. Clay is a fine characterisation of conflicted honour and decency and doesn't over-use his 'outstanding' catchphrase. Chris Evans does his comic-relief shtick to a tee as Jensen without being as annoying as Johnny Storm, of the Fantastic Four; heaven knows what Evans will do with the upright and serious-minded Steve Rogers in Captain America?

Idris Elba (The Wire) makes Roque more likeable than the one-dimensional character in the comic, and even the enigmatic Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) is fleshed out a little; Pooch (Columbus Short, War Of The Worlds) is the human glue that binds the group together. Aisha doesn't have all the backstory allowed in the comicbook, and some characterisation is sacrificed for sex-appeal, but there's a definite chemistry with Clay and obviously Zoe Saldana has sex appeal and acting ability to spare.

In my original review I suggested that storyboarding would be easy as the production team could make straight lifts from Jock's 'widescreen' artwork and that's pretty much what has happened. All-in-all, The Losers is a pretty satisfying night at the cinema, without the impact of the comicbook, but enjoyable and involving nevertheless.

The Losers poster

The Losers line-up

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