April 25, 2010

The Losers

In October, I gave Whip It! four stars. Previous to that, the last new release movie that received our highest HC honors was Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in January 2007. New movies don't get four stars very often. When I said I'd see and review The Losers, I wasn't expecting it to be a four-star candidate. Sure, Zoe Saldana was on a roof with a rocket launcher in the preview, but it takes more than that, you know?

Luckily, this film has more than that. Saldana's character, Aisha, is indeed a badass. She fights, she shoots, she wears flat shoes, and, in something that you just never see, she comes to the rescue in the nick of time, saving not one but FOUR tough guys. Yes, she is occasionally unnecessarily sexualized (lots of shots of her butt, especially at the beginning of the movie), but honestly, I have a hard time complaining, given how well her character scores on all other counts. I could have lived without the romantic involvement between her and Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and my film-viewing companion cringed at the "music video-ness" of their first sexual liaison, but even then, she was in charge of the relationship--she was the one with the most knowledge and the most control (both literally and metaphorically on top). Can't find fault with that. Also, Aisha is a non-white woman (both the actress and the character are Latina), so seeing her character treated so responsibility and respectfully is all the more encouraging.

What is even more surprising than Aisha, though, is that The Losers is an honest-to-God multi-racial film. The five main characters, a military special unit nicknamed "The Losers," are comprised of Clay, who is Caucasian; Jensen (played by Chris Evans, who is also Caucasian); Roque (played by Idris Elba, who is of English of African descent, but the character reads as African-American); Pooch (played by Columbus Short, who is African-American); and Cougar (played by Óscar Jaenada, who is Spanish, but the character reads as Latino). The film's "bad guy," Max, is white, played by Jason Patric. That's right: the villain is white, 3/5 of the good guys are men of color, and the female badass character is Latina. It can be done!

Another plus in the anti-racist column is that the only overt racism portrayed in the film comes from Max. Part of his nefarious plot involves numerous interactions with East Asian businessmen and scientists, whom he mocks relentlessly based on their race and religion. Though it's more an underlying idea than a plot point, his racism is definitely part of how his character is portrayed as evil, and it stands in sharp contrast to the multi-racial friendship among The Losers.

I do have to moderate my cheering for this film's gender and racial politics on a couple of points (nothing's perfect, right?). Early on, I got a really bad feeling from a cock-fighting scene in Bolivia that added nothing to the plot and seemed unnecessarily stereotypical. And cool as Aisha is, she's all alone--the film fails the Bechdel test not because the women only talk about men, but because the woman only talks to men.

Politics aside, The Losers is just an action movie, based on a comic. It's funny (at times, really funny), things blow up, the plot is full of holes, and it's mostly just a cheap thrill. I have no problem with that. In fact, it makes me feel even better about the racial diversity of the cast and the strength of the female character--this movie was clearly made not to appeal to a niche feminist crowd or an extremely racially conscious audience. It's a straight-up action movie, being fed to the usual action movie crowd without a big helping of racism and sexism served alongside. And I don't think they're gonna miss it. From where I sit, that's progress. So much progress that I'm giving it four stars.



I do have to add that the first scene in the movie, before you see any of the characters, is a rape joke. It was slightly incoherent and I couldn't really figure out what it added to the film, since it's not representational of the rest of the film's tone or content, so it's disappointing that it was included.

The use of good guys whose initial job is to set up "terrorists" in Bolivia for assassination by the U.S government is also not without problems, given the U.S. track record in other countries. Any time we see the U.S., especially the U.S. military, interacting with other countries in film, we probably need to think a little more critically about what's happening. Clay's team is on the ground, not the ones calling the shots, but the film still would have us believe that the initial strike they were setting up is okay and I'm not sure that it is. I'm not sure that it's not, either, on my newly forming philosophical schema of acceptable film and comic book violence. Just something to think about.

(On that note, I really appreciated the use of tranquilizer darts to subdue noncombatants.)

When racking my brain for additional items that bothered me, all I could come up with was Jensen's t-shirt when he's working at the hot dog stand. *eye roll* What else was there, a few women in bikinis being used as eye candy around the bad guy? (Because, you know, he's a bad guy.)

Aside from that, I loved this film. I didn't have a problem with the relationship between Aisha and Clay, or the camera's introduction to her, since it appeared to me that sexuality was one of her methods of getting Clay's team to do what she needed them to do. I especially loved their first fight scene - he was more than willing to treat her as a legitimate opponent once he realized he might be in big trouble.

Two more words:




What does it mean that, though it's been only 48 hours since I saw the film, I cannot for the life of me remember the first scene/rape joke?

Good point about the original intent of The Losers as a military unit.

I think what it means is that the scene made no sense and seemed to have no connection to the movie. Think American flag and dinosaurs.

Wow, you just said something that really warmed my heart Grace: Zoe is playing latina! :) I find it troubling when they relegate darker skinned latinas to only playing af roles, whereas lighter latinas can play the range. Very nice!

Now, I love Zoe Saldana. But this film made me worry constantly for her health because she is super-thin. I mean, this the typical hollywood thing – powerful men have muscled bodies, powerful women look like they need help opening a door. No way she could hold her own to Clay that way, and I wonder if Saldana is feeling the heat from Hollywood culture there to be thinner. Would be a shame.

Strangely, though, despite being dumb this film didn't turn me against it the way Michael Bay's stuff does. It seemed like the filmmakers didn't make a deliberately dumb film because they hate their audience, if that makes any sense.



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