The Losers Commentary (revised, incomplete)

There is a very obvious trend in movies today towards paying homage to “the old days”.  It can be seen in the constant string of remakes, sequels, and comic book adaptations, all of which have been achieving solid commercial success, which drives the machine ever further.  However, a rarer film type is one that pays homage not to a specific old property, but to an old style.  A very obvious example would be The Expendables, a no-nonsense star-powered film that does everything it can to recapture the essence of macho-man action films from the 1980s.  The Losers is cut from a similar cloth, but its particular method for doing so made me question the validity of this trend as a whole.

On the surface, The Losers looks very much like a B-lister A-Team movie: a Spec. Ops. unit of diverse talents is betrayed by a shady man in a suit and must expose the truth with vigilante justice to clear their names and get their lives back.  In practice, however, it’s far closer to The Expendables and other 80’s fare with one-liners leaking out of every pore and action scenes so over-the-top that they cease to be impressive and just become ridiculous.  And like 80’s action movies, less is not more in Loser Land; more is more.  Bigger is better, faster is better, louder is better, and any moment not spent shooting bad guys and blowing up buildings is a moment wasted.  There’s not a subtle bone in this movie’s body, and if there had been it would have broken it in three places just to prove a point.

There will always be a place for mindless action in the media, no matter what the timeframe.  With that being said, I have to wonder if the mindless action in the style of the 80’s is still valid in the world of the mindless action of today.  To me (and keep in mind that I really have no right to be saying this since I didn’t grow up in the 80’s), I get this feeling that America in the 80’s, and even the 90’s, was still enamored by what movies could do visually, with convincing practical effects, mind-blowing special effects, death-defying stunts, action-packed fight scenes, and any number of other things that people just wouldn’t normally be able to see with their own two eyes, and hadn’t seen in films before up to that point.  As such audiences tended to focus on that, and not the actual substance of the script or the acting, which of course made the writers’ jobs easier and they were only too happy to oblige.  Today is quite another story, for that very same reason:  audiences have seen this stuff before.  The technology of “movie magic” has finally begun to plateau, to the point where a movie made in the year 2000 doesn’t really look that out of date, even though it’s more than a decade old.  Mind-blowing effects and visuals can no longer single-handedly create a blockbuster that all viewers will rave at.  Combine this with Hollywood’s exponentially-increasing library of work, and we’re left with a creative industry where it becomes increasingly difficult to not tread old ground that’s already well-trodden in its own right.  Now please understand, this is not an indictment professing that stories are unable to be original anymore; centuries upon centuries of written literature has already rendered that task nigh impossible.  Rather, it’s a statement based in “practical originality”, where it’s becoming more difficult to create a story which the majority of its audience has not seen a similar version of before.

With this backdrop set up, I’d like to go back to the question:  does mindless action for the sake of mindless action still work?  And I would answer “Yes, IF.”  Yes, if the movie-makers believe in it.  The thing about mindless action films and television of the past is that they were idealistic and formulaic.  Good guys were good, bad guys were bad, property damage was excusable, and civilian casualties were not.  The bad guys had superior resources and superior skills, but because they believed in the wrong things their hubris would be their undoing, and the good guys’ courage would prevail.  These were more than movie clichés of the era: these were tenants of belief for the filmmakers.  They began writing a script with these tenants as the foundation for everything that would be on the page.  And this I feel is the key difference between most action movies today and most action movies of the past.  Today, writers tend to start from the action, rather than starting from the motivations which fuel it.

{Rewrote this; still not quite done.}

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