THE LOSERS: Spandex vs. Camouflage

Adventures on Captain Marvel vintage posterSpandex vs. Camouflage
Since the debut of Republic Pictures' 1941 Serial ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, comics have been making their way onto the big screen with greater and greater success. Just this year, moviegoers can look forward to the Vietnam-era superhero in IRON MAN's second feature film. Or they can have a laugh with the postmodern power fantasy KICK-ASS. The third superhero movie of 2010 will be THE GREEN HORNET, who actually started as a pulp radio show character.

Appearing much less frequently on the big screen are those comic book adaptations which remind the viewer that comics do not always equal superheroes. Sure, there was GHOST WORLD in 2001, ROAD TO PERDITION in 2002, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE in 2005, and THE SURROGATES starring Bruce Willis just last year. These movies got their start as comics, or "graphic novels" and none of them feature spandex, neoprene, or suits of armor. But how would they do in a cage match? Can they persevere against an equally-matched or superior opponent?

Consider the most recent of these films, THE SURROGATES. This sci-fi/thriller opened in theaters against the sci-fi/horror movie PANDORUM on September 25, 2009. Neither film was favored by critics; both made less than five million dollars that day, falling far short of the number one spot held by CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. However, by the end of that weekend Bruce Willis earned the number two spot. Silver isn't bad.

If production stays on schedule Willis will be starring as another comic character come to life in RED, scheduled for release on October 22, 2010. In the meantime, he will enjoy a small role in THE EXPENDABLES. This action movie tour de force seems poised to capture double-barreled Reagan-era nostalgia with 80's movie heroes Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mickey Rourke staring alongside 21st century action hero Jason Statham, Pro-Wrestler Steve Austin, MMA Champion Randy Couture and Kung Fu Legend Jet Li. Where's Chuck Norris?

The Expendable movie posterTHE EXPENDABLES is not based on any actual comic but it might as well be. A team of military men, each equipped with special skills, motivations and personality quirks on a life or death mission that turns out to be more than it seems. If you grew up in the '40s or '50s you probably read that story or something similar in one of many comics that didn't feature superheroes: the war comic.

Weird War Tales
American comic books have been featuring war stories since their invention. Publishers included war stories in the anthology books often alongside horror, science-fiction and comedy strips, not unlike a modern Cineplex. Even before the U.S. entered World War II, Captain America was punching Adolf Hitler in the nose; take that INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

It wasn't until the 1950's when the war comic evolved into a genre of its own. No surprise, a large number of comic creators also served in the military. Artists Joe Kubert and Jack Kirby were infantry men while Stan Lee served in the Army Signal Corps. Comics great Will Eisner was not only drafted, he wound up working at The Pentagon, using comics to educate soldiers.

Charlton Comics dominated the genre by sheer number of war comics published. But every publisher had at least one war comic in production over the course of the decade. Beyond Captain America, Marvel Comics published Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos which would later become Nick Fury agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. just in time for America's 60's era obsession with James Bond.

On the other hand, DC Comics saw no need to offer a promotion in rank to their own Sgt. Rock comic series. Having begun his WWII tour of duty in 1959 (Three years earlier than his rival Nick) his comic series ran uninterrupted until July of 1988. That makes twenty-nine years spent fighting World War Two only to be killed on the last day of the war by the last enemy bullet fire; so the story goes.

Towards the end of the 80's Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered a suitable actor for the movie version despite his accent. Some twenty years later the movie, still in development, had Bruce Willis rumored to take on the role. This particular war comic's adaptation to film as become stuck in a bit of a quagmire.

DC Comics did something a little different with a few of its lesser known war comics. As comics spent the last twenty or thirty years "growing up," DC Comics sent titles like HAUNTED TANK, UNKNOWN SOLDIER and THE LOSERS to their "Mature Readers" imprint Vertigo for reinvention.

THE LOSERS issue 1Don't Bet Against Them
In August of 2003, THE LOSERS issue #1 was released. Written by Andy Diggle and illustrated by Mark Simpson A.K.A. Jock. Having never read an issue of the original series of the same name, Diggle and Jock have created a new kind of war comic, one that reflects the new kind of wars fought in the twenty-first century.

Set amidst G.W. Bush's War on Terror, THE LOSERS tells the story of an elite Special Forces unit on an impossible mission. They are not out hunting some generic Middle Eastern villains or stopping some terrorist plot. Instead THE LOSERS have set themselves against the CIA, specifically their former CIA handler and possible evil mastermind ."Max."

The comic series ran for 32 issues, coming to a conclusion in March of 2006. In that time, it earned a few nominations and won an Eagle Award for "Favorite New Comicbook.." It also won itself a film deal in 2007 and opens in theaters this weekend.

THE LOSERS movie posterProduced by Joel Silver, Akiva Goldsman and Kerry Foster, THE LOSERS is the first film released by Dark Castle Entertainment to receive a PG-13 rating. It's directed by the Paris-born Sylvain White whose break out film was the 2007 STOMP THE YARD. Having been aware of the graphic novel's development as a film, he wowed producers with an obsessively detailed pitch and casting ideas which remain both innovative and remarkably true to the source material.

One of Sylvain's goals was to forego the R rating and create a less bloody PG-13 action movie. "Any 14-year-old can buy the comic book of THE LOSERS, why shouldn't they be able to go see the movie?" he continued "The treatment of the violence and the action just had to be re-focused so that you don't focus on the gore." Military coordinator and advisor Harry Humphries told White "When you're in the field and you're shooting people, and I know because I've been there, you don't see that kind of thing. People take bullets and fall. There's no big Hollywood splatter. You're actually doing yourself a favor by doing that because you're actually more realistic."

Paris born director Sylvain White

Realistic or not, the gunplay in this film is plentiful and stylish. With a design sense that echoes the artwork created by Jock, it maintains a strong visual appeal, subtly calling back to the THE LOSERS comic book origins without being obvious. Production Designer Aaron Osborne and Art Director Erin Cochran do an exceptional job at creating a world of settings, Bolivia, Dubai, Mumbai, Miami and Mexico, from location shots filmed in Puerto Rico.

liberal gunplay in THE LOSERS

Who Would Win in a Fight
Viewers of the WATCHMEN film may recognize some of the fight choreography. Richard Cetrone, who also doubled as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias in that film, was fight coordinator for both as well as THE BOOK OF ELI. Cetrone has obviously made the most of his early career experiences under Sammo Hung on the MARTIAL LAW TV series and his stunt work on TUXEDO under Jackie Chan.

Zoe Saldana shows some fighting skillsThe 38-year-old Cetrone was born in Pittsburgh, PA and has a reputation for devotion to the martial arts. He's said to have studied Jeet Kune Do and Kali and could be the same person whose letter, in defense of Bruce Lee, saw print in the June 1986 issue of BLACK BELT magazine. Google it.

The two key fight scenes of the film suffer from the usual shaky-cam and quick cuts that have become the norm for cinema fight scenes of the day. While these choices serve to obscure mistakes made during filming, Film Editor David Checel carries this visual style throughout, lending a consistent rhythm to the movie's tempo. With the one scene of sensuality presented in much the same way, Sylvain sidesteps any accusations of not knowing how to film a fight.

Cetrone works hard to lend a narrative to each fight scene. The choreography reflects the characters involved in the fight, they get injured and even tired. They react to their opponent in a mostly plausible manner; it is an action movie after all. Zoe Saldana puts her developing wushu skills to some use, but the fights are ultimately secondary to shoot-outs and explosions.

Five of the six losers in some kind of trouble

THE LOSERS is at its best when not taking it self seriously. While Chris Evans shines, he is not the only source for humor; credit is due to the writers who have fun defining their characters through dialogue. Bounding through each action movie convention with a nudge and a smile, towards the third act it sometimes forgets to reload. THE LOSERS still manages to win over the audience and even calls out that other team of ex-soldiers aiming for the Cineplex this year. Using a lot less duct tape, THE LOSERS establishes itself as an action movie, films like THE A-TEAM will have to beat.

Chris Evan, a funny LOSER

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About Patrick Lugo :
Find us on facebook Patrick Lugo as been a stalwart member of the KungFuMagazine team for well over a decade. Over the years he has produced countless designs and illustrations as well as some writing.

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