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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In 2010, four movies, released some six months from each other, shared the same basic premise: A crack team of specialists/soldiers/soldiers of fortune must get together in order to stop some kind of threat. The Losers, released in mid-spring, The A-Team, released in mid-Summer, The Expendables, released in late-summer, and Red, released in early Fall, all have several key items in common with each other. Red and The Losers were both based on graphic novels. The A-Team and The Expendables both revolved around mercenary teams. All four saw their group members “get the band back together” in so many ways to accomplish their mission and defeat the bad guy. All four were rather stylishly directed (by Sylvain White, Joe Carnahan, Sly Stallone, and Robert Schwentke respectively). Oh, and interestingly enough (to me, anyway) all four opened to wildly varying box office numbers.
The biggest hit of the four was The Expendables, which grossed over a hundred million dollars in the United States alone (and was a hit internationally as well). Sly Stallone is a big draw overseas (which has kept him in constant work even during the dregs of his career, see also: Nicolas Cage). The Expendables is also my least favorite of the four. Tapping into what made several movies in the 1980s so much fun, The Expendables keeps the explosions and violence I love so much, but really lacks in the fun factor. What should be a Commando or Cobra-like movie really ends up being kind of dour and too serious for its own good. Some of the darker elements, such as Dolph Lundren’s character’s drug addiction, just don’t plain work. Jason Statham’s love interest’s struggles with an abusive boyfriend also seem kind of superfluous and ultimately a distraction away from the movie’s running time that could have been spent kicking more ass. I recently rewatched The Expendables for a few reasons. I wanted to give it another shot and see if I liked it any better (I didn’t, though I still wish I did). I also wanted to watch it again before the sequel comes out later this summer, because I want to go into that movie with the first one fresh in my mind. The Expendables really wasted the opportunity to be an over-the-top action extravaganza. The opening scene, with the Somali pirates, remains the highlight of the whole film for me, and the rest of the movie just doesn’t live up to that first tense, ridiculous scene. Featuring an overflow of testosterone the rest of the movie is sorely lacking, a man is blown in half, various knives find their ways into jugulars, and Lundgren even faces off against Jet Li for a moment. I had forgotten just how awesomely compelling this scene was. Just too bad the rest of the movie didn’t live up to that.
In contrast to The Expendables, I actually liked Red a lot. Bruce Willis plays a fantastically bad-ass retired soldier, the always-welcomed Morgan Freeman pops up in an extended cameo (he really should not be getting supporting billing for this movie), the lovely Helen Mirren kicks some ass, and an extremely goofy late-period John Malkovich hams up a role another actor may have sleep-walked through. Red, based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, was also a pretty significant hit, grossing over 90 million dollars in the U.S., and almost 200 million worldwide. It also seemed to breathe new life into Willis, who had appeared earlier in the year in the dreadfully received buddy cop comedy Cop Out (and secondhand info on that film seems to indicate he was kind of a dick on set during filming on that one too). The only real problems I have with Red are that Morgan Freeman isn’t on-screen enough (it’s explained why in the movie) and that at 111 minutes, Red is, like its characters, a bit too long in the tooth. It would have made a great 90 minute movie, but at nearly two hours it feels kind of bloated. Supporting acting is also pretty decent all around, including an incredibly douchey Karl Urban (who hilariously faces off with Willis) and Mary-Louise Parker. Red is a silly but extremely enjoyable film that isn’t as hardcore in its graphic action and violence as The Expendables, but is still much more entertaining than that movie.
The Losers is a movie with a lot of ambition, but its execution is pretty botched by the stylistic choices in its direction. Sylvain White chooses to freeze-frame dramatically at various intervals, and uses the Bourne Identity/Legacy/Supremacy‘s school of choppy cam editing as well. When you get past these stylistic choices, however, The Losers has a lot to like, starting with its principle cast. Though Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t necessarily entirely compelling in the lead role, supporting cast, including future Captain America (and my boyfriend…in my dreams) Chris Evans, the great Idris Elba, and Zoe Saldana, are all a lot of fun. Chris Evans particularly thrives in this kind of role (see also: Push, Cellular). Like Red, The Losers is based off a graphic novel, and it really feels as such. There’s a certain internal logic and consistency to the movie, with all the globe-trotting and corporate infiltration and such (just as there would be in a comic book). The plot’s kind of a mess, but like I said before, it’s all fun and just plain silly and enjoyable in a lot of places. I also want to single out Jason Patric, who I hadn’t seen in a movie in like 15 years, as the villain Max. Patric is a great villain in this movie. He plays kind of a James Bond-type villain gone awry, right down to the physical defect/distortion that seems to permeate the characteristics of many a Bond villain. The Losers was the least financially successful of these movies, but I honestly feel like it’s the second best of the four. I should also mention that, unlike the others, The Losers was only modestly budgeted, and yet still seems to have similar levels of action scenes and set-pieces when compared to the other three movies on this list.
So that leaves us with the Joe Carnahan-directed remake The A-Team… When I first saw this movie, I kind of hated it. It seemed like the worst kind of summer blockbuster, stupid, illogical, pandering to the lowest common denominator, etc, etc. Turns out I was just in the wrong mood, because when I gave it a second whirl I discovered that I actually really love The A-Team. I love it so much that it actively bothers me that Fox cancelled plans for a sequel (due to the disappointing domestic box office gross, see also: The Golden Compass). One of the things I discovered about The A-Team is that it was never meant to be taken seriously. I was watching this movie the wrong way. When I turned my brain off to some extent, I found an endlessly entertaining two-hour long romp with a fantastic cast and an actually pretty decent story. I might actually say that The A-Team is the most purely entertaining blockbuster of the 2010s. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Sharlto Copley are all brilliantly cast (I’m less high on Quinton Jackson as B.A., but I digress). Though I’m not a Jessica Biel fan, the rest of the supporting cast is also quite brilliant, including a neurotic but fun and competent Patrick Wilson as the villain and a well-cast Brian Bloom as a wildcard/villain as well (seriously, how does Bloom not get more work? The guy is great in everything he’s in). The relationship between Neeson and Cooper is my favorite part of the film. The actors are both just so confident and good in their roles. Carnahan, who I previously kinda hated as a director, does great work here as well. Unfortunately, the movie was a box office disappointment when it was released in mid-summer 2010. The A-Team had all the great ingredients of a summer blockbuster, but it’s kind of a shame the audience didn’t show up. That also meant we were robbed of a potentially even better sequel (what existed of the plans for the sequel were leaked online, and they sounded awesome). I’ve seen interviews with Carnahan (who went on to direct one of 2012’s best movies so far, The Grey) where he laments not being able to make the sequel to The A-Team and up the ante even further. Such a shame.