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The Most Ridiculous Action Movie of the 2010s Feels like an Alternate Universe Marvel Movie

The Losers is an unfortunate product of its time, but one that still retains some charming merits.

Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Losers
Warner Bros. Pictures
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It shouldn’t be surprising that The Losers never got its coveted sequel, despite angling hard for one. The Warner Bros. film, adapted from the Vertigo Comics series, was hardly the first attempt to spawn a franchise from the sillier sensibilities of a post-9/11 action film. It has plenty of flaws — a contrived script chief among them — but deserves more credit than it gets.

Had it debuted just a few years earlier, The Losers might have been a genuine hit. Instead, The Losers represents the last gasp of the edgy, late-aughts comic book adaptation. By the time it hit theaters in 2010, audiences had already moved on to something bigger, better, and decidedly more exciting: Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Hollywood wasted little time conforming to Marvel’s house style, making The Losers an unfortunate casualty in a rapidly shifting industry.

The MCU was a relative novelty in the early 2010s, but a handful of successes were quickly transforming it into the hot new trend. Just a year after Chris Evans and Idris Elba starred in The Losers, they’d each play a role in Marvel’s rapidly expanding franchise. Zoe Saldaña wasn’t far behind, which makes The Losers an interesting stop on their path to superhero stardom. It’s an incredibly silly film, but it possesses the one element that seems to elude the MCU when it needs it the most: a genuine sense of fun.

Like so many stories of its ilk, The Losers is about an elite, tight-knit military unit forced to go rogue after a mission gone wrong. The irreverent Losers all specialize in one form of combat — Elba’s Roque is handy with knives, while Cougar (Oscar Janaeda) is their resident sharpshooter — and each gets their chance to deliver a volley of smarmy one-liners. Their rapport, held together by their leader Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and a shared sense of justice, is strong. We meet them tracking a drug lord in the jungles of Bolivia, but they abruptly adjust their objective when they realize a group of trafficked children will get caught in the crossfire.

Their choice, however noble, becomes a death sentence. Clay and his team make an enemy of Max (Jason Patric), a shadowy free agent working to orchestrate a worldwide terrorist conspiracy. Max has them burned without batting an eye, leaving our Losers disavowed and hungry for revenge. The only thing stopping them from catching Max is his trademark intangibility. Enter Aisha (Saldaña), a femme fatale who becomes the brains of their new operation. She claims to know exactly who Max is, what he’s planning, and how to find him. Naturally, not everything she says is 100% true, but she’s easy on the eyes, good with a gun, and wants Max dead as much as the next guy. What could go wrong?

The Losers frequently stumbles, but a great cast brings it back on its feet every time.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Losers’ mission is relatively simple, but it’s frequently muddled by textbook 2000s-era hijinks. The film doesn’t make as much sense as it should, and its appetite for aesthetic awesomeness often overshadows the need to tell a straightforward story. Aisha’s first attempt to recruit Clay to her cause ends in a charged brawl that sets his hotel room ablaze, and that’s just the first of many bewildering casualties designed to make these characters seem edgy and wild. The Losers wants to capitalize on splashy, Snyder-esque style whenever it can, so style wins out over substance every time. But the film still has the merits of a winning cast that works hard to slip some pathos between occasionally funny quips.

Of all the IP-driven ensemble projects of the era, The Losers might just have the best. Evans is especially great as Jensen, a tech specialist with an unfortunate haircut and flair for the dramatic. He plays off his castmates brilliantly, bringing out the heart where most would expect an irreverent gag. Watching actors that have since become synonymous with MCU-enforced restraint actually get the chance to let loose is a reward in itself. Evans, Saldaña, and Elba were frequently great in their Marvel projects, but they were very rarely given room to really play.

The Losers, at the very least, offers plenty of that. It may not hold a candle to prime Marvel, but it’s become an interesting challenge to the franchise’s increasingly dour stakes. These days, we could all use a laugh.

The Losers is streaming for free on Tubi.

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