The Losers: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Vertigo started its 32-issue run of The Losers back in 2003, when I was an absolutely voracious comic book reader and collector. Oh, sure, by any reasonable measure I still am a voracious reader and collector; but back then, I was picking up 30-40 issues a month, and reading most of them. The Losers was actually a bit of a high point within that collecting; at the very least, it was something different than the normal fantasy and superhero stuff I was reading at the time. The book was essentially a boiled-down action movie series, told in a mostly episodic manner and focusing on the "good bits" without having to spend so much time on the details. This worked very nicely, because the reader was more than capable of filling in the details, while the artwork gave a nice framework upon which those details could flow. It was silly, it was over-the-top, and it worked.

Sadly, there wasn't enough detail left to convert the material back into a movie again.

The Losers is the first Big Dumb Action Movie of the summer (yes, it's April). It more-or-less tells the story of the comic's first story arc, with a bunch of character origins and the more interesting parts of the longer story tossed in for good measure. The characters are more stereotypes than people: the Roguish Leader With The Heart Of Gold, the Operations Expert, the Bad-Ass Sniper, the Assassin, the Computer Guy, and the Hot Ninja Chick. They're an ex-military unit that has been set up by their government, and they have to get revenge on the Big Bad Guy over it.

None of that bothers me; it was a good start for the comic, and it could have been a good start here. But it turns out that movie-watchers are less fond of ill-defined anti-heroes, and want details. And so most of the characters end up with back stories, families, and all the rest - thus taking them out of stereotype land, and into Characters We're Supposed To Care About. But, sadly, we don't exactly learn enough details to care; and most of those details tend to clash with what we're learning elsewhere. Instead of archetypes, the characters are sketched into caricatures.

But that's just a single example of the greater problem: having to add detail back in where it had been taken out before. Another example, perhaps more obvious to those that haven't read the books, is the visuals. As movie goers are getting used to, the scenes from the comic are essentially copied panel-by-panel; but frankly, the comic's art doesn't support that. The comic's art is also very archetypal, and (for the most part) minimalist. It's enough to set up the basic scenes and the characters themselves, but past that? When they start putting in details of their locales, it ends up looking wrong. Fake. Often silly.

(I should note that this did work well in the credits sequences. The motion-comic version of Jock's artwork was worthwhile, and I wish we could have had more of it.)

There were other problems. The movie couldn't really decide on a tone during its action sequences; this mostly means "more people should have been killed", and was probably caused by its PG-13 rating, but it still bothered me. The villain was just awful, in a "we haven't decided how evil to make him so we'll change from minute to minute" kind of way. I don't want to get into the Indian Kindof-Bad-Guys, but... shiver The movie ends on a "let's have a sequel" cliffhanger, which was foolish. And (perhaps a bit petty) I was annoyed that they didn't use the Glee version of "Don't Stop Believin'"; it would have dated the movie more effectively.

What I learned from this movie: when you boil down a genre to its basics, you can get a comic. When you boil down that comic into its basics, you get a cartoon. Too bad they weren't trying for a cartoon.

* 1/2