Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Force-Fed, Formulaic, and Flavorless Anti-Terrorism Dishwater
Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig with a screenplay by Ted Tally (The SIlence of the Lambs, Red Dragon) and Peter Craig (The Town, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Parts 1 and 2) and based on American author Doug Stanton’s non-fiction book Horse Soldiers, 12 Strong is a war drama that follows Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) as he leads a Special Forces team into Afghanistan to retaliate after the 9/11 terrorist attacks despite not having any combat training. Nelson’s team was the first to respond after 9/11 occurred and they find themselves collaborating with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban, Brothers), Afghan warlord and leader of The Alliance, in order to use unorthodox combat tactics to fight back against the Taliban.
The problem with 12 Strong is that nothing differentiates it from other films that fall under the same category. Every film that sends soldiers into Afghanistan with 9/11 as its purpose or to respond to terrorist attacks in any way already has this strained quality to it because it’s attempting to force the audience to cheer and root for this cliche team of wooden soldiers that we’ve seen literally a dozen times before. The unfortunate aspect is that it usually works for Hollywood as people continue to spend their hard earned money on regurgitated pro-America drivel solely because we’ll never forget and support for our soldiers is the most important thing to some. It’s kind of like being a fan of Nickelback; you continue to like their most recent material because their new songs are just rehashed versions of their old ones.
Nicolai Fuglsig’s war drama has no personality or unique flavor to make it memorable. The film somehow wastes a talented cast with Chris Hemsworth mostly resorting to giving stereotypical pep talks and Braveheart-like speeches while drowning in the awkward American accent he’s decided to use for this film for some ungodly reason. Michael Pena is able to squeeze in a few comedic one-liners as a reminder that you’ve probably seen him in other stuff that you liked better, Michael Shannon can’t even be bothered to be on his feet the entire film, and Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes is completely consumed by the sandy New Mexican landscape (the film was shot in New Mexico and Sorocco) since all he really does is lick Dum Dums and urinate in the desert before fading into obscurity. William Fichtner, a guy who has made a career out of being memorable and intriguing supporting characters like the devil in Drive Angry and the bank manager who inhales The Joker’s smoke grenade at the beginning of The Dark Knight, is nothing more than a paper thin colonel here whose only significant qualities are that he’s bald and crosses his arms whenever he’s on-screen. Even Rob Riggle who was an actual Marine who served under the real Colonel Max Bowers back in 2011 can’t make this crap interesting.
Nelson’s team is a dozen men on horseback attempting to battle men with automatic weaponry and unstoppable tanks. 12 Strong has already backed itself into a corner by having a reputation of being a patriotic version of 300. Maybe it’s staying true to Doug Stanton’s book and/or historic events, but that seems less relevant when we’ve already seen that film so many times prior to 12 Strong being released. Its most memorable line of dialogue is Navid Negahban’s rambling about, “killer eyes,” which feels like it’s ripped directly from Vin Diesel’s Riddick character in Pitch Black. The answer to being out-manned and outgunned is to just bomb everything in sight and hope for the best. There are more explosions in the two hours of 12 Strong than the entirety of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise and yet you still find yourself yawning and fighting the sweet release of restful slumber because 12 Strong is just force-fed, formulaic, and flavorless anti-terrorism dishwater that is as bland as the sand these characters stereotypical army boots walk on.
12 Strong is a lame attempt at forced heroism and is a war drama that is incredibly tedious and overwhelmingly predictable. The film is nothing more than a bunch of guys blindly galloping through the desert while bombing their misguided footprints because, “Oh, derp! America!” A recognizable cast drifts through a dry screenplay with blank stares and poor line delivery while explosions serve as a jolting catalyst to invoke some sort of emotional reaction in the audience resulting in a film that isn’t patriotic enough to feel proud for one’s country and is explosively inadequate when it comes to entertainment or fundamental values.
© 2018 Chris Sawin