Let’s cut to the chase: 12 STRONG isn’t very good. In fact, it is the definition of a “January War Film.” What is that you might ask? It’s where everyone involved opens the 101 playbook entitled “How To Make A Barely Passable War Film That Will Please Studio Executives Enough For A Theatrical Release That Will Also Please Modern Audiences.” They take what is a great heroic story and completely Hollywood Bastardize it to the point of ‘meh.’ This is one of only a handful of war films where I’ve yawn several times throughout. The entire production is just plain lazy. Characterization, dialogue, even the action sequences are shot poorly. What is so damn frustrating is that there is a Academy Award nominated film somewhere in this true story. This film takes that away like Sophie’s choice.
In fact, this film could be lazy enough in my opinion as to be disrespectful to the soldiers that actually went through the mission. And I know when it says ‘Based On A True Story’ it means that a lot of what happened is going to be taken for granted, a lot of filler put in, and some false stuff that didn’t happen. This is more of ‘Hardly Based On A True Story If Told By A Lazy Michael Bay.’ By the way, yes Jerry Bruckheimer produced this but Michael Bay didn’t direct it. What is sad to say is that if he had, it might’ve been a better film. The action is just piss poor. How do I explain the action? You know that gag in The Naked Gun series, where Leslie Nielsen and a henchmen are both hiding behind a box shooting at each other, and then the camera pulls back to show the depth of field was that great and they are really right next to each other? That’s how the movie felt. Cut to American soldier shooting, cut to Taliban soldier shooting, show them kind of shooting up close, rinse, repeat. You can’t tell who is where and who is doing or shooting what, it is just kind of a hugely shot and edited mess. There are only two decent shots in the film, the Taliban firing off rockets, and Chris Hemworth shooting and his fallen horse getting up in a cool little sped up take. That’s it.
If you have no clue what the story is about the film tries to tell the tale about 12 American soldiers that group up with General Dotsum and his men, who is the leader of the alliance in Afganistan and is actually now the Vice President (so guess what? he doesn’t die!), and try to cut off the Taliban’s supply line. Like the trailers tell you, it’s the first great victory in the Afghan war right after 9/11, so the trailers kind of spoil you in how it is going to turn out, then again you could just go on Wikipedia and read about it. Which is the alternative I recommend than going to see this movie. Even though we have 12 American Soldiers and General Dotsum, there isn’t that much characterization in the film. In fact, it is hard to distinguish who is who trait wise other than seeing a bunch of pretty actors who’s faces we recognize. The only personality that sort of shines is General Dotsum, but then he is bogged down in cliched dialogue saying, “this is much country, this is my army, this is my land, this is my honor, these are my morals” type speeches. He tell Chris Hemworth at the end, “I will always think of you as my brother,” however the movie didn’t fucking earn that emotional sentence for the audience at the end. The sentence was a plot convenience.
Other terrible dialogue too, with the soldiers trying to be funny, everything we’ve heard of before such as: “What are you trying to do so-and-so, get a tan?””The war has just started boys.””I promised my wife I would make it home.” So on and so forth, just plain lazy writing because the writers either don’t have the skill to write good dialogue or they were trying to meet a fast deadline. I’m guessing a little bit of both. While they’re dialogue is supposed to be funny the only humorous part of the movie is that Chris Hemworth’s real wife in real life plays his wife in this. That’s the only chuckle the movie got out of me.
The plot structure is an entire mess. For example, there is this whole five minute scene of Chris Hemsworth telling that a few of his men need to make this long and perilous journey through this valley with harsh conditions (no water, food etc.) so they can get to the other side of the Taliban undetected and cut off that part of the supply line while Chris Hemsworth and his men destroy the other side to box him in. 5 minutes of saying, “I can’t order you guys to do this so I need volunteers.” Michael Pena steps up and says, “yes you can sir, you can order us to do it.” So dramatic, he orders Michael Pena to go, he picks two guys, they say their cliched goodbyes. So you think we are going to see these three soldiers and some of the harshness right? Nope. One scene of them finding a guy and his goats and them trying to buy one of the goats for food. And that’s it, and they are where they need to be with only chapped lips. I mean come on? You set up a 5 minute dramatic scene, not wanting to order your soldiers to trek with these harsh conditions and you end up showing only one scene of them buying a goat? LAZY AS FUCK.
And don’t get me started how you have a great actor like Michael Shannon in this and relegate him to little more than a cameo. He is barely fucking in this picture, and he’s out of it due to his location or that he fucked up his back somehow. He is brought back near the very end and gets pretty injured but the movie doesn’t focus on him enough and give him some character for me to really care about him. When I read their journey in news stories or wikipedia, I care about the real soldiers. The movie should emulate that. It doesn’t. And if you notice I haven’t played up the whole horse soldier angle. Because other than them riding the horses and shooting their guns while riding them, there are no scenes of them bonding with the horses and only one scene of them learning to kind of ride them real quick plays off as humorous. So yeah the whole marketing of horse soldiers doesn’t pay off either. So instead of making a joke that 12 Strong really should be called 12 Weak, or 12 Yawns, or 12 Naps or whatever, I’m just going to tell you to skip this movie and wait for the retelling that is one day going to happen because Hollywood doesn’t know how to tell a fresh narrative about 9/11 anymore.