By relaying military history on the big screen, 12 Strong falls into a clear category of contemporary cinema. These true story movies are always portrayed to be patriotic and inspiring, but while 12 Strong had some definite strengths (like Chris Hemsworth), it also had weaknesses and seemed to target an audience I didn’t really feel I was a part of.
As someone who was barely two years old at the time of 9/11, the introduction could have been better. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center provides an incredible sense of motivation to all the characters in the movie, the brief TV footage flipping some sort of switch inside them from “ready to chill with the fam” to “ready to charge into Afghanistan guns blazing.” For older generations who were around to experience the fear, anger and grief of 9/11 the brief introduction may be appropriate and tasteful, but for me the scenes were too brief and implicit for me to fully understand the motivation the characters experienced.
The film was also a little more military-minded and tactical than I was anticipating. It wasn’t that I couldn’t follow what was going on, but I’m used to a little more drama than Group A will go here and Group B will go there and if it all works according to plan then Group C will proceed around Group D. There certainly were subplots between specific characters and conversations that advanced characterization and whatnot, but the large focus of the movie was on the maneuvering and negotiating and planning, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but wasn’t engaging to me.
Going along with that military emphasis, the fight scenes were long. Really long. The first fight scene did provide one of those rare moments of clarity in which the audience can see things through the characters eyes and realize that battles are terrifying, unpredictable, gory experiences that are so much more terrible than we often imagine. As someone who doesn’t really like fight scenes, the weapons (bombs) and vehicles (horses) and goals (being able to drop more bombs) were interesting and engaging. However, the power of this emotional punch was somehow diminished an hour later after three more long and laborious fight scenes. The last fight scene was so long that I literally zoned out and missed what happened for a couple minutes. Again, maybe this sort of action floats some boats, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
An interesting facet of the film was walking the line between heroizing and normalizing the characters. Making a movie about them deifies our real life heroes, but at the same time, 12 Strong attempts to portray the men of the movie as your average Joe. Sure, Captain Mitch Nelson was played by Chris Hemsworth, literally the guy best known for playing a god, but the movie includes scenes of the guys making fun of one another, telling jokes and just messing around. It’s almost as though the filmmakers are trying to make the audience relate to these guys, just so it’s that much more amazing when they bust into action and save the day. A guy just like you just killed a bunch of terrorists, which therefore means he’s not a guy like you at all.
Overall, I give this film 2.5 out of 5 stars. If you’re into the military, action and fight scenes, this might be worth a couple hours over the weekend, if not, I recommend saving your ten dollars.
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.