Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Guns, guns, guns. Shooting. Yeah, America! Yeah! At some point these movies are going to have to differentiate themselves from one another. Sure, a standout war movie comes along every now and then, but the people being honored in these movies deserve more than a muddled mess that feels like Every War Movie Ever. I know that’s next to impossible, but maybe if we made fewer of them it would be more likely. 12 Strong feels like all the rest.
Set just after 9/11, the film follows a Special Forces team that heads to Afghanistan to do … something. There’s a mission and we’re told what it is, but it mostly amounts to your standard war movie plot. Dudes show off their camaraderie with jokes and digs at each other, guns get fired, they all have to persevere in order to get the job done and, by the time it’s all over, we’re only still awake because the film showing this is too loud to let us sleep. They team up with the Northern Alliance in this one, which I suppose is a slightly interesting direction—but it doesn’t amount to much actual difference.
There’s some solid action scattered throughout the movie. The climactic action scene is great, for instance. It uses the horses to great effect, and while it reminded me a lot of one of the recent Planet of the Apes movies—but less interesting, because it’s humans on the horses and not apes—it still serves as an effective way to give us a good final action scene and more or less wrap up the story.
If it sounds like I don’t feel terribly invested in the plot or its characters, it’s because 12 Strong doesn’t really do much to make me care. While the specifics have changed, the plot is your bog-standard military story. And the characters are all variations on “macho guy.” You’ve got great supporting actors like Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, and Michael Shannon, and you don’t give them anything to do other than banter and look tough? And Chris Hemsworth, the lead, is only in a slightly better position because he gets to be charismatic and is given more lines to read.
12 Strong is a mediocre movie that wants to coast by on its perceived inherent inspiration.
And that only makes up four of the soldiers. What about the other eight? They’re … there, I guess? I’m sure the all even get lines of dialogue, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. The only reason you even notice the ones I mentioned above are because they’re played by recognizable actors. The movie certainly isn’t interested in humanizing them or differentiating between them. They are Soldiers™ and that’s all we need to know, apparently.
Well, then that makes 12 Strong a War Movie™ and that’s all you need to know about it. It’s a generic one that doesn’t do anything special, is more boring than entertaining, and is only inspirational in the sense that most war movies are: the soldiers have tough odds but persevere through in order to save the day/carry out the mission. There’s shooting and guns and horses and awful banter, and it’s impossible to care about any of it because the movie doesn’t want us to. It wants to showcase its events to us and hopes that will be enough.
It’s not. 12 Strong is a mediocre movie that wants to coast by on its perceived inherent inspiration. It has no ambitions, very little of interest, and fails to do anything to differentiate itself from the multitude of other same-y war movies out there. It had the pieces to do it, too. It has horses and it sees its characters team up with the Alliance. But neither of these make enough of a difference to make 12 Strong stand out from the crowd, even if its final action scene does serve as a decent climax. When you fail to give us an interesting plot or engaging characters, we’re going to feel bored—even if they are based on real events or real people.
Conclusion: 12 Strong is a generic war movie.
Recommendation: Only those who love war movies will get anything out of 12 Strong.