“12 Strong” is directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and it tells the true story of U.S. Special Forces who are sent to Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Their mission is to fight against the Taliban, but they’re heavily outgunned and out-manned, so they have to form an alliance with the Afghan lead Northern Alliance to take down the enemy.
It seems that every year in January, there’s always at least one post 9/11 war movie that comes out to get the patriotism flowing. Some such as “13 Hours” and “Lone Survivor” have been good, others like “American Sniper” have been meh, and something like “Act of Valor” just plain sucked. These war movies can go either way in my opinion, so I went into this movie not really knowing what get. We could get a competently made film that tells its true story very well, or we could get just another generic military movie that doesn’t stand out in the plethora of movies just like it. Unfortunately, “12 Strong” falls into the latter category.
I want to talk about what I liked first and what I liked were most of the performances. Chris Hemsworth, despite looking exactly like Thor, is able to stand out as a regular guy who just wants to serve his country. I didn’t see the God of Thunder at all, I just saw a character named “Mitch” and Hemsworth did a good job in simply being this character who’s in the fight for his life. Other supporting roles such as Micheal Pena, Michael Shannon, and William Fichtner weren’t in the movie as much as I was expecting, but they all manage to pull off being regular guys who are sent to fight a war.
But that’s ultimately the problem with this movie: the characters are all very weak and thinly-written. In this group of military men, they all just have the personality of being meatheads who bust each other’s balls, but none of them have any defining characteristic that makes them stand out. There’s not one character who’s fleshed out or given any unique backstory that we haven’t seen before. The characters in this movie all have the usual wife and kids waiting back home and they all scream about how they have to get back to their family, but that’s nothing new to the war genre. The characterization in this movie was just flat-out lazy.
Honestly, there’s only one character in this movie that I did care for and it’s the Afghan general that the Special Forces team up with. He’s actually given a good backstory and motive for fighting the Taliban and I found myself caring about everything going on with him. Granted, he goes a little overboard with all of his philosophical talk with words like “Eyes of a killer”, but in terms of backstory and motive, he was easily the most interesting character in the entire film.
Judging this movie from an action standpoint, there are undeniably a few scenes that are intense and the least bit watchable. Some of the Taliban forces have straight-up Stormtrooper aim in some scenes, but that doesn’t change their being some dramatic sequences that are action-packed and well-filmed. When the shit hits the fan, it REALLY hits the fan and even though the characters are interchangeable, there was still a small part of me that did find myself engaged in their situation and the action surrounding them.
By and large, this movie doesn’t subvert any major war tropes. If anything, you can make a list of post 9/11 war movie cliches and check them off as you watch this movie. Is there a scene featuring a husband and wife having a dramatic conversation and saying dialogue like “You knew what you signed up for”? Yes. Is there a character who’s given his mission just days before he was suppose to retire? Yep. And is there a scene with the characters watching footage of 9/11 right before being shipped off to fight? You bet your ass there is. It’s war cliche after war cliche in this movie and your overall enjoyment of the film boils down to whether you can look past that stuff.
Overall, “12 Strong” is a well acted movie with some good action scenes, but I’m gonna need more than just big explosions and gunfights if I’m going to watch this declassified true story. This movie doesn’t offer any strong characterization, nor does it present us with a story that’s unique or captivating. Granted, this particular story could be really engaging if given proper screenwriters and directors, but the crew we got only set out to give us the most basic of war films.