There haven’t been a lot of war films about the post-9/11 fighting in Afghanistan. Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor comes to mind, but most of the war on terror films center on Iraq: American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, HBO’s Generation Kill miniseries and Green Zone. 12 Strong tries to help fill that void.
Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon star as the leaders of the 12 special forces soldiers – the 12 “strong,” if you will – into Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. They link up with an Afghani general and together start wreaking havoc on the Taliban, trying to loosen their stranglehold on the country. The Taliban has tanks and artillery, and yes the Americans have bombs, but the special forces soldiers are forced to use horses as their primary means of transportation through the mountains of Afghanistan.
There’s nothing particularly special about 12 Strong. The story of the first special forces team deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks is worth telling. More impressive is the fact that the soldiers rode on horses while fighting the Taliban. That’s awesome!
So, why is 12 Strong so thoroughly mediocre?
Because I answered my own question. Everything about the film is mediocre.
Had the film been released in 2006 or 2007, the simplistic America is great! We will fix everything in Afghanistan! theme probably would’ve played like gangbusters. But in 2018, with fighting still going on over there and the politics behind the war on terror as complicated as ever, it feels like 12 Strong is missing the bigger picture.
As far as the fighting goes, 12 Strong has plenty of it, but nothing that will wow or scare audiences. Director Nicolai Fuglsig is clearly going for a Black Hawk Down aesthetic with the fighting, which isn’t a surprise considering both films were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The fighting in Black Hawk Down may be what 12 Strong aims for, but there’s no comparison. 12 Strong doesn’t have the scope, intensity, or cinematic eye of director Ridley Scott. Despite sporting a script co-written by Oscar winner Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), the characters are painfully one note. Hemsworth and Shannon may have all the charisma in the world, but even they can’t elevate a weak script into a good one.
12 Strong is watchable, and would make for good background noise once it hits television, but there’s too many war films that are far superior. Even Lone Survivor, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, is better in most every way.