Between appearances as his signature thunder god character in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, Chris Hemsworth starred in a different kind of action flick. In 12 Strong, Hemsworth plays Captain Mitch Nelson of the Green Berets Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) 595. Nelson leads a special forces team into Afghanistan in the wake of the devastating 9/11 attacks in the hopes of taking the fight to the Taliban. The film is streaming on Hulu and is #8 on the platform’s top 10 list.
While most of the characters in 12 Strong are fictional, they were based on real people, including ODA 595, who — according to Military Times — were the first Special Forces soldiers to enter Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Chris Hemsworth’s Captain Nelson is based on the real life commander of ODA 595, Captain Mark Nutsch. Meanwhile, Michael Shannon’s Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer was based on the real life Bob Pennington.
When 12 Strong opens, Chris Hemsworth’s Captain Nelson has been assigned to the staff of Lieutenant Colonel Bowers (Rob Riggle), and so he and his family are moving into a new home on September 11, 2001, when the news of the terror attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. rock the world. With the help of Michael Shannon’s Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, Bowers is convinced to let Nelson once more assume command of the ODA 595 to take them into Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, Nelson and the rest of 595 meet General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance, played by Navid Negahban (Aladdin 2019). A good deal of 12 Strong‘s conflict — instead of being on the battlefield — takes place between Chris Hemsworth’s Nelson and Navid Negahban’s Dostum. Nelson and half of the 595 stay with Dostum to support his efforts to take the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i Sharif, and the general’s trust isn’t easy to win over. Even after Nelson and Dostum stop knocking heads and start winning battles, the news that more special forces soldiers are helping the general’s political rival means disaster for their collaboration.
Speaking to the Military Times, the real soldiers involved in the actual events 12 Strong portray, pointed out some interesting discrepancies between 12 Strong and real life. For one, not only was Captain Mark Nutsch — the character upon whom Chris Hemsworth’s Nelson is based — not moving into a new home when he learned of the 9/11 attacks, but the rest of the 595 were, ironically, some of the last people, possibly in the entire world, to find out about the attacks.
Bob Pennington — the inspiration for Michael Shannon’s character — told Military Times that the 595 was participating in an overnight training mission near Nashville when the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The soldiers had taken three boats through thick fog to attack a training target near the Cumberland River. The team almost slammed into a barge at one point but otherwise made it safely to the river bank. It wasn’t until the morning after the attacks, when the soldiers were packing their gear, that they heard the news on the radio.
While he didn’t have the Avengers backing him up in 12 Strong, Chris Hemsworth’s war drama made a respectable dent at the box office. It debuted second its opening weekend, which is understandable considering it was competing against Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — Dwayne Johnson’s star-studded revitalization of the franchise started by Robin Williams back in 2003. By the end of its theatrical run, 12 Strong grossed $67.5 million worldwide against a production budget of $35 million.
The critical reception was another matter entirely. Chris Hemsworth’s war flick has a 50% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 62% audience score. Reviewers tend to praise the acting while dismissing the writing, which they generally characterize as predictable and empty of any depth. For example, Tara Brady of the Irish Times says 12 Strong is “as unnecessarily long as the conflict that inspired it. Kevin Maher of The Times is even less forgiving, calling the movie “intense jingoistic nonsense.” He calls many of the film’s characters “caricatures,” singling out Numan Acar’s (Homeland) villain Mullah Razzan as “deadpan homage to Aladdin’s cartoon nemesis Jafar.”
If you subscribe to Hulu, you can check 12 Strong out yourself to see whether or not you agree with the critics. The film is directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, from a script by Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs) and Peter Craig (The Town).