Suicide Squad (2016)

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Something’s rotten at Warner Bros. It’s hard to exactly nail down what it is, but we’re now three films into the so-called “DC Extended Universe” and something ain’t working. Whilst Batman v Superman sucked harder than a Dyson with bills to pay, there were high hopes that Suicide Squad would be the much-needed course correction for the DCEU. After all, if WB is making supposedly heroic figures into selfish arseholes, perhaps centring an entire movie around self-centred villains was the next logical step. The Squad trailers were a bunch of fun and it had legit movie fella David Ayer writing and directing. However, as you know if you’ve spent any time on the net recently, Suicide Squad has garnered some nasty critical reviews akin to Batman v Superman‘s hefty sack of bile. Warner Bros. seem locked in to their Justice League path now and it’s depressing that they can’t seem to translate some of the genuinely great and enduring DC characters to the big screen. Suicide Squad may have broken several box office records, but this shit ain’t going to fly forever. People simply don’t want to see bad films and when the tills stop ringing- and they will- it’s going to be a sudden and harsh winter for the Woeful Boobs.

Following the events of Batman v Superman, the world is a different place. Humanity has been made aware of “metahumans” like Supes and no-nonsense government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of the baddest imprisoned villains around to fight these newer, bigger threats in exchange for time off their sentences. The team includes expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), insane Joker squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), crocodilian cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and fiery gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is given the unenviable task of leading the gang of misfits. Not to mention the fact that a certain green-haired loon (Jared Leto) has plans to get his girl back and throw a spanner into the works.

Almost nothing in Suicide Squad works. It’s a jumbled mess. Story arcs are confused, flashbacks are inserted without proper care, motivations are botched and the whole thing seems to be edited and spliced together with an axe and some Blu-Tack. The main story is generic as hell and leads to a hackneyed final act complete with a giant laser shooting into the sky and an unconvincing CGI villain. It’s all over the place. Deadshot is introduced into the film multiple times. There’s also a truly baffling bit where Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang does just that, selfishly leaving the squad only to be part of the heroic slow motion walking line-up shot in the very next scene. And no, it’s not intentional. That would be giving it all far too much credit. The film is littered with these things and they’re a symptom of a far bigger problem.

The movie has been passed around and fiddled with more times than your mum. There were reshoots to apparently make the whole thing lighter in tone and the staples holding all the pages of notes together aren’t just visible, they make up the majority of the movie. WB is scared. Man of Steel shafted their shared universe plans from the get-go and Bats v Supes did nothing but compound the issues. They tried to change what kind of film Suicide Squad was as they booted it out of the door. They’re being reactionary instead of proactive. Hate to say it, but at times it feels Marvel-lite.

This panicked meddling really affects what’s on the screen. There are two “big reveals” that will elicit shrugs from the audience. One of them is especially bad, revealing information we’ve known from the start and didn’t know that certain people weren’t privy to it. Entire characters are lost in the mix. God only knows who Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is meant to be. We’re told he’s a military hero, but in practice he’s ineffectual and looks like a strung-out junkie. Also, the less said about Cara Delevingne the better. At no point did I think of her as anything other than a model trying to act. Her third act performance and weird gyrations have to be seen to be believed. I get the feeling that Killer Croc was meant to have a bigger part. I dug him a fair bit, but he’s barely given anything to do.

All the expected fun of watching an anti-Avengers struggle to be the good guys is blown out of an airlock. A bit of bite would have been welcome and some dark humour would have gone a long way, but the final product feels compromised and toothless. In terms of being funny, the quips and gags they’ve gone with are seriously poor and wouldn’t be out of place in a third-rate sitcom. It may make some of the theatre donkeys bray in their seats, but it ain’t going to tickle the funny bones of many others. There’s a real level of desperation to Suicide Squad that leaks and drips out of every pore. The licensed soundtrack full of famous, on-the-nose choices like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid , AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky seems to exist solely to cover up the awkward tonal shifts and fool the audience into feeling some semblance of fun. It’s messy, scrappy and more than a mite cynical.

Oh- just as a side note, let’s also talk about how a woman getting thumped in the face is the literal punchline of two jokes in the film. One perpetrated by Batfleck himself. Yes, they’re bad guys and there’s more context to each of them, but there’s no escaping the fact that the film wants you to laugh at both instances.

We’re going to have to mention him, so let’s chit-chat about Jared Leto’s Joker. He featured heavily in the marketing, but is only in the film briefly. He has no impact on the story whatsoever. You could take out all of his scenes and not only would you get a tighter story, the film would make just as much sense as it already does. I’m not sure what Leto’s going for with his performance but he’s pretty terrible. He’s all tics and no presence. I actually don’t mind his look (the “damaged” forehead tattoo is still as eye-rolling as ever though), but in terms of personality, he doesn’t have any. I’m always down for new interpretations of famous characters, but this isn’t any kind of recognisable take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus, his trademark cackle sounds like a cawing crow that’s low on batteries. All those stories of Leto going “proper method” and sending his co-stars inappropriate gifts like used condoms and a live rat are even more embarrassing now.

Despite all this, I didn’t leave Suicide Squad with white knuckles and gritted teeth like I did with Batman v Superman. It’s such a mess, yet there are a few saving graces. For starters, I was never bored. Some of the cast manage elevate the material to near-acceptable levels. Will Smith is on form. He’s reliably good and his talent and charisma actually make something of the poorly sketched Deadshot. Deadshot’s story has been reworked to make him more of a sympathetic character with a young daughter and Smith sells the fuck out of it. There’s a moment that shows Deadshot being captured by Batman (Ben Affleck) that really shone for me. It was equivalent to some of the cool Marvel cameos/crossovers and it was a brief glimpse of sunlight before we plunged face first and open-mouthed into the sewers again. Also, Margot Robbie is great. They’ve completely bungled the long-awaited movie debut of Harley Quinn, but Robbie does well in the role nonetheless. She’s a legitimate movie star and deserves more than this wanking shit. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo was surprisingly fleshed out and of all the Squadders he gets one of the only complete story arcs. Viola Davis is also suitably scary as Amanda Waller. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in future films.

I wanted to like Suicide Squad so much, but it turned out to be a frustrating ol’ time. There is a good movie in there somewhere, but the combination of studio meddling and bullshit ideas has almost completely buried it. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Some of the movie’s cheap tricks will work on the majority of people out there, but it’s a hollow experience. I sort of, kinda liked it I think, but it’s a like so qualified with caveats and provisos it’s barely worth mentioning. Even though they went about it poorly, at least it looks like WB have learned that grimdark isn’t the only flavour out there, which I choose to see as a positive step for the future of the DCEU. Save us Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope.

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Earth’s Mightiest Xeroxes: The Unfortunate Legacy of The Avengers

“We’re surrounded by shitty knock-offs!”

I’ve spoken before about studios learning the wrong lessons from box office megahits and trying to apply said lessons to whatever franchises they have, whether it suits or not. In the past few days, it’s been announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the still untitled Batman vs Superman film. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hit, giving us not one villain as previously thought, but multiple bastards to deal with as well as massive hints at an expanded universe to come. Plus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past and as of yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse in the pipeline, the former promising an all-star mash-up of the established cast of the original trilogy with the swingin’ ’60s versions of the characters from First Class. I should be dancing about my room, yelling about how we live in the golden age of comic book films, but I can’t shake the feeling we’re in danger of having some monumental clusterfucks on our hands.

I’ll take them on in order. Firstly, that whole Wonder Woman thing. I’m happy that she finally gets to make an overdue appearance, but I’m pissed off that she’ll be playing third fiddle to Bats and Supes. Obviously, I have no idea how much she’ll appear in the film, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be taking too much attention away from the two beefy boys. I’ve said it before, but D.C.’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s are a fucking mess. Wonder Woman deserves her own film, not just a glorified cameo. Yeah, they may do a solo outing later on, but my guess is that they’ll be steamrolling ahead with all this Justice League stuff for the foreseeable future and are only cramming Ms. Prince in because people expect some form of introduction to the character before the big team up film, thanks to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Warner Bros. are grasping at straws and forming a film completely out of knee-jerk reactions. All it is is a shaky response to Marvel’s throwing down of the (Infinity) gauntlet.There’s nothing to go on so far apart from internet tittle-tattle and scant announcements, but I can already feel my caution starting to overtake my anticipation. As with all these entries, I want them to be good and would be delighted if they turned out that way, it’s just I feel that Man of Steel 2: Bruce and Diana Too is not being given the care and attention it needs. We’ll see.

Onto my pet subject: Spider-Man. I’m being honest here, I haven’t had high hopes for this one at all. The first one left me angry and it seems they have no interest in righting their wrongs. Some terrible CGI, rubbish dialogue and the baffling return of bullet time aside, there are more troubling things contained in the trailer below:

If you haven’t spent whole stretches of your life dedicated to the adventures of a smartass, spandex-wearing teen like I have, let me fill you in on what’s going on. Around the 1:14 mark, there are some recognisable villain hallmarks to be seen in the background, namely Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s tentacles. It seems like the trailer’s setting up the appearance of The Sinister Six, a supervillain group, pretty much the anti-Avengers, who team up to take down their common arachnid enemy. The roster has changed over the decades so it’s tough to say which line-up they’ll go with, but they could have given us the answer in this trailer and have Doc Ock, Electro, Lizard, Vulture, Rhino and the Green Goblin for their sickening sextet. If you’d have told the 10 year old me that not only would there be loads of Spider-Man films one day, but one featuring The Sinister Six, I think he would have flipped his lid. Thing is, adult me has been hurt before by Spider-Man 3 and more pertinently, The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb et al have already showed they don’t “get” Spider-Man and it’s only going to get worse. I would have liked to have seen at least one more film where Spidey takes on a singular villain without the constraints of being shackled to a spider origin story before we barrel in to a big “event” picture. Having multiple villains can work, but only if a deft touch is used. They couldn’t even handle The Lizard on his own without ballsing it up, so I doubt that they’ll be able to handle three in this sequel and six in future films. They’re trying to run before the can walk. Christ, they can’t even wallcrawl properly yet. I will say this though- Dane DeHaan looks like he’s nailed Harry Osborn and I’m looking forward to see where he takes it.

The X-Men franchise is the one I’m least worried about. I believe in Bryan Singer. Whilst I would have liked another film focused on the First Class lot, I think Days of Future Past is going to be good. Singer cares about character and will hopefully be able to balance all the spinning plates. Besides the time-twisty adventures planned, there’s still a Wolverine sequel to come and spin-offs in the form of an X-Force feature, which could possibly set up a spin-off of its own in the form of a long-awaited standalone Deadpool film. There’s even talk of merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, creating a Fox branded take on the Marvel universe. It’s pretty damn likely to happen too. As you may have noticed- everyone has to have their own version of The Avengers paradigm by law, apparently. If you’re still with me at this point and your brain hasn’t dribbled out of your nose, good on you.

I think the thing that annoys me is the reactionary nature of it all. Studios see the opportunity to sell 5 times as much merchandise and have jumped all over it, not taking time to figure out what made The Avengers good. It’s a fucking miracle that The Avengers worked at all and they need to respect that. In my opinion, they hired the right guy for the task. Joss Whedon had a history of making ensemble things work, from his stint as a writer on the X-Men comics to his TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He has a great knowledge of team dynamics and has a wonderful inclusionary way where you as the reader/viewer/whatever feel like part of the team and share in their triumphs and losses. The lesson to be learned isn’t “Team-ups are in right now. Let’s copy The Avengers and cram as many fucking characters in as the screen can hold and set up our next 70 films”. It says a lot that The Avengers doesn’t work nearly as well as a standalone film as it does as a sequel to all of Marvel’s “Phase One” films up to that point. I realise they’re all rushing these things into production and trying to strike whilst the iron’s hot. Here’s the thing- that particular iron cooled a while ago, it was struck at peak heat to the tune of a billion dollars, and if I may stretch this metaphor to near-breaking point, it might be a better idea to focus on creating their own iron doodads fit for heating purposes. Marvel Studios doesn’t and shouldn’t have the monopoly on superhero team-ups, but it went about it the best way, took its time building the foundations and has already started manufacturing a second iron thingamajig (sorry, I’m swear I’m completely done with that analogy now). I think that’s the lesson that studios should be taking away from the success of The Avengers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to team up with several other crappy little movie blogs and together, we’ll write the biggest and bestest review you ever did see. Be sure to buy the tie-in video game where you get to play as me and struggle to get over a handful of daily views!

Batfleck, D.C. and a distinct lack of Wonder

It’s easier to eat your words when they’ve been physically printed on something.

 

I talk about comics and comic adaptations a lot on here. I can’t help it, I’m a massive fan of superheroes and like it or not, superhero films are as ubiquitous now as Westerns were back in the day. Having grown up with Marvel, I’m usually more invested in what’s going on that side of the fence, but I like a lot of the D.C. roster too. I just enjoy comic book films. This isn’t a tiresome Us vs. Them, Pepsi vs. Coke scenario.

I’m totally baffled by D.C.’s cinematic strategy. It’s a fucking trainwreck. It seems that if it’s not Batman, they can’t make it work. After jealously eyeing that huge stacks of cash Marvel brought in with their shared cinematic universe and Avengers megahits, D.C. decided they wanted some of that money pie too. Man of Steel was the first step towards the long-gestating Justice League film and it shattered its ankle straight out of the gate. It was a hit, but not the fuckingmegahit they wanted. Plus, I’m sure the critical reaction to its questionable tone and lack of basic heroics stung them too. Unlike most sweaty nerds, I didn’t frost my jeans at the prospect of a Batman/Superman flick, especially as it’s a sequel to Man of Steel, not its own separate thing.

The one thing that has me interested in Man of Steel 2: Hey kids, this one has Batman!  is the casting of Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight. Honestly, I think it’s a fucking brilliant shout. Affleck is a great actor and director and I really think he’ll bring a lot to the role. The fallout from this news was mental, people bitching and moaning about Affleck and especially his role in 2003’s Daredevil.  Firstly, I would advise people to go back and watch the Director’s Cut of Daredevil and find out just how overblown the hate is for it. Secondly, even if you take into account things like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Gigli and Daredevil so fucking what? Affleck has proven himself a fantastic actor and director time and time again with films like Hollywoodland, Argo and The Town. He reinvented himself. I don’t see the same criticism being levelled at Matthew McConaughey, despite him slumming in dire romcoms for a while before landing some choice roles and increasing his stock as a legitimate actor. Let’s not forget the instant kneejerk responses to Michael Keaton’s casting as Batman back in ’89, or more recently, the news of Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker for The Dark Knight. I can genuinely see people eating some huge slices of humble pie when Affleck finally dons the cowl.

Anyway, the one thing that really bugs me about D.C. and their rush to get to the Justice League film is the lack of Wonder Woman. There are three core members of the Justice League: Bats, Supes and Wonders. I’d have thought D.C. would have been all over a Wonder Woman film before getting into to JL business. It’d be like an Avengers flick without Captain America. Plus, let’s face it. D.C. are lagging behind Marvel at this point. They’re rushing to compete in a market which has already been won by The Avengers. Shit, Age of Ultron will be have been out for years by the time the Justice League comes to cinemas in 2017. Here’s the thing, who’s to say there will be the same demand for superheroes in four years’ time? Maybe the bottom will have fallen out of the comic book film market by then. I hope not, but it could happen.

I would think they’d have been trying to identify gaps in the market or a way they can offer something unique- maybe like a fucking superheroine flick, something which Marvel aren’t concerning themselves with for the forseeable future. They’re making a Flash film, so why not one for everyone’s favourite Amazonian? Wonder Woman is ripe for a big budget adaptation and the only reasons I can fathom as to why they’re not pursuing it is to do with a blinkered view of the audience and basic, grotty sexism. In case you haven’t left your house for the past 10 years, superheroes are as mainstream as you can get right now. Studios are always looking to cater to the audience they don’t have rather than concentrating on the audience they do.  Why something that has the potential to bring in even more females into the multiplexes isn’t being exploited to shit is completely beyond me. Isn’t that what big business does?

To summarise:

1) Shut the fuck up ’bout Da Fleck. He’s going to be brilliant.

2) Make a Wonder Woman film, you stupid bastards.