Archive for June, 2017

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevigne

When the character of Harley Quinn first arrived on the scene in 1992’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” I never would have guessed that she would become a part of the comic book lineage as well, nor that she would ever be anything more than a throwaway sidekick/love interest for the Joker whose very presence undermined the more famous supervillain. Since that time, it had always been my belief that the Joker was better off without being tied to Harley Quinn. Now, with the release of Suicide Squad in 2016, I am left to wonder if the opposite can’t also be true.

The events of Batman v. Superman have (at least temporarily) led to a hole in the Earth’s protection against threats it can’t handle alone.  Enter the Suicide Squad: DC Comics’ version of The Dirty Dozen. This ragtag group of misfits and criminals who’ve been jailed by the likes of Batman, the Flash and others are recruited against their will by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Waller is tough as nails, takes no crap from anyone, and has as much of a mean streak as any of her new “recruits” do. All except for one: The Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), an ancient witch with god-like powers which has attached itself to the mind and body of Dr. June Moone. Enchantress doesn’t much care for being imprisoned and paraded around by mortals, so she bolts the first chance she gets and sets off on her plan to destroy the human race, with an assist from her brother, Incubus.

Even though it’s a mess of her own creation, Waller expects the Suicide Squad to clean it up for her, adding that she’s had nano-bombs implanted in each of their necks. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) incorrectly calls her bluff, leading to an attempted escape by team member Slipknot, who is quickly killed as a demonstration. Captain Boomerang and the others acquiesce and follow the lead of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who unbeknownst to them is the lover of Dr. June Moone. The rest of the Suicide Squad includes Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

The group’s mission is a simple extraction. Turns out the person in need of removal from the city is Waller herself. In the meantime, the Joker (Jared Leto) has come to free Harley. Having arranged for her implant to be disabled, the Joker steals a helicopter; the very one that was meant for the team’s extraction. Harley boards the helicopter, but falls out when it takes fire from Waller’s men. Deadshot is ordered to kill Harley, but he intentionally misses. The helicopter goes down, leading Harley to assume the Joker is dead.

Citizens and military personnel under the Enchantress’s control kidnap Waller, while Deadshot gets a hold of Waller’s confidential files, revealing the truth of the mission and Flag’s connection to it. Flag relieves the team of their obligation, and they all find the nearest bar. After downing a round or two (or three), they regroup and decide to take on the Enchantress anyway. Deadshot has the biggest motivation to do so, as he has a young and impressionable daughter who was present the night he was captured by Batman, and whom he wants to think highly of him.

The team climbs a long flight of stairs like in the original Ghostbusters, and gear up for the fight against Enchantress and Incubus. Diablo takes on Incubus alone. With the aid of explosive charges, Incubus is defeated, though not without the self-sacrifice of Diablo. Enchantress is not so easily handled, in fact she is nearly invincible. Ultimately, Harley Quinn acts as a distraction, pretending to have interest in joining the Enchantress’s cause. Instead, Harley Quinn cuts out the Enchantress’s heart. Acting as a team, Killer Croc then tosses an explosive into Enchantress’s doomsday weapon, while Deadshot fires the shot that destroys it. Flag then takes the heart and threatens to crush it unless June is brought back. Enchantress defiantly dares him to do it, even though it means her death. Flag is despondent, believing his lover dead, but she arises from the Enchantress’s carcass (yet another Ghostbusters nod).

The group is ready to disperse back into society, when a very much alive Waller emerges, still holding her finger on the kill button connected to the implants in their necks. Relunctantly, each returns to their cells, though not without special requests. Deadshot is allowed supervised visitations with his daughter. Harley Quinn, enjoying her new espresso machine, is broken out of prison by the Joker.

Like Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad is a deeply flawed superhero film. The flaws begin almost immediately, as the audience is besieged by a soundtrack that can best be described as an amateur mixtape. Nearly the entirety of the first 45 minutes plays out like an elongated series of mini-music videos. Spread out, this wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s no chance for anyone to take a breath. Every character introduction requires another song.

Let’s talk about the characters in this movie. Of the main cast, only a handful has what one would call development. Viola Davis and Will Smith are both reliably good. Joel Kinnaman plays the conflicted hero role well enough. Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo is a decent tragic figure. On the other hand, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach and Karen Fukuhara are disposable as Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Slipknot and Katana.

Hands down, this movie belongs to Margot Robbie and her definitive performance as Harley Quinn. Robbie’s Harley is equal parts sexy, funny, and batshit crazy. More Harley is wanted, and more Harley is what we’ll get in both Gotham City Sirens and a Suicide Squad sequel. What I’m hoping to see as little as possible of in the future is Jared Leto’s Joker. Less psychopathic and more just plain weird, Leto’s performance takes up maybe seven minutes of actual screen time here. More footage was left out of the Theatrical Cut (I assume some is reinserted into the Extended Cut). Despite the insistence of Jared Leto and director David Ayer, I can’t imagine any more of this person masquerading as the Joker doing anything but harm the movie even further.

The plot itself is copied and pasted from other capers, superhero flicks and comedies, with a villain that is far too weak to be an ancient immortal god/witch. Fault in the Enchantress’s threat level may lie simply in the casting of supermodel-turned-actress Cara Delevigne. A flaw like this might have been overlooked had the Suicide Squad itself not been short on character development. Ultimately, Suicide Squad represents a step up from the mostly disastrous superhero films of a generation ago, but stands as below average in the same genre of today.

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Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

As a comics reader, I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan. The same is true of the movies… for the most part. There have been exceptions to that rule, of course, notably with DC’s adaptations of Alan Moore classics V for Vendetta and Watchmen. The big-screen escapades of DC’s two most popular characters, Batman and Superman, have also piqued my interest on occasion. Of the two, Batman, being a man who has no superpowers to fall back on, is infinitely more relatable than the Last Son of Krypton.  So, of course, when it comes to a showdown between the two, I would always choose the side of the Caped Crusader. Not to mention the fact that I can count seeing Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman at the age of 7 as the event which changed me from a casual viewer to full-blown fan of movies. From 1978 to the present day, each hero’s cinematic ride has experienced the highest of highs, and (extremely) lowest of lows. 2016’s Batman v. Superman falls into neither category.

After a brief opening credits sequence which features what feels like the millionth depiction of the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne (played by “The Walking Dead” co-stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan), the action moves to the climactic battle sequence from the end of 2013’s Man of Steel, where Superman (Henry Cavill) winds up causing more destruction in Metropolis than he is able to prevent in battling General Zod (Michael Shannon). Only, this time, we witness the battle from the perspective of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

One cannot watch this sequence without automatically thinking of 9/11, and that’s what makes this the most effective part of the movie. It also helps to establish a motive for Bruce Wayne/Batman to see Superman not as a guardian of Earth, but as a threat against it. Bruce, who has been at this superhero gig for a while now, is using a much more harshly defined sense of justice these days, which provides Clark Kent/Superman with reason to voice his opinion on the matter via Daily Planet articles.

Unlike the Superman of the 1980s, who somehow was able to convince the leaders of the world to allow him to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons, this version of Superman has a hard time assuring the U.S. government that he has our best interests at heart. He is even compelled to appear before a Senate committee hearing on the subject. Unfortunately, the hearing is interrupted by a suicide bomb, which kills everyone in attendance, including Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter). Everyone, that is, except for Superman. As it happens, this event, along with the seeds of doubt pitting Batman and Superman on opposing sides, have all been orchestrated by the unhinged head of LexCorp, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg).

Behind the scenes, Luthor has been very busy, collecting a Kryptonite sample, acquiring both Zod’s corpse and his spaceship, and also investigating the existence of metahumans. Bruce Wayne acquires both the Kryptonite and the info on meta-humans, the former to be used as a deterrent against Superman. The latter reveals to him four individuals with extraordinary gifts: the super-speedy Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), the underwater-dwelling Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the part man, part machine Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), as well as Amazonian Princess and daughter of Zeus, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Bruce is already familiar with Diana, having bumped into her at a party at LexCorp. He only needs the one meeting to be able to sense that there is more to her than most men would notice.

Diana is also interested in the meta-human file, though only for a specific photo which she claims belongs to her. Bruce shares the file via e-mail, noting that this grainy black & white image from a century ago is not merely her possession, but is in fact a record of her involvement in the events of World War I. I reserve any further commentary on the matter, as the movie does, for 2017’s Wonder Woman.

The film’s promised fight finally gets underway thanks to Lex’s maneuverings, the final piece of which is the kidnapping of Martha Kent (Diane Lane), which will ensure that Superman fights Batman at Lex’s bidding, lest Martha meet a fiery end. So the two heroes fight, with Batman using Kryptonite as a means to level the playing field. Eventually, Batman gains the upper hand, but is startled by the notion that Superman’s adoptive mother and his own dead mother share the same first name. For most who have seen this movie, this scene is one of the most heavily scrutinized. It’s the jarring transition from beating the hell out of each other to suddenly being best buds which earns that criticism.

So, Batman volunteers to save Martha while Superman goes to confront Luthor. Unable to accept defeat, Luthor unveils his Plan B: the Kryptonian abomination known as Doomsday. It takes the combined efforts of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman to provide adequate defense against the monster, but only Kryptonite can kill it, and the only fragment left was used by Batman to form a spear. It falls to Superman to find and use the spear, but because of his own weakness to the shiny green rock it leaves him just as vulnerable, and thus Superman and Doomsday simultaneously kill one another.

An epilogue, which is mainly a teaser for the forthcoming Justice League movie, shows Batman confronting a deranged Luthor in prison, who warns of the imminent arrival of supervillain Steppenwolf (whose actual name is never mentioned), leaving Bruce Wayne with the sense that, soon, the meta-humans will be compelled to answer the call to battle. Meanwhile, a funeral is held for Superman, who is recognized in death as the hero he was never fully appreciated as in life. But there are indications that he may not be totally dead just yet…

Batman v. Superman is a fundamentally flawed movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Batman and Superman’s movies (except for 2008’s The Dark Knight). It gives us a terrific Bruce Wayne/Batman (not to mention a decent Alfred as performed by Jeremy Irons), and a not-so-great Superman. The battle scenes are great, but character behavior/motivation is a problem. Particularly depressing is the portrayal of Superman not as the ray of hope he’s been known as through the majority of his existence since 1938, but as a dark, brooding character. That’s supposed to be Batman’s territory! The whole point is for them to have two wildly contrasting outlooks on the world and life in general.

So desperate was DC to compete with Marvel Studios that it got a little too greedy. It’s never a good idea to cross pollinate two completely different comic storylines into one movie. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand did the same thing. So did 2007’s Spider-Man 3. All it does is undermine both arcs. If you’re gonna throw in “The Death of Superman” right after his first meeting with Batman, that’s fine. A little weird, but okay. What you shouldn’t do is pass off their chronologically final confrontation from the comics (“The Dark Knight Returns”) as their first in this movie. It’s rather jarring.

This movie is neither fantastic, nor fantastically awful, although it is clear that this wasn’t the best way to introduce the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe). One thing that Batman v. Superman got fantastically right is its portrayal of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Even her theme music is badass! The scene-stealing Gal Gadot’s performance is spot-on; so much so that, by herself, Wonder Woman gave hope that her own adventure might just give DC the boost it needed after this misstep. But that, as I said, is a subject best left for another film review.