Tag: action

Unusual Suspects: Some Thoughts on SUICIDE SQUAD

 

SuicideSquad
Copyright © 2016 by Warner Bros Entertainment

So in spite of the warnings of just about every single person I know, I took the time during my vacation while my family was strewn about Mammoth Lakes to go check out Suicide Squad at the local theater.  I’ve seen tons of posts on just about every social media page urging people not to see this movie for a multitude of reasons (because just about every trivial thing is a battleground between demagogues these days) but, me being me, I decided to go waste my time for a couple hours.  Which this movie did with gusto.

Okay, that was a little harsh.  In a world where BirdemicThe Room, and The Last Airbender exist, this was by no means the worst film I’ve ever seen.  It wasn’t even really all that bad, all things considered.  But it wasn’t great.  It wasn’t really even good.  All in all, it’s a very mediocre, run of the mill summer action flick flecked with bad ideas and a bunch of cool ideas that could have been amazing had they not missed the mark.

My first exposure to the titular squad was with the 2000s Justice League Unlimited episode “Task Force X”, which featured the team (not referred to by ‘Suicide Squad’) sneaking into the League’s tower to steal a magic suit of armor.  Played as a heist flick in an animated episode and focusing almost entirely on the antagonists’ point of view, the episode still stands out as one of the series’ most unique offerings.   I then saw the return of the team in season two of Arrow (affectionately referred to by fans as the ‘Suicide Skwaaad’ thanks to Michael Rowe’s introduction of the unit) where they were set up to become a recurring element of the show, which was then hurriedly whisked away along with Amanda Waller and season three’s Katana to avoid having multiple versions of the same character for whatever reason.

Expect spoilers here on out, so if you’re dead set on seeing this movie fresh, well, you’ve been warned.

So where do we begin?  Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.

The Man Who Laughs

A long-standing tradition of the source comics translates to their adaptations in the silver screen, and that’s WB’s reluctance when it comes to characters that aren’t Batman or in some way connected to Batman.  Superman gets a pass because he’s practically a modern myth.  And yeah, I get it, Batman’s cool.  I grew up on Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated series.  Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.  Awesome stuff.  With Suicide Squad, however, there’s an opportunity to explore a number of villains and characters almost completely foreign to mainstream audiences.

So, of course, media, marketing, and fans all zeroed in on Jared Leto’s Joker.

Not really anyone’s fault, to be honest.  I mean, it’s the Joker.  Like Batman, he’s awesome.  But all the hype surrounding the character really comes to the film’s detriment as he’s only in it for about 8 minutes (and apparently had a lot of scenes cut for time).  Normally this would be fine and, in a perfect world, the character would have been kept under wraps entirely as a surprise for audiences instead of appearing on the poster and every movie trailer.  But my biggest complaint about the portrayal of the Joker isn’t in the wardrobe (that’s really more taste than anything, and my taste in fashion stands at a whopping non-existent), but that Jared Leto is trying too hard to emulate Heath Ledger as the Joker.  There are points in the film where it just sounds like he’s straight up doing an impression, even when it doesn’t fit the scene.  Since there’s zero doubt he’s going to be showing up in the next Batman (or Harley Quinn) films, I hope he tones it back in the future and tries to explore his own take, but given the cuh-ray-zee stories of Leto’s behind-the-scenes behavior, I’m not expecting too much.

SSlineup
Copyright © 2016 by Warner Bros Entertainment

Suicide Watch

OK, trying to do an introspective look at the whole roster would take a long-ass time and I really don’t care enough about this movie to do it.  Bullet time.

  • Katana has a great design and backstory, and also may as well have not been in this movie.
  • Jai Courtney is having a grand old time in the movie as Captain Boomerang, and also is woefully underused.  He carries around a stuffed unicorn that was probably supposed to serve as humor, but I’m not sure.
  • Why was Killer Croc introduced with “Fortunate Son” by CCR?
  • El Diablo had the closest thing in the film to a really compelling character arc.  Once again, underused.
  • Slipknot is only in the film to prove the neck bombs aren’t fake.  You knew it, I knew it, the movie knew it and didn’t bother to lead us to think otherwise.
  • Rick Flagg is the self-righteous drill sergeant slowly revealed to be the traditional hero, flanked by villains, out to save his love and the world.  At least, I think that’s what the movie wanted to go for.  He’s mostly just kind of… there.
  • No, seriously, “Fortunate Son?”
  • Viola Davis is fantastic in everything and this is no exception.  Not to undercut all the other actresses who have portrayed the character, but she’s one of the only ones since CCH Pounder that didn’t just portray Amada Waller but was The Wall.
  • Will Smith was noticeably missing in the Independence Day sequel so I was quite pleased to see him here.  His Wild Wild West get-up somehow found its way into the movie but it’s Will Smith so it’s OK.  Remember when he used to do songs for every movie he was in?
  • Questionable wardrobe choices aside, Margot Robbie’s great even if some of the dialogue falls on LOLquirk territory rather than genuine insanity.  Also, her accent jumps around which could have worked if it was acknowledged in the movie, but it never was so it probably wasn’t intentional.

Everyone in the team who wasn’t Deadshot and Harley Quinn is pretty much overlooked, and as with any story that sacrifices characterization for plot beats the movie suffers for it.  The movie tries to be Guardians of the Galaxy (not an unworthy goal, I loved that movie) with its cast, but makes no effort towards it and just has the characters say as much.  El Diablo faces off one of the villains, declaring the squad to be his “new family.”  A new family he’s known for maybe hours and pretty much avoided interacting with them most of the time.  But hey, he opened up to them in a bar, so… yay?

SuicideSquadflanking
Copyright © 2016 by Warner Bros Entertainment

This one’s going to probably put me at odds with some of my friends, but I’ve got to be honest: I dug Enchantress.  Not as a character, no, she was an incredibly generic villain with generic goals (hey, a plot to destroy the world, neat).  But her design ended up being way better in the actual film than I suspected from the magazine covers and set pics.  Maybe it was that creepy-as-shit hand-grab transformation scene in the meeting room, but the whole bog witch design (that she sadly ditches one act into the film and doesn’t bring back until the climax) gave this whole eldritch vibe that just worked for me, even though it ended up being very out of place in terms of the setting and plot.  It felt like the villain from Guillermo Del Toro’s planned Justice League Dark film somehow ended up in the wrong movie.  There are some visuals in the climax that are just Cara Delevingne’s silhouette against a fiery background with glowing eyes that are just really cool and threatening.  Ultimately, though, it’s not nearly enough to save the film and it stands as another missed opportunity in a film full of them.

A Missed Chance

One of the issues that really held back this movie was an attempt to present it as something it’s not.  Somewhere along the way, WB got the respective tones of Suicide Squad and their other films mixed up, leading viewers to snarkily (and accurately) point out how a gang of criminals ended up causing less wanton mayhem than Earth’s greatest heroes, despite the Squad explicitly given full license to do just that.  Despite the protests to the contrary, these days superhero films are, by sheer volume, overwhelmingly optimistic and fun.  Since Iron Man, Disney has been pumping out these kinds of family-friendly blockbusters for almost a decade, with only non-film offerings like Daredevil and Jessica Jones offering darker outlooks.

With Suicide Squad, WB had a golden opportunity to present something that the Disney/Marvel leviathan hasn’t really tackled yet in its movies.  Given that the film’s done well financially, I can’t really call it a loss in that regard and, again, I didn’t really hate the movie.

But it could have been so much more than what it was.

Naughty Looks Back – TRON: Uprising

TRONUprising
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

Back in early 2013, Cartoon Network finished the respective runs of Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series without renewing either title and effectively ending the short-lived DC Nation block before it really got rolling.  Around this time, I had heard about another series concluding after facing similar scheduling snafus and failing to gather a large enough audience- Disney’s TRON: Uprising.  Although I had seen the TRON: Legacy film that spurred Disney into trying to capitalize on the franchise before the purchase of Lucasfilm took all their attention, I had never seen or heard much about the show.  The little I did hear about the show was nothing but positive, and when I finally decided to check it out I was completely floored.

A New Frontier

Set in between the original TRON film and the 2010 sequel TRON: LegacyTRON: Uprising takes place in the digital world of the Grid as Kevin Flynn’s twisted doppelganger CLU sends his forces to occupy the outlying Argon City, home to a program named Beck.  Similar to the series Batman Beyond, the story follows Beck falling under the tutelage of the titular hero Tron as they work together to kickstart a revolution against CLU’s forces that, known to everyone who had seen Legacy, will ultimately amount to very little.  But despite the foregone conclusion, the joy is in the journey as Beck sides with and against a rich cast of characters brought to life by an all-star cast, all set against the vibrant backdrop of Alberto Mielgo’s art direction.

TRONTrinity
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

The untapped mythology of the TRON universe is taken full advantage of in this series as creators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz explore a piece of that world through the lens of Beck and his home of Argon City, a city out on the fringe of the Grid and far from the seat of CLU’s power.  While the programs aren’t human, the writers succeed greatly at making them feel as such with hopes, dreams, desires and flaws.  Even the show’s villains have a surprising amount of depth to them, particularly the conflicted Paige and the deliciously sadistic Pavel (played by the very against type Paul Reubens).  Although the show only went the one season, it proved that the world of TRON remains a huge missed opportunity for Disney.

End Of Line, Program

Although I remain a hardcore DC Comics fan and would love to see continuations of Young Justice or Green Lantern, it’s actually TRON: Uprising that in my opinion possessed the most potential in story and characters.  It would have been a treat to see where this particular story would have continued, but this show is arguably the best thing to come out of the franchise and I hope that one day Disney is willing to take a risk again, though I’m sure they’re quite comfortable with the boatloads of dosh coming in from Star Wars as their sci-fi flagship.

 

TRONCast
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

 

TRON LIVES.

Voltron: Legendary Defender

 

Voltron
Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation

Back in my childhood, when VHS stores were still a thing (before Blockbuster wiped them out), there was a local shop called “CineMagic” that my family would visit regularly and was how I initially go into Transformers.  Though I didn’t really get exposed to Japanese animation fully until the days of Toonami much later, I do remember seeing episodes of the original Voltron series the same way.  My memory of the show and characters of that time are fuzzy and I never really got into the franchise, save for remembering that five piloted lion machines would combine to form one giant human-shaped mecha, which would be familiar territory for my Power Rangers phase.

Last month, Netflix saw the premiere of Voltron: Legendary Defender on its streaming service.   A collaborative effort from DreamWorks Animation and Studio Mir under the supervision of showrunners Laura Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos and head writer Tim Hedrick, all veterans of some of the best animated shows of the 2000s, the new Voltron aims to bring the classic series to a new generation.  So how does it stack up?

Action Animation’s Return to Form

Since the ending of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, there’s been a noticeable absence of action cartoons on network and cable television.  With a slew of cancellations in 2013 resulting in the ending of shows like Green LanternYoung Justice and TRON: Uprising, it seemed that it would be a long time before tradition animated action would be making a comeback unless it had “Star Wars” in the title.

While the season is shorter than a traditionally-lengthed season for a half-hour series at about 13 episodes worth of time (a three-episode length pilot and 10 more normal length), it manages to make use of its time in effectively focusing and establishing the core cast and the world around them.  While the plot seems standard at first glance with five youths teaming up to fight a galactic evil, there’s still an air of mystery around the players, the villains and even the titular mech that makes for some excellent revelations in the finale.  Heads up; said finale ends on a heck of a cliffhanger so get ready to feel gut-punched by the credits.

VoltronCrew
Copyright © 2016 by DreamWorks Animation

Paving the Way

As much as the Voltron: Legendary Defender excited me in my time watching it, one of the really exciting things is the possibilities it opens up with its success.  One of the biggest factors that resulted in the death of action animation in the last few years comes from the way the business is structured.  With the options available in making comparatively cheap animated comedies that can bring an audience in droves versus riskier and more expensive prospects, it’s not difficult to see why many studios choose to go the route that’s a guaranteed success.  Unfortunately, this has led to a loss of some great opportunities for storytelling.

With the success of original programming on services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, animation is starting to join the fray and could lead not only to a revival in some of the aforementioned cancelled properties but also a surge in new ideas and IPs.  As a longtime animation fan, I’ve never been more excited for what the future can bring.

Form up!