Generally, I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts on various entertainment-related topics, review films, etc. But once in a while I remember something I just want to gush about, and this is one of those.
I didn’t hop on the Cowboy Bebop hype train back when it was on Toonami during my high school years, though I was aware of the name from pop culture osmosis and ads on TV. My first actual exposure to the franchise came some time after, and it wasn’t of any of the original show. Instead, a close friend and I went out to the local Blockbuster (remember those?) and grabbed a few anime titles (like Appleseedand Ghost in the Shell) to binge on. One of those was the Cowboy Bebop movie, originally known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in Japan.
I had zero knowledge of the series, its characters, or the story going in. Yet within five minutes, I had learned everything I needed to know about the main characters and the overall premise, thanks to an often-used but overlooked technique – the cold open.
The cold open, also prominently known as a “teaser,” is commonly defined as a short (usually one to five minutes in length) “mini-act” that usually takes place before the opening credits of a TV series or movie. Saturday Night Live and the James Bond films are both franchises that are famous for their cold opens. While a cold open, especially in television, is often used to set up the overall plot, it can also be only tangentially connected or even entirely unrelated to the main story. These kinds of cold opens can depict a “day in the life” of the series characters, but the purpose remains the same – introducing a new audience to the main players and the antics these characters often engage in.
The cold open for the Cowboy Bebop movie, depicting the two main characters (the series follows four characters, but Spike and Jet are the only two who are present throughout the whole show so we’ll consider them ‘main’ characters for this example) taking care of a routine job. Given that said job is bounty hunting, the cold open depicts an exciting sequence as they interrupt a convenience store robbery that culminates in a tense stand-off. Despite the minimal time available, we answer important questions such as:
Who are these characters?
What is this series about?
What do they do?
What are their personalities?
The sequence has no connection to the main plot of the film, but is followed up on in a conversation between Spike and Jet that ties the events of the cold open with the rest of the movie.
It’s been said by no shortage of screenwriting gurus that the first 10 minutes or act of a story are probably the most important, as you need to hook an audience in right away. A cold open is a simple way to do it, and Cowboy Bebop’s remains one of my personal favorites.
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 Birdemic, The 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.
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?
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.
I literally saw this movie only hours ago and the moment I left the theater I knew I was going to have to write up a post on it. If there was ever a point in Roland Emmerich’s career where he went “full Emmerich,” it’s this movie. I will be discussing plot elements that occur in the film from this point on, so if you want to experience this movie’s rocketing into absurdity completely fresh then come back after seeing it.
Now then, let’s get started!
Twenty Years Later
Before I go into the movie itself, I should address the original film that probably serves as the definitive 90s summer blockbuster. I’m not tackling the new movie with some veneer of “They ruined my childhood” or somesuch because let’s face it, the original ID4 wasn’t some sophisticated examination of humanity nor did it pretend to be (computer virus, sure). But for any younger audience-goers reading this, you have to understand something. We were still at least four years ago from another Star Wars movie, and the idea of a live-actionLord of the Rings was unthinkable. When Independence Day showed up on the scene, yeah, it was spectacle. But oh man, what a spectacle. The build-up of tension throughout the movie culminating in the simultaneous destruction of New York City, Los Angeles and Washington DC was a revolution in visual effects for its time, and if you go back and watch those sequences you’ll see it still stands up today.
Independence Day: Resurgence, before the movie even starts, suffers from being another summer blockbuster in an era of blockbusters. Every year we’ve been getting massive visual spectacles in with Marvel superheroes, Harry Potter and The Hobbit. What’s an Independence Day sequel in a world where Star Wars is now a yearly thing? Judging by the end of the movie it’s clear Fox wants this to be a big sci-fi franchise, but even if that comes to fruition it’s doubtful it would stand a chance against the Disney juggernaut.
They try to escalate past the original by ramping up the scale of destruction, but global chaos is a dime a dozen these days when X-Men: Apocalypse features landscapes being torn apart the very same summer. Hell, even Emmerich himself did it for 2012 a few years back.
Nostalgia vs New
In the movie’s defense, there’s a lot of interest world-building potential and ideas present in the film. The whole theme of repurposing alien technology and advancing humanity with it made me think a lot of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which puts a big smile on my face, and I’m always a sucker for stories featuring the old generation passing the torch on to the next one.
Unfortunately, a lot of these cool ideas are forgotten about as the movie continues to descend into madness. Many of the backstories released for the characters sound very interesting, only to be discarded or ignored in the movie proper. Will Smith is noticeably absent in a film featuring his character’s grown son (which couldn’t be helped) and Vivica A. Fox returns only to be killed off (which probably could have been helped). Remember Jeff Goldblum’s wife from the previous film? Well, you shouldn’t, she apparently died sometime between the two movies. Will Smith at least had the benefit of having his death addressed in this movie, I had to find the other one online.
The movie sets up a roster of younger stars but the focus is spread too thin to really do a whole lot with them. The triumvirate of Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher and Maika Monroe gets some development but not really explored outside of some stock relationship and rivalry. Also, is it just me or did everyone’s kid become important? Well, except the Casse family.
By the way, I just found out that Mae Whitman was the President’s daughter in the original movie. Did you know that? I didn’t, and that’s freaking cool.
One of the pilots, played by Shanghai superstar Angelababy (and given China’s growing market in Hollywood I would expect to see stars like her and Bingbing Fan in more stuff in the future), is set up as an important supporting character with her uncle being killed in the first act. However, she too is forgotten about and serves as one of the extra pilots until the movie decides to possibly hook her up with Liam’s best friend at the end. It feels like a token romance that the movie didn’t even want to do, with Travis Tope awkwardly hitting on her at the start then just skipping everything in between. Would it have made for a compelling subplot? Very unlikely, but what’s sci-fi if you don’t dare to dream?
Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train
The climax features a giant alien chasing a bus full of children.
I probably should have built that up somewhat, but I can’t help it. It has to be said and there’s a part of me that wants to delete this entire blog piece and replace it with just that sentence over and over.
The climax features a giant alien chasing a bus full of children. The alien queen survives multiple cold fusion devices going off point blank right in its face thanks to its super advanced shield that is then brought down minutes later from regular blaster fire, only to use its hive queen mind control that can apparently be broken by getting a short distance away so you can resume blasting it to death as it in no way attempts to reassert control.
Why does the alien queen leave its invincible base of operations anyway? Well, then we wouldn’t have the sequence of it chasing after a bus full of children and I am thankful that the movie opted to go in that direction. The alien queen is killed and then the movie similarly just keels over and dies, crushed beneath the weight of its own absurdity. It goes out on a sequel hook with Brent Spiner happily declaring humanity is going to lead the charge in an interstellar conflict against a galaxy-spanning empire, and before you can think “What the hell did I just watch” the movie ends.
I’m probably biased in this movie’s favor given that I have some bizarre taste (assuming I have taste to begin with) and I saw it at matinee pricing, although if you’re spending 20 bucks to see any movie these days you probably deserve to feel cheated. Is it a good movie? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s something more like The Room, Street Fighter: The Movie or Double Dragon. Trust me; throw on this movie with the right collection of friends and drinks, and you’re going to have a grander time than you’re going to get from Francis Ford Coppola.
For my first piece, I want to tackle something that’s been out for a while but I’ve had a lot of thoughts about. Since DC Comics launched its “New 52” initiative with a company-wide relaunch of continuity, WB Animation has done something similar with its animated comic-based properties. Starting with Justice League: War, they’ve been producing movies inspired by New 52 plotlines and characterization (with occasional breaks with films like Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the upcoming The Killing Joke adaptation. These movies have been serviceable for the most part, though your mileage is probably going to depend heavily on your opinion of the source material if you’re familiar with them.
My history with the teams, like many mainstream fans, goes back to the Teen Titans cartoon that aired on Cartoon Network in the mid-2000s. Through following the show’s online community, I became aware of Geoff Johns’ then-current run of the team in the comics, and I’ve been following the franchise ever since (through its ups and many, many downs).
I will be discussing some plot details, so if you want to go in clean I suggest avoid reading until after you’ve seen it.
Daddy Issues Abound!
Don’t let the title fool you- the Titans and the Justice League have exactly one fight in the film that lasts a few minutes. The conflict of the teenagers protecting their friend Raven while the adults want to take her in for security reasons is pretty much thrown out when Trigon possesses the League and they start punching each other thereon. The next fight has a freed Superman then go on to free Wonder Woman and Flash (Shazam and Green Lantern are absent from this film) and it turns into everyone against the villain like just about every “X versus Y” property ever made.
Is this a bad thing? Not really, but if you were going in expecting a drawn-out ideological or physical battle between the Titans and the League, you’re not getting it in this movie. What we do get is an animated film adaptation of “Terror of Trigon”, one of two storylines comic fans remember from the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run (the second being “The Judas Contract” and, spoiler alert, that’s going be the sequel). An adaptation of this storyline was done back in the fourth season of the 2000s Teen Titans cartoon.
What’s different this time? Well, it’s also a Damian Wayne story that carries on from the previous Batman animated films Batman and Son, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood. If you don’t know who Damian Wayne is, here’s the TL;DR version-
Bruce Wayne has a 10-year-old son via Talia Al Ghul
He’s the current Robin in both the movies and comics
He’s an insufferable, arrogant brat (whose character arc often involves him… well, being the same, but in a more likable way)
We good? Alright, moving on.
Coming off a botched operation with the League, Damian is sent to hang out with the Teen Titans to learn teamwork and friendship and all that good stuff. The team hasn’t been mentioned or shown in the movies prior except for Starfire, who has cameoed in the last two Batman films as Nightwing’s girlfriend/possible booty call/”It’s complicated.” While Damian slowly befriends the team after Blue Beetle semi-accidentally melts off half his face, it’s actually Raven he becomes closest with. The two share issues of legacy concerning evil patriarchs who want to conquer the world; real “boy meets girl” stuff.
Synergy in Motion
Many of the fans who followed this movie’s development are well aware of the story being yet another iteration of the Titans dealing with Raven’s evil demon father Trigon, something that’s been done multiple times in the comics and was done in the aforementioned 2000s cartoon. Something less well-known, contrary to the early claims made by the production crew, is that this isn’t actually the first time Damian has been depicted with the Titans in media.
Back in the tail-end of the 2003-2011 run of the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson (Batman at the time, long story) leaves Damian with the team exactly the same way as in the movie, and he gets along with them just as well (read: not very). Interestingly, the one he ends up seeing eye to eye with is Rose Wilson AKA Ravager (she’s the one on the far right in the above picture), the daughter of Deathstroke and similarly long-time Titans villain/awful father figure. Unlike the film, which has Damian stay with the team, he leaves at the end of the arc and has Tim Drake take his spot.
This film wouldn’t be the last time Damian featured with the team in media, as it turns out. Either as a result of cross-media synergy or just really bizarre timing, Damian will be returning to the team in the fall as part of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative.
Set to debut in September from the team of Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers, the issue features attempting to make himself the leader of the band of young adults… by kidnapping them one by one.
Not gonna lie, kind of intrigued.
One last note- while the other films in the new DC Animated continuity borrow heavily from storylines in the New 52 (e.g. Grant Morrison’s Batman, Geoff Johns’ Justice League origin story, Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls stuff), Justice League vs Teen Titans more closely adheres to the 2000s cartoon and Wolfman/Perez run and throws out the New 52 run of the team. Probably because the New 52 run of the team is horrible.
Just how bad is it? That’s a story for another time.