Sunday, 7 August 2016

A Review Of Suicide Squad (2016), With Some Spoilers

 Image Copyright Warner Bros. Used under fair use provisions.

In the weeks leading up to its release, Suicide Squad was looking to be a repeat of Bats v Supes. There were repeated reports of trouble behind the scenes, reshoots and reedits, as the trailers went from dour to paint factory explosion. People involved started talking against film reviewers, such as Cara Delevingne whom said not to listen to critics, they don't like superhero films. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 26% at time of writing(1). Some frankly insane fans started a petition to close that website, based mainly on that, before the film was even out. And all the while, the film was trending for a record breaking opening weekend and a sharp drop off. This is all despite an honestly interesting idea, and it being a genre first. Its the dirty dozen, but with super villains. Its DC's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. But is it any good?


Suicide Squad has quite blatantly been tampered with during production, not enough to ruin the experience, but they probably should have left it alone. Its a cake they took out the oven too soon, only for the cook to cut bits off, shove it back in, and cover it all in day-glo icing. There's still enough sugar sprinkles and chocolate chips to salvage the mess, but its not a top tier product. Suicide Squad is not as funny or as colourful as the trailers make it look. You've probably seen all the good jokes already, and I suspect the bad ones to be from the reshoots. Tone is inconsistent, never feeling quite natural, and frequently punctuated with popular pop music. The positives, such as they are, suggest a darker and more elegant Director's Cut. They've basically put LEDs and chrome rims on a hearse with this film, and then painted it pink. Key scenes seem to be missing, replaced with clunky exposition, while character motivations are a mess. Its a hard movie to make an emotional connection with, good or bad, and is therefore unsatisfying. Be it the studio, the editor, or the director, Suicide Squad shares so many flaws with Batman V Superman I don't blame anyone whom was bitterly disappointed by this film.

On a more specific level, I can't work out why Harley Quinn, and by extension The Joker, are in this film. I mean, obviously, they are there to draw in fans, but narratively it makes no sense. Harley is just a mortal woman with a baseball bat and a mental illness in this world, and yet she's on a team with a professional assassin, a man whom controls fire, and a sorceress. There's nothing she does the other squaddies don't do, and is an absolute liability at all times, so there's no narrative reason for her to be there(2). If this film had been about an attempt to capture The Joker or similar, then, yeah, she'd be on the team, but this isn't what the plot is. I'd also like to make the surprising, and somewhat worrying, complaint that they seem to have romanticised the relationship between the two. Something that was explicit in the cartoons that created her was that Harley was in an abusive relationship, her affection being largely one-sided and taken advantage of frequently. She is a battered wife, and therefore both sympathetic and somewhat blameless for her part in The Joker's horrific crimes. In this film, their relationship is much more even, and she ends up being much less likeable as a result. And to be honest, the scenes with both could have been excised from the film with little effect. This film is so fundamentally confused about its own existence, that Harley, or for that matter, everyone, lacks a coherent arc. The inevitable world building scenes are also a problem, Batman showing the same disregard for his secret identity as he does in the Justice League trailer.

Does Suicide Squad get anything right? Well, while its clearly not the single vision it should be, the film does end up being the better of DC's films this year, not that this is strictly saying much. Having little prior investment in a majority of the cast, I was less immediately hostile to their depictions than Zack Synder's wrong-headed approach to Superman. I also found Jared Leto's Joker to be less immediately irritating than initial reports suggested. Certain characters, like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Will Smith as Will Smith(3) honestly do shine. Margot Robbie is a star in the making. And throughout, there's the sense that there was a better movie in there, somewhere. Its a confused film, but unlike Synder's work, its more interesting than aggressively stupid.

The Verdict
Suicide Squad is not overtly terrible, but its close. Its also a fair distance from being good. There are many basic story telling flaws present, and while the film is interesting enough to distract from this, its not something that's going to do well in repeat viewing. If you are a diehard DC fan, you'll find something to like, but don't be daft and start criticising the critics. Its good for one watch, and maybe a Director's Cut. But it ain't Guardians of the Galaxy.

Foot notes
  1. Which means 26% of reviewers gave it a positive review, BTW. Not that it scored 26 out of 100.
  2. You can make similar arguments about Captain Boomerang, but he's an original member of the team from the comics, and a world-class bank robber. He's got as much reason to be there as anyone.
  3. Not a typo.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Opinion Piece: My Opinions Of The Batman. Again.

Right, I said I'd do some effing opinion pieces, didn't I? Well, I struggled a bit, given my new business demanding a lot of my time, and disqualifying some 90% of my ideas on grounds of potential bias. But sometimes, you get that spark of inspiration, and the need to do something else with your brain. So, here's a ramble about why I think Batman really needs to take a back-seat in Warner Bros attempt to make a cinematic universe, and will hopefully finally express my mixed feelings on the character.

Image Copyright Warner Brothers etc.

The thing about Batman at this point is that he's undemanding in terms of SFX, and you've got a bounty of material to draw on. He's easy. While Bats does fight alien ghosts of a Tuesday, he's basically on the level of James Bond. He's a gadget guy, prefers not to be shot, doesn't use guns because of his origins, and most of his foes are of that nature. He's a rich dude whom trains his mind and body like a champion. Depicting him in live action is only as difficult as you want it to be, whereas characters with actual Super Powers, especially the weird looking ones, only really became possible with CG(1). Narratively, he's also easy to get behind, being the archetypical grim and gritty superhero. Even before Frank Miller and Alan Moore took a swing at him, Batman was a guy whose parents were murdered in front of him as a child, and overcame unimaginable loss to start a quest to end crime, but decides not to take human life for fearing of becoming what he hates. He's just enough of an everyman to be easily empathised with, flexible with tone, and the psychological aspects are endlessly fascinating. Furthermore, the character has arguably the best selection of colourful villains, many being evil counterparts or reflections of Batman's personality. Its the best possible material to adapt. It resulted in arguably the greatest cartoon series of the 90's. The most memorable TV series of the 60's. Some spectacular video games. And two genre defining films by Chrisopher Nolan. If you've ever been anywhere near the Superhero genre, you know this, I do not have to explain further. This foundation is so strong that people say Ben Affleck is the best bit of Batman V Superman, despite the myriad flaws and troubling characterisation associated with that film.

Like the guns and vehicular homicide, but more on that shortly.

Batman however has some problems, ones which mark the DC universe and the expectations of viewers. The simple truth is that not all characters are Batman. Especially the grimdark version Frank Miller codified, and a large subset of comics fans tend to hold in high regard. Not every superhero works the same way, or operates in the same context, but yet WB and many others treat the character as the gold standard of the genre when it comes to live action adaptations. This is kinda daft. you get a homogenisation of the genre, where a bunch of wannabees end up imitating the wrong things. See the comic book industry in the 90's, or what happened to anime after Neon Genesis Evangelion came out.

Its for this reason why Arrow isn't called Green Arrow. Why Man of Steel was essentially Superman Begins, via Zack Synder. Why Bats V Supes took its inspiration from the Dark Knight Returns. And why we have a TV series that's basically about Batman before he was famous, even though there's no obvious narrative there, and it presents all the problems of a prequel. This is also why, I think, the Marvel films get stick for their lighter tone and lack of memorable villains. Yes, the latter complaint is reasonable(2), but the first bit isn't. Marvel has shown another way of doing things, where antagonists are obstacles to be defeated, not more important than the lead characters. There is an ingrained mindset that these things should be serious, one that is slowly breaking down, but not fast enough to avoid hobbling the new DC film series out of the gate. Warner Bros in recent years has only really managed to produce Batman films, or films that fit into a similar Venn Diagram. They haven't been able to do Superheroes that don't fit that template, and even then, the Batman movies are patchy. They've basically got it into their heads that the dark and gritty is the only way to go, something a lot of fans encouraged, its difficult for them to change tracks now(3). It will be interesting to see how Suicide Squad works out, with the rumours of comedic re-shoots and increasingly technicolour advertising. But, then again, Bats is in that too.

I thought there was a “no jokes" policy.

Then there's the whole “unfortunate implications” business. Going by recent films alone, it would be easy to view Batman as a mentally unbalanced billionaire whom uses his money to beat up the under-privileged, as opposed to spending on Police and Social Programs. A violent power fantasy bordering on Fascistic, excused by a childhood tragedy. The character's origins as detective whom eschews guns on principle, gets lost in translation. This is what happens when you repeatedly invoke “darkness” and “realism” on a character whom dresses like a rodent to fight a murder clown. You can only push it so far before the whole edifice comes crashing down. Yes, this is a train of thought that utterly defeats the point of the guy, and can be contradicted by citing specific comics and scenes, but its an argument that can be made(4). The Dark Knight, for example, is probably still in my top 5 Superhero films, but you do find a certain Right Wing circa Dubya Bush feel to events. This is a film where the hero flies into another country, does an “Extraordinary Rendition”, beats up a guy in a Police interrogation, and hacks every phone in Gotham in an attempt to find a single person, although he does step back from that. This looks more dirty than heroic, if you are of that mind. You can say I'm reading too much into it, and maybe. But then again, the Ben Affleck version is even worse, a multiple murderer whom brands criminals, humanity and reason apparently absent. He's just a lump of brutality, deciding to eliminate Superman for reasons that can only be described as hypocritical. And don't forget, the 1989 Batman was pretty killy too.

Pretty deliberate attempt at murder there.

What I'm trying to say here is we don't need another Batman film. At least not without a pretty comprehensive reworking. The realism angle has been drained dry, and the direction Synder took was unpleasant. And while I will always enjoy The Animated Series, the best thing for the character and for DC, is just put him in the background for a while.

  1. Yes, Superman did a good job in 1978ish, but that was at the upper limit of practicality and money at the time. Note how long it was between that film and Spider-Man.
  2. That said, DC cinematic villains stopped being good circa 2012. Note I said 2 Nolan films.
  3. Although, Batman: The Brave & The Bold does exist.
  4. Like how Indiana Jones was unnecessary in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Nottingham Robot Company Has a Facebook

Hi there loyal readers. My apologies for the general lack of updates. This is of course due to my new business venture, and a family matter, both of which demanding more time than I ever expect. Things probably aren't going to get better on these fronts any time soon, but I'm going to try to knock out an opinion piece or two by the end of the month.

In the meantime, The Nottingham Robot Company has a facebook page, please take a look if this interests you.


Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Review Of Deadpool(2016), On Blu-ray, Some Spoilers

Near my home

Deadpool is a movie Fox didn't want to make. It was gonna have a high rating, "R" in the American system, when Holywood logic said such things were unpopular. Furthermore, the character was intimately associated with the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, although the titualar Deadpool had been changed almost beyond recognition. The actor whom played him, Ryan Reynolds, was a comics fan, and clearly wasn't happy about it, as he spent the following years pushing for a more faithful adaptation. Things had to have taken a personal angle for him, as he starred in the similarly terrible Green Lantern. He must have felt some need to atone, reclaim his nerd pride. Eventually, test footage was leaked, with Reynolds making vague implications he did it, and the resulting cheers got it green lit. Then its budget got cut just before filming. Then it made some massive gross ticket sales. It actually. took more than Man of Steel, a Superman film. The original and most recognisable Superhero. The year isn't over yet, but at the time of writing it hovers around #3 of the American cinema rankings, with similar performance worldwide. And this is fully deserved.

Because Deadpool is, in a very specific way, the best X-Men film.

Now, I made this assertion to some friends, and it was a bit controversial. There are good X-Men films, although the ratio of good to bad is not a favourable one. The films certainly deserve credit for addressing prejudice and oppression, and this film is closer to top tier episode of Family Guy(1) than social commentary. Deadpool however succeeds in completely and utterly capturing the spirit and tone of the source material, juvenile as it is. The other X-Men films, especially the Brian Singer ones, tend to feel a step removed and samey, standard Hollywood. Be it superficial stuff like costumes, or bigger stuff like the Sentinels, the X-Men films have never quite embraced the quirks of the comics. This film does does. In fact its probably the most effective Marvel adaptation which Kevin Feige didn't have a hand in. Deadpool is, as near as it makes no difference, the comic book version. He's a hideous mercenary specialising in endless chatter and inventive obscenities. He's a fighter, whose resistance to injury allows for slapstick violence that would make the late great Rik Mayall proud. And he knows you are watching, that this film breaks the X-Men format, and the actor playing him has a few troubled productions on his IMDB page. They famously CG his mask to give it facial expressions. This personality shines like a beacon, and played into the masterful marketing for this film, a majority of which is happily on the disk. But does that make it an actually good film? Let's watch the uncensored trailer again.

Here be swears, BTW.

If any of that made you laugh, you will like the film. Its very good at what it does, and no, those aren't all the good jokes. The film is consistently funny, often taking a scattergun approach, and quite happy shift comedic tones in an instant. As a character, Deadpool as the potential to be as irritating to us as he is to the supporting cast, but much has been done to balance him out. For a start, as this basically is an origin story, we spend a lot of time with the pre-pool-less-violent-but-still-chatty Wade Wilson and his lovely love interest Vannessa, played by Firefly actress Morena Baccarin(2). The chemistry between the two is fantastic, as she isn't the serious girlfriend, she's almost as daft as he is. Both have a lot of pain in their lives, and basically the same sense of humour. And she does not take her eventual role as damsel lying down, so a thumbs up there. The other characters vary between functional and good. I do like Colossus as the straight-man Vanessa isn't, and as a thematic contrast to Deadpool. TJ Miller's performance as Weasel should be completely superfluous, he's a comic relief character in a film where the lead character tells more jokes in one scene than Jack Synder's entire career, but makes an impression with a few very memorable lines. Negasonic Teenage Warhead has a very cool name, and a pleasing antipathy to Deadpool. The villains of the piece, “Ajax” and Angel Dust, aren't quite as memorable, if competent in their roles, and this leads to possibly the film's main problem.

In my place of work....

When you get right down to it, Deadpool the film isn't too dissimilar to the X-Men and 2000's superhero flicks it periodically mocks. Action scenes are relatively few, take place in some fairly generic locales, and are perhaps pedestrian when compared to some of the stuff we've had this year. Its an origin story mixed with a revenge story, and is fairly conventional when viewed that way. Its doesn't really reach for anything difficult, its more about being funny instead. Yes, the film plays cancer and the resultant human experimentation scenes pretty serious, but its not really what the film is about. You don't necessarily notice this as an issue because A) it is very funny, B) that really should be enough, and C) the film jumps around its timeline. It makes the film seem slightly cleverer than it actually is, and I would say suffers slightly in repeat viewings through this. That, and the jokes getting old, of course.

The Verdict
You need to have the right sense of humour to enjoy Deadpool, but its seems there's no shortage of it lately. Fans of the character can rejoice in that they got it right. Fans of superhero films will have a good time. People whom think that superheroes need a little bit of ego deflation will probably enjoy it, although its not a satire of the genre. People whom feel superheroes should be serious need not apply, however. Not a perfect film, and maybe we won't remember it in 18 months. The best superhero comedy remains Kick-Ass, and its not quite a match for Guardians of the Galaxy, but Deadpool is just what we all needed.

Foot notes
  1. A.K.A an actually funny one. Possibly involving the Chicken.
  2. There is similarity in the two roles, but I'd say she was enjoying this role a bit more.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

It Been A Bad Week For News

I don't really have anything useful to add to the discussion, so here's Adam Hill.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Belated Review Of X-Men: Apocalypse, With Many Spoilers

I'm by no means the first to point this out, but the 16 year old X-Men saga is a bit weird. I mean, some of its good, some of its terrible. Its technically Marvel, but its not proper Marvel. Some of its really important to the genre, but also a lot has been made obsolete by the MCU and Christopher Nolan. There's some good drama and big issues, but the drama can often misfire, its often reliant on Magneto being the villain in some way, and the adaptations aren't always that close. Multiple mutants get crammed in, often only because of their powers, with their personalities and back stories ignored. Comic accuracy is not something they really do, but they've been getting better lately. And there's this kind of period drama, nostalgia for its own early instalments, type thing going on. Before it was near future sci-fi, now its more alternate history via continuity ruining time travel and soft reboots. Its probably best described as mediocre, and contract driven. Fox has to keep making these periodically, lest the rights default to their original owner, a competitor, and the X-Men are popular enough to keep the films profitable. Merit isn't a factor in the process any more. That said, Days Of Future Past worked better than it should have, and Deadpool is a highlight of 2016(1). Where does Apocalypse sit? Well, its a film in the mediocre category. There's a few strengths, some really head-scratching problems, but a lot of it just ends up being so dull my reaction is of apathy. At least until I started writing this.

To demonstrate my point, let me describe Magneto's big scene in this film. He's married and has had a daughter in the otherwise inexplicable decade since the last film. He's in hiding, but happy. We know what happens next. The creative types behind this film aren't gonna let him be happy. Even with the timeline being thoroughly messed up, Magneto, AKA Erik Lehnsherr, has to be the mutant terrorist. So, these characters are going to be sacrificed in the name of drama. So, Magneto accidentally reveals himself at the steel mill where he works, saving a man's life via magnetism. Why Magneto chose to work at a place where he could so easily use his powers by accident is unclear, maybe he wanted weapons to hand, but it was the noble thing to do. The Police come for him, and show enough genre awareness to leave the metal things at home, and he agrees to go quietly. Unfortunately, his daughter manifests her own mutant powers, and in the confusion, daughter and wife die. Fassbender acts his arse off, completely selling the anguish of a man whom has seen those he cares about murdered in front of him once again. He then slaughters the policemen with the only metal nearby, the locket containing a picture of his parents. It almost works, the scene, but then two realisations hit. The first is that you scarcely remember anything about Magneto's family, not even their names in my case. The second thing is that, somehow, a metal-free arrow fired by accident from a short bow killed two people. Instantly, with hardly a sound or blood.

Not to trivialise the death of a mother and child, but that's a Hawkeye/Arrow level of skill there.

And this is it right, pretty much the whole damn movie. I should care for the characters, or I should be angry they messed it up, but I don't. Its got some heavy weight stuff, or something potentially awesome, but then something happens to negate the effect, and its really noticeable in the second half. To continue on with Magneto, there's a scene where Apocalypse tries to recruit him. The pitch? To take him to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp of reality, and the place where Magneto's parents died. Horrific stuff, which needs handling with care. Here Apocalypse seeks to convince the grieving mutant of the need to wipe the world clean, encouraging Magneto to rip the foundations out, while boosting his abilities. Throughout all this, all of it, the Horsemen loiter in their costumes like lost LARPers, and Psylocke in particular probably showing far too much skin for the occasion(2). The contrast between the characters, in their silly clothes, and what the scene is about is too sharp. Apocalypse himself has been ice for millennia, he's got a good excuse for any social faux pas, but his horsemen should know better. Were black cloaks not available? Did they not mention it to him? Did nobody think of this? Its a little tone deaf, isn't it?

Tone deaf isn't a bad way to describe the flaws here, especially when logic in general starts to fail. There's a scene where Professor X touches Apocalypse's mind and gets "hacked", Apocalypse using the link to launch every nuclear missile from its silo. Its an honestly tense moment, this dude is called Apocalypse, and he seems to have lived up to his name a whole act early. But then you realise not only is he firing them into space, completely against his objective, and they choose this point to do the Stan Lee cameo. Apocalypse instead uses Magneto to rip the metal from all the world, an act less radioactive, but no less destructive given that most of it came out of buildings. Erik easily killed millions, possibly hundreds of millions. Does anyone discuss this? No. His punishment? Nothing. He comes to his senses, fights Apocalypse, and gets credited as the hero of the hour. Insert your own comparison to Civil War and/or Batman V Superman here. I see what they are aiming for, but in ignoring these consequences, any deeper meaning of the film is diminished.

Also, given the plot of the last film, shouldn't the Sentinel Program be approved after all this? I mean, the world's nuclear arsenal got fired into space. Just a thought.

The film also suffers from the "Wolverine Detour", a chunk of the film that adds nothing to the plot bar fan service and a plot hole. Basically, the protagonists get captured by Colonel/Major Stryker, whom has been experimenting on Wolverine. They let Logan out, he kills a bunch of people, runs into the woods, and then the plot continues. This could have been excised completely from the film, and you would have lost nothing. In fact, it actually makes the post-credit scene less interesting as it spoils the surprise. Yes, you could argue Spider-Man was unnecessary in Civil War, but at least he didn't bring a continuity error. You see, Stryker didn't take Wolverine at the end of the last film, Mystique disguised as Stryker did. So what happened there? Wasn't it implied she had plans for him? Is this not a mistake? Mystique in this film seems to be written to reflect Jennifer Lawrence's role as Katniss from the Hunger Games and an Oscar winner. She's intended to be inspirational and heroic, but not the manipulator and assassin she should be. Her part in things could have been easily filled by any other character, and she's hardly ever blue, seemingly forgetting her mutant pride. Of course, having her be involved with the highly unethical Weapon X program would have greatly undermined her position as a Che Guevara, so I assume some form of studio politics and/or basic incompetence at play. Clearly, they hoped this would go unnoticed, or hand-waved it as being a decade later, but we know why the scene is here. Its to add to ticket sales by added Logan to the mix, not because the story needs it.

The young X-Men? Erm, OK, I guess. They do pass muster as teenage versions of those characters depicted in the first two Singer films. If you consider those depictions to good ones, this is a plus, but the film is a bit bloated, and not all characters really get due screentime or have a memorable moment. We also have to ask if their inclusion has more to do with nostalgia and a vague attempt to maintain continuity, rather than them having something notably important to do? Cyclops comes off well, but Jean Grey is back to set up the Dark Phoenix Saga again. I seriously hope that this is not the case, and that this is just another example of misused plot elements form the comics, because the films are samey enough without them trying to remake their worst instalment. Either go to space, or go back to the drawing board. Apocalypse himself? Nothing to him, but you'll excuse me if I bring this to a close.....

The Verdict

I should be listing some positives here, I know, but I' don't remember many. At best, its acceptable. At worst its kind of dumb, and borderline offensive if you like the actual X-Men comics. But mostly, its just there. Its not even bad enough for too hate. Seriously folks, its barely worth seeing once, let alone twice. Go watch the 90's cartoon again, I'm sure it on Netflix or similar.

Images copyright of Fox, used under fair use provisions.

Foot notes
  1. A review of that follows shortly.
  2. Aside from being hired muscle, all Psylocke really does is walk around in comic accurate fetish outfit. A missed opportunity.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

NEWS: Introducing My New Project: The Nottingham Robot Company

Right, lets talk about this side project I was talking about. Its taken a while, as I slowly crawl to my objective, but the first step has been made. I now sell toys on the internet. My hobby is now an attempt at a profession.

Now, lets answer some questions.

What do you sell?
Transformers. As you might expect. Maybe other stuff by the time you read this. Or less.

Where do you sell these toys?
On eBay, see here.

You don't seem to have much, do you?
First off, thanks for looking. Second: hey, baby steps. Baby steps. Got a lot on order.

Are you going beyond being an eBay trader?
That's the plan. Just now, I'm doing what I can between shifts, so its taking time.

What does this mean for this blog?
In the short term? A hiatus. I started this blog to fill free time, and despite my early optimism, I have less of that. This is on top of the family matter, too.

So, after the hiatus?
If I sell Transformers, I feel I can't really review Transformers any more. The potential for bias, or accusations thereof, is not something I want. So, I'm going to rework the blog away from such things into more general discussions.

What happens to the existing reviews?
The internet forgets nothing, so as they are up, they stay up. I stand by my previous work though.

When will you post here again?
I'm not doing a regular schedule, but maybe in a month, all being well.

Thanks to all my readers, hope to see you all back with a new format soon.