Film Review | Suicide Squad (2016)

suicide squad banner david ayer poster jared leto will smith viola davis margot robbie review analysis commentary article

Normal is just a setting on a dryer.

DC and Warner Brothers are in the interesting position that Batman vs Superman is no longer the consensus worst movie of their cinematic universe. Considering quite how bad it was, and how little time has passed since Batman vs Superman, that is not an enviable position to be in.

Personally speaking, I actually didn’t think that Suicide Squad was as bad as Batman vs Superman – to be honest, I think it’s probably the best of the three DCEU movies that currently exist. Don’t mistake this for it being a good movie in its own right, mind you, because it isn’t.

I don’t know, necessarily, that there’s a great deal of value in reviewing Suicide Squad, per se; it was, broadly speaking, pretty much exactly what I expected it to be a few weeks ago. This is, after all, a movie with lines like “Normal is just a setting on a dryer”, and thinks that a pink unicorn fetish is a hilarious running joke – you can sort of tell what it’s going to be like just from that, really. Will Smith was always going to be the best part, because he’s Will Smith; we knew that Harley Quinn was going to be overly sexualised, although we could perhaps have hoped for a little more depth to the character; we knew that the majority of the squad would simply be one note background characters. It’s all in the trailers, when it comes down to it; in some ways, that’s quite ironic, given the complaints about Batman vs Superman.

Interestingly, though, that perhaps wasn’t always the case.

Recently it’s emerged that Suicide Squad had quite a difficult development period. The script was written in 6 weeks – it was basically a first draft – and towards the end of the editing phase, the studio began to get cold feet, and edited together a new version, distinct from the cut put together by David Ayer. Both were shown to test audiences, and then the final version which went to cinemas – the version you and I would have seen – was a Frankenstein-esque mishmash of both editions. The Hollywood Reporter went into a lot of detail about the whole thing, and I reckon it’s really worth a read. What’s crucial, though, is that the new version commissioned was edited together by the people who edited the trailer; that’s perhaps why, despite all conventional wisdom warning against it, the movie begins with what is essentially an extended, forty-minute version of the trailers. It’s only when the movie tries to be a film on its own terms that it began to become (somewhat) entertaining.

In fairness, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the extended trailer nature of the movie’s opening. It was exposition heavy, and they used a new generic song for every camera angle change, and also those character card exposition pieces were… well, I admire Suicide Squad for trying to be different, even if it didn’t necessarily work. We’ll be charitable and call it a “worthwhile experiment”, even if realistically it’s all stuff that should have been clamped down on in the edit.

That, I think, is the main problem with this movie. It’s incohesive and quite lacking in any central vision. Honestly, I’m reminded of what I said about Batman vs Superman – it’s just a painfully reactionary movie. Watching Suicide Squad, I can’t say I feel as though any of the creative decisions were genuinely made on their own merit; the film was clearly conceived of because of Guardians of the Galaxy (note the August release, the misfit ensemble, and the incorporation of popular music) and then influenced further by the “fun” of Deadpool, and of course still failing to replicate the darkness of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Undoubtedly, of course, there are original ideas and concepts in here, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty clear that Suicide Squad is a cynical, soulless cash grab.

But what’s also interesting, though, is the defence that the cast members have been making of the film, in the face of the critical consensus. Thankfully they weren’t deluded enough to suggest that these critics had a personal vendetta against DC movies, or that they were being bought off by Marvel, but what they came out with was pretty poor.

“We’re making this movie for the fans.”

And isn’t that interesting? I mean, it’s being presented as an admirable thing, but it’s really not. To cater to a particularly small group of people is far from wise; you have to make movies accessible for the other 100% of the audience. It is, in many ways, shutting a large portion of the audience out entirely – “it’s not for you”.

This really stunts the movie, to be honest; to appreciate a lot of the nuance (a kind word to apply to Suicide Squad, frankly, and also quite the overstatement) you need to have an existing understanding of the characters. Little of this movie is able to standalone, really – given the sheer lack of development for so many of the characters, you need to be able to fill in the gaps with your own knowledge. Take Katana; she’s introduced with little build up, and a quick accompanying flashback to contextualise who she is. But we never learn more about her than a short bit about her husband, and thus after that she’s just quite vacuous – an empty space where an emotional arc should be. (I was reminded a lot of a tweet I saw about Daredevil, which said “imagine a japanese tv show in which someone investigating a corrupt american corporation is attacked by droves of lasso-wielding cowboys” – most, if not all, of the characters in this movie were pretty base level stereotypes. You can argue that a lot of that is part of the original conception of the characters from the comics, but I think it’s difficult to argue that the movie made any effort to give these characters any particular depth in and of itself.)

To consider this anything other than a problem is, frankly, quite ignorant; you can’t treat every character like Batman and expect the audience to just know how they work and who they are. Someone like Katana, if they’re to operate as an actual character rather than a prop for action sequences, needs to have some sort of focus, and some sort of development. There was nothing, though; I don’t know if this is because they were just coasting, or if they really only did want Katana as a prop for action sequences, but either way it’s quite poor. The same is true of several of the characters; it’s ultimately the “Deadshot, Harley and Rick Flag” movie, with Amanda Waller and Diablo acting as secondary protagonists. Everyone other character was, sadly, quite flat and one dimensional.

Ultimately, it’s not a very good movie. It’s not a terrible movie; the second act is pretty good, and the opening is at least interesting, I guess. There’s a lot to dislike; there’s a few bits to like, as I mentioned earlier. Little about this film inspires much confidence, admittedly – “better than the last two” is not the sort of resounding hit that DC/WB needs. Both Wonder Woman and Justice League will need to be stellar, frankly.

And I genuinely hope they will be.

5/10

Related:

Is Batman vs Superman relevant?

Suicide Squad, Edgy Teens, and a Pink Unicorn Fetish

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Why DC is right to keep their TV and Movie Universes separate

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There have still been a few voices expressing a degree of disappointment, positing that this would have been better had the DC movies and the DC television series been unified; that the story we see on Arrow and suchlike would follow the story we see in movies such as Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, and the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. It’s a model that Marvel employs, with their Avengers movies being set in the same universe as their Netflix programmes such as Daredevil or Jessica Jones; it’s in part because of this that people would like DC to have followed the same model.

These people are, however, incorrect – DC is entirely right to keep their TV and Movie Universes separate. Allow me to explain why.

Most immediately, there’s the matter of granting the programmes (because movies would undoubtedly take precedence) a level of freedom to chart their own path. The DC movie universe has, rightly or wrongly, thus far opted for a much darker interpretation of their iconic heroes; one that’s entirely valid, of course, but one that’s also worlds away from the lighthearted, even campy, tone of programs like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow. Keeping the universes separate allows for both the movies and the television shows to have a greater level of control over their own direction and progress. Indeed, this was the same logic behind the choice when Zack Snyder committed to not using Grant Gustin’s Flash in the Justice League movie.

This article is in fact from late last week, I’m only just getting around to posting it on my personal blog now. It’s discussing the different DC universes, and why – ultimately – I’m actually rather glad that Warner Bros. decided to take the route of a multiverse rather than a shared universe. (Even if they didn’t approach it in those terms!)

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Film Trailer Thoughts | Justice League (First Look Footage)

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Alongside the Wonder Woman trailer, we’ve also got our first look at Justice League.

I’ve said – quite a lot, actually – how I’m not really a fan of the current direction that DC seems to be taking their properties in; I’ve done it to death by this point, so I shan’t spend too long on it, but in essence I’ve been less than impressed by the grimdark, cynical veneer applied to Superman, because I simply don’t recognise that interpretation as being my Superman. (To say nothing, of course, of the sheer sloppiness and general faults that are found within Batman vs Superman.)

And given the level of criticism I’ve levelled at the franchise, you’d perhaps be forgiven for mistaking it as a general disdain for DC characters. That couldn’t be further from the truth, honestly; I far prefer them to their Marvel counterparts, and I really enjoy all of the DC television offerings that are currently about. (Arrow notwithstanding, of course.) Indeed, I’m a pretty big fan of all the DC characters, but none moreso than the Justice League; the Bruce Timm cartoon series was a pretty huge factor in my resounding love for superheroes, hence a soft spot for the Justice League.

But that’s also why I’ve been so worried about this movie – there’s a personal connection, for me, and a precedent that seems to suggest it was very much going to be a movie that wasn’t for me. Which is fine, you know; other interpretations can be valid, and I don’t need everything to be tailored exactly to my idiosyncratic tastes, even if I’d quite like them to be.

Yet there’s something about this trailer, even despite all my reservations, I find extremely exciting. Tonally, it’s far more on the ball than previous installments; this film looks like it might be fun, for a change, rather than unremittingly dull and cynical. Visually, it already looks impressive, with Aquaman and the Flash being particularly notable standouts. (I imagine we saw comparatively little of Cyborg because of the level of CGI his character clearly involves.)

There’s already a great chemistry between the core cast, it seems, with a very natural interplay on display. I’m glad to see Batman and Wonder Woman working together, as friends, just like I’m used to them doing. I’m glad to see Barry and Bruce interacting so well together. And I’m glad to see that Bruce and Aquaman don’t, immediately, gel with one another; I wouldn’t want everything to be the same, after all. Primarily, then, I’m glad that this trailer seems to be putting the characters front and centre, and I dearly hope that the movie does too.

So, for now, to hell with all my doubts and my naysaying. This has got me excited, and for now, I’m just going to bask in that. The characters I love are going to have a movie together, and right now, it looks fantastic.

Finally.

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Film Trailer Thoughts | Wonder Woman (First Look Footage)

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Wow!

This landed about fifteen minutes or so ago, and I have to say, I am very impressed. I’m on record as not really being a huge fan of the previous DCEU instalments, but I was very fond of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman; she was, I’m inclined to say, one of the saving graces of Batman vs Superman. nonetheless, though, I remained tentative about this film.

But! Having seen this, I’m hugely, hugely impressed. It looks stellar. There’s a real emphasis on Diana as a character here; what’s conveyed most immediately is her sheer physicality. This trailer, I imagine, is directed at the naysayers – those few who don’t believe a woman can headline a superhero movie have, surely, changed their minds by now, no? What I appreciated most was how firmly the camera work didn’t objectify Wonder Woman here; there’s no intrusion of the male gaze or anything like that here. Just a single-minded emphasis

I’m also really glad that Wonder Woman is going to tackle the Grecian mythology aspects head on; after the ridiculous NBC Wonder Woman pilot, I was worried that perhaps certain elements of Diana’s backstory might be toned down somewhat. Thankfully, though, that’s not the case – we’ve got a direct namecheck for Zeus, and Themyscira Island looks quite beautiful. While I doubt we’ll spend a huge chunk of the movie there – I imagine it’ll be limited to Act One – I’m quite looking forward to getting a glimpse into this other culture.

So, this is what we’re getting: a Wonder Woman movie, set in World War One, with what looks to be some gorgeous cinematography and direction. It’s got Gal Gadot, who was one of the best parts of Batman vs Superman, and Chris Pine, who’s pretty damn good himself. We’re also finally getting a female superhero movie, with a female director helming the project too.

That’s pretty neat, huh?

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Suicide Squad, Edgy Teens, and a Pink Unicorn Fetish

suicide squad poster worst heroes ever jared leto will smith margot robbie viola davies joel kinnaman cara delevigne david ayer

There are some posts where you just stumble across the most fantastic title.

Anyway, so. Warner Bros’ next DC movie offering is Suicide Squad, and it’s going to be coming out at the start of August. (You can clearly see, again, the manner in which they’re trying to ape the precedent set by Marvel, after Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring a group of not quite heroes and a distinctive pop soundtrack, was released in August as well.) Having been less than impressed by both Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, Suicide Squad has always been at something of a disadvantage in terms of getting my hard earned (and I say that in the loosest sense of the term) money.

It has, however, done a pretty good job of catching my attention, if nothing else.

Certainly, the second trailer was quite fun. The Queen music fit it quite well, and the whole thing seemed like it could be quite charming. I’ve also been rather impressed at how well they’ve kept the plot hidden, actually; if you think back to the run up to Batman vs Superman, we knew large swaths of the plot already by this point. However, Suicide Squad is out in less than a month or so, and I don’t actually know what it’s about, beyond the basic premise. In and of itself, that’s quite impressive, and I think rather commendable.

(I was quite disappointed by the “everyone ogles Harley” bit, though – I thought that was quite poor, and I’m really hoping that’s not the general trend going forward. Rumours about a Birds of Prey movie headlined by Harley does seem to indicate that DC is hoping she’ll be a breakout character here; this, alongside the Wonder Woman movie, perhaps suggests that DC is really hoping to pick up a large female fanbase and differentiate themselves from Marvel by the strength of their diversity. Which is great, but if that’s what they’re doing, it has to be less male gaze-y.)

Outside of the trailers, the Suicide Squad marketing has been far less… impressive, we’ll say. It all seems to be reaching for a very “edgy teen” sort of aesthetic – that sort of “dark and random” stuff that 13-year-olds and 4chan users think is clever, but most people grow out of fairly soon. It reached its epitome, though, with this:

suicide squad captain boomerang jai courtney Pink Unicorn Fetish david ayer jared leto joker

This is from the character trailer for Captain Boomerang. There’s even a pink unicorn in the background there, as a helpful little addition. They’ve also made their way onto other bits of Captain Boomerang art, suggesting this isn’t just a one-off joke, but rather something of a theme. I desperately, desperately hope this isn’t something that makes its way into the movie, because… well, does that even really need explaining?

“He has a fetish for pink unicorns” is quite possibly the stupidest, most puerile joke you could reach for in a movie like this. Just, why? It isn’t funny in the slightest, but I can’t deal if it’s just an awful joke or an actual character trait. Dear God, I hope it’s the former.

I am worried, though, that this movie is going to just collapse in on itself in a whirlwind of “edgy” crap. On the one hand, there’s the fact that David Ayer said that the recent trailers have been a better representation of the tone of the movie than the original Comic Con teaser (which was much more reserved); I don’t know whether this extends to the posters and associated ephemera, like the above pink unicorn nonsense, but certainly there’s a level of consistency to all this marketing that suggests this is the general tone of the movie.

There’s also Jared Leto’s joker – and, while I’ve been trying to reserve judgement on the tattoos and suchlike, a lot of what he’s said about the part has me a little concerned. Of course, his own antics in the part, supposedly “method acting”, have left me somewhat disinclined to view his performance favourably. I wouldn’t be surprised if, admittedly, this was being played up in marketing the movie (interviews, press junkets, etc) to try and fit a very specific narrative – that this Suicide Squad movie is going to be kerrr-aaazzzy. (One also gets the impression that Leto is trying to “out-Joker” Ledger, given the widespread belief that Ledger died method acting as the Joker. He didn’t, obviously,  but it’s rather uncomfortable that this is what Leto is doing. This stuff also makes him a horrible person, but whatever.)

I don’t know, really. It could go either way – perhaps the movie is going to be clever and incisive, or maybe it’ll be a poor parody of childish, edgy humour. At the minute, it’s still hard to tell, but it’s also clear which one is the frontrunner.

It occurs to me I may well have just written several hundred words about why I don’t think a particular joke is very funny. Possibly to the people who do find it funny (why???) I come across as very self-entitled. But… well, I don’t want to be misconstrued, but I do really hope I’m completely wrong here. I want this movie to be good, because I love these characters, and I like to watch good movies. Of course I don’t want DC projects to fail, that’d be ridiculous.

But they don’t seem to be trying very hard not to.

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Man of Steel: How Superman killing Zod was mishandled

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So, what with Batman vs Superman having come out recently, Man of Steel has been on my mind a little bit; with the sequel movie looking to be as controversial as its predecessor, I wanted to just take a moment to analyse this scene for a second.

This particular scene is a real point of contention. Superman kills Zod, here, and obviously that caused quite the furore because Superman, typically, does not kill. (Zak Snyder and Dave Goyer both felt the need to justify this by saying that killing Zod is where Superman will get his no killing rule from, as if everyone needs to get one kill in, just to make up their minds. This is a ridiculous justification, in any case, but also irrelevant, given the first thing Superman does in Dawn of Justice is kill a man.)

Now, this scene is quite an easy one to focus on for many people, because of the whole killing Zod thing; it’s not so much that having Superman kill is the most heinous transgression that this film makes, rather that this is emblematic of a series of mistakes made by Man of Steel – namely, the fact it revels in gratuitous violence for its own sake.

Following some scenes of wanton destruction that were evidently inspired by 9/11 footage (and in pretty poor taste, obviously), leaving Metropolis little more than a smoking crater, we reach this point. And it’s staggering how wrongheaded this scene was – but also very informative about the approach taken by Man of Steel.

After Superman kills Zod, note what the camera focuses on. We don’t actually see the family at all – on first viewing, I actually assumed they’d been killed, and it was following their deaths that Superman killed Zod. (I could sort of appreciate the moment more, had that been the case; obviously I don’t want to advocate more killing in this movie, but I can understand the anguish if it’s more explicitly about Superman’s failure to save people.)

But if you pay close attention to the edge of the frame, you can see that the family did in fact live. So why isn’t this made more explicit? Why do we not get a clear shot of them?

The answer is that this scene isn’t about the family. It’s about Superman killing Zod. We’re not watching an act of murder because it’s the only thing that can be done to save some innocents.

We’re watching Superman kill Zod because Zack Snyder and Dave Goyer thought that Superman killing would be cool.

And that says a lot about what’s wrong with Man of Steel.

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Batman v Superman v Relevance

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There’s a moment in Batman vs Superman where Perry White says to Clark Kent, “Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now”, or words to that effect.

I haven’t googled it, but I’m willing to bet that 1938 was the year of the first Superman comic. That sounds right, anyway; it was the 75th Anniversary of Superman sometime within the last couple of years or so, and 1938 is a pretty specific year to namecheck. Seems like the sort of thing they’d have in this movie – another little wink to the audience, just like “No one cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman”.

Anyway.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

Struck me as interesting, that line. In context, it refers to two things – people buying newspapers, and Clark’s moral positions. The former is something bordering on a funny joke, I suppose, but the latter is far more notable.

Batman vs Superman does not think that a view of Superman as a compassionate, positive hero is relevant. Neither did Man of Steel before it, of course, and it seems that the DCEU as a whole does not consider this Superman to be relevant.

You can see that right from the beginning, of course; Lois is being held at gunpoint, and Superman comes to save her. Rather than talk this man down, Superman barrels straight into him, killing him; that’s the difference between a Superman who is motivated by compassion and a desire to help people, and a Superman who is a murderer.

The whole movie, of course, is trying to find some degree of relevance. And that’s fair, I think; when you’re adapting source material that has roots extending as far back as the 1930s, trying to answer the question as to what makes these characters relevant in the modern day is something that’s quite important.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

In broad terms, you can see that being done with the Marvel movies; X-Men has drawn on elements of LGBT experiences, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has some deliberation with regards to surveillance and personal freedom, and so on and so forth. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that all of these movies have tried to answer this question of relevance. Sometimes, they’ve just gone as far as to say “A superhero movie is entertaining”, and I think that’s enough.

But the DC movies aren’t taking that route. They’re very reactionary, in many ways; I’m not using this phrase to describe their politics, but rather the manner in which they have been constructed. Everything about these movies is a response to what has gone before, in a desperate attempt to differentiate themselves from their main competitors.

Sometimes it works. Both Alfred and Lex Luthor are amongst the more interesting characters, by virtue of the fact that we haven’t quite seen them like this before. Alfred now takes a more active role alongside the Batman; an engineer, a pilot, a partner. Lex Luthor, rather than the more reserved and manipulative adversary we’re used to, is a jumpy and neurotic young man. It’s an understandable decision, I suppose, in a movie that’s so desperate to be relevant – jumpy, neurotic young men do seem to be the stereotype for the rich tech moguls these days. (Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg.)

For the most part, though, this does not work. An attempt to be “deep” or “intelligent” results in hackneyed dream sequences, so lacking in relevance to anything that all they really do is waste time. An attempt to set up future movies without resorting to an end credits scene results in a painfully lazy segment where Batman and Wonder Woman email each other YouTube clips from the upcoming movies.

Worse still, of course, is where we end up in terms of the very tone of the movie – and that brings us right back to Perry White earlier.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

In their attempts to reject the precedent set by their competitors, DC has managed to entirely miss just what it is that makes the Marvel movies successful. It isn’t the fact that they engage with the cheesier comic book elements. It isn’t the quips, and it isn’t the bright colours.

It’s the fact that they have heart, and that they have a vision. There’s a coherence to those movies that’s missing from Batman vs Superman; Kevin Feige understands what he is doing far moreso than Zak Snyder does.

Please, though, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying – the Marvel movies aren’t perfect. The Thor movies are a little dull, Guardians of the Galaxy has a weak antagonist, and sometimes set up for future movies overrides the needs of the current movies. When it comes down to it, I actually prefer the DC characters over the Marvel ones, any day of the week. I wouldn’t be invoking this comparison if Snyder and co weren’t so fixated on it themselves.

In a recent interview – one of the many he’s giving, trying to defend his decisions – Zak Snyder says he didn’t appreciate the fact that people got angry at him for “trying to grow up their character”. He refers, of course, to his choice to depict Superman as an unrepentant mass murderer. When Perry White dismisses the relevance of Clark’s moral positions, this is Zak Snyder dismissing the relevance of such questions in the movie as a whole.

That’s why, in Batman vs Superman, the scene that should have held an exploration of ideologies ends in an explosion. Rather than Superman explaining his position – rather than a debate – we just blow it all up. Rather than anything that might resemble a character moment, we get more and more CGI flames enveloping the scene, and Henry Cavill doing his best angsty face.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

When trying to find something relevant – something new, something different – Snyder decided to be “mature”. Snyder decided to be “realistic”. I use the quote marks mockingly, of course, because it’s ridiculous. There was nothing of the sort in Batman vs Superman; what we got was something that revelled in darkness for the sake of darkness.

Superman murders people, because that’s what a powerful God would do if he were real. Batman murders people, because that’s what a billionaire vigilante would if he were real. Wonder Woman gets an upskirt shot, because objectification is what women would get if they were real. (Oh, hang on…)

Laughably, of course, the film had to begin by retconning the end of Man of Steel to minimise the damage done by Superman and Zod last time; rather than levelling the city, it was more like a 9/11 type event. Of course, it’s swiftly forgotten – for all their talk of addressing the end of the last movie, for all the talk of “consequences”, that’s not what Batman vs Superman is interested in. All this film cares about is getting us to another sloppy CGI fight scene, where matte model after matte model can be reduced to virtual rubble, constantly mistaking the scale of the fight for the level of our investment.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

Batman vs Superman does not know what it is doing. In a desperate grasp at relevance, there was nothing to be found.

This is a film that wants to be adult. It is a film that wants to be mature.

It is not.

This is a film that thinks cynicism and darkness is mature. It thinks that wallowing in destruction is clever.

It is not.

This is a film that, really, has no idea what it’s doing – no idea how to be relevant. It believes that if you take things, make them “grimdark”, and throw them at the wall, something is going to stick.

It is not.

And so what we got was a mess, because Batman vs Superman was little more than shallow and superficial nonsense. It’s an adolescent fantasy that wants to be edgy and grown up, but is in fact very generic and naïve.

“Maybe you were relevant in 1938, but not now.”

I really hated that line, in case it isn’t obvious. Also, the movie.

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Bat of Gotham v Man of Tomorrow: Dawn of the Super Frenemies

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I think that the title of the movie is slightly ridiculous, in case it’s not obvious. Hence my own title! The joke is that my title is long and overstuffed, much like the movie itself will be.

In any case though, I am somewhat worried about this movie. (It is worth noting that I may well discuss spoilers here, based on trailers and pre-released materials. No leaks or anything like that, but certainly I can imagine there are things people would want to avoid.)

So, here’s the thing: I was one of those people who hated Man of Steel. It just doesn’t work for me at all – the only thing I can appreciate about it is Hans Zimmer’s score, actually. “What are you going to do when you’re not saving the world?” is one of my favourite pieces of film music ever. Beyond that, though, I see little merit to the movie.

I’d like to think, though, that I gave Man of Steel 2: Too Man Too Steely a reasonable chance before pronouncing any snap judgements. No problems with Batfleck, nor with Jesse Eisenberg – they both sounded to me like really interesting casting choices. (Particularly Jesse Eisenberg, actually, since I was more familiar with his body of work than Affleck’s.) And as well as that, I did quite like the initial trailer – it seemed to be a direct response to the things I took objection to in Man of Steel, and making a conscious effort to follow through on the events of that film in an interesting and compelling manner.

But, obviously, that’s not to be: we’ve got our trailers with mass destruction once more, levelling surrounding cities and so on and so forth. I suppose this is now just an aesthetic complaint of mine – it’s not ever going to be treated as something that’s story relevant (seems like they’re already retconning the destruction of Metropolis into something less extensive) so I will have to just accept it and get over it. My new problem, in any case, is revealed in this trailer-y sneak peak type thing: Batman and Superman are trying desperately to be grimdark and intimidating, and it is setting me on edge somewhat. I just really, really dislike their interpretations of these characters.

Still, though, that remains something of a personal complaint, which is ultimately very subjective. And, hey, I am still basing it on trailers, so it’s possible we’ll see another side to these characters I might find more palatable in the movie.

What does worry me though, and I think I can make this argument a little more objectively, is that the film may well be extremely busy and overstuffed, to the point at which it’s so bloated that nothing really has the time to develop properly. I mean, let’s take a moment to go over what’s going to appear in the movie (and again, this is where there will be spoilers):

  • They need to establish the status quo for Superman, following the events of the previous movie. Also, something something Lois Lane.
  • Batman needs to be introduced, and judging by the trailers, we’re going to see the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne again. I also imagine we’re going to get a bit of backstory as to why Bruce Wayne gave up being Batman, and then seeing him take up the cowl once more.
  • We need to see Batman and Superman meet (in both superhero form and their secret identities), fight, and then establish an alliance.
  • Wonder Woman is in there, playing an important role – presumably as a catalyst for Batman and Superman getting over their issues.
  • Lex Luthor is in there, and… well, spoilers, but he’ll play a significant antagonistic role.
  • It’s confirmed, I believe, that Aquaman is in there, as well as a cameo from Flash; it’s currently rumoured that Green Lantern will show up.
  • Doomsday; his creation, a fight with him, and his defeat.
  • A secondary antagonist; they’re saying that Doomsday isn’t the final big bad, and I have an idea as to who it might be. (Again spoilers.)

It’s a pretty busy movie, as you can see, and the movie is going to be 151 minutes – so two and a half hours, pretty much exactly. I’m trying to figure out something of a structure in my head; presumably it’s the Batman vs Superman stuff for the first act, then Doomsday and Wonder Woman in the second, and then some Lex stuff in the third? Likely overlap here and there too.

In any case, though, it’s looking to be a very crowded movie, and I’m worried that they won’t be able to get it right; something Man of Steel suffered with was its pacing, and the development of certain aspects (like the Lois and Clark relationship). One worries that this movie is going to be rather more superficial than the trailers indicate; fight scenes interspersed with plot, rather than vice versa.

Still, though, I would like to remain cautiously optimistic. As much as I have taken a dim view on this DC cinematic universe, I do desperately want them to be good movies; I’ve always erred more towards DC than Marvel, and “more good movies” is just something to aspire to anyway.

We’ll see, I guess. Either way I’ll be watching it, I suppose. I just hope it aims higher than its predecessor reached.

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Violence, ‘Realism’ and Hope in the Superhero Movie

aquaman jason momoa justice league batman v superman unite the seven first look realism hope james wan

So I was watching this video recently, about the reasons why you should look forward to an Aquaman movie (this is really the only reason you need) and one of the things that was mentioned is the fact that he doesn’t have a ‘no kill code’ like Superman and Batman.

Now, in theory, I can understand that. It’d be a pretty interesting contrast against the other characters, and might fit in quite well with the idea of the character as a king with responsibilities.

But… I’m not convinced that something like that is a selling point, because it’s that contrast which would make things interesting – and that, of course, doesn’t really exist.

Man of Steel was the most gratuitously violent and destructive movie I’ve seen… well, ever, actually. I can’t call to mind any movie that’s even close to resembling that level of destruction, where it deliberately harks back to 9/11 and plays upon that imagery (which is messed up on whole other levels, but I’m not going to get into that, because I’m really not qualified to.)

To then go on to say that another DC hero is sometimes willing to take a life is really quite disingenuous… but it does beg the question, why is that actually a selling point?

Generally, I prefer superhero films to be a fun, enjoyable affair. I mean, I’m not against the occasional movie shaking things up a bit for dramatic purposes, because that can be a pretty compelling story, but on the whole, superheros are meant to be a symbol of hope. People with great powers and abilities, who use those talents to help other people, and improve their lives? What else is that apart from a story of hope?

What’s strange though is that the split is pretty much entirely DC and Marvel. I suppose what this comes from is The Dark Knight trilogy – the only DC superhero film to have been really successful was more in that vein of gritty realism, whereas when they tried something outside that mould, they ended up with… well, Green Lantern. (I actually quite enjoyed Green Lantern, it’s a lot of fun. Similarly, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy because, whilst they were serious, they never took the turn towards being crushingly bleak.)

Marvel, on the other hand… well, Guardians of the Galaxy opens with their hero dancing to this song. I don’t think there’s really any better way for me to explain the difference! (I loved Guardians of the Galaxy for this very reason, in case it wasn’t obvious)

The point though is that The Dark Knight made money and that Green Lantern didn’t so much was not due to their tone, but a whole host of other reasons. To suggest that people prefer that kind of tone based on that alone is rather a mistake – which is obvious enough from the Marvel movies. (Chris Pratt says some interesting things about the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy at the beginning of this video)

With the state of the world as it is, I don’t want these symbols of hope to take that veneer into cynicism and darkness. Misery and pain is not intrinsically more ‘adult’, and if it is, that isn’t something to aspire to.

Make us believe that a man can fly… and enjoy flying.

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Justice League Movie Pitch

justice league bruce timm dcau lineup silhouette movie pitch dceu dc extended universe batman superman wonder woman

A series of somewhat rambling thoughts on the execution of a Justice League film.

Context

Something that’s sort of worth considering is where this film stands. A Justice League film is going to need to set up the rest of DC Cinematic Universe, which would inevitably be spurned from it. Since this film is coming first, you need to be able to set up a hell of a lot of things in it. This necessitates a wildly different approach to the one The Avengers took, because you’ve had none of the ground work set up ahead of time.

Whilst that makes things difficult, it’s not impossible. It just means you’re going to need a heavy focus on…

The Characters

Now, this is where it starts to become a tad difficult. There’s three obvious ones you’re going to have to use – Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It’s the three of them you’re really relying on – they’re massive icons, and having the three of them is already getting you close to that first billion dollars at the box office. Where you go with the others is the main consideration.

There’s two main things to take into account though. The first is how many people you’re going to put into this thing. Personally, I do think 7 Justice League members is sustainable, just about. You’d have to handle it quite precisely, and make sure to give them equal screen time – no focusing on Superman at the expense of Aquaman, for example. (He’s a seperate problem all of his own really.)

Also, diversity. It’d be really ridiculous to have another superhero film with 5 white guys and only one woman. So, I’m thinking that Jon Stewart should be the Green Lantern for this one (not the Daily Show guy) because that’s a little bit better, at least… It’s still not great, but I think for the first installment, you’re better off sticking with the traditionals, however of their time they are.

So, the line up we’d be going with is…

  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Wonder Woman
  • The Flash (Barry Allen)
  • Green Lantern (Jon Stewart)
  • Aquaman
  • Martian Manhunter

These characters would then, hopefully, be spun off into their own movie series’ as part of a DC Cinematic Universe, to make further billions of dollars. What that means is that this film would need quite a focus on the characters, more so than a film would usually – these people need to be 3D, living, breathing people in the minds of the audience at the end of it.

It turn, you’re not going to have the time to develop a villain, not really. This means you’re going to need to have either a pre-established one, like Loki in The Avengers, or one that’s really easy to explain. It’s also convenient to use one that will further the development of one of your main characters.

Ergo, the antagonist I’d elect to use is… the White Martians.

Introductions

Following on from yesterdays post about the context of a Justice League film, and how to set it up, I’ll now talk about introducing the characters.

So, White Martians was where we left off. They’re actually the ideal villain for this film, I think, but I’ll talk about that in a bit. First, it’s the opening scenes of the movie, and the introductory scenes of the characters.

It’s these first scenes where you’re going to have to do a bit of the legwork in establishing the characters. There’s this movie saying, which I think comes from Hitchcock, where if you introduce a character doing their job well, the audience is more likely to connect with them. And that’s what needs to be done here…

Superman & Batman you can pretty much coast with. Everyone knows these guys, everyone knows their remit. I’d say with the two of these guys you can have introductory scenes where they’re as Clark and Bruce. Simple stuff really – Clark is working late at the planet where he gets a telepathic message. Maybe you can have the iconic phonebox scene after that, that’d be nice. With Bruce, I’m thinking someone could go up to him at a fundraiser and ask for help. “I’d be happy to donate any money I can.” “Not that kind of help…” Dun dun duh!

Green Lantern is a little bit more difficult, given that we’ve got the Ryan Reynolds film to contend with. What I’m thinking is that we should have a chase scene – Green Lantern is a space cop, essentially, so let’s show that. Here we’d quickly establish the powers that he has, and then go from there. When the alien drug dealer has been caught, his ring can bleep to give him a message. Pretty simple stuff. If you want, you can have Ryan Reynolds cameo, to say “yeah, they all work together and we can still have him turn up in a film at some point”. (It’s not necessary if that’d be confusing)

Aquaman is going to need some groundwork. Everyone is going to think of all the stupid jokes when people see him, so he needs to be instantly established as a heavyweight character. He also needs to make sense – more super strength is not what they need on this team. So I’m thinking we should swap that out for hydrokinesis – control over the water. (Also, he need not be dependent on the water, but is healed by it. Think Percy Jackson)

His scene, then, should show him taking out a massive great big sea monster single handedly. Standing on a cyclone. If that won’t stop the jokes, I don’t know what will. He should then get the message from a Dolphin though, so there’s still a degree of humour to him.

The Flash is another easy one. His scene should involve a bank robbery I’m thinking, similar to the start of The Dark Knight. Men with guns are threatening clerks and accountants – Thug #1 is about to shoot Clerk #1, but instead of hearing a cry of pain, we hear a clink. A bullet, dropped onto the floor.

The Flash caught the bullet! High speed antics ensue, demonstrating that the Flash is, in fact, very fast. As police arrest the thugs, a detective can approach him, and begin talking about an upcoming meeting…

Wonder Woman is, irritatingly, the only one of these guys who actually needs a set up film, because she’s kinda complicated. Picture her as the Thor equivalent – going into The Avengers without any of the Norse/Alien backstory would be difficult to say the least. It’s actually a shame to skip all the big backstory stuff out, because there’s potential for a really, really awesome film.

Anyway, working with what we’ve got. I say… hmm. This is a tad difficult actually. Okay, pretty much everyone is going to know who Wonder Woman is, at least as an image. Pretty woman who fights stuff (although they have to ditch the costume for the movie). Fine, you can sort of get away with that. Explaining who she is as a person is kinda difficult – there’s a lot of Grecian mythology stuff, and World War Two military ideas…

Hmmph, this is slightly ridiculous. Can we just have a scene where Wonder Woman fights a dragon or something? (If not, I say we have Diana Prince, Grecian Diplomat, in an embassy. It works, kinda)

Then we have Martian Manhunter, around whom this team is built. J’Onn has brought this group of people together because the White Martians are intent on taking over the Earth. Now, here, J’Onn is essentially the Doctor – he is the sole survivor of his race, the Green Martians, and lead the fight against the White Martians. (Who should maybe take on a different name, because colours of Martians might be unwieldy)

Anyways, he’s assembled his group, and brings them together in… a warehouse, probably. From there, he teleports them up to his spaceship – the Watchtower!

Character Dynamics

Anyways, character dynamics. Does what it says on the tin really. How they relate to each other, or should, in this film. (Meaning divergences from the comics)

Do we have to work with Man of Steel canon?

I guess we’d have to, wouldn’t we? It’s just that it is really bloody annoying. Apart from the fact it was an appalling film, it makes the idea of shared DC Cinematic Universe… well, difficult to say the least. People already ask things like “Oh, why doesn’t Thor/Hulk/Iron Man go and help Captain America/Hawkeye/Black Widow with Red Skull/Mandarin/Loki?” of Marvel, and they’re all relatively self contained.

If you’re working with Man of Steel as canon – well, the world would be a ridiculously xenophobic place, and everyone would hate Superman. This can sort of be worked into the plot, just about, but not with character dynamics.

You can’t have every character hate Superman. That’s ridiculous. The most you can manage is wary at best, really. But… hmmph, we’ll work with what we’ve got.

Other than that though, the characters of the Justice League actually work really well together. Sort of surprisingly, they’re all similar in some respects, so they would actually… become friends relatively quickly, as opposed to in The Avengers, when a group of quite different people were all coerced into working together by a shifty organisation. The only immediate friendship was Tony and Bruce, the others… not so much.

Flash and Green Lantern would both get along relatively well, since they’re both policemen, essentially. Superman, Batman and Martian Manhunter would all connect over their lack of a family – and I think that needs to be a sort of a theme here, how people are stronger together, and it can be examined through them. Aquaman and Wonder Woman would probably get along okay – they’ve got the same sort of mystical background thing going on. Maybe WW can pick him up on casual sexism or something.

The main negative relationship would be between GL and Superman. Green Lantern is not going to like Superman, definitely, at least at first. And that would be because GL’s job is to protect the Earth from dangerous aliens… and Superman is one of them. Hey, maybe Superman represents a failure on GL’s part – that could work quite nicely actually, tying in with the idea that these guys need to work together to save the day.

I’m imagining GL giving Superman a speech like this: “The ring translates for me. That symbol means hope. Is that who you think you are, a symbol of hope? You are a terrorist of the worst kind. The entire planet fears you. You are responsible for the deaths of thousands. If you think about endangering the lives of any of these people again.. the Green Lantern Corps will crush you, like you crushed those people.

(As you can tell, I hated Man of Steel. But I’m trying to make it work…)

Note: This was originally split across three posts (Context and Execution, Introductions, Character Dynamics), with the intention being to do a fourth instalment outlining the plot and the structure. I never did complete that fourth piece, leaving this (all three, now presented together) is somewhat unfinished. 

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