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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Fantastic Four Movie Pitch

fantastic four return 4 marvel cinematic universe movie pitch peggy carter 1970s dr doom peyton reed banner john krasinski

Okay, so. I’m writing the introduction to this before I’ve actually gotten around to seeing the new Fantastic Four movie yet, but it seems like it is in fact really, really bad. And that’s a shame, actually, because I’ve been defending it for months, on the basis that no-one had actually seen it yet. But people have now seen it, and it’s hard to argue with 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll go and watch it soon, and add in my thoughts to the post then.

(Oh. I actually really, really enjoyed it. With a few reservations and all, but generally, I thought it was a lot better than it’s reputation suggests – not perfect by any means, but far from the abysmal movie people are suggesting. I actually wouldn’t reboot it, if given the option, but I’ve committed to this now.)

Anyway, I figured that it might be a good idea to do for Fantastic Four what I did for Spider-Man – a pitch for a reboot. We’ll assume, for a moment, that it’s going to end up in the MCU continuity, simply because that sort of mental gymnastics is a little more fun, but it could be easily done as a standalone.

On the Setting

Probably not something you’d expect to be immediately most important, but I figured it’d be worth putting this one first, because it has a fairly significant impact on the rest of the movie.

This particular Fantastic Four movie is going to be set in the middle of the Cold War. The lines are going to blur a little, since we’re obviously departing from established history a little (what with the Superheroes and all), but we’re looking at a slightly fictionalised 60s/70s, where we’ve still got that period of detente, but things are a little more tense than they were in reality – one particular Eastern European nation, by the name of Latveria, is stirring up trouble…

(The benefit of going back to the 70s is twofold; it provides a distinct visual style, which sets this film apart from others of its ilk, and it’s also going to help me with Dr. Doom, as you’ll see in a minute…)

On the Origins

Here, admittedly, I’m running into trouble. I’m caught between a couple of things – on the one hand, I want to skip the origins. An opening credits that’s a sort of mash up between that of Spider-Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, where we see news articles and secret files on both the Fantastic Four and Latveria’s place in the Cold War, seems essentially perfect. Everyone knows the origin story, and they don’t particularly seem to like new angles on it, so it might well be best to just sort of get it over and done with. As much as I’d like to open the movie with scenes of Reed and Ben, or explore immediate reactions to their accident, it’s been done recently, and to fairly poor reaction.

So, actually, yeah, we’re going to go with the title credits. We’ll see the four astronaut/scientists doing their bit in the Space Race, getting hit by cosmic rays, and Latveria making a nuisance of itself all relayed through a series of clever news broadcasts and clippings and etc. The movie can continue on after that with a quick action sequence – Johnny Storm taking out a nuclear missile or something – before we come up with our inciting incident.

Now… slight departure from the comics, here, but stay with me on this. I’m going to attach the Fantastic Four to a government agency, and essentially make them spy type people. If it’s the MCU, it’d be SHIELD, with a cameo from Peggy Carter; if it’s still Fox, then just some generic agency.

On the Plot

What, exactly, does SHIELD want with the Fantastic Four on this occasion? Well, they’ve been hearing rumours and rumblings about the dictator of Latveria, one Dr Victor von Domashev, having unlocked a secret power. The suggestion is that this is some form of magic – Reed is skeptical, but the others shoot this down with relative ease. (”Magic isn’t real, that’s impossible.” “Well, so are we.” “Point taken.”) Again, if it’s the MCU, you can tie in Peggy’s concerns with Red Skull and the Tesseract and the like, but that’s not essential.

The bulk of the movie, then, is a bit of an espionage thriller with the Fantastic Four. You’d spend a lot of time in Latveria, meeting the oppressed populace, getting to know what things are like. Eventually, there would be a confrontation with Doom at the end of the movie. The Fantastic Four can stop his specific plan on that particular day, but due to the complexities of diplomatic immmunity, and the fact that he’s leader of an entire country, means they can’t exactly depose him entirely.

Leaving us with one very angry dictator, bearing a grudge against the Fantastic Four, who’s entirely ready to come back and fight again another day…

On the Characters

Reed Richards: We’ve already established that Reed is going to be openly skeptical of magic (which will provide us with a nice running gag), but I’m actually going to take that a step further and say that part of the reason he’s here is because he wants to believe in magic, because he wants to try and use it to help cure his friends. He’s exhausted all the possibilities open to him with conventional science as he knows it, but he’s determined to do something for his friends, so this is what he’s looking into now. That’s what motivating him throughout: pursuit of a cure.

Ben Grimm: So, something that presents itself to me as being an interesting possibility to explore is the fact that Ben is Jewish. (He also turns into what is essentially a literal Golem, but I don’t know a huge amount about Golems, so I’ll avoid any sweeping statements there.) Anyway, so. Let’s say, then, that either his parents or an uncle and aunt were killed in the Holocaust; Grimm has got a fairly personal reason to want to stop dangerous dictators in their tracks. This is a fairly basic starting point, admittedly, and you’d have to be sure to keep this subtle rather than heavy handed, but it does appear to fit in with the film, and it provides a little more diversity to the movie, which is always nice.

Sue Storm: I think with Sue… okay, right. Here’s the basic arc I’ve got in mind: This is all taking place in the first year of their accident, we’ll say, so even though they’ve got their powers and etc, they aren’t necessarily settled as a group. Sue in particular in going to have reservations – she’ll go to Latveria and do this because Peggy asked, but it’s not exactly something she’d have chosen to do. Her experience in Latveria is going to change her mind, basically – when she interacts with the people, she sees the good they’re able to do, and realises that their little group is in fact a positive thing. She of all them becomes determined to stop Doom, because of the friends she makes amongst the Latverian people.

Johnny Storm: This probably wouldn’t necessarily be something he’s comfortable with, would it? He’s not really the type who’d be into skulking about in secrecy, and would probably prefer to take on Doom directly. For Johnny, there’s going to be tensions between his brash nature, and he necessities of the mission that they’re on. You’d maybe have an action set piece at some point in the middle wherein Johnny gets frustrated, tries to save someone rather than keeping a low profile, and almost brings the whole thing crashing down around them.

One thing that is important to emphasise (and you’ll do it by contrasting them against the other characters you see in the movie) is that these four people are very much a family. That’s their angle, the thing that should set them apart from other superheroes.

On Doctor Doom & Latveria

Okay, so, here’s the thing. I can’t take the name “Doctor Doom” seriously. Yes, as an alias, sure. But not as an actual literal name. Sorry.

So, what we’re going with is Doctor Victor von Domashev, nicknamed “Doctor Doom” by the oppressed populace of Latveria, who we’d learn a fair amount about. That’s actually how I’m planning on conveying the level of threat from Doom – we’re going to withhold showing him particularly, apart from occasional glimpses, and really build him up through the stories told by the people of Latveria. It might be nice to build a deliberate contrast between his public face (the learned man, the Doctor) and the impact of the harsh dictator that we actually see.

As the Four journey through Latveria (I guess looking for someone in particular? Some of the specifics aren’t quite there yet) they’re going to be spending time in houses and village communes and so on, and we’ll meet some Latverian families fairly intimately. Maybe at one point, Ben and Johnny can get swept up in the resistance movement, leading Reed and Sue to have to try and find them. Essentially, they’re going to be doing something not dissimilar to Martha Jones in Last of the Time Lords. Maybe you can steal the sea shanty bit from Turn Left with the Cossolantos, too – we can get to really know and like these people, before brutally murdering them! (Apologies if you don’t understand the Doctor Who references. Look them up!)

On the powers

The magic of Doom is, admittedly, something I’m not entirely certain of how to manage. I’d lean towards leaving it unexplained – make it a deliberate mystery, and that can provide a bit of tension throughout.

With the rest of the Four you can leave it as is, really, albeit perhaps with a few changes. It might, for example, provide a nice set of scenes if Sue is able to make people/things invisible too through contact with her – that doesn’t feel like too much of stretch, given that her clothes usually turn invisible too – and I’d like it if Reed’s powers were made a little weirder and more nonspecific. He’s not just stretchy, he’s malleable. So he can do things like becoming a parachute (a la The Incredibles), or he can get out of a cell by flattening himself and sliding under the door, or he can stretch his features to morph his face a little.

Also! I happened to read an old ‘leaked plot outline’ from the recent Fantastic Four movie recently- the outline was incorrect, but it did have an interesting idea about Johnny Storm’s heat powers. He’d change colour to signify how hot he was. I actually think that’s a pretty cool idea – he wouldn’t be green or anything like that, but rather than just one shade of orange, you’d have him changing between red hot, or blue-y flame, or white hot, and so on and so forth. I think you could potentially build something quite interesting out of that.

On the Franchise

So, then. Where does this particular movie aim to go? Trilogies seem to be the thing people aim for, don’t they?

I’m not sure where I’d take the movie after this. Obviously, I’m leaving deliberate threads dangling to return to with Doom, given that they can’t depose him (yet?) and he’ll inevitably bear a grudge against the Four (and particularly Richaaaaards!).

Part of me feels like Galactus and suchlike don’t quite fit the tone of this, if we’re going for 70s set in the MCU. It’s the sort of thing that you’d expect o have had a big impact on the state of the world, but obviously didn’t, given that we’ve seen the pre-existing current day set movies that obviously haven’t been through a visit from Galactus. Something that could be interesting, though, is if by Phase 5 or whatever, Marvel is more confident with skipping back and forth through their timeline, you’d have the Silver Surfer confront the Four, which is set up for a subsequent Avengers movie featuring Galactus? That has legs as an idea, I think.

If they do get to a third movie (which would feature the return of Doom), though, I think the important thing is for Reed to be able to cure his friends, as a culmination of their arc. Or, at the very least, to give Ben the ability to turn his power on and off. (”Rock on!”) That’s rather important to me – gaining those powers is such a massive upheaval to their lives, and Reed wouldn’t ever give up searching for a cure, even if the others had accepted their powers.

You know, I think this is a rather strong basis for a film franchise. Any thoughts?

Note from 2018: This was written from a probably fairly shallow understanding of the characters, and I don’t know exactly how much I agree with all this now anyway.

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Film Review | Fantastic Four (2015)

fantastic four movie review 2015 fant4stic josh trank michael m jordan miles teller jamie bell kate mara fox marvel mcu

Hmm.

Okay. So. At the minute, this movie is on something like 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. (Wait, no, I just checked. Actually, it’s 8%.) The general consensus that the movie is “Dull and downbeat, this Fantastic Four proves a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.”

And, so, I thought that was a shame. Because I’ve been defending the movie for ages – whenever someone would complain about the trailer, I’d say that I actually thought it looked quite good (I did) and that it was probably too early to make any pre-judgments (it was). But that obviously became increasingly more difficult to maintain, especially as all the news of the troubled production came out. By the time Miles Teller was making excuses for the movies poor reviews, I’d essentially given up on it.

Thus I decided to go and watch it and basically just mock it. Mean spirited, I guess. But it’s kinda fun to sit and make jokes while watching bad movies – that’s why things like Sharknado exist. I was all set for a pretty awful movie, essentially.

So imagine my surprise when I actually really enjoyed it.

And I do mean I really, really enjoyed it. I thought it was excellent. The body horror angle was something that’s not really been explored before in the recent glut of Superhero movies (at least, not that I can think of) and I found that really interesting – beyond Ben Grimm’s general sort of “gosh it sure does suck to be a rock”, I’d never really thought about how scary and different it would be for these four people. It was an aspect that I genuinely believed worked really well, and I think they did an alright job of giving each character different reactions to it.

Obviously, it was not perfect. It was muddled in places, and I think the resolution was a little rushed. They had quite a few good character moments, I think, but they definitely needed quite a few more – I don’t think Reed and Ben ever really finished their arc, for example, and Sue definitely could have had her role increased. There just needed to be a little bit more to it – it’d have been nice to fill that “one year later” gap, rather than skipping right over it. (Also! At the beginning, when we see them as kids, Ben should have said “I want to be the second man to travel to a different dimension”, and that’s the beginning of their friendship.) You could tell that the actual production had been rushed; I think maybe the script needed another pass (if you never brought anything back, Sue, how did you have that extra dimensional dust?) and I do wonder how the film worked before the final last minute excisions were made.

Certainly, the “One Year Later” cut should have been reworked – given that the body horror aspect is reliant on their reactions to the changes they went through, I think it’s self evident that we needed to see more of their reactions to their powers. The initial fear was was well done, and I didn’t even have that much problem with the way they were shown to feel after the time jump, but I think the movie would have been a lot stronger had we seen the transition from point A to point B.

Overall, though, I think it’d give it, say, a 7/10, maybe? Possibly I could be lead to give it a higher mark, actually. Really, I thought it was that good…

…to the point that I’m actually questioning all the other reviews. Because I can understand hardcore fans of the comics taking issue with the movie – it is a very different angle from which to interpret the source material, and I know that a lot of comic fans wouldn’t be interested in that sort of thing. Equally though, a lot of them would, simply because it’s new and different and often there are merits to that sort of thing. More to the point, I’m surprised that so many casual movie goers and critics are reacting against this – in theory, it’s tailored quite well to them, given that it’s got some key differences to the majority of other superhero movies. It seems directly tailored to combat that idea of super hero movie fatigue that everyone drags out every so often.

Presumably for a lot of people this is their Man of Steel – a movie I totally and utterly hated, because I felt like it was just… well, bad. It didn’t feel like a Superman movie to me. It came across as poorly written and – well, actually, I’d say it matches up to this fairly well: “Dull and downbeat, this Fantastic Four proves a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.” Except, y’know, Man of Steel rather than Fantastic Four.

But I felt like this worked. I mean, my Fantastic Four knowledge is about the same as my Superman knowledge, and I’m probably better acquainted with those characters than I am with Superman. Broadly I felt like they were better served by this film than Superman was by Man of Steel.

Man of Steel, though, was controversial at least. There are enough people on either side of the debate that it’s still going on. But with Fantastic Four, there isn’t even a debate.

All of which is leading me to think that maybe my personal taste is a weird and idiosyncratic thing. (After all, Cars 2 is the only movie I’ve ever enjoyed enough to watch in the cinema twice.)

So, to sum up. Fantastic Four had a lot of genuinely very interesting ideas in play, and I think it needs to get a lot more credit for those ideas than it has so far. It was not perfect, and I think had it had a longer development time, then it would likely have come out as an overall stronger movie. As it is, though, I enjoyed it a lot, and it deserves a far better reputation than it has.

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