Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Strikes? Thoughts on 'Suicide Squad'

Critics weren't kind to Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, nor did they find much to like about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which hit theaters earlier this year and sparked much discussion and speculation about the future of the DC Extended Universe.

So here we have Suicide Squad, David Ayer's ensemble flick set to add some fun to Snyder's dire cinematic canon. With a more vibrant color palette, more jokes and many more characters to play with, it's easy to assume that this is the course correction the DCEU needs, right? Well, about that ...

Messy, poorly edited and often reminiscent of the late-1990s superhero flicks that killed the genre, Suicide Squad is a head-scratcher indeed. It's marginally better than Batman v Superman, and much of that heavy lifting is thanks to Margot Robbie's pitch-perfect and immensely fun portrayal of Harley Quinn.

Bearing only a few similarities to the Harley we met in Batman: The Animated Series, the cinematic Harleen Quinzel is more akin to the versions seen in the Batman: Arkham video games and the current comic book series by Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti. Purists may turn up their noses at the fact that this Harley is more comfortable in booty shorts and fishnets than a red-and-black bodysuit (she does, however, actually wear her original outfit outfit in one scene), but this is the modern-day Harley to a tee. From her accent to her mannerisms to the glee on her face when she's unloading on a bad guy with a baseball bat, Robbie's Harley is incredibly fun to watch. Since she was so much better than the majority of the material around her, I'd fully support a solo flick starring The Joker's main squeeze in the near future.

That brings us to Puddin' himself, played by Jared Leto. Despite what the marketing and the merchandising would have you believe, Joker's barely in this movie, showing up on occasion to flash his gangsta grill and show off his tattoos. Leto's brief performance is, unfortunately, buried beneath the character's misguided gimmicks, coming across as a misguided Heath Ledger impression with just a dash of Jack Nicholson in his laugh. Aside from his outlandish look, there's nothing original about the performance, which is disappointing given Leto's acting ability.

Far less disappointing, however, was Will Smith's Deadshot, perhaps Smith's most likable character in 10 years. With a deep hatred for Batman (played briefly by Ben Affleck) equaled only by his love for his daughter, Smith's Floyd Lawton is as sympathetic as he is deadly, and we genuinely wind up rooting for him to make it through the film's suicide mission (hence the movie's name).

The mission in question ultimately involves taking down a villainess named The Enchantress, perhaps one of the worst comic book movie villains since the half-assed Malebolgia in 1997's Spawn. This grating, CGI-addled antagonist and her thrown-in brother account for the movie's most laughable moments, and the dull performance by Cara Delevigne doesn't help much. When a movie unites a group of over-the-top bad guys to take down a major threat, that threat should probably be more interesting than a slime-covered witch in a subway station.

Viola Davis does a decent job as Amanda Waller, given what she has to work with, and Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang was entertaining when he was allowed to be. Other members of the squad were serviceable at best, each given their brief moments to shine when the script required it. Sorry, Killer Croc fans. He's not as cool as he could have been.

And that's really the biggest tragedy with Suicide Squad: wasted potential. With the right resources and the right people in charge, this could have been one of the most talked-about movies of the year ... for the right reasons. Instead, it's a so-so adaptation, salvaged from complete mediocrity by some strong performances. Come for Robbie's Harley, but don't expect to enjoy much else.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Star Trek Beyond' Ensures Franchise will Live Long, Prosper

Star Trek Beyond isn't the return to form purists might have hoped for from sci-fi's landmark, half-century old property, but it also isn't the dull, loud, explosion-laden popcorn flick the trailers might have had you believe. Yes, there are explosions ... and yes, this is absolutely a turn-of-your-brain popcorn flick. And boy, is it ever loud. But dull? Hardly. In fact, after 2013's dreary Star Trek Into Darkness, I daresay that this film, helmed by Fast and the Furious veteran director Justin Lin, captures the sense of adventure established by J.J. Abrams' 2009 Trek reboot that was strangely missing last time around.

In Beyond, James T. Kirk is approaching his thirtieth birthday and a potential promotion to vice admiral, a job move that would remove him from the captain's chair of the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise. Before he can break the news to Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), the crew is presented with a dangerous rescue mission that will hurl them into uncharted space and put them face-to-face with the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), who has a longstanding vendetta against the United Federation of Planets and seeks to use a superweapon against it. Scattered, wounded and stranded on a mysterious alien world, Kirk, Spock, Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) team up with mysterious asskicker Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to take down Krall and get home.

Although I have a fondness for the original 1960s Star Trek series, I could never get into The Next Generation growing up, largely because I felt like its tendency to favor extended, jargon-laced sequences aboard the Enterprise was keeping us from all of the more exciting things happening outside of the ship. Granted, the reuse of the same sets probably served a budgetary purpose at the time, but for a child looking for Star Wars-style shootouts and cool alien species, I was never quite satisfied. Perhaps the reason why I dig these new Trek films so much is that they're essentially Star Wars flicks in Star Trek Halloween costumes (funny how that all worked out for Abrams). Still, fun is fun, and with its mix of snappy dialog, exotic aliens and intense action set pieces, Beyond might be one of this summer's sleeper hits.

Below are some of my scattered Star Trek Beyond thoughts and observations. If you don't want spoilers, here's where you should stop reading.

  • I'm obsessed with the tiny CGI aliens introduced during the opening sequence. They roll around like Sonic the Hedgehog, they fight dirty and, at one point, one of them is wearing a little shirt with no pants. I want plushies of these guys produced immediately.
  • Idris Elba doesn't need makeup to be intimidating, but it definitely helps. He definitely makes a fairly stock Trek villain more memorable than it probably was on paper.
  • As much as the bromance between Kirk and Spock is at the core of Star Trek, this film spends a lot of time developing Spock's relationship with Bones. This might actually be the series' most interesting post-reboot friendship.
  • It's pretty juvenile for Scotty's alien sidekick Keenser to save the day at one point by way of acidic snot, but I was very OK with it. Trekkies probably disagree.
  • There will be people that accuse Jaylah of being a "Mary Sue," and those people can get stuffed. She's great. I hope she's in the sequel.
  • The Enterprise has been destroyed onscreen so much that I don't think its destruction in Beyond has the emotional impact filmmakers intended. 
  • I love that one crewmember had appendages on her head that open up like she's wearing a hat made of Alien facehuggers. I spent several minutes thinking of different things she could hide in the back of her head, so I'm sure I missed large chunks of the movie after her big "reveal." Oh, well.
  • Spock giving Uhura GPS-infused jewelry is kinda creepy. 
  • Using "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys to destroy Krall's swarm of attack ships during the climax is cute and a nice nod to the first movie, but it's also the most groan-inducing moment in Beyond. The song's inclusion also brings up an issue I had back in 2009. If the Beastie Boys exist in the Trek universe, then the song "Intergalactic" likely also exists. That song features a direct reference to "Mr. Spock," but there's no way the Beasties could have interacted with Spock during their lifetimes, and in this universe, Star Trek definitely isn't a TV show from the 1960s. What did Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA know?!
  • The film deals with the death of Spock Prime tactfully and tastefully, honoring the late Leonard Nimoy in the proper way. The film's subtle tribute to Anton Yelchin, who died weeks before release, also felt appropriate. It will be interesting to see how Chekov is handled in the next film. Will he be recast?
My verdict? Look, as far as franchises that begin with the word "Star" go, you already know where my loyalties ultimately lie. That being said, this rebooted timeline has gotten me more interested in Trek than I've ever been before, and Beyond is a much better sequel than Into Darkness. If you're considering checking it out in theaters, you should definitely go ... boldly. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The New 'Ghostbusters' Theme Should be Roasted in the Depths of a Giant Sloar

I've been critical of Paul Feig's forthcoming Ghostbusters remake for a while now, and the reaction I often get is that it's unfair to truly judge a piece of entertainment without experiencing it in its entirety. For example, when I shook my head at the first trailer for the film when it was released earlier this year,  I was told by at least a couple of friends to wait until I see the finished product to form an opinion. Sure. I can play by those rules. That's only fair.

Keeping that in mind, I listened to the new theme by Fall Out Boy (feat. Missy Elliott) for the film in its entirety before I decided it was one of the worst songs I've ever heard. That's not hyperbole. It's that bad. The Ray Parker Jr. original is no "Stairway to Heaven," but it's also not an elevator straight to hell. This might come close.

That's not really hyperbole. Fall Out Boy is admittedly not my thing, but this weird, disorienting reworking of one of the most classic theme songs in movie history is honestly difficult to listen to. As for Missy, she deserves better, and I sincerely hope that lines like "They roll up to my house, they knockin' at my door, they comin' bustin' in, kill all them ghosts" were because she was under a tight deadline. You can't kill ghosts, Missy!

I know the big debate has been about sexism with this movie, since the Ghostbusters team is made up of women, but can we all at least start to agree that this film has serious issues beyond the gender of its stars? 

But don't take my word for it, Listen to "Ghostbusters (I'm Not Afraid)" by Fall Out Boy (feat. Miss Elliott) below.