Suicide Squad – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The events of “Suicide Squad” come in the aftermath of the finale of the previous film in the DC movie universe, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” As it opens, we find various villains from the DC comics wasting away time in prison. They won’t remain their long, however. Amanda Waller, one of the higher-ups in the U.S. government program A.R.G.U.S., has designs to put together a group of expendable metahumans and super criminals. This group would theoretically be designed to fight back if the next Superman turns out to be a bad guy (and do the dirty work of the government in the meantime).

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Waller finds a great deal of resistance to the idea, but the task force is fast tracked when Midway City suddenly finds itself under threat.

Can these killers and misfits work together under duress to defeat the threat? Can they actually ever be controlled? What aren’t they being told? What will happen when they find out?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The film is very much a comic book film, with kooky characters, powers, abilities, and raucous action. It is aimed at people who enjoyed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” while also trying to widen the net to a larger audience by including more humor and “edginess.” DC fans generally will enjoy seeing characters they know from the comics and animated series on the big screen. What awaits to be seen is if they will enjoy the way the characters are portrayed, and the story that they have been placed in.

The film is designed to be more humorous and fun than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and it is made to be a summer blockbuster. People who are looking for more in-depth character studies, or interesting themes, should probably look elsewhere.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

There are some people who will absolutely hate this movie. They have some good reasons for their hatred. “Suicide Squad” has many flaws. It has choppy editing and storytelling, with poor flow between scenes. It has an inconsistent tone that flits between humorous, lighthearted action and over the top drama. It has occasional characterization missteps, and often underutilizes characters, like Jared Leto’s Joker, and there is some wasted potential from the core concept.

All of those flaws pale in comparison to the poorly conceived plot and unfortunately chosen villain. The nature of the villain, the evil plan, and the story’s very basic and stereotypical plot all undermine the film and its promise. This film could have crafted a distinct identity for itself, and the trailers made it seem like it was going to do that, but in the end it is just another typical superhero film, with the exception that the “heroes” are bad guys.

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Still, there are things to like in the film. While there are design missteps, I mostly looks terrific with well-made costumes, and an interesting and distinct visual flare. The soundtrack is terrific, and while the tracks do not always pair well with what is happening on screen, when they do it just feels right. The cast is great, and each actor is well selected to play their part. The performances are spot-on from all of them, but especially Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

There is a lot of crap to sift through to get to the good bits. I would never say that this is a great film, but did I have a good time at the theater? Yes, I did. It may not be a film to go gaga over as I had hoped, but it is worth a rental. It is an enjoyable enough movie to watch. More than anything, however, it is fun to see these characters on screen. I enjoyed “Suicide Squad,” despite the myriad valid reasons why it is an objectively weak movie, so in the end it is really just a…

Guilty Pleasure

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Black Orchid Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Black Orchid, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, begins with a twist that, while not entirely novel in comic books, is still shocking, especially as an opening scene – the death of the title character. In this graphic novel, Neil Gaiman is tasked with taking the titular niche DC Comics character, giving her an origin story and completely revamping her in the process.

Susan Linden, the Black Orchid, is a super-heroine who is captured and brutally murdered by a henchman of Lex Luthor. Unbeknownst to her murderers, elsewhere, a strange purple woman – a plant and human hybrid – is birthed from a large bulb in a secretive greenhouse lab. She is confused and curious, carrying the scattered and tattered remnants of Susan’s memories.

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This strange new woman immediately meets Doctor Philip Sylvian, her creator. He begins to tell her more about herself, and her former self. How much of her is Susan, and how much of her is new? She begins a journey of self-discovery to learn more about herself – who and what she really is – in a journey that echoes those of the ancient Greek myths. At the same time, dark forces from Susan’s past, the previous Susans’ pasts, learn of her and seek to do her harm.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

It may be written by the same author as Sandman, and it may star a superhero – or the shadow of one, but I think that the first and foremost audience who would enjoy Black Orchid would be fans of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing (of course fans of Sandman would most likely enjoy it too!). Many of the themes and aesthetics are the same, and without spoiling too much, there are story connections between the characters of both books.

For readers completely new to the comic landscape of DC, this is a very dense read that might very well be too opaque. That is not to say that the uninitiated cannot find the story interesting, but there are references to characters and places that mean much more if you know what they are and what they represent.

For both familiar readers and new readers, an appreciation for dream-like and murky storytelling and the art is necessary. This is not a plot, nor is there a character, that builds off of action and excitement. Instead, the appeal is in the surrealism, the grim noir elements, and the dark wonder and atmosphere that Neil Gaiman creates.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

One of the hallmarks of Neil Gaiman as a writer is the way he manages to blur the lines between the mundane or the ridiculous, and the mythic. In Black Orchid, he does that very thing yet again. He takes a fairly campy side character in the DC universe and reinvents them in such a way as to make it feel as at home in Greek myth as it is among the tights and capes of modern superheroes, perhaps even more so. The story borrows elements of Frankenstein, mixes it with noir, and lays the mixture out across a journey not unlike those taken by epic heroes like Odysseus and Orpheus. It’s a strange, but somehow seamless blend. I know we’re talking about the author of Sandman and the artist who produced that work’s iconic covers, but I hope it’s not too on the nose to say that the whole thing feels like a dream.

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That isn’t to say that this is anywhere near as good as that seminal work. Sandman’s ideas and imagery felt more complete and fleshed out. Both Black Orchid and Sandman had intelligence and wit behind them, but Sandman felt like it had more heart and love for its characters and world, whereas Black Orchid felt much more cynical of humanity in general.

Black Orchid’s strengths lie in the atmosphere of the plot and the beautiful murkiness of the art. It lies with the core ideas and mythic tropes. It does not lie in emotional investment with its characters, or relatability. This isn’t a story meant to make you cry or laugh. It isn’t a story meant to take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and thrills, nor is it a story to make you think about heartfelt reality. Instead, it is a story that works its way under your skin and makes you feel both uncomfortably grim and yet full of wonder. Not a childlike wonder, but rather the kind of wonder one one feels when they are lost in a beautiful jungle – the kind of wonder one gets when staring into the eyes of a tiger. It is a dangerous wonder.

While Black Orchid never had a moment that made me truly fall in love with it, I find myself appreciating it more and more as I think back over its artistry. There is no doubt Black Orchid is worth buying at full price.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, a being of vast power called En Sabah Nur is betrayed in a moment of weakness by his followers and lies buried, sleeping, underneath the sands and rock.

Fast-forward to the early 80s where we find the familiar faces of the previous x-men films. Mystique quietly helps mutants who are persecuted around the globe. Xavier continues to expand his school, bringing up and guiding a generation of young mutants. Magneto is doing his best to live a quiet life with a wife and daughter in Poland. The world may not be a settled place, but things are looking up for mutants after the events of Washington D.C., where Mystique saved the president from Magneto.

Things don’t stay quiet for long, however, as Moira McTaggert stumbles across Nur, sonn to be known as Apocalypse. Unbeknownst to her, she accidentally wakes him.

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Apocalypse rises to find a new strange world in which the weak have dominated the strong. Humans rule over the mutants. Apocalypse believes he must save his “children” and so begins a campaign of recruitment and control aimed at domination of the human race, which brings him into conflict with Xavier and his students. Which side will Magneto choose? Will the X-Men overcome their greatest challenge yet?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

X-Men fans, especially those who have watched the previous entries, are the primary audience for this film. The plot and characters are drenched in backstory and inter-connectivity that makes no sense at all to anyone who hasn’t been invested up to this point. I imagine that to the uninitiated it will only come across as so much noise. This film will find the most love in the hearts of fans who have been watching since the first X-Men film back in 2000.

Cutting the familiarity factor out of the equation, the film will appeal to people who like superhero themes and world-spanning spectacle. That said, the film doesn’t have a lot of kinetic action until near the very end. Instead we have powerful beings choosing to use their powers and influence in dramatic ways. It’s about characters and philosophies and how far they are willing to go to defend or enforce them, rather than pure “pow!” bam!” antics. The film certainly has explosions, punches, and eye-beams, but that’s not the focus of this movie.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I don’t know if it was the negative reviews I have read, the trailers that have underwhelmed me, or the unflattering set photos, but I was not expecting to really like this movie. Perhaps because of those lowered expectations, I came out of X-Men: Apocalypse having thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the theater.

The characters are the same as they have been in the last several films, and generally as well portrayed, though I think Jennifer Lawrence was a bit lacking as Mystique. The plot is interesting and the writers made some cool choices, even though there are some weird holes and leaps of logic in places. The villain is intimidating and interesting. Magneto’s story line is especially well done and acted. Everything comes together to make a thoroughly solid film that entertains consistently for the whole run time.

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It’s certainly not perfect, however. Along with the aforementioned plot holes, and the unfortunate emphasis on Mystique’s story line and role, there were other flaws that brought the film down a few pegs. While the villain is interesting and dangerous to the heroes, the viewer rarely feels the reality of the threat he poses. The film falls into familiar tropes of crumbling landmarks and cityscapes without making any of it feel like it has weight. Apocalypse seems to have the ability to just kill people with a thought, but never uses it on the heroes. There are weird tone shifts and the new characters feel like they were mostly sidelined.   

Despite it’s shortcomings, I was generally able to overlook these problems and just enjoy my time back in the X-Men universe, with characters I loved being well-acted, and seeing a classic villain from the comics portrayed well for the first time in live action. It has its flaws, certainly, but I’ll be picking up “X-Men: Apocalypse” as soon as it hits…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review


Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Following the events of “Man of Steel,” the United States government sets out to determine to what degree Superman should be held accountable for the destruction and loss of life in Metropolis during the invasion of General Zod. Lex Luthor Jr. doesn’t need an investigation, however, as he already made up his mind and firmly believes that Superman is a menace. Batman similarly believes Superman is a threat and begins planning for how to deal with him. The tension between Superman and Batman, as amplified through the machinations of Luthor, leads to direct conflict between the two legendary heroes. Who will come out on top – the Man of Steel or the Dark Knight?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You would think saying that this is a comic book action film would make it fairly clear who this film is aimed at, but that doesn’t really work this time around. I’m torn over deciding who this movie is for.

Comic Book fanboys will probably not be pleased with some of the character modifications in this film. They will say it betrays the characters in the exact same manner they said “Man of Steel” betrayed them. Casual comic film fans, meanwhile, might find the very grim and dark tone to be off-putting, especially if they bring their children. Regular film-goers might find the lack of background for some characters confusing, and there are plot issues and obscure comic-book references that would further cloud their experience.

I think this film is for people who can accept that this is Zack Snyder’s unique vision, which includes some variation on classic characters and a gritty tone, who want action and spectacle, but have no burning desire for humor or deep characterization in a comic book film. I think these people will be relatively few. Almost everyone else will find something to dislike, and, if I know the internet, there will be some who actively hate it.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I liked this movie. I think this will be a controversial statement. Those that hated it will think I’m stupid for not seeing how bad it is. For a lot of people in the middle, they will just be slightly disappointed, but not offended. They will forget it shortly afterward. For the few people who truly loved this movie, they will think I’m way too picky. In the end, though, for me, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is good.

The film has excellent actors doing a great job with the parts they are given. I completely buy into these actors as these characters. Henry Cavill is a great Superman. Gal Gadot is a convincing Wonder Woman. Ben Affleck, whom everyone was worried about beforehand, is a scene-stealer as Batman. While I don’t agree with Snyder’s choice for Luthor’s characterization (I can’t stand it, actually), Jesse Eisenberg still does justice to that choice.

There are cool action scenes that are impacting and enthralling to watch, even when some turn into a CGI fest. The motivations, while thin, make sense. The music works well. The costumes are cool. Batman has just the best toys, you guys. There is plenty to like.

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There is plenty to dislike as well. While the main characters are good, they are thinly portrayed. What they are given is a script that is overstuffed, slim on character building, and poorly stitched together. In fact, some plot elements are poorly explained to the point that they feel like plot holes, even if they aren’t. Some of the side characters are pathetically written. There is a lot of wasted potential.

Still, in the end, I feel that “Batman v Superman” had enough good to outweigh the bad. It was flawed, and it didn’t live up to what it could have been, but there was still plenty to enjoy. In fact, when it comes out on blu-ray, I think…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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Deadpool – Review


The Premise:

This Ryan Reynolds passion project brings to life the Marvel comic book character Deadpool, the merc with the mouth, a hideously scarred joke-machine anti-hero. The character Deadpool is half the premise in and of himself. He is a fourth-wall breaking comedian with swords and guns. The movie exists not to serve up a novel story or grand idea, but so that Deadpool may exist.

That being said, there is a story here. Wade Wilson is a wise-cracking mercenary with a heart who falls in love with a prostitute named Vanessa. Just when it looks like they will live a happy life together he gets the bad news that he has rampant cancer throughout his body and little time left. When all seems lost, a mysterious organization arrives promising to not only cure his cancer, but give him miraculous powers.

Wade takes the chance and goes with them only to find that, while they do plan on curing him and giving him powers, they have a nefarious purpose to sell him as a super powered slave to the highest bidder. Wade gains his powers but at the cost of his appearance. Before he can be collared and sold, however, he makes an escape attempt, destroying the facility in the process. What follows is Wade’s revenge crusade as the masked “Deadpool” against the people who made him.


The Short of It:

This film is not for families with children. “Deadpool” is crazy violent, vulgar, sexual and revels in it. Do. Not. Take. Children. To. This. Movie. If you do, you are a bad parent, fullstop.

That being said, Deadpool is a hilariously fun action flick for adults. The plot and villain may be standard, but they all serve to highlight Ryan Reynolds’ infectious titular character, Deadpool, and act as suitable targets for his wacky humor. The action is fast paced but easy to follow, the humor is relentless and almost always earns a laugh, and through it all the movie manages to have more heart and passion than many other superhero movies. If you crave quality R-rated humor and action, I highly recommend that you go see Deadpool.


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