A Suicide Squad In-Depth Review – Will Smith is in This Movie?

Suicide Squad, 2016 film posterTITLE: Suicide Squad
STARRING: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
DIRECTOR: David Ayer
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 123 min
RELEASED: August 5, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not often you go to a movie and forget Will Smith is in it. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and is the focal point of the marketing for whatever film he’s in. But not Suicide Squad. From a publicity standpoint, this has been all Joker/Harley Quinn, and for good reason.

Based on the comic book series of the same title, Suicide Squad sees government official Amanda Waller assemble a task force of killers and criminals to send on covert missions. They serve as both agents and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their bodies. Under the command of Colonel Rick Flag, “Task Force X” consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo, and a metahuman called the Enchantress. But when the Enchantress loses control of her dual “witch” personality, Waller is forced to call in her team of villains.

So you’re Warner Bros., and you’re trying to match the success Marvel has had at the movies with their shared cinematic universe. You put out a Superman movie, then a Superman/Batman movie. Now third in line is…Suicide Squad? Not Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Justice League. But Suicide Squad? In terms of DC Comics, it’s always been a second-string book at best. So why make it part of the foundation of your cinematic universe? Marvel certainly didn’t do anything like that…

Suicide Squad, 2016, team shotThat last point is one of the keys to the vast amount of interest in Suicide Squad. There’s never been a big budget movie quite like this. It’s all about supervillains doing what they do. Who doesn’t love a good villain?

And there’s no better villain in all of pop culture than the Joker. Both superhero buffs and casual moviegoers are fascinated by him. More importantly, from a business perspective the Harlequin of Hate means big box office bucks. When Jack Nicholson played the character in Batman, the movie broke records and pulled in over $411 million. Heath Ledger won an Oscar when he played the part in The Dark Knight, which again broke records with over $1 billion. Even this year’s limited release of the animated version of The Killing Joke made over $3 million.

So in that sense, one can understand why Warner Bros. would want the Joker in Suicide Squad, a film about supervillains the general public has never heard of. What better way to compensate than with the one villain everyone knows?

Sadly, audiences expecting something akin to The Dark Knight will be disappointed. The Joker gets considerably less screen time than the other characters, as the movie isn’t really about him. He’s a supporting character, a role that would undoubtedly infuriate the Clown Prince himself.

Joker, Jared LetoJared Leto’s Joker is interesting to watch, and leaves you wanting more. But his performance lacks the complexity and depth of Ledger’s, or the sheer fun of Nicholson’s. He’s a tattooed Scarface in clown makeup. But it may be unfair to even compare Leto to his predecessors, as he doesn’t get the chance to dominate the film the way they did. But Leto has the chance to evolve his Joker over multiple films. He’s had the less screen time than Nicholson and Ledger. But that’s likely going to change.

Fans of Harley Quinn (and there are many) can rest easy. Margot Robbie performs the character very well. Though let’s be honest: She’s highly sexualized. I’ve never been a fan of sexy Harley Quinn, especially when she’s with the Joker. Her love for him isn’t prominently sexual. For her own twisted reasons, she’s entirely bought in. That’s what gives her the tragic element present in so many Batman villains. Harley is in an abusive relationship. Either she doesn’t realize it or she keeps returning to it, depending on where you are in her story. I’m not sure if she’s, as one reviewer put it, “damaged dolly jerk-off material.” But it unflatteringly simplifies her.

Then again, it looks like damaged dollies make box office bucks too.

Deadshot, Suicide Squad, Will SmithDid we mention Will Smith is in this movie? And it’s better for him being there. Floyd Lawton/Deadshot acts as the film’s moral and emotional compass. Smith is more than qualified to play that role, with his trademark charm to boot. He’s almost the Han Solo of this movie, bringing a much-needed down to Earth perspective and character-driven levity to the proceedings. Without him, the movie would have been as needlessly grim as Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad has the unenviable task of introducing us to an entire team of supervillains, filling in their backstories, and making us care about them while still keeping its plot going. It accomplishes some of this by formally introducing its main protagonists from the get-go, framed by a dinner scene with Waller. Deadshot and Harley get the most emphasis, obviously. From there, we see flashback scenes as the movie progresses. This strategy is fine, but it negatively impacts part of the movie’s climax.

Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez, isn’t a main character. He’s a fire-starter with a conscience, and makes a big sacrifice during the final battle. But we don’t learn about Diablo’s past until the second half of the film. We’re invested in him, but not nearly as much as we’d have been if we’d gotten this information sooner. Whether this is the case or not, it feels like Diablo’s backstory was shoved in to make the climax more impactful.

El Diablo, Suicide Squad movie, 2016Also, Slipknot (the supervillain, not the band) is shoehorned into this thing for 10 minutes so he can get blown up by one of Waller’s nanite bombs. This was obviously done to establish she wasn’t bluffing. But Slipknot’s purpose in the story is immediately apparent, to the point where his death is almost an eye-roller.

Suicide Squad was clearly influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, which also got us acquainted with a team of heroes and their world. Guardians used music from the ’60s and ’70s to make its main character quickly recognizable, likable, and familiar. Suicide Squad tries the same trick with music from Credence Clearwater Revival, Eminem, and other artists that go a long way in engaging the audience. After awhile, you can plainly see what they’re doing. But there’s something to be said for keeping things fun, and letting the audience rock out to music they know and love.

Critics haven’t been kind to Suicide Squad, and that’s very much justified. The movie gradually starts to come apart in the third act, before quickly snapping back together at the end. But the movie does deliver something that was sorely lacking from its predecessors, and that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in spades: Fun. Suicide Squad is a flawed piece of work, and is guilty of objectifying its female lead. But it’s a fun summer popcorn flick that furthers the story of the DC Extended Universe. By and large, it delivers more than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. That should serve as a lesson to Warner Bros. going forward.

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Three Times Marvel Crossed Paths With Pro Wrestling

Drax, Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014By Eric Shaw
Contributor

It seems as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ultimately reach a point at which it incorporates just about all of Hollywood. This thing – the MCU, that is – just keeps expanding, through films, television, and even Netflix. At some point there are hardly going to be any actors left who haven’t at least dipped a toe into the industry’s biggest superhero world.

But really, that’s half the fun. We love to see our favorite actors from TV, movies, or types of entertainment dabble in superheroism. For instance, the casting of Parks and Recreation darling Chris Pratt in Guardians Of The Galaxy delighted droves of TV comedy lovers, and this summer’s introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead in Doctor Strange is sure to rope in some loyal Sherlock devotees.

There are countless similar examples, and the most exciting ones depend entirely on what you’re interested in. For me, in Marvel or elsewhere, the most enjoyable entertainment crossovers are usually when pro wrestlers or fighters find themselves in popular films. It’s always fun to get a look at their acting chops outside the ring and see how their imposing frames are used in action sequences. Rest assured, it’s happened in Marvel films.

In fact, there are three extremely noteworthy examples.

Randy Savage, Spider-Man, Bone Saw McGrawRandy Savage in Spider-Man

I have to start with what might still be the best appearance ever by a pro wrestler on the big screen. It’s been almost 15 years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but anyone who loved it ought to remember “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s role. Early in the film, as he’s just discovering his powers, Peter Parker enters an underground cage fight to earn some cash, get a car and impress Mary Jane Watson. His opponent: Bone Saw McGraw.

The sheer lunacy with which Randy Savage played this character was delightful to behold. He took his ordinary persona in the pro wrestling world and amplified it significantly to fit the comic book movie atmosphere. As a result, ost Spider-Man and WWE fans alike will never forget the role. Incidentally, the character even made a sneaky appearance in the beloved Spider-Man title that was once part of Activision‘s gaming lineup. He could be unlocked for a sort of special boss fight, though unfortunately Savage didn’t do any voice acting.

Mickey Rourke, Whiplash, Iron Man 2Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2

I’m bending the rules with Rourke, but only slightly. Many will recall that this bizarre, muscled actor did have a brief boxing career during a hiatus from Hollywood. Additionally, part of his big comeback to film was the 2008 film The Wrestler – arguably the best movie ever made about pro wrestling. He also appeared at Wrestlemania XXV and punched out Chris Jericho. So he’s a sort of honorary member of the pro wrestling community. And his turn as the villain Whiplash in Iron Man 2 was perfectly worthy of the absurd theatricality of WWE stars.

Sadly, the character has since been largely forgotten, thanks in large part to Iron Man 2‘s consistent ranking near the bottom of the Marvel movies. Still, give this one deserves another look and you’ll appreciate the larger-than-life, ultra-ripped, stringy-haired portrayal as something pretty WWE-esque. There’s even an Iron Man 2-themed game at Gala’s jackpots page that shows Rourke’s character in the background, looking like the ghostly image of a pro wrestler. The game is one of many that fusees Marvel characters with casino gameplay, but uses very real images from the film – and Rourke calls to mind images of wrestlers like Edge or even Savage turning slowly to finish off opponents.

Dave Bautista, Batista, Guardians of the Galaxy, DraxBatista in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Dave Bautista, aka Batista, has actually gotten pretty busy with his film career. Let’s not call him the next Dwayne Johnson just yet, but he may be in the early stages of a more complete wrestling-to-film transition. Just last year he had an amusing role in the James Bond film Spectre, and according to his IMDB page he may be playing The Kurgan in a remake of Highlander.

But Batista’s most enjoyable and probably most famous film role to this point was his turn as Drax in the aforementioned Guardians Of The Galaxy. Essentially a well-meaning alien thug who’s light on words and heavy on muscle, Drax fit in perfectly with the movie’s cast of misfit talents who stumble into become superheroes. A sequel’s already been announced, and it looks like Batista has a firm hold on a budding franchise.

Image 1 from cbn.com. Image 2 from wrestlersinhollywood.tumblr.com. Image 3 from blastr.com. Image 4 from crave online.com.

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An Ant-Man Review – Cartoony, But Still Quality

Ant-Man (2015)TITLE: Ant-Man

STARRING: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, and Michael Douglas
DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed
STUDIO: Marvel

RATING: PG-13

RUN TIME: 117 Minutes
RELEASED: July 17, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

The character of Ant-Man is blessed with slightly more fame and prestige than the Guardians of the Galaxy, but retains an inherent aura of silliness about him. Simply put, how does a superhero whose primary power is shrinking himself down to ant-size actually get anything done? Fortunately, Ant-Man embraces that aura with every ounce of energy it has, and combines it with the trappings of a heist movie. The result is probably the most original superhero film ever made.

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a recently released cat-burglar who’s trying to go straight. He tries to find honest work. Meanwhile, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is rattled to discover that his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is developing his own version of the Ant-Man technology for military applications. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) wind up recruiting Scott to don the Ant-Man suit and to “break into a place and steal some s—” one last time.

Ant-Man, image 1From the very beginning of the film, a tone is established that hasn’t been set since Iron Man. Instead of dramatic orchestral music, there’s fast-paced Mexican salsa music. It’s there from the very start. Scott and Luis are bantering back and forth, setting up jokes and keeping the air light. Hank Pym is an older scientist and retired superhero with a chip on his shoulder, sort of like Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond. The sheer life that Rudd and Douglas bring to their respective roles practically reverberates off the screen.

Iron Man was notable for combining action with comedy. If Iron Man did it a little, Ant-Man does it a lot. There are so many moments that are genuinely hilarious, often involving sight gags and dramatic irony. Likewise, the comedic atmosphere brought on by Rudd, Douglas, Pena, and the other bit-players infuses the entire movie with this fun, silly, unabashedly humorous vibe. Douglas in particular is a great straight man to Rudd, as is a special guest Avenger who briefly shows up in the middle of the movie as part of a silly interlude.

Ant-Man, image 2There are two specific actors who are particularly notable for different reasons. First, Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hope Van Dyne, brings a great deal of emotion to her role, nicely rounding out the cast with Rudd and Douglas. She has plenty to do and contributes to the story, in much the same way that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Pots did in the Iron Man movies. Her romantic subplot with Scott is partly played for laughs, which is a pretty good way to handle it.

And then there’s Darren Cross, a.k.a. Yellowjacket. Cross is probably the most cartoonishly evil villain ever to walk on screen in an MCU film. He tortures cute-looking sheep. He openly complains about his company not being able to partake in blatantly illegal activities. He casually vaporizes people who may slightly hinder his plans. Oh, and he does business with Hydra cronies.

Ant-Man, image 3, Darren CrossI could write a whole review about how this movie is decidedly anti-corporation and anti-weapon, but I think I’ll let the audience find out for themselves. Cross here is just a Lex Luthor knock-off, with Corey Stoll apparently aping Kevin Spacey’s take on that character in Superman Returns. There’s an attempt to make Cross look like a victim of Pym’s neglect. It’s implied that his work with the Yellowjacket formula is messing with his brain, but there’s no foreshadowing at all. Cross is an evil jackhat at the beginning and an evil jackhat at the end.

But all told, Ant-Man manages to impress me in a way that few other superhero movies have. I got some good laughs, I was entertained and had fun, and it made me eager to see what a sequel would be like. Paul Rudd is great as Ant-Man, as is Evangeline Lilly as Hope. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Michael Pena as Luis know how to pull their weight too. As a quick heads-up, there are two after credits sequences. One is at the end of the fancy credits sequence, and the other is at the end of the regular credit sequence. Moviegoers, be aware!

RATING: 8/10

Images 1 and 2 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 3 from geeksofdoom.com.

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A Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1 Review – Street-Level Grit and Superhero Tropes

Daredevil-Character-Poster-Matt-MurdockTITLE: Marvel’s Daredevil, Season 1
STARRING: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Toby Leonard Moore
CREATOR: Drew Goddard
RATING:
TV-MA
NETWORK: Netflix
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: April 10, 2015

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was beyond excited when I the trailers for Marvel’s Daredevil first came out. Subsequently, I was beyond awed at just how immensely intelligent and incredibly produced this series is. I plowed through all 13 episodes in three days. It was better than I could ever have imagined.

Marvel has delivered what is quite possibly their best executed, best made superhero property since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course, it may not be entirely fair to compare the two, since Daredevil is an experimental internet television series and Winter Soldier is the second big screen solo outing of an established superhero. However, they share one common trait: They both raised the bar for not just Marvel movies, but superhero movies everywhere. But only Daredevil broke entirely new ground for what can be accomplished in internet-based entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Matt Murdock, Charlie CoxMarvel’s Daredevil follows Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a lawyer blinded as a child but blessed with enhanced senses which allow him to “see” better than a normal person. By day, he works with his law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and his secretary and former client Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). By night, however, he patrols the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, fighting bad guys and saving innocents. And by “fighting,” I mean beating the bloody tar out of anyone he sees doing dirty deeds. But he slowly begins to come across loose pieces of evidence, things that don’t add up. Someone’s trying to unite all of the rival crime outfits under one banner. And that someone has a name.

(Here’s a hint: He’s played by Vincent D’Onofrio.)

I’ve heard this series called everything from “Batman Begins meets The Wire” to “dark and gritty done right.” It’s both, actually. But it’s also so much more. Daredevil explores a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we haven’t seen since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk: The grimy, broken down corner where the less-than-glamorous people make their home, where no amount of superhero bling and bang will change the real problems. Of course, this translates to a TV show about a blind ninja fighting a fat mobster whose big secret plan basically amounts to an evil gentrification scheme.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, black costumeBut like Batman Begins before it, victory is in the execution. Unlike Batman Begins, however, Daredevil knows when to be smart and when to be comic-bookish. Probably the most comic-bookish sequence in the entire series is when Matt fights somebody who’s dressed in red-and-black ninja garb. It’s awesome. Then again, the sheer amount of blood and gore on this show probably offsets it quite a bit. But there’s a lot more to this show than any of that.

What makes Daredevil unique boils down to two things: The first is that it addresses real world problems in an intelligent and thought provoking way. Take Wilson Fisk’s evil gentrification plan, for example. In the real world, many reformers are concerned about the possibility of gentrification displacing poor people. While this fear may or may not be misplaced, I’ll grant you this series was intelligent and bold enough to take such a prickly issue and make it the focal point of the plot, and to great success. As a result, Daredevil has been catapulted into the upper echelons of TV entertainment.

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, fightThe second key to the series’ uniqueness is how it explores common superhero tropes and plot lines. How did Matt procure his costume? How does he function with all the injuries he sustains while fighting bad guys? What moral justification does Matt, a lawyer sworn to abide by the law, have to engage in violent vigilante justice? As Matt’s priest, Father Lantom (eagle-eyed comic book readers will recognize the character from Brian K. Vaughan’s The Runaways) says, “Another man’s evil does not make you good.” This last issue is brought to the forefront most excellently in the episode “Nelson vs. Murdock,” a particularly enjoyable installment. The show doesn’t always bother to answer the deep questions it raises, but like BBC’s Sherlock, it stands out as one of those rare TV shows that forces you to think.

Wilson Fisk, while never actually called “The Kingpin” as he is in the comics, is more than a match for our hero. Vincent D’Onofrio gives us a definitive version of Wilson Fisk. Depicted as a psychopathic murderer and cunning gangster with the mind of a child, D’Onofrio portrays a very human Fisk. Fisk here is a man who, like Matt, is haunted by a traumatic childhood. When Fisk and Matt collide, it only gets better. Fisk’s lady love, Vanessa, is a classy, wise woman who plays a pivotal role in shaping his development in the second half of the series. (Incidentally, Vanessa is played by Ayelet Zurer, who also portrayed Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mom, in Man of Steel.)

Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix, Wilson Fisk, Vincent D'OnofrioD’Onofrio may be the definite stand out, but the rest of the cast also know how to pull their weight. Cox brings a strong degree of realism and emotion to his portrayal of Matt Murdock, making us wonder if he’s fighting for good for goodness sake, or because it’s how he gets his kicks. Charlie Cox even worked with actual blind people in order to learn tics and habits characteristic of the blind. Elden Henson is a great Foggy Nelson. He provides good comic relief, but also has an excellent capacity for a wide range of emotions. He’ll go down in the history books with Carlos Valdes’ Cisco from The Flash and Kat Dennings’ Darcy from the Thor movies as one of the great comic relief characters in superhero cinema. And what appraisal of acting talent would be complete without mentioning Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple? Both are exceptionally acted, interesting, and well-written characters. I can’t wait to see Dawson again when she comes back to reprise her role for the Luke Cage series.

This show is also great from a purely technical sense. The lighting on this show is beautiful. I mean, look at it! Most of it comes from street lamps, car headlights, police sirens, etc., enhancing the show’s gritty, street-level feel. The sheer innovation behind such effects is staggering. And then there’s the production design. Not a single set in this show looks cheap or reused, even the sets that are used repeatedly. Every time an old set reappears on the screen, I feel like I’m seeing something new in it. The look of the show matches the tone of the story, and that’s an element that works wonders when pulled off right.

Netflix's Daredevil, Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann WollThe only thing that really bugged me about this show is Karen Page. She’s portrayed as a bit more than your average damsel-in-distress. She’s knows her way around a gun, and gets a chance to kick some butt. But she really didn’t hit home for me as a character. She’s not superfluous or anything. She’s important to the plot and gets a lot done with Ben Urich, but I just have difficultly connecting with her as a character. I don’t immediately like Karen Page the way I like Matt or Foggy or Claire. I just don’t get Karen.

Two final things I’d like to highlight are the action sequences and the show’s portrayal of organized crime. Much praise has been heaped upon Daredevil’s realistic yet cool-looking fight scenes. The fight scenes here are choreographed very differently than from what you might find in Winter Soldier or The Avengers. The TV-MA-earning blood and gore aside, the fights scenes here have Matt and his enemies stopping to get back up off the ground and take on the other guy before he’s finished recovering from the last brutal attack. Matt takes more punishment than he dishes out half the time. But man, does he know how to fight! These scenes are structured in a way that casts the combatants as breakable humans, not titanic, superhuman bulldozers.

Marvel's Daredevl, Netflix, costumeBeing a crime buff, I loved the way they portrayed the organized crime entities in this show. They even give us a decent explanation of why the traditional Italian mob is nowhere to be seen. You’ve got the Russians, there’s the Yakuza, and the local chapter of the Chinese Triads. We also see a couple of characters pulled right from the comics: Leland Owlsley (Bob Gunton), a money launderer, and Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan), a two-bit thug with lousy luck. They’re all portrayed fairly accurately, with the foreigners speaking in their native tongues when English-speakers are not present, and each having their own individual quirks. They all have their respective motivations and agendas independent of Fisk. They’re all testaments to the show’s devotion to good characterization.

On the whole, Marvel’s Daredevil is an amazing show. It has great acting, great writing, great everything. I was psyched to hear that it has been renewed for a second season, to be released in 2016. I look forward to re-watching the first season and absorbing all the threads and grooves that made it so enjoyable the first time. Mind you though, this is definitely TV-MA. Make sure the kids don’t find this on your Netflix account. Save it for later. Much later. Trust me, they’ll love you for that when the time comes, because this series is otherwise incredible.

RATING: 10/10

Image 5 from nypost.com. All other images from rottentomatoes.com.

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