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, 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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A Ghosbusters In-Depth Review – Good Enough

Ghostbusters, 2016 posterTITLE: Ghostbusters
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
STUDIOS: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Pascal Pictures, Feigco Entertainment, Ghost Corps Production Company
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 116 min
RELEASED: 
July 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The verdict from a life-long ghosthead: It’s good. Not great, and certainly not the classic it’s based on. But pretty good. After everything this movie and the people who’ve made it have been subjected to, I’d say pretty good is good enough.

Who’d have thought such a beloved movie, such a cherished brand, could prompt such hate? Just the stuff that’s been thrown at Leslie Jones (#LoveForLeslieJ) is enough to make you want to shower for five days. But the metric ton of sexism, and general brattiness shoveled in this movie’s direction has been preposterous. I love Ghostbusters as much as anybody else on the planet. The original film was a perfect storm of improv, acting, special effects (as they existed then), music, and storytelling. It touched an emotional chord, and captured the world’s imagination like few movies are privileged to do. I hold it very close to my heart.

But it’s still just a movie. A movie co-produced by Ivan Reitman, who directed the original, as well as Dan Ackroyd himself. A movie that clearly adores its source material, to the point that it stops in its tracks multiple times to have scenes with original cast members. It even goes out of its way to use Slimer, and give the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man an appearance. Let’s keep this all in perspective.

Ghostbusters, image 1, 2016While you can’t excuse all the hate that’s been thrown at this movie, when it comes to ’80s kids I think a lot of it stems from the idea that these ladies are “not my Ghostbusters.” I get that. Some of this backlash likely could have been avoided if they’d gone with a Creed style sequel set decades after the original. Same cast as this movie, same creative team, with a cameo from the Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd characters. Obviously, that leaves you with the question of what happened to Egon Spengler. But it could have worked. That’s what I’d have preferred, perhaps selfishly.

To its credit, the remake tells its own story, albeit hitting some of the original’s bullet points. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is fired from her university position when her belief in the paranormal is brought to light. She teams with childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) and her associate Jilian Holtzman (McKinnon) to research the ghostly and the unknown. Their first case takes them to the New York City subway, where they meet MTA worker Patty Tolan (Jones). From there, a mystery unravels as to how and why the city is infested with ghosts. Like the original, the movie’s climax ends with a fight against a giant, pasty white monster.

While the ghosts and spooky stuff was important, the success of the 1984 film had more with the Ghostbusters themselves. The characters were fun, their interplay was strong (not to mention hysterical), and you were rooting for them. In making a new Ghostbusters movie, remake or not, half your battle is in the creation of new characters. On that front, the movie starts off shakily. But by the second act, we’ve got a good team on our hands. I can’t give enough credit to Feig, his co-writer Katie Dippold, and these ladies for creating characters that are new, yet with a dynamic that feels familiar.

Ghostbusters, McKinnon, WiigMcCarthy essentially fills the Dan Aykroyd role in this movie, becoming the chirpy heart of the team. She plays off the skeptical Wiig, whose more reserved role keep things grounded in the first act, and adds weight to the ghostly stuff once it takes off. I’ve always preferred Wiig in more dramatic roles, and she earns her keep here. Leslie Jones is, frankly, the sassy one. But her character has enough heart to round her out.

Here’s something that won’t earn me any friends: Kate McKinnon’s performance as Holtzman was grating at first. They were pushing her too hard as “the zany one,” which made me nervous for her. IIf Holtzman had been too flippant for too long, we’d have had…*gulp*…the Jar Jar Binks of Ghostbusters.

Thankfully, the character finds her groove. She becomes an intriguing balance of misfit and super genius. Critics have called this a breakout performance for McKinnon. I’m with them. But yeesh, don’t scare me like that…

Chris Hemsworth surprises with his comedic chops. He could have strictly been a hottie for Wiig to drool over. But he adds real value as yet another misfit, this one comedically out of touch with reality. Based on his role in the climactic sequence, had the Kevin character been tweaked a bit, he might have been okay as the villain.

Ghostbusters, 2016, us against themThere’s a syrupy “rise above ridicule” vibe to the movie that I didn’t expect. The ladies are all outcasts who must overcome the city’s perception of them and save the day. We’re reminded that these four aren’t just coworkers. They’re friends. We get little sentimental moments between Erin and Abby. Patty yells: “Get outta my friend, ghost!” Holtzman gives a little speech about how she finally has a family. You almost expect someone to shout “Friends Forever!” Even our villain is a former bullying victim striking back at society. This idea was present in the original. But they didn’t point right at it like this movie does, and it didn’t seem as personal in nature. How ironic. A movie trying to talk to kids about bullying gets bullied online by adults, many of whom were likely bullied as children.

You know what I’m sick of? “Spontaneous banter.” It’s present in a lot of modern comedies, Ghostbusters included. Characters will be proceeding in a scene. Suddenly, someone will either go off on an unrelated tangent or say something embarrassingly personal. A certain vulnerability or humanity will peek through. Then, as suddenly as they stopped, they’ll pick up where they left off. Sometimes it works. But often it’s inorganic, and kills tension in a scene.

For instance, about midway through the movie a ghost throws a character out a window at Ghostbusters HQ. The ladies end up talking to a cop about the incident, and he cracks: “You saw a ghost? Like the movie with Patrick Swayze?” Melissa McCarthy’s character has a comeback, then suddenly she and Wiig go on a tangent about Patrick Swayze movies. They’re in trouble with the cops because someone was thrown out their window. But the stakes suddenly disappear, then reappear, so we can have banter. StopDoingThat. Not every movie can afford to snip holes in the fabric of its reality so we can have pop culture references.

Slimer

Like a a certain section of moviegoers, I’ve got CGI fatigue. In the ’80s, the Ghostbusters franchise was heralded for its special effects. So to see modern CGI in a Ghostbusters movie feels awkward. I’d wager part of this can be chalked up to the “not my Ghostbusters” factor. But there’s some legitimacy to it. You almost can’t look at these ghosts without being reminded of the live action Scooby Doo movie. But they should be fine for kids and the average moviegoer. Admittedly, our climactic monster looks pretty good. I also like that they added a little glisten to Slimer. He is made of slime, isn’t he?

To its credit, and my great surprise, this movie has one of the best credits sequences I’ve ever seen. They cut in and out of a dance scene, set to “Get Ghost” by Mark Ronson, Passion Pit, and A$AP Ferg. It’s infectiously catchy.

So in the end, was it all that bad? No, not really. It’s not the movie I wanted. But I’m okay with that. After all these years, we finally got a new Ghostbusters movie. And people in my theater were laughing and having fun. It’s tough not to like that.

Kristen Wiig, Ghostbusters premiereThen you have this picture. I absolutely adore this. Look at the faces on those kids! This captures what the new movie can mean to young girls around the world. For that matter, it captures what the old movie meant to so many of us. If you’re a child of the ’80s, swap in a childhood version of yourself and put Bill Murray in Kristen Wiig’s place. Different era, same scene.

Maybe, like the original Ghostbusters, we were meant to pass it on to a new generation.

Maybe we did get the right movie after all…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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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A Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free For Your Protection

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, posterTITLE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
STARRING: Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Issaac
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 135 min
RELEASED: December 18, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, The Los Angeles Times ran article about John Williams composing the music for The Force Awakens. The famous film score composer said he felt “a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of [George] Lucas’ creation — but revivified it.”

That’s pretty much been the energy surrounding The Force Awakens as a whole. We’ve all felt it. This film represents a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. And the box office figures indicate, we’re ready to greet the day.

The plot for this movie has been delightfully shrouded in mystery from the get-go, and I see no reason to go into detail now. But here are the basics. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Near the top of their ranks is Kylo Ren, a mysterious warrior following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. But new heroes will rise, such as Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku. At her side is Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose conscious led him away from the violent First Order. This duo will fight alongside none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, heroes of the Galactic Civil War. All the while, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, searches for the one hero missing amidst the conflict: Luke Skywalker.

Rey, Finn, BB-8, Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs a life-long Star Wars fan, I can indeed confirm that The Force Awakens is good. But it’s a different kind of Star Wars movie. Not drastically so, but Star Wars die-hards may notice. Certain portions have dimmer lighting, which leads to a darker vibe. There’s also a little more blood than we’re used to seeing from Star Wars. It’s still a scarce amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable. I attribute this to the absence of George Lucas, who wasn’t there to micromanage things in his own…ehem…unique way.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m a George Lucas fan. But if The Force Awakens proves anything, it’s that Star Wars needed to get away from him. The man who wrote and directed the prequels could not have created a movie like this. This movie gives us new heroes we can invest in and care about. While it doesn’t shy away from nostalgiac winks here and there, it doesn’t need to be propped up by original trilogy elements the way the prequels did. It’s a thrill ride very much worthy of the Star Wars legacy.

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe original trilogy character we spend the most time with is Han Solo, who is as charming and witty as ever. Harrison Ford essentially gives us exactly what we wanted to see from that character. He’s not necessarily the same daring rogue. But he’s still Han Solo. We also see a good amount of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. It’s especially cathartic to see her in the role again. It’s such an iconic character, and she deserved that renewed spotlight. As for Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker…that would be a spoiler.

Most of the new characters we meet are intriguing. But for my money, none are more interesting than Kylo Ren. It’s encouraging that he’s not simply a Darth Vader clone. He’s very much his own man, with his own demons. Some may argue that makes him less threatening than Vader, or other Star Wars villains. But without saying too much, there’s a level of instability there that should make for an entertaining journey.

Captain Phasma, Star Wars: The Force AwakensA fair complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s simply the original Star Wars film done over again. The similarities are undeniable. We have our hero on a desert planet who gets a call-to-action from a droid, and is quickly swept into a galactic war against a Nazi-like organization with a base that has the power to destroy planets. Sound familiar? At one point, they even do a side-by-side comparison of Starkiller Base and the Death Star. The inside of the base is also clearly modeled after the Death Star!

Given what we’d seen from our most recent Star Wars movies, I’d argue a throwback isn’t the worst thing in the world. This movie gives people the Star Wars they want to see. Good and evil, the Rebellion and the Empire, Jedi and Sith. Some of the names have changed, but at their core, they’re the same. As a bonus, we even get to see some of the faces we fell in love with from the original trilogy.

131416_ori The Force Awakens is designed to jump-start the Star Wars franchise, getting us to remember what we loved about the originals while introducing new faces to carry the brand into the future. It accomplishes that goal, easily giving us the best installment in the series since Return of the Jedi. Lingering questions do remain, but I expect they’ll be resolved in future films. It’s fun to watch The Force Awakens, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from Star Wars in recent years, it’s that sense of fun and adventure. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and everybody else involved with this movie deserve credit for living up to the hype, and restoring something that was lost.

So rejoice Jedi, wookies, droids, and even you damn gungans! Star Wars is fun again!

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.

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Some Thoughts as Star Wars: The Force Awakens Opens

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Today’s the day, huh? It seems so weird that a year ago we were all salivating over that teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and now we’re all about to see it in all it’s glory. Or at least what we hope is glory. I mean, theoretically the movie could suck…but I don’t see that happening this time around.

No, I didn’t see it at midnight. I went to midnight showings of all three prequels. That seems like enough. If anybody gives me flack over it, my go-to line is: “You were there when the Force awakened. But I was there to hold the Force’s hair back when it got drunk, started mumbling belligerently about midichlorians and a cartoon rabbit, then said something about “having the high ground” before passing out. My fanboy cred is just fine, thank you very much.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, image 1What’s hit home for me in the last few days is that The Force Awakens is more than just a movie. It’s a cultural event. Not just to fanboys, but for average joes. Most people I’ve talked to know when they’re going to see it and with whom. People are going with their family members, close friends, and other loved ones. It’s no small feat when something can connect so many people like that.

You know what I’d be curious to know? What’s J.J. Abrams doing right now? Is he on vacation somewhere with no access to TV or internet? I think that’s what I’d do. Make no mistake about it, the world’s eyes are on his movie right now. It seems like a little bit of privacy might be in order…

I’m trying not to go in with any expectations. Obviously I’ll have plenty to say after I see the movie. But for now, it’s nice just to bask in the excitement that’s sweeping the globe. Hell, the lead story on Yahoo right now is about Admiral Ackbar. How weird is that?

But in the words of the great admiral: May the Force be with us…

Images courtesy of rottentomatoes.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 Man of Steel Review – Superman Begins

Man of Steel posterTITLE: Man of Steel
STARRING: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Entertainment
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 143 min
RELEASED: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Man of Steel is one of the most polarizing fanboy flicks I’ve seen in recent memory. People either seem to have really enjoyed it, or really disliked it. Either way, things probably aren’t as good or as bad as they seem. But that passion is understandable, given all the struggles the Superman film franchise has gone through, even since Christopher Reeve was still in the suit. Superman fans have been dying for a film adaptation worthy of their hero. Is Man of Steel it? Eh…maybe. It depends on what you’re looking for.

We all know the story: On the distant planet of Krypton, Jor El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara send their infant son to Earth to save him from the planet’s immediate destruction. Once there, he’s adopted by a kindly couple in Smallville, Kansas. Earth’s yellow sun grants young Clark Kent with powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men. He becomes Superman (Henry Cavill), the ultimate champion of truth, justice, and the American way. In this film, our hero takes on General Zod (Michael Shannon), a survivor of Krypton who will stop at nothing to ravage Earth, and effectively make it a new Krypton.

Man of Steel, Superman, Henry Cavill, image 1When Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns came out in 2006, one of the major recurring complaints was that it was too low on action. There was nobody for Superman to punch or fight with. When Brandon Routh was in the costume, he spent most of the his time either putting out fires or trying to impress with special effects stunts. So when it came time to dump the game board over and start again, they made sure to fill the super-powered action quotient by giving the director’s chair to Zack Snyder, the man behind 300Watchmen and Sucker Punch. But wouldn’t ya know it, Man of Steel wound up having the exact opposite issue Superman Returns had: It overdoes the action to the point where it almost jumps the shark. And for some moviegoers, it did.

Most of the last 45 minutes of Man of Steel consists of an all out super-powered war between our hero and General Zod’s forces. With seemingly unlimited power and strength, they send each other flipping and flying through the air, crashing through countless structures and effectively reducing them to scrap. A large portion of Metropolis, one of the biggest and highest-populated cities in the DC Universe, is ripped apart. Skyscrapers literally crumble and topple over as civilians run for cover. To an extent, it’s actually really cool to see Superman unload on somebody, and actually unleash all his power. Some of us have been waiting to see this kind of thing for years. But unfortunately, Snyder stays at the party 10-15 minutes longer than he needs to. As such, the novelty and the shock value of all the crashing and smashing begins to wear off, and they’re basically fighting in a city made of building blocks. Considering this movie is 143 minutes, they could have afforded a bit more brevity.

Man of Steel, Amy Adams, Lois LaneStill, the movie manages to do one thing better than arguably any Superman film before it: Capture the essence of Superman’s moralistic mission and peaceful soul. I can’t stress enough that Superman is an idealist. He’s here to inspire us, instill us with hope, and teach us about the human spirit. Man of Steel illustrates this very well, and frankly I didn’t know Snyder had it in him. Because his abilities do to an extent make him a hazard to those around him, our hero is forced to learn the value of restraint and a cool head growing up, which the story uses to contribute to his career as Superman. It’s very well done.

From a performance standpoint, Henry Cavill isn’t going to win any Oscars for the role of Superman. But he does an adequate job. Oddly enough, in terms of getting us to care about Clark Kent, the heavy lifting is actually done by Cavill’s younger counterparts: Cooper Timberline (9-year-old Clark) and Dylan Sprayberry (13-year-old Clark). Their scenes with Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent) really sell the torment and anguish the character has endured for the sake of doing the right thing. In that sense, Cavill just has to take the baton and not drop it.

But to his credit, he IS believable in the cape and boots. He’s quieter and more subtle, which is what this movie calls for. But he nevertheless has a strong presence about him, which is what Superman should have. Unlike Brandon Routh, whose job in Superman Returns was to essentially impersonate Christopher Reeve, Cavill is his own Man of Steel. That being said, his scenes with General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) and Colonel Hardy (Christopher Meloni) do call back to some of what Reeve did. But to this day, Reeve is so closely identified with this character, and that’s to be expected on some level. So kudos to Cavill and his counterparts for making us believe again.

Man of Steel, Superman, Henry Cavill, image 2Surprisingly, Amy Adams runs into some trouble as Lois Lane. She’s not bad for the role, per se. But the character is missing some of her trademark confidence, ferocity and snark. The material is there in the writing, but Adams doesn’t fully capitalize on it. Her Lois feels more like a traditional damsel in distress, with some extra passion added in. The way I’ve always interpreted the Lois Lane/Superman romance is that the source of their mutual attraction is their shared ferocity and dedication toward truth and justice. We don’t necessarily see that here. Adams is more like the girl next door, who happens upon this extraordinary person and falls for him. She’ll need to work on that for Man of Steel 2, if we get that far (which I’m guessing we will).

Marlon Brando is a pretty tough act to follow, but Russell Crowe does very well as Jor El. The way he’s incorporated into the entire story, as opposed to just the first half hour or so, is similar to the way it was done with Brando and Reeve in Superman: The Movie, but different enough that it feels like a fresh spin. I found myself caring about the Jor El character, and the Krypton side of things more than I ever have. Michael Shannon also surpassed my expectations as General Zod. He’s menacing, creepy and crazy, but he’s not reminiscent of Terrence Stamp’s take on the character at all. I’d love to see more…

latestLongtime Superman fans will no doubt notice certain trademark Superman elements, which you’d expect to see in a reboot film, are missing from this movie. Lex Luthor is conspicuous by his absence, though we do see a few quick shots of the Lexcorp logo. Jimmy Olsen isn’t there, the big Daily Planet globe is missing. The classic Clark Kent glasses disguise is, for the most part, also absent. The cartoony Superman spit curl, which both Reeve and Routh sported, is thankfully gone as well. For most of this stuff, I assume it’s just a matter of waiting for the sequel, much like we had to wait for The Dark Knight to come out to get a lot of the stuff we were clamoring for in Batman Begins.

While I’ll stay spoiler-free here, Superman does something at the climax of the film that’s very un-Superman-like. It’s something we’ve seen in superhero movies before (Tim Burton’s Batman movie comes to mind), but it’s generally considered a no-no. It was a surprise to say the least. But it’s passable, especially given what had been established up to that point. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays into the next movie, if at all.

So is Man of Steel the movie Superman deserves? I think, much like Batman Begins, it’s a nice first chapter. The movie has its flaws. But show me a movie that doesn’t have flaws. It’s not necessarily what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. Unlike what we saw in Superman Returns, our hero’s super-powered exploits were awe-inspiring at times, and the action was suspenseful. More importantly, Man of Steel seems to understand what separates Superman from every other hero in theaters today. At the end of the day, much of Man of Steel‘s legacy will depend on what comes next in the Superman film franchise.

So for now, I suppose the answer to that question is: To be continued.

RATING: 7.5/10