Category: superman

Task Force X!

Suicide Squad (2016): written and directed by David Ayer; based on DC Comics characters and situations created by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Gerry Conway, Paul Dini, Bob Haney, Howard Purcell, and many others; starring Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jared Leto (The Joker), Joel Kinnaman (Colonel Rick Flag), Cara Delevingne (June Moone/ Enchantress), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), Jay Hernandez (Diablo), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Adam Beach (Slipknot), Alaine Chanoine (Businessman/ Incubus), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/ Batman), and Ezra Miller (The Flash):

I’d love to see the David Ayer director’s cut of Suicide Squad. Did it include as many music-video sequences? More importantly, did its first 45 minutes seem like the film adaptation of Who’s Who in the DC Universe I’ve been waiting 32 years to see? 

Ayer is a solid, gritty director of manly men doing violent, manly things in movies that include Fury and End of Watch. And Ayer has definitely seen The Dirty Dozen, which did this sort of Rogue’s Team-up with flair — an early death in Suicide Squad bounces right off the first death in The Dirty Dozen in visual terms. Lee Marvin would really help this movie, or even someone Lee-Marvin-esque rather than Joel Kinnaman’s somewhat bland portrayal of team leader Colonel Rick Flag. Was Stephen Lang available? Stephen Lang would be a killer Rick Flag.

Dismantled and reassembled by a team of panicked Warner Brothers executives after the widespread vitriol that attended Batman V. Superman back in March, Suicide Squad is a strangely enjoyable mess that seems to be missing vital connective tissue at several points in its narrative. The changes in mood — from zippy to grim to sentimental to music video to Ghostbusters — are striking and sometimes off-putting.

But like a lot of DC Comics movie offerings (and very few Marvel movie offerings, regardless of their box-office success), Suicide Squad is stylistically interesting and, at times, visually bold. The plot may sag or jump, but visually David Ayer manages a number of striking moments, along with some awfully good live-action visual adaptations of comic-book costumes. Say what you will about these DC movies, but they’ve yet to foist upon the viewing public as crappy a superhero costume as Marvel’s lame-ass visualization of the Vision.

But people like plot. Plot, plot, plot. And I wish this one was more coherent. Hell, I wish they’d included a scene that actually named one of the two supernatural Big Bads (Incubus) rather than leaving that job to the closing credits. Hmm. Incubus. And another super-villain is named Slipknot. That’s some weird musical stuff.

Everyone’s already talked about Margot Robbie (pretty good as Harley Quinn, not so good as psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel) and Jared Leto (underwhelming and underused as the Joker, who really should be stuck trying to save the world at the climax because that really would be funny). I liked Jay Hernandez and his character Diablo, which visually is a crazy gang-banging stereotype but as written and performed is instead the movie’s most noble and nuanced character. Viola Davis is pretty much on-point as Amanda Waller, who will do anything to save the world. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje  gets buried under a ton of make-up and a mumble-mouthed Cajun accent as Killer Croc, but he’s still pretty good.

And Will Smith does that twinkly Will Smith thing as principled assassin Deadshot while wearing a mostly faithful recreation of Marshall Rogers’ striking re-design for the character from the 1970’s Batman comics. Why Warner wasted Smith here and didn’t get him on-board the Justice League movie as Green Lantern John Stewart baffles me. It seems like a major missed opportunity. Oh, well. 

The last hour is pretty much that Ghostbusters reboot you didn’t expect to see in a comic-book movie. And I liked a lot of the visual work on all the monstrous tentacles and crawly, misshapen, monstrous hell-soldiers running around a supernaturally invaded Midway City, (Midway City being the name for Toronto on Earth-DC, at least judging by all the recognizable Toronto locations that make cameos in Suicide Squad). The Enchantress looks creepy in her earlier appearances, though her later belly-dancer get-up underwhelms. Techno-organic hell-god Incubus also has some visual moments, along with an underwhelming death. 

That the movie should end with Harley Quinn killing the Joker seems like a real lost opportunity to freak out the Internet. But it would totally be a great idea. And clear the way to someone better than Leto playing the Joker because that guy never stays dead anyway! Suicide Squad straddles a line between lightly recommended and recommended. Your experience may vary. 

Dark Knight Detectives

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014): adapted by Scott Frank from the novel by Lawrence Block; directed by Scott Frank; starring Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), and Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (T.J.) : Scott Frank’s adaptation of one of Lawrence Block’s great Matt Scudder mystery novels is a dandy modern hard-boiled detective/noir. Liam Neeson does marvelous, sorrowful work as Scudder, that dark knight of New York, as does Brian Bradley as homeless genius T.J., whose orbit intersects with Scudder’s during an investigation of some horrible killings. That it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be robs us of more Scudder adaptations from Frank and Neeson, which is a great, great shame. Highly recommended.

Mr. Holmes (2015): adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by Mitch Cullin; directed by Bill Condon; starring Ian McKellen (Sherlock Holmes), Laura Linney (Mrs. Munro), Milo Parker (Roger Munro), and Hattie Morahan (Ann Kelmot) : Lovely, character-driven piece about Sherlock Holmes in twilight, bee-keeping in the country just after World War Two. McKellen does fine work as a memory-loss-plagued Holmes in his 90’s and, in flashback, Holmes prior to his retirement just after World War One. 

Laura Linney and Hattie Morahan are fine as the main female supporting characters in the present and past, respectively, while Milo Parker is a refreshingly non-annoying child actor. Parker plays the son of Holmes’ housekeeper Linney in the 1940’s sequences, fascinated by the life and career of the World’s First Consulting Detective. 

The narrative plays around with what we ‘know’ of Holmes’ life from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories by playing with Doyle’s own literary conceit that Holmes was a real person whose adventures were recounted — and sometimes embellished — by Holmes’ friend Dr. Watson. The mysteries in Mr. Holmes aren’t great ones. It’s the film’s engagement with memory, loss, and regrets that makes it so moving. Highly recommended.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), and Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke) : Still a zippy ride on the small screen, where the greatest strength of the film — its terrific casting and direction of the new characters — stands out more than ever. And BB-8. Can’t forget BB-8. Highly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A second viewing made me think that the movie might have been better had the entire section of Batman actually fighting Superman been excised in favour of a brief conversation between the two. I like the idea of a movie entitled Batman v. Superman that doesn’t actually include a battle between Batman and Superman. 

With a nod to Chekov’s gun, the Excalibur reference on the wall in the first Act goes off in the third. Hoo ha. At least it attempts to be a movie and not just another slab of Marvel Movie Product (TM). And Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman really is Da Bomb once she gets into battle. Still, it feels like Aquaman really should have showed up with that spear at the end. Recommended.

Four Movies, 9000 Characters

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle; directed by Dan Trachtenberg; starring Jhn Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), and John Gallegher Jr. (Emmett): Delightful psychological thriller with several fine twists. The writing is sharp, the direction from first-time helmer Dan Trachtenberg precise, and the acting superb. And that’s all I”m telling you so that you can go spoiler-free. Highly recommended.

San Andreas (2015): written by Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio, and Jeremy Passmore; directed by Brad Peyton; starring Dwayne Johnson (Gaines), Carla Gugino (Carla), Alexandra Daddario (Blake), and Paul Giamatti (Dr. Hayes): Goofy, implausible, impossible shenanigans involving a massive, San Francisco-centered earthquake. Dwayne Johnson, playing a Los Angeles fire-department rescue pilot, is having major marital issues with estranged wife Carla Gugino because Of Course He Is. But when earthquakes come a-knocking, Johnson pilots helicopters, cars, SUVs, boats, and airplanes to save his wife and 20-year-old daughter, who’s in San Francisco. 

This is the sort of movie in which visual effects carry pretty much everything. They’re OK, and the direction by Brad Peyton is mostly brisk. Among other things, San Andreas gives us an impossibly large tsunami that couldn’t actually happen in the San Francisco area. And it’s going the wrong way. Maybe this is a remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Certainly no worse than the disaster movies of the 1970s. Lightly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A lighter touch on both the writing and directorial ends could have made the 2 1/2 hours of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pass a lot more smoothly. However, for all the darkness of his colour palette, director Snyder at least aims for something epic and movie-like, which is more than I can say about 90% of all Marvel films, most of which are filmed as if they were the most expensive, stylistically inert TV movies ever made.

Ben Affleck is perfectly fine as Batman, Henry Cavill is solid as Superman, and Gal Gadot is a hoot as Wonder Woman. There’s a plot explanation for Jesse Eisenberg’s loopy Lex Luthor, but it’s in the deleted scenes. Amy Adams plays Lois Lane as the film’s one real ray of light. The bombastic sturm-und-drang of the battle sequences may actually play better on a small screen, where they’ll be less sonically and visually overwhelming. And hey, a Mother Box! Parademons! Batman with goggles! A Boom Tube! An early Excalibur (1981) reference that pays off visually in the climax! Recommended.

The Princess Bride (1987): adapted by William Goldman from his own novel; directed by Rob Reiner; starring Cary Elwes (Westley), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Andre the Giant (Fezzik), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Peter Falk (Grandfather), and Fred Savage (Grandson): Still a gold standard for light-hearted meta-fantasy after all these years. William Goldman’s screenplay is slightly sweeter than his even more meta novel. The cast is great, though Billy Crystal remains somewhat jarring — he’s a little too tonally off to be funny enough to justify. Andre the Giant steals the show, though, as the amiable, reflexively violent Fezzik. A movie from the time when giants walked the Earth, and the giants were funny! Highly recommended.

Everybody Loves Kryptonite

Yes, the original is in here.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest featuring Superman and Batman Volume 3: written by Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates, and Bill Finger; illustrated by Curt Swan, George Klein, and Al Plastino (1965-67; collected 2010): An often gloriously loopy example of DC’s superheroes in the late Silver Age. Superman and Batman team up, often with Robin and Jimmy Olsen along, to face a variety of menaces that range from the sinister to the ridiculous.

The great Curt Swan, for many people The Superman Artist, draws all but one of the stories collected here, giving even the craziest of events a grounding in reality. Edmond Hamilton, a science-fiction writer who started his career in the 1930’s but also wrote a ton of comics for DC in the 1950’s and 1960’s, writes about the first half of the book. It’s Silver Agey super-science and sketchy characterization throughout. And comics were for kids, so that’s fine.

Superman and Batman get a little more psychologically complex once the young, Marvelesque Jim Shooter starts contributing scripts, along with long-time-to-be Superman scribe Cary Bates and Leo Dorfman. The heroes show more doubt and have more problems, sometimes to a ridiculous extent. The final story in the volume features an astonishingly underwhelming villain who nonetheless figures out the location of the Bat-cave in about two minutes…and gets inside. It also features Batman and Superman telling a Q&A group what villains they most fear and why. Really? This is not a particularly good thing to get all carey and sharey about!

The 1950’s and 1960’s were also a period when everyone on the planet seemed to have several pounds of Kryptonite lying around the house. It’s a good thing these were stories for children — otherwise, Superman would have died a thousand times over. One can see by the rote use of Kryptonite by every bloody criminal on the planet why the editors tried to wipe the Kryptonian menace out during the soft Superman reboot of 1970.

Or John Byrne’s hard Superman reboot of 1986, for that matter, which initially reduced the amount of Kryptonite on Earth to one fist-sized chunk. Having learned nothing from 63 years of Superman history, the producers of Smallville re-introduced Kryptonite in mass quantities and upped the ante by having it give human beings super-powers as well. Because as Bizarro-Superman (who also appears here) would say, Hollywood am smart!

In order to introduce non-Kryptonite-centric drama, the creators of World’s Finest resorted several times in the three years spanned by this collection to two recurring story models. One is the ‘Imaginary Story’, in which out-of-continuity events such as Bruce Wayne being adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent and being raised as Clark Kent’s brother could occur. These Imaginary Stories often represented the best DC stories (for adult readers, anyway) of the 1950’s and 1960’s, as people could actually change and even die in them.

The other old stand-by involved the magical pair of transdimensional tricksters Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite getting up to magical shenanigans to test the character of Superman and Batman. Because the effects of their magic — up to and including mass death — would cease to exist once they were banished back to their magical other-dimensional worlds, their stories could also involve a lot of danger and humiliation for the World’s Finest team. Cartoonist Evan Dorkin took the Bat-Mite/Mxyzptlk stories to their logical conclusion in 2001’s World’s Funniest, which I thought was pretty funny.

All in all, this volume is a weird delight. Is it sophisticated graphic entertainment for adults? No. But it’s more fun than a barrel of Kryptonite. And barrels of Kryptonite must be fun because everyone’s got one! Also, King Arthur and his knights had super-powers in the DC Universe at this point! And the Superman of the 30th century can be brought low by… sea water, all of which is now deadly radioactive! Because Kryptonite wasn’t pervasive enough! Highly recommended.