Suicide Squad - poster
Suicide Squad

I wasn't sure what to think when I walked out of Suicide Squad this past weekend. I desperately wanted this to be the movie in which DC finally gets its ducks in a row and makes a fully competent movie (instead of just half a competent movie). I wanted to find things to like about the movie. I wanted to see some brilliant artistic vision that was realized in the film. But I just couldn't. The whole movie was just off-putting.

I feel like the original creative vision revolved around showing a sense of nobility and honor among villains, while also highlighting that supposed "good guys" can actually be very evil. You know, real Watchmen-level kind of stuff. This would have mirrored some of the more enjoyable elements in the first half of Dawn of Justice (in which Superman and Batman's actions are viewed from different perspectives) and would have offered a pretty solid artistic message. This possible original intent is most apparent with Deadshot and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose behavior is inverse of their perception within society. Deadshot is a vigilante and murderer who is locked up in prison, but he is the most noble and compassionate character in the film. Waller, on the other hand, is a national security adviser responsible for protecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, but she is a merciless, cynical bitch who will shoot her entire staff in the heads because they apparently didn't have clearance to participate in ... the operation that she enlisted them into?

It's all so ham-fisted. Despite being the most likable, relatable, and heroic character in the movie, Deadshot's sense of honor just gets obnoxious. Waller, on the other hand, is obnoxiously vile. The result is that neither character really works for me, and that underlying theme about "who are the real bad guys?" just kind of gets lost in the meaninglessness of the individual characters' actions.

Deadshot and Amanda Waller seem to be ham-fisted attempts at subverting the "bad guys" and "good guys" tropes.

The fact that none of the other characters besides Harley and El Diablo (who ended up being my favorite character in the film) get any development at all certainly doesn't help. A two-hour runtime is pretty standard for a movie, but I simultaneously feel as though half the movie is cut out, and that half of what is present drags on...

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Captain America: Civil War poster

Why is this a "Captain America" movie? Why couldn't Marvel just call this "Avengers: Civil War" or "Marvel: Civil War"? This movie is just as much about Tony Stark as it is about Captain America, and the entire ensemble (minus a Hulk and plus a Spider-Man and Black Panther) is present.

Speaking of Spider-Man, let's get this out of the way right from the start. His presence felt like completely contrived fan service and the tonal shift that he brings kind of hurts the movie. He's pulled out of nowhere for no good reason so that he can participate in the big, fun battle royale; and then he's sent home when it's over and has absolutely no relevance to the movie's plot or themes. Tony Stark has no idea that Cap has recruited Ant Man, and I'm not even sure if he was aware that Hawkeye had broken Scarlet Witch out of the compound yet. Shouldn't Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Vision have been enough to take down Captain America, Falcon, and Bucky? Did he really think he needed to recruit an innocent, un-involved person and put him at risk?

That being said, this is the best combination of Spider-Man and Peter Parker that has been presented in live-action film to date. I do miss the New York accent of Andrew Garfield and the picture-perfect spider-suit from Amazing Spider-Man 2 (though I like the colors in Civil War better), and I think that the Sam Raimi films had the best supporting cast (outside of McGuire, Dunst, and Franco), but virtually everything about Civil War's Spider-Man was great.

Captain America: Civil War - brooding characters
Despite the lack of a New York accent, this is probably the best film of portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man.

Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand

So how does the rest of the movie do?

It kind of reminds me of Serenity (the film follow-up to the series Firefly). Both the Firefly series and the preceeding Marvel films have all been very light-hearted, fun, and energetic. They've been full of charismatic, witty characters, genuine emotion, and exciting action. But Serenity and Civil War are much more brooding. The characters don't really get along, they all seem tired, there's less wit, and much of their charisma is lost. Even characters that we may have loved before now seem somewhat dull and might not be very fun to watch.

The action is still great, the characters are still fine, and there's still some humor and wit in the dialogue. But it feels like the soul that Marvel has built up for its universe has been sucked out. The darker themes of the plot aren't even necessarily the problem here. After all, I loved Winter Soldier (and really regret that I never wrote a review of it), and that movie had a darker edge to it. But it also deviated from the established formula and showed creativity and cleverness that the other Marvel movies didn't have. It felt more like a James Bond or Jason Bourne spy-thriller than the typical Marvel comic book movie, and that was great! Similarly, Ant Man (which I also regret not reviewing) felt more like a criminal heist movie, which was also great! Both felt unique enough that they transcended the tropes and McGuffins that they relied upon.

Captain America: Civil War - brooding characters
The characters have less energy and charisma about them.

Civil War, on the other hand, falls back on many of the formulaic tropes that the Marvel films were based on. It's another revenge and McGuffin plot. The McGuffin just happens to be a person this time around, and the entire second half of the movie could have been avoided if the characters would have just let each other talk. It's this formulaic model that conflicts with the dour tone and actually leads to large chunks of the movie actually feeling boring. And much like Age of Ultron before it, this movie feels a bit too bloated for its own good. I'd much rather have seen more screen time and development for Black Panther, and no Spider-Man at all...

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Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice

I don't care much for DC characters. I'm not going to be able to love or hate this movie as much as some fanboys because I simply don't have as much investment into this universe and characters. I like Batman just fine, I hate Superman, and I'm ambivalent about most of the rest of the characters. Making Superman invincible just sucks any drama away from any conflict that he engages in. The only way to get around that is for Superman to be a complete idiot and to manage to fall for Kryptonite traps every time; otherwise, there's no story. Good writers can find ways to put Superman in situations in which he has to make split-second decisions, and that can create drama for any characters whose fate hinges on Superman's decisions. But there's only so many ways to do that before it starts to feel contrived, assuming that it ever didn't feel contrived to begin with.

So I didn't care much for Man of Steel, and my expectations for Dawn of Justice was pretty low. The only thing that I thought might give this movie any chance in hell was that the trailers made it seem like the movie might actually tackle the destruction-porn criticisms of Man of Steel by framing Superman as a villainous, city-destroying monster. The success or failure of the movie would be contingent on whether or not audiences can buy into the idea of Superman being more dangerous than he's worth.

To the film's credit, this is exactly how it starts. The first half of this movie dives right into the issue of super hero collateral damage, and Superman is criticized for his unilateral, un-supervised actions that put the citizens of Metropolis (and the world) in direct danger. The movie asks questions of whether or not Superman has the right to take actions without the consent or oversight of the people, regardless of whether his intents are noble. There's some superficial allegorical commentary about the threats posed by unilateral action by authorities (whether it's Superman taking the action, or a government). I was really enjoying the movie, especially the early scenes that played around with viewing the heroes actions through different perspectives. This stuff was thoughtfull and heady! We see Superman's actions through the perspective of a thoroughly immasculated Bruce Wayne. We see Batman's vigilante justice through the eyes of skeptical police. And we see both from the perspective of the civilians they are purporting to defend, and even from the media. I was really liking all this...

The first half of the movie user perspective shifts to reframe the actions of both of our heroes.

... And then Lex Luthor blows up the Capitol building, and a lot of the good will that the movie had been earning kind of goes down the toilet. All those themes about acting without the consent of the people, and all those perspective shifts, just go out the window to make room for a battle royale. Literally the entire second half of the movie is one extended action scene with virtually no weight or substance. Other than Batman moving the conflict towards a section of Gotham harbor that is supposedly abandoned, all the political and ideological substance that the movie had seemingly been about in the first half is completely ignored and completely unresolved. I guess we'll just have to wait until Captain America: Civil War to tell us this same story, with these same themes, in a more compelling and enjoyable way.

Dawn of Justice gets criticism for supposedly having weak motivations for its characters. I don't think this is true. I get why Bruce Wayne is so fearful of Superman. It's a bit obsessive, but it makes sense based on the history of the character in this film. After all that Batman has seen and been through, after all the villains that he's fought and all the criminals he's put down, here comes an unstoppable alien who could turn on humanity at any moment. I get it. I didn't buy into Clark Kent's dislike of Batman; although, neither did the movie's writers, since Luthor basically has to pull the whole "kidnap the hero's loved one(s)" cliche in order to threaten Superman into wanting to fight Batman. And just as much as the two's resentment towards each other felt forced, the way in which their fight "resolves" itself is similarly forced and silly.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Robin's costume
Did you miss the significance of Robin's old costume? If so, you missed a critical piece of character backstory.

There's also a lot of little, character-informing details that audiences might miss because they're not very well presented by the film. The best example is probably a costume that is briefly shown in the Batcave that is covered with graffiti that reads "Hahaha Joke's on you Batman!" ...

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