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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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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Edge of Tomorrow poster
Edge of Tomorrow mimics video game respawning.

Video game adaptations have generally been pretty awful. Edge of Tomorrow isn't based on a video game (it's actually based on a Japanese novel), but it manages to feel more like a video game than any game-based movie that I've ever seen, while still providing an interesting and fun narrative built upon a unique time-travel premise.

The movie takes place in a present-day earth that has been invaded by hostile aliens, slowly but steadily consuming the cities of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the combined forces of earth's nations can't slow them down. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered into active combat in a surprise assault against the aliens, despite being a propaganda officer rather than an actual soldier. During the assault, the human soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered, but Cage manages to kill an alien only to be boiled alive by the alien's acidic blood. However, Cage gains the alien's ability to go back in time to reset the day after he dies. So when Cage dies, he immediately wakes up back at the army base just prior to the invasion to start the day over again.

 

Cage gets stuck in a "Groundhog Day" cycle, constantly reliving the same failed invasion over and over again. He tries to change the outcome, but plays such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things that his efforts are all in vain, and he must repeatedly experience the invasion until he has effectively memorized every event. In each repeat cycle, he gets a little bit better at staying alive, just like a video gamer playing a trial-and-error level in an old-school video game (think Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, or the more recent Demon's Souls). He learns the location of every alien, every mortar shell, every landmine, every piece of flying debris, until he can essentially walk through the invasion with his eyes closed either avoiding or eliminating threats with virtually no effort.

As a gamer, it was very interesting for me to watch a film narrative that is completely based around one of gaming's central conceits: respawning after a character dies...

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Lollipop Chainsaw

Ladies, perhaps you can help me:

Is Lollipop Chainsaw a smart, funny commentary of the sexist treatment of women in video games? Or is it a stupid, offensive piece of sexual exploitation? I honestly can't tell, and based on the lack of maturity in the humor and visual styles of both Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, I'm leaning more towards "stupid". I can say, however, that if you are a 13-year-old boy, then you shouldn't bother reading any more of this review, because this game has a hot, blonde cheerleader in it that kills zombies with a chainsaw, and you will love it! But don't get too excited: despite the notice for "partial nudity" in the ESRB ratings label on the box, you won't see anything that you couldn't see on a pixelated beach.

As for me, a ditzy, busty, blonde cheerleader isn't going to be able to overrule my discriminating tastes and single-handedly carry the game alone on her well-endowed chest. If the gameplay doesn't hold up, then even the best character design and cleverest wit won't save the game from a mediocre review.

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Batman: Arkham City box art

The comic book video game genre has been one of the most disappointing genres of video games in history. Almost as bad as movie-to-game adaptations (neither of which is worse than game-to-movie adaptations, though). You'd think that with all the awesome source material at their disposal, that game developers would have been able to come up with some pretty amazing games. But other than a few stand-outs, Spider-Man held the crown as the king of good comic book video games for almost a full decade during the 2000's before Rocksteady blew all previous comic book-themed video games out of the water and gave us the first truly great comic game with 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum.

I cannot sing that game's praises enough. It was like a video game love letter to Batman fans (and all comic book fans in general). Despite being a little tedious towards the end, this game delivered an unparalleled experience that made all comic book games before it look as embarassing as Super Mario Bros. the Movie! Elements of Arkham Asylum's design (such as the free flow combat system) have even found their way into other games and genres such as Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Uncharted 3.

A sequel was inevitable, and hopes were high for Arkham City (which the developers had enough foresight to tease with a secret room showing the sequel's map in the first game). Arkham City promised an open-world map with a longer story, more villains, and Catwoman as a playable character. “Bigger, better, more” seemed to be the motto going into this game. Well, they definitely got the “bigger” and “more” parts, but not necessarily “better”.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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