Darke Reviews | Suicide Squad (2016)

To say I have been harsh to the DC Cinematic Universe would be like saying summers in Arizona are a touch warm. Now, I can lay down geek cred pretty well with my comic collection – which does include one of the earlier runs with the Suicide Squad with friggin Catman (yes..Cat) as the lead with Deadshot also on the team. I grew up without Harley Quinn until the amazing and legendary Batman the Animated series invented her (all praise to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini). I’ve watched how the character has evolved and changed over time, some good, some bad – recently very good. So on the eve of her 25th birthday as a character (September next year) she gets her first cinematic appearance alongside a bunch of bad guys not a lot of folks have heard of outside of the comic scene or DCAU scene. DCAU gave us Assault on Arkham, a Suicide Squad story, two years ago and I keep a digital copy on most of my devices because it is one of the best of the DCAU. That said….

Should she and the others be thrown in a hole and then forget the hole or do we need more?

Let’s talk first about an uncredited writer, John Ostrander (who has a lovely tribute in the movie) who created the Suicide Squad back in 1987, and also created “Oracle” from the ashes of Barbara Gordon. Just a small thanks to him for creating the idea of villains working for good and being one of the team who also gave us Amanda Waller (with John Byrne and Len Wein). Thank you Mr Ostrander. The movie itself was written and directed by David Ayer, who also directed the disturbing war movie Fury, as well as End of Watch; and was the writer of the original The Fast and the Furious. He does great street level films and gritty films, and I could even say I would want to see what he would do with an Escape From New York or Dirty Dozen remake if someone were to deign to do such a thing. Here’s why…

This is what a director should do!

His blocking was spot on most of the time. There is an entire scene in the movie with very little dialogue but the body language and looks of those involved tell you everything you need to know about whats going on. Is the writing and direction perfect? No. I blame Zack “I suck the colour out of everything” Snyder for some of it. Some does go to Ayer, but overall this was a very well written and directed movie. It’s critical to consider that unlike the Snyder films thus far, all of the characters here we get to focus on feel like characters. I don’t just mean they are accurate to their comic characters, which they are, but they are dimensional entities of their own. They have motivations which they hold true to and you understand and care about. They aren’t painted with a thin veneer of character and we’re supposed to believe it. They are something you buy.

That gets some credit to the actors themselves. Will Smith was the classic charismatic Will Smith again. I had doubts after his last round of movies of him playing the Clark Gable inspired Floyd Lawton. These doubts were put to rest quickly and held through the movie. He was Deadshot. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Legend of Tarzan) was a version of Harley Quinn that was an amalgam of several of her more recent incarnations and even outshined Smith in the charisma department. This explains why I liked her so much in Tarzan. She was given the opportunity to show a few facets of Harley people don’t consider and it made me happy to see. Hell she made me happy.  Her and Smith had excellent chemistry which was needed for two of the most likeable villains DC has ever written. Ayer brought that to the fore and you like the villains. You enjoy them…you know you shouldn’t root for them, but you do anyway. That’s the very definition of charisma. I can’t believe I am writing this, but even Jai Courtney (Divergent, Good Day to Die Hard, Terminator Genisys) delivered. I wonder if it is because he got to speak in his natural Australian accent as the rogue Captain Boomerang. I still think Hollywood should stop trying to make him happen, but he was really good and earned more than a few laughs. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Mr. Eko on Lost)  gives us a wonderful Killer Croc, Cara Delevigne (Pan, Anna Karenina) is an amazing and mesmerizing Enchantress, and Joel Kinnaman (Robocop, The Killing) does pretty good as the all american normal guy – Rick Flag.

Smith and Robbie shine, but Jay Hernandez (Max, Nashville, Quarantine) takes someone I’d have trouble classifying even as high as a C lister and makes him understandable, relatable, and kinda awesome. It is the definition of standout performance. Karen Fukuhara is, in her first cinematic role, is absolutely imposing as Katana. Despite being 5’2″ she has a presence on screen and is the bad ass she should be. Oh yeah…so now we have someone else who could have played Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. No I am not letting it go. Viola Davis is the Amanda Waller we have all been waiting for. I saw the movie with three friends who friggin adore ‘The Wall’ in both comic and DCAU formats and boy does Davis deliver. When Harley asks if she’s the devil in the trailer, those who knew of Waller before were going “well…” and thats what we get. Amanda Waller is a character who if the Devil showed up she would look him dead in the eye and go “You’re Late” or “Are you finally ready to deal?” without batting an eyelash. That is the Waller we got and Davis is on point.

So what about Leto? I know some of you are waiting for it. This was the Clown Prince of Crime. This was a Joker we had never seen on the big screen,…or any for that matter. My friends and I shivered in one scene going “make him stop”. His costume choices were all from various art and comics over the years. Am I still upset that they lied and said “this isn’t the look” …when it damn well was. Yes. Did it grow on me in the movie? Mostly. I get the no teeth thing the number of times he has crossed The Bat. The ink …eh a bit overdone, but whatever, its aesthetics. Not mine, but it doesn’t detract too badly. Something one of my friends noted was how he interacted with Harley is actually what we should be seeing. It ain’t healthy folks, that might be a bit spoilerish from me – but Joker/Harley *is not healthy*. The movie only begins to hint at it and we are A-OK with that. In short (too late) he was fine.

From a technical perspective, some effects work. Some don’t. Enchantress looks and sounds amazing. It’s also the first introduction of magic and they did it well. The Killer Croc make up was absolutely incredible (thanks KNB/Greg Nicotero) and further proof why you need to go practical more Hollywood. Musically, this is the soundtrack I’ve been missing. I grew up in the 80’s with awesome movie soundtracks and I was thinking the other day how those are missing. Not anymore. It’s all it should be and a bag of chips. The editing….

*sigh*

I can count roughly…15-20 minutes of movie that is missing. I can see the lines of the reshoots. I can see where scenes were cut short, I can see where scenes are even missing. An important lesson Hollywood. Do not focus on scenes in trailers and your production stills if they don’t make it into the movie. Roughly a quarter of material from the trailers is not to be seen. While the editing isn’t as criminally bad as Ghostbusters…it is pretty bad.

TL;DR?

This is the movie I have been dreading and hoping for all summer. The wait is over and I already want a sequel. I really enjoyed the hell out of this. Please for the love of all you hold dear Geoff Johns and the rest of the producers at Warner Bros. learn the *right* lessons from this. This is how you make a superhero (villain?) movie. You gave me a good antagonist, good protagonists, people I cared about and oh yeah real characters. It wasn’t as dark and gloomy as the last two movies and if the reshoots were to thank for that – GOOD! They were worth it. Do not ever give us another BvS when you have this as an option. I am so bloody thankful that they moved away from the grey scale they were teasing us with initially. I don’t think it was planned. I think it was reaction to BvS and it was a good reaction to have.

This felt more to me of the quality of the DC Animated Universe than it did the Cinematic…and it shows as people are you know…enjoying it!

Should you see it?

Like action? Yes. Like comic book movies? Yes. Like a violence? Yes. Like Harley, Deadshot, Waller, Croc, Diablo, Katana, Enchantress? Then Yes. Yes you should see this. They earned the PG-13 Rating and it felt like the PG-13 that I grew up with versus the overly sanitized PG-13s we’ve had of late. Remember when Red Dawn and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created PG-13…yeah this is right there with them. Thankfully.

Will you buy it?

I am irritated I can’t pre order it. I just checked…

Anything else?

Give us Pamela Isley in the next film so we can see Harley move onto a nice far more stable sociopath.

Uh…

I am probably seeing it again this weekend, or next week…or something. I am still undecided on Pete’s Dragon so may see this again. I didn’t realize how much I needed this in my life until now.

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Darke Reviews | Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

When it comes to comic canon and graphic novels there are a handful of seminal works, especially in the past 30 years. If you ask most fans, you will hear the following titles (not in order of importance)

  • Dark Knight Returns
  • Watchmen
  • V for Vendetta
  • Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes/Season of Mists)
  • The Killing Joke

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller are the men behind those titles. There are other titles that are up there as well, such as Powers, Preacher, Road to Perdition, Superman Red Son, All Star Superman, etc. The ones in the list though, they almost always make everyone’s lists. So when I heard that they were making The Killing Joke into a movie in the DC Animated Universe I was ecstatic. The DCAU has never failed to disappoint me and my regular readers have seen me reference them in multiple other reviews as the writing, animation, and just overall quality of work is impeccable.

So how did they do for this fan girl?

They are adapting the story from the Alan Moore Killing Joke, which pretty much changed the DC comic universe forever. Now, there are challenges here in this review as not everyone read the comic and I don’t want to spoil anything. Which is a challenge for me in this review as much as it was for Brian Azzarello who adapted the source material to screenplay. Azzarello last touched the animated scene with Batman: Gotham Knight (Working through Pain sequence), and beyond that has worked on DC Vertigo comics (same ones who gave us Sandman) and wrote some of the Wonder Woman New 52 run (which as I understand is praised).  You see, up to this point the DCAU hasn’t introduced Barbara Gordon or Batgirl, so in order for this story to work they have to create a first act which focuses on her decisions, challenges, and the life she is living.  This is a requirement as there is a population that has never really met her as they are only aware of what we have in the DCAU.

Do I agree with every decision they made? No. One of them was …ill conceived at best. Do I understand what they were trying to do with that decision? Yes. Overall, I think the first act is solid and if instead of the first act you consider it a ..prologue you will be fine. I understand a lot of reviewers have issues with it, and let’s be fair, I can equally see where they come from. I just disagree with them more than I disagree with Azzarello’s decisions on the screenplay.

Act II and III are the original material from the comic and are pretty much shot for shot and line for line. Director and Art Department Lead/Storyboard Artist Sam Liu made some wise choices in that aspect. You can absolutely tell how meticulously planned this was. Liu is no stranger to the DCAU, with several of the Batman films under his belt, including one of my favorites Assault on Arkham (it’s Suicide Squad just two years ago). You might be mistaken in thinking an animation directors job is easy. Consider that they, like their live action counterparts have to consider blocking, camera angles, how a shot moves. In fact, they have it both easier and harder. Easier in that they are not restricted by what visual effects can do or little things like physics; conversely they have to consider how the background painting, foreground, *and* characters move as they can all move independently of each other to give more motion to the narrative. I think this is one of the reasons the animated verse is so strong as they can tell a story that feels more epic and have to use every single tool at their disposal to the maximum effect, even little things like a squinted eye, a slouch, or putting your hands on another’s shoulders.

Voice acting. I will say this once. There is one Batman. His name is Kevin Conroy. You may think otherwise, but it’s ok to be wrong. You can grow from it. Mark Hamill is also the definitive voice of the Joker. Sure the live performances of Ledger, Nicholson, and Romero are legendary in their own rights, but Hamill just does it. There’s something alien about what his voice does and it lets you know you are in danger when you hear it. Troy Baker and John DiMaggio put their spin on it and do hold their own, but damnit Hamill *is* the Joker. Both he and Conroy have more screen time as their characters than anyone else in history, and likely will be reigning champions for time to come. Both also came out of retirement for the characters just to do *this* picture. That tells you how much it means to them as actors and how much they and the DCAU crew understand what it means to have them. We thank Andrea Romano and her rolodex of voice talent every time one of these comes out and this is no exception. These guys are absolutely on point here and get to share the dialogue and even a laugh that they never really did on Batman the Animated series, or the equally amazing Mask of the Phantasm. The other actors Tara Strong (normally Harley, this time Barbara) is as solid as ever, Ray Wise, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Nolan North, and others are fan favorites even in bit parts here and do what they need to; but once you are through Act I, …it’s Hamill and Conroy and nothing else matters.

TL:DR?

Batman: The Killing Joke is amazing. It is everything I wanted it to be. It does have some flaws in the new material. It also should come with a trigger warning. This absolutely earned it’s R rating and it’s not for actual violence on camera – they’ve done worse. It’s what’s implied. What they don’t show mixed with what they hint at. Much like the original work, this is not for the faint of heart or those who are uncomfortable with certain topics. The movie makes you think, they bring up topics that you should think about when you consider The Batman, The Joker, and Jim Gordon. The utter insanity in the Joker is in full swing and I really question people who idolize him. He is chaos and evil personified.

This is absolutely *not* for children. Do not let a child watch this unless you are willing or want to have that conversation. Just be aware.

I am putting a spoiler section below, as I want to discuss one of the more controversial elements in the new material.

So should I watch it?

Whew…read above. This earned it’s R rating and is not ‘fun’ or ‘light’. I would watch this again and again, but I will need to be in the right mood for it. Like when I am wanting to write something really disturbing.

Will you buy it?

Technically for this one I had to, but I have no regrets not only buying the BluRay but the BluRay special edition.

 

What’s this spoiler?

spoilers

 

Spoiler-Warning

 

Rollover to read….

Alright. So the first act focuses on Bab’s. It has to. Not everyone knows that Babs is Batgirl, or how she became Oracle. Or they only know in passing. The DCAU has barely dealt with her since the Batman Animated series. They have to tell this story to build up an emotional impact when she gets shot. 

Did she have sex with the Bat? Here. Yes. The comic? No. Hell no. She was with Dick Grayson. Do I agree with her and the Bat having sex in this movie? No, but they made it clear it was something she wanted and as an adult it was her agency and her choice. I don’t think the Bat would ever go for it with someone under his wing and I do believe this is a departure from his character. 

The painful and trigger warning part. Did the Joker sexually assault her? It’s up for debate in the comic and movie. It is *heavily* implied. Considering the earlier scenes are about her agency, and this is a violation of that of the worst kind. I know where I land on it. It is absolutely vile. It does remind you that the Joker is never a sympathetic villain, he is a monster of the worst kind. They do a good job in the movie of making the scene dark and yes disturbing without really having to show much of anything.

Is everything in the first act needed? Eh..no.
Is it the catastrophe I keep hearing about? Definitely not.