The LEGO Batman Movie (McKay; 2017)

Batman has had a very long and storied history in cinema.  His first appearance on the big screen goes all the way back to 1943, but the Batman we know today really made his first appearance as a campy, not at all to be taken seriously character in the movie titled simply Batman in 1966.  This was a time when comic books were seen as purely for children, and the character Hollywood gave us was more comedian than vigilante in a likeness which winks so constantly at its audience its a wonder the Batman of today hasn’t taken on a permanent squint.  The 1989 film by Tim Burton also called just Batman gave us a more gothic representation of the character.  Not a comedian, but still not entirely serious, this Batman showed Hollywood that the character can be enjoyed seriously by older audiences, a lesson which they promptly forgot 6 years later in Batman Forever and threw entirely out the window in 1997s Batman and Robin, widely considered one of the worst films ever made.

Then, in 2005, along came Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins to show general audiences that Batman, and superhero characters in general, could be real three dimensional characters with honest to goodness depth and could do it without giving up the action heavy story lines which made the characters popular in the first place.  This was something fans of comic books and animated series had known for a long time, of course, and these fans were arguably the reason Nolan’s film was greenlighted in the first place, but the success of Nolan’s films would forever change how live action superhero movies were made.  Gone was the camp, the genre could now be taken seriously, and for the last 11 years it has been.

Superhero movies were making so much money for the studios that everyone was trying to start their own franchise, though with only Marvel studios having real success, and we were (and still are) so inundated with superhero movies that people are starting to get sick of them and everyone wonders when the superhero movie bubble is going to burst, and that’s when early 2016 brought us Deadpool.  Deadpool set so many box office records it proved that the public wasn’t as sick of superhero movies as everyone thought, they are just sick of the same old superhero movies over and over again.  While many credit Deadpool‘s success to its hard R-Rating, I don’t.  I believe that its success comes from its tone.  Deadpool was the first comic superhero movie to come along in a very long time.  Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy have a light touch and a definite sense of humor, but Deadpool was a sort of modern throw back to that Batman of 1966 in which nothing is sacred and the sense of fun is more important than the plot or themes.

Which now brings us full circle to The LEGO Batman Movie.

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It’s about time you got around to me!

The LEGO Batman Movie is very much a kid friendly version of Deadpool.  Yes, there’s a plot and that plot has a point, but what it really sets out to do is be fun.  If self aware humor annoys you, then this movie will, I’m afraid, but anyone who can still find a film that satirizes its own genre and audience entertaining, then I can guarantee a good time.  From beginning to end if there is something to poke fun of regarding the character of Batman, the superhero action genre, LEGOs, and the people who like these things, then the writers found a way to goof on it, and on many other pieces of pop culture which LEGO has the rights to, of which the number seems endless.

The spoofing is usually clever, always funny, but it never leaves the realm of child friendly.  The makers of The LEGO Batman movie know very well that their target audience is families, not children – families, and while it actually may make people think on things that could make them uncomfortable at times, yes, it does go to thoughtful places on occasion, it never presents anything in a way that you wouldn’t want a young child to see.  I’m guessing the only reason it has its PG rating, and not a G, is that it is a superhero movie, so cartoony violence is often used to solve problems, but it never goes to a place darker or meaner than a Looney Tunes cartoon.

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In comparison to the original The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie seems to always fall just short, but only just.  The new big song,”The Batman Theme Song”, is funny, toe tapping, catchy, and will make you smile as you sway in your seat, but don’t expect it to get nominated for an Oscar like “Everything is Awesome” was.  The jokes come at a fast and furious pace and most are hilarious, but every once in a while they do miss their mark here.  The themes of friends being family do hit home and they give the movie a lot of heart, but they just don’t have the heart string tugging power of the themes of true family the first film had.  The LEGO Batman Movie tries to have the cake of The LEGO Movie and eat it, too, but it seems the recipe of the first movie was just a tad too rich to truly duplicate, but damn if The LEGO Batman Movie didn’t come close.

The animation of this film is one piece that may actually be slightly better than the first.  As amazing as some of the things the animators were able to do with LEGOs in the first film was, they learned and managed to up the spectacle here.  Flames burn everywhere, things freeze over, machines morph and twist, and the film is constantly lively and in motion.  They may not do all the “Hey, we’re in a world made of LEGOs” tricks they perform in the first film, but the ones they do manage are clever and look amazing.

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Final recommendation:  If you have young kids, this one is a no-brainer, treat them and yourselves to this one, though maybe at a matinee if at all possible to keep the cost down.  For the rest, whether to see this one or not rests highly on what you thought of the first film or how much of a nerd you are.  The constant references that can actually get incredibly deep into Batman lore are fast and furious and will cause a comic book geek to fall in love with what they are doing here.  If you loved the original The LEGO movie, you will probably enjoy this one, too, just don’t set your expectations quite up to that one’s level and you will have a grand time.  This really is a Deadpool for kids so if you think of it along those lines, you should be able to figure out whether this is a movie for you.

Doctor Strange (Derrickson; 2016)

Scott Derrickson is a director that you probably have not heard of before unless you are a true horror movie aficionado.   Previously, he’s brought us The Exorcism of Emily Rose, both Sinister movies, and the film which probably got him this gig, Deliver Us From Evil.  That is not a resume you’d expect from the director of a Marvel film, and particularly not from someone with the unenviable job of giving us another origin story movie which has to not only keep up Marvel’s now high standards and introduce an entire facet of the Marvel Universe which up until now we hadn’t seen – the mystical, multi-dimensional world (Asgard not withstanding, as that’s been explained away by weird science).  Derrickson was handed a tall order with Doctor Strange, and he does an admirable, if not quite incredible, job.

If you’re not familiar with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), well that’s what the movie is about, so I won’t spoil much for you, but he is a character who was established in 1963 – the same year as the X-Men – and has been the Marvel Universe’s resident Sorcerer Supreme for most of that time.  His adventures center on keeping mystical enemies such as demons, powerful wizards, and extra-dimensional threats at bay.  The other dimensions of the Marvel Universe, as well as magic, are the most confusing and unfleshed out bits of their lore, as you are literally dealing with the infinite.  So outside of a few integral characters and places which appear time and time again, the writers really have no rules to follow or norms to work with.  It does mean limitless room for creativity, yes, but it also means there are no true anchors from which to work with a story.  In this, the film version of Doctor Strange, the other dimensions and extra dimensional threats are left just as vague as they are in the comic source material, but magic seems just a bit better explained, even if there is still a lot of room open for real explanation.

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It’s just like Earth, except nothing like Earth, and you can shift the landscape with no real consequences, except there are consequences.  Makes perfect sense.

There is a lot of good to be said about Doctor Strange, far more good than bad.  The dialogue is witty, sharp, and still natural.  The characters are detailed, true to the source material, and are the source of the strong themes of understanding your connections to the world and where you fit within it.   The pacing is near perfect, there was never a time where boredom set in, nor where I felt I needed things to slow down for a moment. The acting was excellent on all fronts, with a veteran cast giving their all.  Then there are the absolutely astounding visuals.  This film is a thing of pure beauty, from the alien landscapes, to the magical effects, and to the way a certain magical relic is so incredibly well done that a non-living object with no dialogue ends up becoming one of the film’s most entertaining characters.

The writers and Derrickson do an excellent job of showing how magic works in this world, not by giving intricacies of how and why it works, but by showing what it is capable of, how it is learned, and differentiating between different areas of study and focus.  Making a relic is not the same as casting a spell which is not the same as travelling through time and space.  Trying to explain how these things work would be a losing battle, so the film maker’s are intelligent enough to know this and give us just enough to know that they do work, that they have rules, and there is even a sort of “science” to them.

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It’s not the Pythagorean Theorem, but there’s still lots of symbols and symmetry.

Where the movie falls apart, is in its finale, unfortunately.  No spoilers, but in the film’s climax the excellent visuals give way to a hodge podge of undefined, low quality imagery.  The excellent rules set up suddenly don’t seem to matter in any meaningful way, and while the final solution is creative and nothing we’ve seen from a Marvel film before (and, does an excellent job at showing why Doctor Strange is considered one of the most intelligent people in the Marvel Universe), it is given no context to show why Strange’s plan would actually work.  This is the inherent problem with magic in a fictional universe, the authors can too easily make things too fast and loose, too “anything can happen”, and without hard fast rules we lose the context of true stakes.

Doctor Strange keeps up Marvel’s reputation for excellence.  It is a very well written, well acted, and visually astonishing movie.  It has meaningful things to say, as well.  It has some serious missteps, primarily in its finale and also in the way it keeps up the Marvel tradition of not so interesting villains (we need more Lokis, Kingpins, and Killgraves, Marvel), but overall it is a worthy, if not top notch, addition to the Marvel canon.

Rating:  7.8 out of 10

 

 

 

 

What the Marvel film universe is getting right, and the DC film universe is getting wrong.

They are some of the biggest juggernauts at the box office right now, the superhero movies from the two largest and most established comic book companies.  But, while it seems like Marvel is incapable of making a bad film, churning out crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser, DC (in conjunction with Warner) is releasing mess after mess garnering critical scorn and audience disappointment.  With superhero fatigue being a very real thing movie audiences are suffering from today, DC is going to have to learn how to step up their game if they want to keep their share of the big box office gross, and Marvel needs to make sure it doesn’t fall into complacency, as well.

Before starting with the article proper, it needs to be explained what exactly the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes are.  The DC Universe really includes only the films Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad.  The Donner Superman films, the Burton and Nolan Barman films, and anything animated are not included in the current DC Universe, as the film Man of Steel was meant to start a brand new continuity which will branch across all further DC/Warner live action movies.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe includes only the films made by Marvel Studios (now owned by Disney).  Any properties owned by Fox or Sony studios are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes the X-Men franchise, the Fantastic Four movies, and any Spiderman movie made before Captain America: Civil War.  With that clarification, let’s get to it.

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CHARACTER

Getting the characters right in a comic book movie should be the easiest part of the job, you would think, and also the most important.  The superheroes of these universes have been written about for decades, and in a few cases, getting close to a century.  They are some of the most recognizable and iconic characters in human history, and their writers have more character lore to work with than has been written about any other fictional characters before.  This amount of character lore makes for a huge base for any writer and director to draw from, but it also means the character’s fans can know them as intimately as they know friends and family, and it is of utmost importance to these fans that their favorite characters are treated with respect.

There is nothing wrong with a new take on an iconic character, so long as the foundations that character is built on are respected.  There have been many interpretations of Batman and Joker in film over the years, most loved, a few not so much.  At the core of the character of Batman is dealing with childhood trauma.  In most modern interpretations of the character, it makes for a serious, driven man, who looks to be feared and respected more than loved or admired, and who will do everything he can to not allow the same trauma he’s lived through be inflicted on others.  Joker is his mirror image, bright and colorful where Batman is dark, but what’s most important to his character is the absolute glee he takes in making sure others suffer.  At Batman’s core is a serious protector and Joker is his maniacal, abusive mirror image.

All of the film Jokers before the current DC Universe took a different take on the character, Jack Nicholson’s was a crime boss, Caesar Romero’s a manic comedian, and Heath Ledger’s a psychotic social engineer, but all understood that at the core of the character was a villain who takes honest joy in others’ suffering.  Batman has had a great many more interpretations, the largest failure would have to be George Clooney who just saw (or more likely was just allowed to be) a comic book character and played the part for giggles.  Even Adam West’s comic interpretation at least had sanctity of life as a focal point for the character, going so far as to save a flock of ducks at great risk to himself in one of the character’s funnier moments.

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Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Marvel gets this.  Iron Man in the comics is not not a wise-cracking, smart-ass, he’s actually normally rather intense and serious.  Yet nearly everyone loved Robert Downey Jrs portrayal of Tony Stark, and not only because he wasn’t a well known character.  There were many who loved the portrayal purely because of Downey Jr.’s charm, but even the most die-hard and skeptical fans of the character were brought to love this version of Iron Man and that is largely due to the fact that Marvel understands that as long as they portray him as a man struggling with, and creating more, personal demons they have the essence of the character intact and the rest can be more open to interpretation.

Thor and Superman are an interesting contrast to look at between the two film universes, as both are very similar characters at their core.  In Thor and Superman, we have to characters who are, at their essence, gods who strive for humility due to lessons taught to them by their fathers.  Both learn that despite their immense power, they are not better than humans, and Superman even goes so far as to take on a disguise that, if he weren’t good at his job, would be considered little more than a nebbish by most of his companions.  In the Marvel films, we see Thor learn this lesson then act upon it from the last part of his first solo film on.  The early Superman films also get this.  But Man of Steel and Batman v Superman give us a Superman who revels in his power, seeks to set himself apart from humanity, and is very comfortable with being judge, jury, and executioner.  There can be room for interpretation, there can even be a complete break of character so long as it’s for story reasons (such as Thor learning humility rather than starting life understanding power does not make one better), but there is no reason to believe this is the case in Man of Steel nor Batman v Superman since the issue of power not being the sum total of a man is ever addressed, in fact the opposite is often implied.

There are many other examples of this in the DC movies.  Batman is a casual killer, Harley Quinn is never a victim, Lex Luthor is a giggling idiot, and so on.  It’s strange, but it seems the people making the latest batch of DC films don’t understand their own characters.  Perhaps they do, and are just pandering to their audience by giving them what they think they will enjoy, but if that’s the case, then it is the audience they don’t understand.  Marvel understands both, and proves it over and over again with each new character they introduce.  Every major character, at least.

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I’m just a really, really, really open interpretation.

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Marvel released Iron Man in 2008, followed later that year with The Incredible Hulk.  One was successful, one wasn’t, but Iron Man was successful enough that Marvel Studios was confident enough to go ahead with their plan of releasing an entire series of films contained in one universe culminating with The Avengers.  These films were Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  What these films all have in common is that, with the exception of the first Iron Man, they are now viewed as some of the least of the Marvel films in quality.  Marvel understood, however, that these stories were necessary in establishing the series of films they wanted to make.  It’s almost as if these five movies were nothing more than the exposition to the stories they really wanted to tell, but as even the most novice of writers knows, exposition is absolutely essential.

What starting with fairly typical action, superhero stories leading up to the first film teaming up characters from separate films allowed Marvel to ultimately do was create stories that didn’t need nearly so much character set up time and backstory to work as these elements had already been taken care of previously.  More intricate story lines with many more characters could now effectively be used within a decent time frame.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier we didn’t need to be told where S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra came from, we already know.  We didn’t need backstory for Black Widow, we’d already seen that.  Instead we get to enter straight into the action, and we can use many more characters and plot hooks because we can relegate origin stories and backstories to the only the new elements, in this example’s case Falcon and The Winter Soldier himself, everything else has already been told and would just be a redundancy.

When DC started their universe, they did get this element right with Man of Steel, but after that with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad they attempted to jump forward in the storytelling time line.  They give us many characters the audience has never seen in this particular universe before and act as if they are familiar faces we’ve been watching for years.  This Batman is older and experienced with a well established modus operandi and reputation, yet this is the first movie he’s been in.  The villains in Suicide Squad have been operating for a long time, but this is the first time we as an audience see them, and we have to learn about them through too short and very awkward vignettes early in the film rather than their being allowed to really breathe in their own feature film outings.

Then there are characters that we know feature prominently in the DC Universe but don’t have much time in the films themselves.  Joker doesn’t seem like Joker at all in Suicide Squad, but that could be because he only has minutes of screen time.  This Joker is more of a mobster than a happy anarchist, but perhaps that’s just the perception we get from his barely more than cameo status in the film.  Wonder Woman is the most fun part of the final battle in Batman v Superman, but why was she at Lex’s party?  When did she become a spy?  Why is she in Metropolis at all for that matter?  When characters are just shoed into a film for no reason other than for the film makers to get more box office gross because they put in a name people recognize with no actual character to go along with that name, all you end up with is a messy plotline.

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Wonder Woman, known for her magic lasso, invincible bracelets, and invisible jet, is pictured here with…  a sword and shield?

DC seeing all the money to be had from a shared Universe decided to rush into the center of their story line, and it is not working.  They did not recognize that, even as iconic as their characters are, they still need a story to go around them.  Maybe we don’t need to see Thomas and Martha Wayne being shot yet again or the rocket ship landing in Smallville for the umpteenth time, though ironically, those two incidents we did get to see, but we do at least need to know what brought the characters to the state they are currently in and why this particular take on the character is different than others we’ve seen before.  Maybe there’s a reason Lex Luthor acts more like Joker than himself, or why Joker acts more like Two Face or Penguin, but without sufficient story, we are just left puzzling where this character came from.

GENRE

This is less of a remark on something DC is getting wrong, and more of a something Marvel is getting right as a lesson to DC in the future.  Superhero films until the Marvel Cinematic Universe had been established were all more or less the same genre of film, action adventure with a focus on a comic book character.  This is why superhero fatigue is settling in with modern audiences as long before the first Iron Man hit the screens we’d already seen this genre of films many, many times.  When they were appearing once every couple of years or so, it could still remain fresh, but now with at least 5 being released every single year, and sometimes even more, the formula and the genre have to shaken up.

Marvel got this and started releasing films in their universe that weren’t straight comic book action adventure stories.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier we got a spy flick very reminiscent of Cold War era espionage films.  Guardians of the Galaxy brought us the Marvel version of space opera.  Ant Man gave us the superhero Ocean’s 11 style heist flick, and on their Netflix television shows the bend the genre even more with crime dramas (Daredevil), neo noir (Jessica Jones), and blaxploitation (Luke Cage), with kung fu coming in the near future (Iron Fist).  This mix up of genres has kept the superhero stories fresh, and Marvel the least likely to suffer from general apathy toward superhero films prevalent in the public at large.

With only 3 films under their belts, so far, no matter how messy they may be I can’t fault DC for not innovating with genre, yet.  They need to establish their universe first, and they are already at fault for trying to do too much, too quickly so this isn’t another mistake that needs to be mixed into their formula.  But, looking forward this is something they must recognize.  Wonder Woman will take place during World War I, which could be an excellent opportunity for just this sort of genre mixing, and the DC Universe has Batman who is also called The World’s Greatest Detective.  It would be wonderful to see him actually earn that title in film for once with a good mystery movie.

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The first superhero romantic comedy?

While DC is off to a very shaky start, they are only 3 films in, and they do at least have the strength of their more stylized visuals and incredibly iconic characters to work from.  Marvel is now pretty much a juggernaut which has yet to make a bad film and will likely not be stopped in the near future unless DC manages to spoil it for them by making people outright hate the genre instead of just wanting perhaps less of it.  Learn from Marvel, DC, but don’t necessarily imitate.  Marvel understands their characters, they take the time to set up their massive and intricate story line, and they aren’t afraid of shaking things up when need be.  You need to do all this as well, DC, and you also need to stand out as your own product, and not just more superhero movies.  It’s more difficult coming to the party second, but you do have the resources to make your own universe a thing people want to experience, and not just be a spoiler for Marvel Studios, you just need to use intelligence and patience to do so.

 

Suicide Squad (Ayer; 2016)

Suicide Squad is the third film in DC Universe series of films which is obviously trying to capitalize on the popularity of movie franchises which are becoming ever more omnipresent in our local multiplexes, and in particular, on the superhero franchise which Marvel and Disney have seemingly perfected as much as something as fickle as pop art can be perfected.  For their third movie, Marvel brought us Iron Man 2, a safe movie considering the massive success of the first Iron Man, but also the movie that is the nearly universally agreed upon worst movie in their entire canon to date.  Suicide Squad, a film that focuses on villains that are foes of heroes and sidekicks to other villains who haven’t even been introduced into the DC movies as yet is a far bolder choice, and it sort of works in the sense that it is not an obvious choice for their worst movie in the canon, but it doesn’t in that it really isn’t terribly obvious that it’s any better, either.

Marvel has managed to corner the superhero and blockbuster market so well largely because each film builds just enough on the last one to keep you invested in their shared world, but make each film enough of their own individual story that you don’t need to know every single detail.  They have been able to build long term character and plot over long periods of time without sacrificing smaller individual plot lines, and the films that are the least well regarded in the Marvel canon are those that did a little too much set up for future movies rather than focusing on what their characters had going on in front of them.  What DC has not yet realized in their attempts to play catch up to Marvel by bringing out character after character fast and furious with already developed back stories we don’t know and with motivations we don’t understand is that they have not earned it.  They have not earned the epic story lines they want to tell, yet.  By skipping the smaller character set up stories and jumping right to the major events, they are sabotaging their own franchise before it really gets a chance to get off the ground.

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And, I know a thing or two about sabotage.  I think I do.  I’m not really given any backstory.  I just sort of do evil stuff.  I laugh a lot, so I guess it’s evil.  Ah, hell if I know why I’m here.

Suicide Squad does a bit to avoid falling into this trap by giving a dossier on each of its main characters early in the film, but it’s really through a lazy form of story telling barely more dynamic than the sending an email bit introducing the Justice League members in Batman v Superman.  Even that isn’t enough, either, as most of these characters are connected in some form to a more major player in the DC canon that isn’t yet fleshed out themselves, leaving a loose thread just like before, just one a little farther down the line.  We see how Harley Quinn and Joker met, for instance, but without knowing anything of the Joker’s backstory we really don’t understand why they have such a deep connection.  You can say these are iconic characters, and we don’t need yet another origin story movie, and I would absolutely agree with you, but there is a huge difference between an entire origin film and dropping in a years old relationship and just expecting us to know every detail of what makes them tick right off the bat.  While the Joker is an iconic character (as an obvious example, there are others in this movie that get similar treatment) this is a new interpretation of him by actor, writer, and director and we’re dropped into his life an unmentioned amount of years, but seemingly many, as a supervillain and we just have to run with it.  DC, you have to earn it.

The writing in Suicide Squad is quite hit or miss.  The dialogue is for the most part quite fun.  The words our characters string together can be quite witty and rarely out of character, and never stand out as a writer trying too hard.  The pacing, structure, and logic of the story, however, does suffer.  Aside from what I’ve already mentioned about being dropped into the middle of story in which we missed the entire first act (or more) in the DC movies in general, we have a story with strange breaks to catch our breath, when there was no breath to be caught in the first place, poorly worked in exposition, and characters with motivations that are entirely unclear and seem to conform to what the plot needs at the time rather than any internal character logic.  When the Earth needs saving bad guys just stop being bad guys, apparently, and not just out of necessity, but because their entire personality magically transforms even when it doesn’t really need to just so the audience won’t hate our protagonists.  Deadpool is considered an anti hero, but what he did in his movie was far more ethically questionable than anything these supposed villains do on their mission.  Not only does this make someone wildly question the characters’ motivations in the first place, but also undermines the originality of the film’s premise that a bunch of supervillains have to save the world when those villains are as heroic as The Justice League themselves.

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How can I really be evil with the face of an angel?

The acting here is also a plus overall for the film.  Most do at least a solid job in their role, with Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn both being quite exemplary.  I may not agree with the way the characters were written, but I can’t argue with the talent behind delivering those characters to the screen.  Jared Leto as the Joker is perhaps the one standout in the bad category.  Other than laughing occasionally, and only occasionally, I saw nothing in Leto’s performance that suggested a character like the Joker, at all.  In fact, he seemed to be more of a cool, collected crime boss.  More of a Penguin type character, or even Lex Luthor.  He has white skin and green hair, yes, but there was nothing else even remotely Joker-like about him.  In fact, switch Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor from Batman v Superman with Leto’s Joker, and we may have the actors and characters in the correct spots, even if their make up is a bit off.

The visuals and action sequences in Suicide Squad are perhaps the best elements of the film.  The action pieces do start out a little slow and uncreative, but they really do pay off by the end once all the characters start getting involved.  The camerawork never approaches work of art level, but it is always competent, always makes it easy to follow the action and frames what we need to see adequately, if never elegantly.  What you see on the screen never approaches the heights of a master, but it rarely if ever lets you down, either.

Suicide Squad is one I recommend more for eventual Blu-Ray or streaming viewing, but if you really feel the desire to go catch this one on the big screen, I won’t dissuade you, either.  It’s a film I would say is slightly better than Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but only very slightly.  Here’s hoping that Wonder Woman with its plot that begins long before the current DC movie storyline can fix many of DCs mistakes and can get their franchise on track, because DC definitely has not earned Justice League, yet, and that is their last chance to do so.

Rating:  5.4 out of 10

 

Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo; 2016)

Superhero fatigue.  It’s a made up term being thrown around quite a bit in movie discussion circles of late, and with good reason.  Since the turn of the millennium when Hollywood began to wrap its metaphorical head around the idea that comics aren’t solely for kids, the superhero film has been one of the most popular genres in the local multiplex.    It began with a Spider-Man and X-Men movie every few years, with some Blade and Hellboy thrown in for good measure.  Then Christopher Nolan put his spin on Batman and suddenly audiences could not get enough.  Before Nolan could finish his trilogy, Marvel entered the movie game with their very own studio, and they showed everyone else how it was to be done with their movies which managed to strike the perfect balance between serious and light-hearted, action and character, real world and fantasy.  But, 8 years later, with two Marvel movies every year, an X-Men film every couple of years, a Spider-Man film here and there, plus more, and all of these films trying to create their own shared universes to cash in on what made Marvel a success…  Fatigue is the perfect term for what audiences, even die hard comic book fans, are feeling.

So, leave it to Marvel to recognize this and bring their A game to make us forget entirely about that feeling of fatigue, and for nearly three hours, at that.  In Phase 1, Marvel introduced to us the characters that were to make up the Avengers, and then delivered those characters as a team in a wonderfully pulled off experiment that succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams.  Phase 2 of Marvel’s universe was a little less focused in intent, and a little more varied in quality, but it did manage to make the films a little darker in tone without sacrificing fun, and, for better or worse, also made their movie universe much more interwoven with nearly every film referencing other films.  Captain America: Civil War is the film Marvel has decided to use to kick off Phase 3, and what a brilliant start it is.  Marvel keeps learning from its mistakes and successes and has given us a film that does nearly everything right.  It shakes up the typical hero versus villain schtick, gives us incredibly creative and engaging action set pieces, keeps the light hearted tone which keeps the narrative from bogging down too much, and still injects themes which are meaningful for the audience to ponder.

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You don’t have to ponder quite that hard, Vision.  This isn’t an Ingmar Bergman film.

While, per the title, this is a film that focuses more on Captain America’s (Evans) character than any of the others, this is really more of a third Avengers film than a solo act.  The only two major characters missing from the earlier films are Thor and the Hulk, and while they are missing we are introduced to two new characters to make up their space in the roster: Black Panther (Boseman) and Spider-Man (Holland).  All the characters get quite a bit of screen time, and it’s nice to see the Vision (Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Olsen) get some much needed fleshing out from their lack of time in the less than stellar Avengers 2:  Age of Ultron, to see characters like Falcon (Mackie) and War Machine (Cheadle) finally really get their day in the sun, and to see Black Panther so well realized as a character before he gets his own movie next year.  The true show stealer here, however, is Spider-Man.  He’s in the movie for probably only about 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes will make you ecstatic to see the character finally done perfectly, and sad that Sony had the character whom they obviously didn’t quite understand outside of Marvel’s influence for so long.

There are nitpicks to be made about the film.  A certain subplot which seems to be important ultimately leads nowhere by the end of the movie, the acting could be better, and one or two of the film’s admittedly cooler moments come out of left field when you really think about them meaning they were there purely for fan service and nothing else.  But, these really are nitpicks.  Captain America: Civil War manages to avoid most of the fan service and future film set-up pitfalls that were so prevalent in the films they released during Phase 2 of their run.  What little pure fan service that was here, was at least justified in the fun factor, and there is next to no set up for later films here, really just a throw away line or two is the extent of it.

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Maybe we avoided the pitfalls, but there are plenty of other types of falls in the movie.

Is Captain America: Civil War the cure for superhero fatigue?  Maybe not.   Marvel, and Fox and Warner Brothers, will have to keep working on that with every future movie they release.  But, when you talk about the best comic book movies ever made, this is one that will have to be brought into the discussion from now on.  If Marvel keeps releasing movies like this one, even if superhero fatigue does finally catch up to me, Marvel will be the one studio that will get my butt into the theater time and again after I’m done with whatever the other studios may be trying to force feed me.

Rating:  8.4 out of 10