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“Wonder Woman” is blockbuster fun

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Ever since “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” I wondered when DC Comics would finally get their act together and make a fun comic book movie. The only two I recall that worked so well was a bulk of “Superman II” and Burton’s “Batman.” Finally, with a breath of air, I can claim “Wonder Woman” as my favorite DC Comics movie to date. It’s fun, action-packed and does what has been missing the whole time. A bright colorful superhero flick that isn’t afraid to try things.

Gal Gadot plays the Amazonian warrior Diana who is tough but has a human soul. The movie starts off introducing her character in probably the smartest way. We learn who she is and what she wants to gain over the course of the plot. Diana maybe trying to understand the nature of her people, but she wants to know what lies beyond her island home to see if humanity is more forgiving then what her people think. There is no big quest to save her world or big urge for a love interest like Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” The aspect of World War I plays a big factor into her character as she questions if human beings should be saved or left to their own devices.

Helping her out is US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who helps Diana understand the world outside her own is not all pleasant. His character works well as the straight man as Steve keeps her curiosity at balance while letting her understand the human element is more complex. There is a love interest hint but thankfully downplayed to let the two work off each other. Pine and Gadot have a fun chemistry that really works in scenes when Steve is trying to have the Amazonian learn about the treatment of women and government law.

On the opposite side, a German general (Danny Huston) plays a red herring in all this as he works with the diabolical Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly gas bomb. Most of the movie focuses these two are trying to craft the ultimate killing device with much menace. Unfortunately, I found myself more interested in the Poison character. She has a disfigured face which feels like a tribute to William Castle’s “Mr Sardonicus” and seeks to ensure they have the upper hand. While they don’t build her up to the “big evil one,” I felt there was something memorable about her performance and look. In contrast to the iron-fisted general who is just there to win the war.

There is much action to behold as “Wonder Woman” leaps from one colorful action scene to another. Something missing in recent DC adaptions was the value of fun and there is much to enjoy. One of my favorite moments was seeing Diana dash into No Man’s Land and go up against an air full of bullets. There is something awe-inspiring yet enjoyable with the usage of music and energetic visuals.

Even the side characters are a lot of fun too. At Steve’s side is a ragtag of secret agents and sharpshooters who provide plenty of comic relief. But when they are not cracking jokes, there is a sense of vulnerability to these characters that help Diana’s understanding of the human race. One such example is a Scotsman who post-traumatic stress disorder who can be a good shot but also has a heart. While they are aware of how hard the war is, they try to keep optimistic in the best way possible.

And for a movie like this to take on a heavy subject as war, it knows how much to focus on the darker details. Images of injured soldiers, families without homes and dead bodies after a launched gas bomb could have weighed in on the fun factor, but it works. Diana understands the human race is a complex bunch that fight each other, but never feel spite against one another. In a lesson never learned from Superman, you can win on some days but lose sometimes as well. This is an element I see Fieg’s “Ghostbusters” tried but I feel it works better because the main character is trying to know how the world works.

I am close to say “Wonder Woman” is a perfect movie, but there is one tiny flaw that can either make or break the movie. Throughout the story, Diana believes this was is the doing of a god and seeks to end it by killing him. It leads to an interesting concept about belief. Diana is stuck to her mythological history while Steve believes things are a cause of human nature. There comes a moment when it starts to pay off, but unfortunately a twist villain confirms the true nature.

For a moment, I thought it was going in a very smart and very clever direction, but then it felt like we were not ready for something unique and different. The final 20 minutes resort to a final showdown between Wonder Woman and the true antagonist behind the whole thing. Why couldn’t they just do something more brilliant like have Diana’s mother appear in her mind and try to remind her of her warnings or something less cliche. Instead, they play it safe and even if the climatic fight scene is explosive, I just wish it a much stronger element than a twist villain.

But, I can’t rampage on this latest entry. DC Comics and Warner Bros are trying to make a good adaption here and I can see it. They were so close and yet so far from perfection. However, I think I can let them off the hook this time. Even if the ending was slightly lame, “Wonder Woman” still turns out to be fun and engaging from beginning to end. Its finally refreshing to see a good movie from the other comic book brand and can safely say this one is certainly worth your time.

“Suicide Squad” psychotic fun despite messy delivery

maxresdefaultssA few months ago, viewers were given the start of DC Comics’ Cinematic Universe known as Batman vs Superman. It was meant to be the big stepping stone in DC Comics’ foray into feature films but instead divided viewers and fans. Many felt it was the Citizen Kane of superhero movies while others thought the complete opposite. And despite being a financial success worldwide, movie executives wrote it off as a flop thanks to the negative public and critical reception. Fearing another flop on the horizon, “Suicide Squad” was given another look at and supposedly tinkered to avoid another brooding battle with viewers. Do the efforts pay off? No, but you can tell they were trying to make a popcorn flick.

Having not read any of the comics (outside of knowing some the characters), I was worried at first of how put off I would feel. The trailers sold this odd punked-out feature that didn’t match my expectations. But considering the hit list of duds I had to go through this summer, I was still open. Thankfully, Suicide Squad is not bad as I thought it would be. However, it’s far from being a good movie.

Following in the aftermath of Batman vs Superman, an intelligence operative (Viola Davis) offers a team of dangerous criminals for high risk missions. Among the group are elite hit man Deadshot (Will Smith redeeming his career), deranged doctor Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie chewing the scenery), smooth thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, also trying to chew up the scenery), the cannibalistic Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in impressive make up), a litterally hot headed ex-gangster named El Diablo (sympathetically performed by Jay Hernandez) and literal late add-on Katana (coolly performed by  Karen Fukuhara).The team is assembled to stop a supernatural entity trying to destroy a city and that’s basically about it.

I felt a bit ashamed seeing there were parts of the movie I was engaged in. When characters would play off each other, I was actually starting to appreciate our group of anti-heroes. My favorite scene in the whole movie is when they break into a bar and just kick back for a bit. Some of them trade tragic stories while others show their true colors. This reminded me of the Batman TAS episode “Almost Got ‘Im”because it showed there is a side of humanity to these characters. We do get glimpses along the way via flashbacks of Deadshot having parental problems and the relationship troubles of Harley too. In a way, parts of it did remind me of the Saturday morning cartoon and how it balanced between the funny and dark moments.

When it has a joke, it can be funny. When it tries to be serious, it can be hit or miss while delivering a good moment. This is evident in Will Smith’s performance who I honestly didn’t mind that much. I felt like Smith was channeling his old days of blockbusters like Men in Black or Independence Day. He brings this tragic side to the character with the problem of his daughter pushing him to be good. Once in a while, Smith has a funny line or two while still showing essence of a three dimension being.

The same could be said for Margot Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn. Sure, she doesn’t look like the character but she channels the personality really well. There is a funny line Robbie says once in a while and her character does get interesting later on when we see her relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto). Personally, I really liked these group of characters and how strange yet similar they felt. However, with a 2 hour running time, I felt like some got shorthanded. I really wanted to see more of Killer Croc who barley got a line and while Katana is personally my favorite character of the batch, I felt she needed more to do. Ironically, Katana feels like a late addition to the story when she is introduced to us midway in the movie.

One of my concerns was how Jared Leto would live up to playing the Joker. And I admit, I was skeptical of the new look and wasn’t sold on it. And while I’m not a fan of the metal mouth appearance, I do admit Leto gets the personality nailed. Unlike Jessie Esienberg in Batman vs Superman, Leto has an understanding of this character and how he acts. There is a manic presence that doesn’t step on the toes of previous incarnations while doing its own thing. It felt more like a mad caped gangster fueled with punk. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear for very long. Those expecting for the Joker to make a big impact will be disappointed to hear how little of an appearance he makes. I’d go as far to say Leto feels like an extended cameo as opposed to a driving force for the story. If you removed him from the story as a whole, it wouldn’t change anything drastically.

And this is where my main problem with Suicide Squad comes into place. I do admit, its more fun than the brooding vigilante battle we got in March and boasts a good soundtrack. There are points where I feel it started to scale back the mean-spirited tone that was present in trailers or the plot start to meander for a bit. The first act is fine despite setting up our characters in exposition fashion, the second part starts to recover and get fun while the big climax suffers from trying to be a “big finale” that others like Ghostbusters (1984) or Batman (1989) succeeded.

The villain of the movie (without giving too much away) wants to take over humanity just because of the changing days and that everyone doesn’t worship gods anymore. So what? Judging from the trailers, I thought the gang was going to go up against the Joker considering it appears that way (at least that’s what I thought from the advertising). Instead we get an ancient witch that plans to take over humanity by spreading its wicked and evilness across the world. In fact, forget it. Its very much just like the 1984 Ghostbusters but with stuff changed around.

I’m also not a big fan of the editing on this movie. The manner of the flashbacks are abused so much that I wanted to watch the movie and learn these characters. Instead, we spend the first 20 minutes or so hearing a wealth of information that is the equivalency of Wikipeida text. The golden rule of “show, don’t tell” gets easily abused too much here. And there were points when I felt some scenes went missing in spots. One minute Leto’s Joker is taking out a security guard at the prison gates and then it immediately cuts to the Joker’s gang shooting up police guards inside the prison. The manner of pacing is sacrificed so much, that it leads to lack of focus on the plot as we rush to the next action set piece.

Honestly, I was hoping for “Suicide Squad” to finally break the mold and show DC can do more than brooding movies. While I admit there is fun to be had here, the comic company has still a lot to improve upon. Don’t let your story introduce characters. Let your characters introduce themselves. Don’t be afraid to go too bloody or too mean spirited. I was actually hoping this to be as good as “Deadpool,” which was entertaining in how unapologetic it was. “Suicide Squad” suffers from trying to be balance between being a light summer blockbuster film and a cynical anit-hero at the same time. The final result is a mix bag that is still worth seeing. Because honestly, I’d rather be entertained by one of Killer Croc’s one liners than see any more footage of Jesse Eisenberg’s painful performance as Lex Luthor.