Tag Archives: Superman

Suicide Squad is Killing It

I found myself doubting the appeal of the latest DC super hero movie to hit the theaters when it was first announced for several reasons. First, a story of a collection of B-rated super villains that team up to save the world when there are already so many super heroes available to do that seemed problematic. Second, the announced roster of villains wasn’t all that impressive and the casting seemed designed to pull seats rather than to do the story justice. When the first previews were leaked at comic con last year, I was increasingly dubious. The film just didn’t hold any appeal to me, so I doubted very much that I would go. Now, I had the same reservations when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, and it was the best Marvel film until this year’s Captain America: Civil War, so in keeping a similar open mind, I went to see the film, despite the poor reviews it received. I am glad I did. Despite its depressing and ominous title, Suicide Squad is the most fun DC movie to date.

With Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman, DC brought in director Zack Snyder, who has really gone dark, trying to add more gravitas to the stories, apparently thinking that movie goers won’t take a superhero film seriously unless it delves deep into the darkness that inhabits the human soul, and reveals the conflict therein. Both of those films do that in spades, to the point of being rather depressing and making it difficult to appreciate the heroics. Suicide Squad was directed by David Ayer, who also has a bent for making dark films such as Training Day, SWAT, and Fury, but also knows how to inject levity into the film to counterbalance the darkness (although I never did find anything funny in Fury). Zack Snyder does have a directing credit on Suicide Squad, probably for the scenes that set up next year’s Justice League.

The plot is rather simple: in an effort to head off the next Doomsday scenario in a world where Superman died fighting the threat, the government decides to create a task force of meta humans that they can control if they ever need to use them. The Suicide Squad is supposed to be made up of the worst of the worst super villains in captivity. Each is implanted with an explosive capsule that will detonate and kill them if they try to escape and the only chance for a reprieve is to accomplish the task given to them. The plot is bleak and a little thin, though I love the irony that the threat the squad is tasked with eliminating is a threat that the government created in building the team.

The real salvation for Suicide Squad, however, is the cast, which is ironic considering I was doubtful about them to begin with. Will Smith is a fine actor, but I always raise an eyebrow when producers change the ethnicity of an established character because mostly it is done out of some misguided sense of political correctness, or in the case of Wild Wild West—to sell more tickets. But Smith does work as the hit man for hire, Deadshot, in this film. The breakout star, without any question, however, is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I cannot imagine any other actress assuming that role as accurately, as beautifully and as true to the story as Robbie. She made the film for me. Viola Davis takes a menacing turn as Amanda Waller, the head of a covert government agency tasked with doing things the government can disavow when needed. I’m not used to seeing her as “the bad guy” but she pulls it off easily in this film. Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, also star as Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc, respectively.

One of the more public discussions is Jared Leto as the Joker. He doesn’t have as significant role in this film as some fans would like, and those fans are being quite vocal about their displeasure. One person is even going as far as to file a lawsuit against Warner Brothers (DC’s parent company) for false advertising. Unfortunately, any real fanboy knows that Joker was never a part of the Suicide Squad. His role in this film serves only two purposes: One, to provide a motivation and back story for Harley Quinn and two, to foreshadow the next Batman movie. He also does interact with the plot in a major way during one of the film’s key sequences, but it is not his movie.

While there are some problems with the script and the dialog, it is good to see a DC movie with plot and character development that consists of more than wrestling with inner darkness. It is also good to see a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Batman Vs. Superman did. If the next plate of DC films can continue in this vein, they might just close the gap on Marvel’s cinematic universe and give movie goers a whole different set of films to spend months and years anticipating. Let’s hope that Zack Snyder learns something from this movie in time to make Justice League better than Dawn of Justice, because I would have to say that Suicide Squad is arguably the best DC film yet.

3 Comments

Filed under Media, Reviews, Society

From Comic Books to Cinema

This summer brings an opportunity to enjoy many relaxing pastimes from hiking to fishing to swimming and camping. Many people who don’t want to spend that much time outside in the heat might opt, instead, to take in a movie or two and Hollywood has plenty of blockbuster hits lined up for those cinemaphiles. Thor thundered into a huge box office and Pirates of the Carribean has plundered a heafty treasure as well. But along with Harry Potter and The Smurfs, the biggest blockbusters are predicted to be films based on comic books or sequels to established movie franchises.

There have been many movies the past few years based on comic books. Spiderman, Batman, and X-men have been hugely successful in terms of box office returns, but also as fan favorites. My wife and I were talking about why so many comic books are being adapted to film and the answer was so obvious that it is easily overlooked. The people making movies in Hollywood are my generation: raised on comic books and cartoons. Our adolescence has been peppered with the super acts of our heroes and depicted in the pages of comics and on the Saturday morning TV screens for years. This was the only way we could see these impossible feats of superhuman strength, since live actors could not do it and Hollywood did not possess the technology to create the effects.

Now, thanks to John Dykstra and John Lassiter and some serious computing power, we can have a man fly, shoot friggin lazers out of his friggin eyes, change into a snake, have razor sharp blades emerge from his hands, climb walls, and levitate a bus and have it all look as real as if he was putting on a jacket. Now we can enjoy the exploits of Superman, Batman, The Hulk, and this year, Green Lantern, and Captain America and watch the scenes that we used to see in pen and ink drawings years ago. Graphic novels are also getting the big screen treatment with films like Priest and there are nerd-as-hero movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World that are clearly inspired by comics and video games.

Of course, the other side of the issue is that Hollywood doesn’t have to wrack its collective brain to come up with anything truly original is they can mine 30 years of comic books for plotlines and characters and then create movie franchises based on those stories. This also accounts for the reboots of movies like last year’s Star Trek and this year’s Conan and adaptations of TV shows like last year’s A-Team.

But since I love comic books and love these adaptations, I will happily shell out the inflated ticket price as I enjoy watching my imagination come to life before my eyes. I have loved the Iron Man movies and the latest Hulk was even good. Bring on X-Men : First Class and Green Lantern!

1 Comment

Filed under Media, Personal

Does Tom Welling Hate Superman?

For ten years, I have faithfully watched Smallville on the CW network, a period of time culminating in the series finale this past Friday. In that time, the show has been baiting viewers who tag along waiting and weeping as they anticipate catching a glimpse of the hero they expect to see—which in this case would be Tom Welling as Superman. But the show has refused to satisfy the loyal viewers and one can only wonder if perhaps the show’s star and director Tom Welling hates the man of steel.

CGI image of Welling in the Super suit.

Smallville told the story of the young Clark Kent, the mild-mannered alter-ego of the premier superhero, Superman as he grows from a high school student dealing with the usual teen angst and social issues coupled with burgeoning superpowers into the hero destiny has chosen him to be. The first couple of seasons saw young Clark learn of his strength, his speed, his x-ray vision, his heat vision and other powers as he went about saving his friends and neighbors from whatever crisis befell the town.

When the show first aired, the creative team had a simple principle, tell the story about Clark; keep the focus on the boy, not the hero. To that end, they had a mantra: “No Flights, No Tights,” referring to the red and blue uniform with the big red S and cape and the one power that most defines Superman. If the show had stopped at high school, this philosophy would have sufficed. Yet, the show suffered from its own success and it continued beyond the high school years. Once the show hit season five and Clark and his friends were facing College, the writers found it increasingly difficult to keep Clark on the ground.

The writers began developing convoluted plots that had more intrigue than action and dealt with emotional issues and artificial suspense rather than action. Even as Clark began to realize his destiny, the writers could not let him become Superman, because once that happened, the story became about Superman and not Clark. So the invented “The Blur” as a mystery man that saved people in a flash so fast that no one saw his face. This kept Clark center stage in plot development, and allowed him to act the hero he was supposed to be. This was flawed however as it was an obvious ploy to keep the show on the air while preserving the NFNT mantra.

They even introduced Supergirl who could fly as Clark was still Earthbound. In fact, the last three seasons saw so many characters flying that it was hard to understand why Clark never did. The writers even brought in other DC comics heros such as Green Arrow, Aquaman and Hawkman among many others as well as well-known villains like Toyman, Granny Goodness, Captain Cold and others. In the DC canon, Superman was well established before he dealt with these characters.

One reason for the steadfastness to the NFNT mantra was Tom Welling himself. He took over as director on the show in the fourth or fifth season and refused to consider ever putting on the suit. When it was presented to Clark in the ninth season, the first glimpse of it the viewer gets is as a reflection in Clark’s eye. No one ever sees the suit in its entirety—ever, and Tom Welling NEVER put the suit on, even in the finale. Jonathon Kent hands Clark the suit after Clark gets Jor El’s blessing to be the hero he is destined to be and Clark grabs the suit in one hand, then does the Matrix-like takeoff effect to leave the fortress of solitude. This is supposed to be a monumental moment for Clark/Superman where he dons the suit, does his heroic stance with his hands on his hips as the camera pans around him before saying up, up and away as he flies to save the Earth from Apokolyps. Did he do that? No, he just jumped up with the suit in hand and the scene flips to a wide-angle shot of the fortress and a blue streak flying out of it so fast that no detail is discernable.

The closest scene we get to seeing Superman in action is when he saves Air Force One from crashing. Superman grabs the wing of the plane and helps get it back on course and provides enough lift until the plane can fly itself again. This is also done wide angle so that Superman is a small figure lacking any detail and you couldn’t tell if it was Tom Welling or not. Of course, it was all done with CGI. We do get a shot of Clark’s reflection in the window of the plane as he waves at Lois Lane, but the only thing to be seen is Clark’s face…you cannot see Clark’s face in the suit.

CGI of the big red S.

Even in the climactic scene where Superman is pushing Apokolyps away from Earth, there is no full-frame shot of Tom Welling as Clark Kent wearing the Superman suit. The camera shows Clark’s face looking out as the danger passes and then the camera pulls back and just as he turns where you can see the suit, it fades into a hand drawn comic book frame of Superman. The final scene of the episode is Clark running to the roof of the Daily Planet to save the day once again and he loosens his tie and rips open his shirt to reveal the red S and it is CGI’d on his body.

The big question is why. Why go to these herculean efforts to avoid the suit? The NFNT attitude worked while the show was ongoing, but this was the series finale. The last show. Ostensibly, the show ends because there is no more to tell about Clark Kent in Smallville (by the way, the past three seasons have been almost exclusively set in Metropolis) and that he is ready to assume his destiny as Superman. If that is the end of the show, if the point of the show was telling Clark’s growth from adolescence to hero, then the culminating moment should have been the reveal of Superman in his suit flying to save the day. It may be cliché, but it is expected and what was there was more of a nod and a wink than a reveal. It’s like the writers, directors and producers went out of their way to keep Tom out of the suit. The only reason I can think of is that Tom Welling hates Superman.

17 Comments

Filed under Media, Reviews

Powers Far Beyond Those of Mortal Men

As my wife and I sat at the restaurant eating dinner tonight, she giggled even though I had not said anything. I asked what was so funny and she smiled and said “I’m doing a you” as she tilted her head at the table next to us. We both smiled and went back to our meals as both of us tuned into the conversation going on at the other table. Now, I do not intentionally listen to other’s conversations as a matter of course, but when people talk loud, it is hard to ignore them, so I get a chuckle every now and again and sometimes I get more than an earful of other people’s lives. Sometimes, it takes every bit of self control to avoid saying something in response. A little while later, I heard a guy at another table announce that he was just not as familiar with DC as he was with Marvel, at which point both my wife and I laughed again. I almost chimed in on this topic, because, as a guy and a geek, I am fully versed in comic lore.

I am so well versed in fact, that when we were kids, one of my brother’s favorite pastimes was to ask me who I thought would win in a fight between this superhero and that one. Then we would debate the logic of my position, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the heroes in question. Did you know that Superman would not easily defeat the incredible Hulk given that Thor only fought him to standstill? Hulk gets stronger as he gets madder, and it only makes sense that Superman pummeling him through a mountain might just tick him off a little bit.

I used to frequent comic shops (and folks, don’t even think of calling them “funny books.” You’re likely to rile up some nerd collective that will paper your yard with Archie and Jughead magazines) where I would catch up on the latest issues of my favorite heroes. Of course, I had to take my little brother with me on most of these trips. He continued to collect them after I had moved onto more adult pastimes. I still have many of the comics I bought in my youth stored in little plastic bags in several boxes in a closet (you can’t store them in a garage or attic, as the humidity and heat would degrade the paper…just a tip from me to you.) These magazines would fetch a pretty penny in the market if I chose to sell them, which I won’t. I don’t believe in spending good money on something with the expressed purpose of getting rid of it later. Then again, who knows—when I am old and retired and my savings has long run out and I am subsisting on ramen noodles and mac and cheese and selling plasma, I might be persuaded to sell one or two.

One of my favorite TV shows on right now is “The Big Bang Theory” which is a sitcom about four nerds who work as astrophysics researchers for a university and live as the ultimate geeks complete with a video game addiction, social awkwardness, and—to my point—an understanding on comic lore that blurs the lines of reality. What I like about the show is that I have met people just like this; people who can recite Superman’s lineage back three generations or explain the timeline in detail between the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and the first time he put on the Batman cowl. These people also cried about the recent Star Trek movie because it changed the timeline from the original series and everyone knows that the Enterprise was built at the Utopia Planitia shipyards on Mars, not on Earth as the new movie portrayed. They will also take you to task for referring to Gandalf the Grey when talking about The Return of The King (in which, of course everyone knows, he was Gandalf the White).

My fanaticism did not end at in-depth discussions. After the Batman movie that came out in 1989, I was disappointed that the film did not delve into the origins of the hero, so I wrote a story outline. I was online in a SF writers group and shared my outline there. This outline told the story of Batman’s origin against the backdrop of one of his mentors killing crime lords in Gotham. Sound familiar? I was sitting in the theater watching Batman Begins with the oddest feeling of Déjà Vu when it hit me why the story seemed so familiar. Never share intellectual property online.

Anyway, as my kids grew, they would play the same game with me that their uncle had played. Even now, with my sons as adults, at some point during a visit, the discussion will turn to superheroes either on TV or coming to the movies. My sons have most of their knowledge of comic heroes from cartoon series, which as any comic follower knows, is just not the same. Cartoons change the back story to fit whatever plot they want to film at the time. They think they are “updating” the heroes to appeal to a modern audience, but we all know it’s just to make more money revising old stories which is cheaper than developing brand new ones. Many times I have to start a conversation with my sons with “in the original comic…” so they understand why something they saw was significant.

Sometimes, though, a revision is needed and even tolerable. Yes, I regularly watch Smallville and Heroes and I just watched Iron Man 2 and I have seen just about every superhero movie that Hollywood puts out, but I have not bought a comic book in at least 15 years. I have been to a comic store, but only to browse and converse with the diehard comic geeks. It was during one such visit that I found out that the Flash (aka Barry Allen) had come back to life after 20 years of being dead. It seems “he got better.” This is the only way I can keep myself versed in the goings on in the DC and Marvel universes. How else can I understand the conversations of those upon whom I eavesdrop?

6 Comments

Filed under Humor, Personal, Society