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Oh look, a trainwreck.

Let’s just get this out of the way really quick: Suicide Squad is mostly dogshit but there are a few moments where it firmly enters genuine “so bad it’s good” territory and other moments where it’s trying so goddamn hard to manipulate you into feeling something that you just wanna say “good job, little guy” and give it a pat on the head. There’s even a few moments that feel earned, where the glimmer of a better movie is almost visible. But mostly it’s dogshit.

Why? God, where do I even start. It’s a music video of loosely connected moments, an insultingly hackneyed plot, and poorly constructed characterizations which are usually good for a laugh or an incredulous “what the fuck?” but rarely more. There’s also that it’s the most smugly, overtly misogynistic mainstream movie I’ve seen in a long time. May our inner fourteen year olds cheer. I mean, there’s definitely an audience for this. The anti-PC crowd will eat up every utterance of “bitch” or “ho”, every sexed up costume and variation on “women be crazy“. I already know from the audience I saw it with that women getting punched in the face at the drop of a dime is just delightful. Your faith in humanity will not be well served by Suicide Squad audiences, but that’s nothing unusual. More than the overall quality of the movie, I was surprised by the misogyny. I like David Ayer. FuryEnd of Watch, and Training Day are all fantastic films. But his aesthetic is “street” and here it is the kind of street evoked by youtube gangsta rappers who are trying too hard. Likely, this is where the unaddressed misogyny comes from: it’s part of the assumed iconography of “street” culture where there’s men and there’s bitches or hos or bitch-hos. I think the script of Suicide Squad says a lot about what he and the other creatives for the DC movieverse think about the fans of these stories and characters, though. I think instead of whining to critics (or threatening them) or trying to sue because Joker isn’t in the movie enough, these fanboys ought to vote with their dollars (and their attention) and give WB a reason to stop hiring people who think so little of them. Of all of us, really.

Anyway, yeah, Suicide Squad is really bad. Is it worse than Batman vs. Superman? I don’t know. Do you compare dogshit to catshit very often? They’re two of the worst superhero movies in recent memory, I can tell you that much. And yet. And yet, Suicide Squad is also a fascinating watch. I was never bored. Very much like the first viewing of a Michael Bay Transformers movie, I was kind of transfixed (and yes, entertained) by what I was seeing and hearing. Sometimes I could not believe the movie and other times I was almost on the hook for a heroic moment or a badass line. I think it’s fair to say I was never “with” this movie, and my enjoyment was almost always at its expense. This movie might have had something, but it’s like watching Jared Leto play hot potato with himself for almost two hours. Or like an episode of The Venture Brothers that wasn’t trying to be a parody. Read the rest of this entry »

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Some stunning shots in this movie.

I expected a Shyamalanatastrophe with After Earth. Although the first, stunning trailer was very good, the more information that came out about this movie the more convinced I was that it would be fucking awful. I read all about how Will Smith came up with the idea and decided to make a multimedia empire around this detailed, ludicrous backstory. A 300 page “Bible” was written, comic book guys were brought on to make supplementary stuff, and the whole project ignored all the other attempts to do this that feel dismally flat (The Matrix, Southland Tales, etc). Honestly, I expect the same for After Earth. It won’t become some new Star Wars even with the considerable influence of Smith.

That said, the movie is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Maybe a bit slight, given that it tells a small scale story in a large scale world. Like YA books, it uses its big concepts more for backdrop and setting than for actual storytelling. The story is intimate, with only a few characters and some straightforward thematic work (which is resonant almost in spite of itself). People who are expecting bigger payoffs to the lore are going to come away disappointed. This is a movie that does world-building by implication more than exposition. As such, we aren’t told much that we don’t expressly need to know to follow the core story. The one exception is a long bit of lumpy exposition delivered in the drawling “space human” accent of Jaden Smith. Still, there’s a distinct likelihood that this is going to frustrate a lot of viewers. In many ways After Earth feels incomplete with many opportunities to show off concepts and details left to fall by the wayside. I assume the idea was to get away from conventional tropes and payoffs, but there’s a balance that this movie doesn’t quite get to.

What makes the movie good is that it’s fully in command of that smaller, core story. With the resonant themes, sense of scale, and a well designed world to play around in, Shyamalan and writing partner Gary Whitta take Smith’s story idea and do fine, unambitious work with it. There’s room in the world for humble, one-off stories that leverage an epic backstory for intimate storytelling. That said, don’t expect a legitimate science fiction movie out of After Earth. It’s a fantasy movie that happens to have neat technology, space ships, and aliens. It is not speculative or scientific in the least. Read the rest of this entry »

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