Should The Mummy Be a Horror Movie?

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Even though I’m excited for THE MUMMY (2016), I’m waiting for it to bomb, critically and financially.

The conversation leading up to this movie has been fascinating. Those in the critic community have pointed out the blandness of the trailers; that the movie seemingly can’t decide on a tone; and that it seems like a cynical, Marvel-inspired cash grab. Time will tell how accurate those thoughts are.

More interestingly, others have stated that they don’t want an action-horror Mummy movie, and would prefer a straight horror movie. While I respect that impulse as a horror fan, I’m not sure I buy it. Not when THE MUMMY (1999) -action horror with comedy elements- is still highly regarded.

From there, I’m having trouble parsing out the expectations for THE MUMMY (2016) and Universal’s “Dark Universe.” If it’s a wish for it not to be a cynical cash grab, I understand, respect, and agree with that argument, and can only hold out hope that THE MUMMY holds together despite its iffy trailers. If it’s “we only want this as a horror movie,” well… doesn’t that seem unreasonable?

Put simply, “only if it’s horror” is “I don’t want X to be Y.” and it’s an overly simplistic sentiment that has bedeviled horror for decades.

In a genre closely related to comedy, horror is all about eliciting physical reactions in viewers. That’s the point of the jump scare. That’s the point of dread and suspense. But what about when horror isn’t trying to scare you? The latter Freddy and Jason movies are trying to make you squirm and laugh with the absurdity of the gore. ALIEN COVENANT generally doesn’t use suspense and prominently displays its creatures. Is that scary? No. Is it horror? Yes.

SLITHER is a fantastic creature feature with heart, but it’s more funny than scary. CABIN IN THE WOODS starts as an effective, self-aware slasher, but it’s more interested in satirizing a subgenre than scaring. THEY LIVE is sort of an action comedy, but its implications about corporate and political control are the stuff of paranoid nightmares. Horror represents a broad range of subgenres (hauntings, slashers, body horror, etc.), but why do we keep trying to police what horror can/can’t be? Psychological horror and zombie movies aren’t alike, but both are valid. Both explore different kinds of horror, some that might not rely on big scares. Hell, ALIENS is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it toes the line between action and horror.

My point is that the Universal Monsters don’t need to be pure horror movies to be good or important. Yes, their original movies were horror, but as their titular characters shared sequels, they became horror-dramas, and ultimately horror-action movies. What else do you call it when the Wolf-Man wrestles the Frankenstein Monster?

The real strength of the Universal Monsters, to me, is less in outright terror, but in our own empathy. We can see ourselves in them. Who hasn’t felt like the Frankenstein monster, struggling for purpose and identity in a world that can seem hostile and alienating? Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of Dracula’s seductiveness and power? Who isn’t scared of losing control of their base instincts like the Wolf-Man? The Universal Monsters are veritable Jungian archetypes for our understanding of the world, which has led to them enduring as Halloween costumes and symbols for all these years. We may not have had a true theatrical Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf-Man movies for ages, but their derivatives are ubiquitous.

To that end, a successful Universal Monster movie doesn’t need to be a horror move in the jump-scare-gore-fest-high-tension-sense; it needs to explore a part of ourselves that’s simultaneously horrifying… and alluring. Whatever mode it takes -action, horror, drama, even comedy- it just has to be honest with itself and to the audience.

Does that mean that “The Mummy” (2017) will be a good movie just for being emotionally honest? No. It could still have poor characters, bland action, lame horror, and little overall merit. Hell, if it’s as paint-by-the-numbers as its trailer looks, it could be a snooze. But it WON’T fail by virtue of its genre.

So yeah. Action-horror. Time for everybody to start reappraising VAN HELSING.

Because that movie rules.

Wolverine and Me

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Damn, am I ever excited for LOGAN (2017). Each new trailer is more impressive than the last, and I think it’s fair to say that the X-Men movie franchise is nostalgic for most, considering that it’s been going strong since the 2000s. Of course, any 90s kid will tell you that the 1992 cartoon show was better.

That was where I first met Wolverine, and damn did he help me through my childhood.

I’ve said before that Spider-man taught me that it was ok for me to be who I was, no matter what society thought. To a certain extent, Wolverine taught the same lesson, with his brash, devil may care attitude. He chain-smoked, drank, didn’t mince words, and didn’t have a problem kicking ass when he needed to. The Mary Sue pointed out that Wolverine’s behavior was emblematic of the worst aspects of masculinity: physical dominance, aggression, lechery, etc. While the Mary Sue isn’t wrong, I’d argue that its read is overly simplistic.

HOW overly simplistic is up for debate, though...

HOW overly simplistic is up for debate, though…

Wolverine in the 1992 cartoon and in the movies IS a messed-up guy possessing all of those vices. Having no memories and being a societal outcast will do that to you. In the cartoon show, you could set a watch by how often he flies off the handle… yet at the same time, Wolverine was a character deeply aware of his character flaws. He saw his hot temper as weakness, not a strength. He understood that he sometimes needed distance from his teammates to better understand his personal shortcomings. He understood that he couldn’t always have what he wanted, especially romantically. He was never a stranger to his feelings. For as much as Wolverine was propped up as the ultimate phallus (hilarious, considering that EVERYONE reminds him of how short he is), the cartoon show went out of its way to “emasculate” him.

Check out what happens when Wolverine goes up against Proteus:

Holy shit. There was NOTHING so mind-blowing as a kid than seeing the toughest character you’d ever known break down sobbing. Especially when bullies picked on you for that. It was ok to experience the full range of human emotions.

The ultimate lesson of the cartoon Wolverine, and even the movie version is that everybody hurts. Physical wounds, mental wounds- everyone faces times of sadness and tragedy, and sometimes it’s hard moving past those times. Yet we must.

In 1993, the X-Men comics took that a step further, when Magneto did what he’d always threatened in the movies: he ripped Wolverine’s metal skeleton out.

Paaaaaaaaain

Paaaaaaaaain

Wolverine nearly died. By the time he stabilized, he was back to flesh and bone (claws included), and his healing factor was nonexistent. In short, he was dying. There wasn’t any sense in projecting rage -his team had done all they could to save him. All that was left was for him to put his affairs in order.

The Wolverine I knew, the one from these pages, was one of immense humanity and frailty. Once an indomitable warrior, each new fight could be his last. He had to bury his ego and accept pity and mercy from his enemies. He had to accept that he couldn’t be there for everyone who needed him. He had to accept that even he was going to die.

About 21 years later. In a completely unrelated arc, long, long after he’d gotten all his powers back and then some.

The point is, sure, Wolverine is emblematic of plenty of negative, traditionally masculine values, but he also embodies countless strengths of character, including humility, restraint, and tenderness. Considering the directions the X-movies went, it’s easy to forget, too, that Wolverine, like the rest of the X-Men, is a human (and mutants!) rights’ activist. As a child, those latter virtues meant the world to me and shaped how I’d approach good times and bad times. As an adult, I like to think I follow those same lessons.

Plus, Wolverine’s a badass, amiright?

Rewriting Suicide Squad

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So there’s going to be a Harley Quinn Movie (Gotham Sirens or Birds of Prey), another Suicide Squad movie, and likely a Deadshot spinoff.

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) topped most people’s Worst of the Year movie lists, while I thought it was just mediocre. Maybe offensively mediocre, given the racial stereotyping of Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). It had a protracted, repetitious first act; the villain was worthless; it was riddled with plotholes; and the Joker was the worst ever put to film, but hey, I still thought BATMAN V SUPERMAN and X-MEN APOCALYPSE were worse.

The point is, SUICIDE SQUAD didn’t live up to the hype. It wasn’t as good as the animated movie in which they starred (BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM). It wasn’t as good as any of the comics. And frankly, it oversimplified characters in a big way.

So in my usual way, I’d like to prove that I could’ve at least written a better version of the movie.

Now let’s be fair: SUICIDE SQUAD was reshot to high heaven, went through a gamut of 7-9 competing edits before being outsourced to a trailer company, and many of David Ayer’s ideas didn’t make it to the screen. That’ll make any movie suck. Who knows, maybe there was a fantastic version of the movie we never saw.

I don’t have those constraints, so maybe the unadulterated awesomeness I’m about to pull isn’t all that fair. ::shrugs:: Too bad.

  1. Understanding the Suicide Squad

Taskforce X –jokingly named “Suicide Squad” for its high mortality rate and deadly missions– was always designed as a way to play with the minutia of DC comics. It explored the smaller, more clandestine events that normal heroes were too busy to notice. It dealt with current social politics (Terror abroad, White Supremacy at home, etc.); government interagency skull and dagger tactics; and harrowing events too morally gray for most heroes. As an 80s comic, it was EXTREMELY anti-Reagan.

More, the team wasn’t a list of everybody’s favorite villains, but  dopey villains nobody would care to see killed. EVERYBODY was on the chopping block. Here’s the rub: the writer was FANTASTIC, and he brought an X-Men-level of characterization to everybody. You CARED about the people who died, and suddenly, it wasn’t as fun to kill characters off anymore.

Here’s the point: Suicide Squad doesn’t fight the same glowy hole-in-the-sky thing that other movie superheroes fight. Instead, its job is to explore the depths of the DC universe. It also does a GREAT job at raising the stakes with death.

It’s kind of hilarious that SUICIDE SQUAD failed in all of those regards. Our version won’t.

  1. Who’s on our team?

The movie had…

Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Boomerang, El Diablo, Slipknot, Katana, Rick Flag, Killer Croc,

We’ll have…

Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Boomerang, El Diablo, Slipknot, Katana, Rick Flag, King Shark, and Enchantress

Reasons:

-King Shark is a Hammerhead shark monster. That’s fucking awesome.

-Enchantress is a key member of the comic team and is a mystical version of the Hulk. Seriously, she’s June Moon, a pacifist normally, and a magical live grenade as Enchantress. She deserves better than she got in the movie.

  1. But How Is Our Story Better?

We open on the fight between Superman and Doomsday from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. It’s destructive as fuck, just like you’ve seen, but this time, we see the fight from the perspective of the military, who’s trying to intervene. Found footage style. Helicopters get lanced out of the sky by eye-lasers, others by falling debris, it’s hell.

We pull back to a secret government meeting reviewing the footage. The gist: “Superman died fighting Doomsday. How the hell can we prepare for the next metahuman attack?” In addition to the usual spooks, there’s a new intelligence agency:  ARGUS, a firm designed to monitor metahuman actions. Its head, AMANDA WALLER, pledges to get right on it.

One Month Later

RICK FLAG JR., a soldier with an insecurity complex, leads a strike team -who might as well be his family- to a secret paramilitary lab. There, they’re surprised by overwhelming technological resistance, and Flag loses his whole team, barely escaping with his life. His C.O., Waller, preps a retrieval chopper and sends an order to “assemble Taskforce X.”

Quick cuts of the team being violent:
DEADSHOT shoots people.
KATANA stabs people.
KING SHARK eats people.
HARLEY joyrides with the Joker.
BOOMERANG robs a bank.
His partner, SLIPKNOT, robs the same bank.
EL DIABLO turns himself in.
ENCHANTRESS atomizes exorcists.

Now, all the team is behind bars in Belle Reve prison, which Waller has specially designed to hold them.

Short story, Rick Flag has to lead them and he doesn’t want to. He’s mourning his team, and he doesn’t think criminals have the honor or dedication of marines, and he thinks they’ll go rogue at the first sign of trouble. He’s probably right. Waller twists his insecurity into making him accept the mission.

Anyway, mission is simple: Taskforce X is to investigate this secret lab, Cadmus, and retrieve the package therein. Expect heavy resistance. The team makes light of it, and Waller punishes them to demonstrate that they’re on a collar. They misbehave, they get an electroshock. They go rogue, bombs implanted in their necks detonate.

Meanwhile, Joker’s in Gotham City, torturing and/or murdering people to find out what happened to Harley. She’s his. She has to come back to him.

Taskforce X (eventually to be called “The Suicide Squad”) makes it to the secret lab. Before the action, Boomerang talks his partner, Slipknot, into believing the neck-bombs are bogus. Slipknot tests this and dies.

RIP, Slipknot.

Meanwhile, Joker’s getting closer, discovering that Harley’s been conscripted into Taskforce X. He tortures/kills his way to finding out why. She’s HIS to play with, not anybody else’s.

Taskforce X makes headway into the base, their personalities rubbing each other the wrong way, each getting a shot of demonstrating their personalities. Flag and Deadshot rub each other the wrong way, a thin philosophical difference being all that separates them. Anyway, the team finds the package, a huge metal cylinder that only King Shark can carry.

Meanwhile, Joker makes it to Belle Reve Prison and opens all the cells. With Waller hiding herself in a panic room, Joker discovers a little green trinket of hers…

On the helicopter ride back to Belle Reve, Taskforce X accidentally opens the metal cylinder. What’s inside?

HENRY CAVILL.

That’s right. SUPERMAN.

The crazy bastards at Cadmus cloned Superman from blood lost during the fight with Doomsday. Flag explains that Cadmus figured the best way to contain Superman was to have one of their own, and to use it to hold the world ransom.

“But now it’s yours,” Harley says.

“That’s right,” Flag says. “Now it’s ours.”

Taskforce X returns to Belle Reve and find it’s a madhouse. Metahuman prisoners are rioting, guards are laughing to death on Joker’s Laughing Gas. Waller’s in a panic room, and orders the team to contain the riot and stop the Joker. They try –fighting dudes like Captain Cold, Clayface, and Parasite– but they’re overwhelmed. Flag makes a split decision and activates the Superman Clone, who saves them all, imprisoning most of the supervillains without a casualty (LOL MAN OF STEEL). Y’see, Cadmus programmed the Superman Clone to be a boy scout… but their boy scout.

That’s when the Joker walks in with Harley around his arm. He gives a Jokery speech and mocks the Superman Clone. When the Clone grabs him, Joker sprays him with Laughing Gas.

Damn, does that ever have a bad effect on Superman Clone chemistry.

Joker, wielding Kryptonite from Waller’s office, commands “Jokerized Superman” -who he christens “Bizarro” to start killing. Flag tries to stop him– Bizarro decapitates him in a blink of an eye.

RIP, Rick Flag.

Joker escapes with Harley and Bizarro.

Waller tries to detonate Harley’s neck bomb…

But Joker has Bizarro use his heat breath to deactivate it during the flight.

Taskforce X is done. No fucking way can they handle Superman, let alone a homicidal clone of him. Waller threatens to detonate their bombs, but they don’t care. Better a fast death than whatever the Joker has planned. It’s clear that none of Belle Reve’s other inmates are going to volunteer. Still, seeing tapes of the Superman/Doomsday destruction, Deadshot steps forward. He’s got a little girl that he doesn’t want to see hurt. He’s not the best guy in the world, but he’s got to be the daddy she’d want him to be. But Amanda Waller is personally going to pay for his daughter’s schooling. The other teammates come around, each with their own demands. The straggler, Boomerang, says that the mission is suicide. Deadshot grins. “Then we’re the Suicide Squad.”

Waller flies the team for where the Joker went: Gotham City.

Damn, it’s bad. Gotham’s wrecked to shit, Arkham Asylum is split open, and the crazies are pouring out. Joker laughs his ass off as Batman, hopelessly outmatched, fights Bizarro. The clone’s just letting Batman wail on him with everything he’s got… and he’s not taking a scratch. Bizarro casually backhands Batman, sending him flying into a parked car, breaking several of his ribs and knocking him unconscious.

For a moment, Bizarro’s stares at what he’s done. His eyes change from madness… to shock. Just as he starts to question his actions, Joker gives him another snort of Laughing Gas, reigniting the carnage. Joker laughs over his new kingdom, but when Harley tries to join in, he yells her into place. This is for HIM to enjoy. She’s just lucky to belong to him.

With his telescopic eyepiece, Deadshot sees it all from the helicopter. As the Suicide Squad parachutes in, he calls the shots: Get the Kryptonite from Joker and stop Bizarro, or die trying.

They land in a war zone. They try to ignore screaming people, but El Diablo just can’t do it. He puts out flames by absorbing them, saving people. King Shark saves drowning people, despite them looking tasty. Deadshot & Boomerang save people too. By slaughtering the Arkham inmates chasing them. ::shrugs:: It’s what they do.

Meanwhile, Enchantress takes on Bizarro, her magic the first thing that’s managed to slow him down. He wades through it as she lays on the power. He weakens, falling to his knees. Katana leaps from behind, preparing to decapitate him– his eyes shoot a freeze ray, encasing her in ice in mid-air. She hits the ground, shattering.

RIP, Katana.

Enchantress  is so shocked that she reverts to June Moon, and sobs. Bizarro just laughs and flies away.

The others are fighting through Joker’s booby traps. Boomerang uses a boomerang to snag the Kryptonite from Joker’s hands… but as Boomerang cheers, Bizarro shatters the Kryptonite with a heat breath burst.

Without Kryptonite, the team is well and truly fucked. But Joker does them one better: He’s sitting on a nuclear bomb fitted with Laughing Gas. Gotham will be wiped off the face of the earth and the fallout’s going to give Metropolis a permanent case of the giggles. So, naturally, Joker laughs and orders Bizarro to kill the Suicide Squad.

Enchantress flares back out of June Moon, using her magic to try to contain Bizarro, but it ONLY slows him down. It’s just enough for the team to take turns distracting him.

Harley, meanwhile, is shocked that Joker could blow up Gotham. All her friends are there. Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Scarecrow, their hyena pets (yes, I am indeed stealing this moment from the classic BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES episode “Harlequinade.” That episode RULES SO HARD). Joker slaps her aside, telling her that he never needed any of them or her. She was just there for laughs. Harley, enraged enough to find her self respect, punches him back. Joker grimaces, liking where this is going. He draws a knife.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Suicide Squad is just BARELY keeping out of Bizarro’s grasp. El Diablo distracts him with fire. When he gets to close, Deadshot distracts him with a bullet. When he gets to close, King Shark punches him and runs, etc. It’s a losing war of attrition, and they all know it.

But Bizarro’s laughs seem to be quieting. He’s less manic by the second as the Laughing Gas wears off.

Boomerang, meanwhile, is nowhere to be found. He’s running along the outskirts, collecting fragments of Kryptonite in one hand, clutching a blowtorch in the other. He’s an idiot, but an idiot with a plan.

Harley fights the Joker: her gymnastics vs. his lethal gag gifts. Harley’s barely holding on, and he mocks her spinelessness every step of the way–

Bizarro finally catches King Shark by the throat. None of El Diablo’s flames, Deadshot’s bullets, or Enchantress’ magic can stop what comes next. Bizarro strangles King Shark to death.

RIP King Shark.

It hits the team hard. Sure he was a big shark-man, but he was THEIR big shark-man. And not that bad of a guy, once you got past the cannibalism.

Boomerang, meanwhile, finishes welding a KRYPTONITE BOOMERANG. It all comes down to the character from down under. *Sponsored by Fosters.

Joker’s got the upper hand on Harley, but just as he’s about to kill her, she grabs her mallet and swings it into his gut, knocking him down a hill of rubble and probably breaking a few ribs too. Harley stands tall over him, gripping her hammer. “I’m breaking up with you. Puddin’.” Then it hits her: “OMIGAWD, TH’ BOMB!” She runs off to diffuse it.

Joker just lays there, bleeding. His eyes roll to the side and he spots… an ice cream truck.

Meanwhile, Bizarro’s figuring out that he can ignore people’s attacks. He chuckles, tears streaming from his eyes. The Laughing Gas is wearing off, but it’s still affecting him. He wades through El Diablo’s waning flames.

Harley, meanwhile, struggles to diffuse the nuclear bomb’s countdown, Boomerang yelling unhelpful advice. “I’m a therapist, not a nuclear physicist!” Harley screams.

Just as El Diablo braces for Bizarro to grab him, someone calls out: “Hey, moron!”

Bizarro turns.

It’s Deadshot, standing in front of the people of Gotham, their terrified, bleeding faces covered in dust. Deadshot asks if this is something Superman would let happen. If Superman would ever knowingly let people suffer.

Boomerang’s poised with the Kryptonite boomerang, just in case.

Yeah, Harley adds, standing sincerely. People make mistakes all the time, but it’s how they recover from them that counts.

“THE BOMB, YOU BLOOMIN’ IDIOT!” Boomerang screams at her. “THE BOMB!”

“Oh yeah!” she says, and dives back into the wires, the countdown timer entering the single digits–

Bizarro steps past her, grabbing the bomb. “You know,” he says to them. “You’re not all that bad.”

Deadshot, El Diablo, Enchantress, Boomerang, and Harley exchange glances. They’re all pretty bad. Hell, they look it.

A tear slips from Bizarro’s eye as he hefts the bomb. “Up, up, and away,” he says.

He’s off like a shot. The Suicide Squad watches as he flies into space and explodes.

RIP, Bizarro.

A reverent moment of silence. Boomerang chuckles: “Chump.”

Harley laughs nervously, “So, umm… all’s forgiven right?”

Enchantress reverts to June Moon and punches Harley in the face. “Yep. All’s forgiven.”

Waller tells the group that the mission isn’t over. They still haven’t dealt with the Joker.

Deadshot notices the ice cream truck driving away. He casually aims and shoots at it. After a second, the truck crashes.

Waller tells him that’s not good enough.

El Diablo nods to where Batman had been laid out. Batman’s gone. “Somebody’s already on it.”

On the helicopter flight back, the team muses that now they’ve saved the city, they must get benefits. A parade, women, booze, whatever superheroes get. Waller agrees to make their cells more comfortable. But she does leave a case of beer in the helicopter for them.

“You guys,” Harley laughs. “We took out Superman!” They drink to that.

Meanwhile, Joker, battered and bloody, struggles to get himself out of the overturned ice cream truck. He mutters under his breath, swearing revenge. He’s got another nuke he’s been just itching to use. “Tell me where it is.” Joker looks up. Batman’s standing on top of the truck. He reaches for Joker–

Cut to black.

Mid-credits (fuck it, Marvel doesn’t own fanservice): Waller meets with Bruce Wayne, both threatening each other. Wayne threatens to expose the Suicide Squad -half of Gotham is conspiracy-theorizing anyway. Waller threatens to expose Wayne for being Batman and for setting up his childishly named “Justice League.”

Post-credits: Waller watches a press conference as Lex Luthor is released for prison and announces his bid for the U.S. presidency. Waller. “Looks like the Suicide Squad has a new mission.”

5. Fun, huh?

The idea here is that we make the most of the DC universe, establish lots of villains for future movies, do more with the current DCEU narrative: figuring out what to do in a post-Superman world.

It plays against tropes, the Suicide Squad lives up to its name, it makes better use of the cameos, it’s a little more streamlined, and it hypothetically better earns its emotional beats.

The post-credits also hint that Suicide Squad will be involved in political skullduggery, as they were in the classic comics. Again, this was an anti-Reagan comic, so wouldn’t it make sense for the movie franchise to be anti-Trump?

6. Lasting issues

All that said, there are a few lingering issues:

-Two prison breaks, although they’d have different feels, it may feel slightly repetitive

-ALL of the Nolan Batman movies had prison breaks, as this does.

-some will be bothered by Harley being chained to Joker for the latter half, but that’s kind of character: the abused girlfriend slowly breaking out from the abuser’s shackles.

-Waller’s sidelined at the end, but hey, she could be their eye in the sky or something.

6. David Ayer

David Ayer’s a solid director with an incredibly specific style -a style that might not be suited for broad appeal (RE: Ayer’s sexist and racist undertones). It also didn’t help that he only had 6 weeks to write a script that would be retroactively wedged into the DCEU.

That larger problem, though, is that Ayer is new to mega-budget superhero movies, and he flat didn’t have a language for it. As such, he reverted to trope. He made a movie almost wholly reliant on flashbacks and exposition when its predecessor, BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM (a superlative Suicide Squad movie), demonstrated all that was necessary was to demonstrate character through action.

More, because these are supervillains, their adventures would probably be better-tailored to heists, assassinations, and sabotage over generic stop-villainous-plot stories. Their adventures can be small and they can get big, as I demonstrated. This could’ve been the size of a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie, or even a FAST AND FURIOUS movie.

Despite Ayer being a fan of Suicide Squad comics, it just seems like he didn’t have the correct imagination for the job.

Sure, I may be talking out my ass, as I don’t have 6 weeks, to write a script out of this, but by the same token, had I pitched a script to Warner Bros., I would’ve read the tea leaves for what WB would probably want long term. I would’ve known that creating a “different” comic book movie had to extend beyond visuals. I would’ve known that audiences are clamoring for an honest-to-God great villain. I would’ve pitched this to follow BvS or, failing that, MAN OF STEEL, because audiences are all about continuity these days. I would’ve pitched with a sequel in mind, because studios like relative financial certainty. I would’ve pitched this exact plot, because it’s the best way to utilize the characters on screen and on the page.

But then, I just read a ton of comics and watch a ton of blockbusters.

I’m just talking out my ass.

RIP, Sadcyborg.

SUICIDE SQUAD Trailer Reaction

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UPDATED!

“You’re going somewhere very bad to something that’ll get you killed.”

Man, I’m excited for this movie.

David Ayer –who evidently pitched the adaptation of DC’s Suicide Squad (2016) himself- is a great directing & writing choice. All of his movies are dramas that dream of being action movies, and the closer he gets the straight-up action, the better. He never wants for thematic resonance, but his voice just tends toward character-driven action & violence.

And the latest Suicide Squad promises that in spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. Let’s talk about the biggest beats.

NOTE: Technically, it’s the first trailer, but all of nerdom’s counting the leaked-then-released sizzle reel as the first trailer. However you feel like numbering it, I guess.

THE AESTHETIC

Odd note, but the sizzle reel looked as gritty and washed out as Man of Steel (2013) had. This trailer (Trailer 1) looked as vibrant and phosphorescent as the recent poster releases. It’s a bold move, considering gaudiness took the blame for Batman & Robin’s failure. That said, nothing in Trailer 1 looked eye-stabbingly bright, just eye-catching.

Going back to my comments about Ayer, I get the sense that the man’s been working up to action franchises, and he just brings his intense sensibilities to each project without diminishing what works about that genre. Case in point: Fury (2014).

Considering his purported and directorial focus on groundedness and “the real,” there had been ample speculation as to how bombastic his special effects would go. I’d personally been expecting very understated magic… just telekinesis, really, but holy hell, did the trailer ever prove me wrong. Knowing that King Shark is in the movie, I’ve gone from expecting THIS….

suicide squad trailer reaction king shark

Still awesome, by the way

…to expecting THIS.

suicide squad trailer reaction king shark comic

Which is even more awesome!

SLIPKNOT

suicide squad trailer reaction slipknot

“No, goddammit, I’m not a metal band.”

After this interview, I’m stoked to see Adam Beach’s Slipknot in action. Wondering why you never heard of the villain? Because nobody cares about him. In the comics, he’s just a guy who’s good with ropes, but based purely on the interview, Ayer’s turned a throwaway villain into a interesting character and capable assassin. It’s just a little disappointing that the trailer was light on him. Probably because the movie’s going to be a little light on him C;

EL DIABLO

Suicide Squad trailer Reaction El Diablo

My favorite character of Adam Glass’ run of the Suicide Squad comic, El Diablo is a flame-powered mob hitman seeking redemption for accidentally murdering women and children (long story). He’s got a defined Latino voice, something that Ayer traditionally handles well, and it’s not a surprise to me that Jay Hernandez’ El Diablo got plenty of time in the trailer. Hopefully he’s awesome in the movie.

CAPTAIN BOOMERANG

suicide squad trailer reaction captain boomerang

“Boomerang. It’s Australian for Asshole.”

How the hell did Jai Courtney’s Boomerang become my favorite part of the trailer? From screaming and punching dudes to stealing beer during the mission, I can’t wait to see more of him.

HARLEY QUINN

Suicide Squad Trailer Reaction Harley Quinn

Any doubts about Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn are instantly vanquished. She nails the character’s personality and seems like she’ll make a great foil to the team along with Boomerang. I’m disappointed that we’re getting her New 52 origin (hence the shot of her rising from a vat in ACE Chemicals with Joker) as opposed to her classic Batman: The Animated Series origin (slowly becoming emotionally dependant and obsessed with him), but having heard that this movie has a lot to do about moving past bad histories, it may work stirringly well in context. Also, she’s pretty funny. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: the line about the voices in her head, or her sipping tea and reading erotica.

DEADSHOT

Suicide Squad trailer reaction deadshot

I’m disappointed that I don’t have much to say about my favorite member of the team. Will Smith sells the character’s nihilism and action poses, but as of now, I’m just hoping for more characterization in movie. Given that the sizzle reel showed a shot of his origin story, I’m sure I’ll get it.

RICK FLAG JR.

suicide squad trailer reaction rick flag

Joel Kinnaman’s Flag sounds like a modern military guy which is interesting on a few levels. 1. His comic book counterpart is such, but suffers from a massive insecurity complex. Hopefully the movie has that. 2. David Ayer is a former Navy submariner, and Rick Flagg Jr. is the first modern-day soldier he’s written. In this trailer, Flag’s voice sounds authentic to that experience, which should be revealing. Given Ayer’s sensibilities, I’m expecting Flag to have an anti-war turn.

ENCHANTRESS

suicide squad trailer reaction enchantress

There are a few good shots of Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress in the trailer, mostly showing that she’s got an aura of dark magic, but there are plenty of other shots of her as the character’s alter ego, June Moon, who’s shown, of all things, brushing Flag’s hair. Seems like the movie will be true to the character’s schizophrenic origins.

KATANA

suicide squad trailer reaction katana

Karen Fukuhara’s Katana has a sword called Soul Taker which has a magical aura suggesting that it will actually take souls. This is awesome.

OTHER TEAM MEMBERS

suicide squad trailer reaction killer croc

Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc… I’m sure they’ll get more of a chance in the next trailer. Waller is THE most important character surrounding the team -she runs it, after all- and it was a hair disappointing to see reused footage from the trailer. Killer Croc didn’t get much to do in this trailer apart from ripping his shirt and grabbing at a guy from a sewer (a shot similar to the animated shot of King Shark C; ). I look forward to seeing his personality.

JOKER

suicide squad trailer reaction joker

Honestly, I’m happy that Jared Leto’s Joker didn’t overwhelm the trailer. I’m sure he’s a huge deal as the movie’s wildcard, and he IS the most enduring comic book villain, but Trailer 1 needed to sell the character dynamic. While I’m curious to see how purportedly twisted the guy gets and whether or not he can overcome the hate for his juggalo tattoos, I worried that he’d commandeer the marketing. I’m glad that at least as of now, that hasn’t happened. Good. Save the craziness. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of it.

TATTOOED MAN

suicide squad trailer reaction incubus

Rumor has it that Common’s Tattooed Man is behind this destruction. In the comics, he was a rogue member of the Suicide Squad who had the power to turn his tattoos into deadly weapons. His action here suggest cool things about the plot… Like maybe the main team is taking down a rogue team…?

BATMAN

Where was Ben Affleck’s Batman? Who cares! Let’s hope they save his next reveal for the second or third trailer as we get closer to August. The nod to him in the Sizzle Reel was fun, but WB/DC has to learn how to sell movies without him. Trailer 1’s off to a good start.

-OTHER COOL STUFF:

suicide squad trailer reaction eastwood

This is the first time we’ve seen Scott Eastwood in the trailers. Rumored to be playing Deathstroke, DC’s deadliest assassin, I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WAIT to see this happen.

suicide squad trailer reaction briscoe & sheba

There are plenty of shots of helicopters in Trailer 1, notably one shooting white phosphorous. Given how many character cameos are in this (Ike Barinholtz is rumored to be playing Batman villain Hugo Strange and Common will be playing Squad perennial ‘The Tattooed Man!’), it wouldn’t surprise me if this was Brisco’s character cameo. A disturbed helicopter pilot working for Amanda Waller, Brisco named his voice-controlled helicopter Sheba after his dead daughter. The helicopter is the only place he sleeps. See? Disturbed.

suicide squad trailer reaction magic nuke

Who does that glittery nuclear explosion belong to? Enchantress or Incubus? …Harley or Joker?

suicide squad trailer reaction joker & frost

Who is Joker grabbing when he says, “I can’t wait to show you my toys?” Jim Parrack’s Johnny Frost? Either way, paint a crosshairs on that guy’s back.

Who are the A.R.G.U.S. agents after? Killer Croc? The Joker? Either way, a SWAT team dealing with a supervillain prison break is a great horror set up. Any reference to Aliens is a good reference.

suicide squad trailer reaction melted truck

Damn, that melted truck looks sweet…

suicide squad trailer reaction enchantress white house

What’s Enchantress doing in the White House?

Given that everyone is alive in the trailer, I get the feeling that we’re thus far only seeing the first half of the movie. After that, I bet we have a not-so-surprise villain on our hands.

What, surprised that characters are going to die in a movie called Suicide Squad? If you’re as morbid as I am, check out my predictions!

Love the trailer? Thought it needed to die in a fire? Think my breakdown should too?

Sound off below!

EVERY MOVIE I SAW IN 2015!

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Wow, I saw a ton of movies this year! And like everyone on the internet, I’ve got rankings of them! But this is no mere mortal top ten! Not on your life! This is…

EVERY!

MOVIE!

I!

SAW!

IN!

2015!

So strap yourselves in and prepare to rage, as I surely rank one of your favorites way too low or I deify something you wouldn’t wipe your ass with!

  1. CINEMATIC PERFECTION

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

You cannot overstate the greatness of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Action-driven characterization, brilliantly realized thematic cipher characters, a pulse-pounding yet contemplative score, worldbuilding through suggestion, top tier actors at the top of their game, car chases, explosions, fight scenes, “OH WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” FURY ROAD is brilliantly in the moment, capturing the ethos of 2015: from the inequality and sexualization of women across the globe, to the suffering of the masses at the hands of the few, to the chains of capitalism, to the shackles of religion, to the horrors of war and conscription, all so a few can get a little fatter. FURY ROAD challenges us to acknowledge that it is allegorical and it demands us to take action. It challenges Hollywood, too, to recognize its own complacency in endlessly casting white leads, in endlessly rebooting and playing it safe. FURY ROAD subverts on every level and is an unspeakably good blockbuster to boot. With action sequences so perfectly executed and SO FUCKING POWERFUL, the group I saw it with still had an adrenaline high hours later. This is why we go to the movies.

EX MACHINA

Is she human? This question embodies everything about EX MACHINA. Its tense psychological thriller about Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb trying to determine if Alicia Vikander’s Ava, a robot, can pass for human gives way to biting themes of patriarchy, feminism, neutrality, reciprocity, agency, and social structure. Oscar Isaacs’ Nathan terrifies as a brutally masculine robotic engineer and Alicia Vikander is nothing short of mesmerizing. With only her face visible, Vikander carries a myriad of complex emotions so, robot or no, you’re instantly on her side. MANY arguments can be made about whether or not EX MACHINA’s plot are at odds with its themes –which debatably take over in the third act, but EX MACHINA is absolutely the feminist movie for our times. It forces all of us to examine just what role we play in upholding rape culture, The Glass Ceiling, and the countless other social constructions that hold women back.

INSIDE OUT

Disney-Pixar knows how to approach real, deep issues by way of anthropomorphism and structure. BIG HERO 6 did it with the 5 Stages of Grief, and INSIDE OUT does it with Psychology 101. While the human story relates to the young Riley coming to grips with moving to a new town with her family, the larger story is interior and concerns her key emotional states –Fear, Disgust, Anger, and especially Joy and Sadness. What begins as a simple bad day in their office leads to an adventure to save Riley’s psyche from total collapse, framing the dissolution of her youthful innocence as an apocalypse. Understandable. Growing up feels like that. As Joy and Sadness race to save Riley from the brink, they explore her entire psyche, from her memory, to her consciousness, to even the depths of her subconscious. It posits that while emotional and psychological complexity can be hard, it’s absolutely essential to the human experience. An intellectual but accessible charming tearjerker, INSIDE OUT is an absolute must-see.

IT FOLLOWS

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s IT FOLLOWS is an instant classic, taking a relatable concept like venereal disease, and turning it into something (even more) hellish. Something is always following you. If it ever catches you, it kills you. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else via sex. But if it ever catches them, it chases you again. In this way, ‘The Monster’ is more than an STI allegory, but a metaphor for the omnipresence of death and how many cope with that understanding. Shot in the urban ruin of Detroit, this is all the clearer. Beyond the mere concept, Mitchell’s expert and often experimental cinematography grips you in paranoia, making you try to spot the Monster before the characters do. It’s surreal, nightmarish, and conveyed expertly by the cast –especially Maika Monroe’s Jay, whose youthful indiscretion warps into existential torment, self-examination, and even cultural examination. What’s more, it was shot in my home state on a shoestring budget! It’s the first time I’ve been able to say, without a drop of sarcasm, “Pure Michigan.”

CREED

CREED is what happens when a master class director understands what makes a franchise great and uses its mythology to tell a similar story within its universe. An inverse of Rocky, Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed (who disappeared into the role, btw) has inherited the wealth of his illegitimate father, Apollo Creed, but wants none of it. His journey to become a boxing champion is one of self-worth and self discovery; he’s absolutely determined to prove that he’s more than an accident. That he is a valid person. Heartwrenching, to say the least. Writer/director Ryan Coogler inflects the story with a voice that’s unmistakably black and modern. Adonis’ voice and his interactions with his girlfriend Tessa Thompson’s Bianca could be nothing other than black. Given all that’s gone wrong with America in the past two years, giving the black community a pioneering spirit and true hero to rally behind is of utmost importance. Rocky was an underdog from the slums; Creed is an underdog of the mind, and his value is instantly legendary.

PADDINGTON

Forget Superman; PADDINGTON is the true immigrant story. Paddington himself is an accident-prone Peruvian bear who is adopted by an English family and undergoes constant culture shock while trying to get naturalized. Knowing that he’s a nuisance to his adoptive family, he attempts to return to Peru, all while a Nicole Kidman’s Millicent Clyde, a maniac taxidermist, is after his pelt. PADDINGTON comes to us at a time of maximum xenophobia in the world from threats at all angles. For immigrants, this is especially challenging as integrating into English-speaking white culture can be daunting, morally compromising, and even hostile. Paddington epitomizes this in the form of a sweet child of a bear, who makes mistakes in his ignorance and naiveté, but showers his adoptive family and country with his gratitude and love. It’s sincere, poignant, funny, adventurous, and optimistic, and, putting us the audience squarely in Paddington’s perspective, it’s all so very personal. I cried more times during this sweet little movie than any other movie of the year.

  1. DAMN GOOD MOVIES

KRAMPUS

I’ve been describing this as “NATIONAL LAMPOON’S FAMILY CHRISTMAS meets GREMLINS,” and there really is no better comparison. A troubled upper-middle class family deals with blue collar in-laws enduring the worst family Christmas ever… until Krampus, the shadow of St. Nicolas arrives to punish them all. Featuring nightmarish monsters and in some of the most mindblowing horror setpieces ever (Jesus God Christ, the attic scene. Hell, the climax in the street…), Krampus is all about perverting Christmas iconography… every bit as much as it is about preserving them, surprisingly. It’s a testament to KRAMPUS’ script and ideology that you’ll begin the story loathing the characters, and end it hoping they’ll survive against the odds. It’s easy to dismiss these as stock characters, but each of them, like the story itself, subverts expectations to reveal unexpected depth, duality, cynicism, and hope. Gimmick slasher movies? Here’s your new gold standard.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE

This is pure cinematic joy. THE MAN FROM UNCLE filters the Cold War posturing masculinity, sexual rivalry, and barely repressed homoerotic tension –traits typical of Guy Richie movies. It’s the kind of instant classic movie that we used to die for: snappy dialogue rife with double entendres; experimental, joyful action sequences; brutal tension; sexy comedy; a wicked toe-tapping score; and standout performances from Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander. The Cold War was a dick waving contest, and while THE MAN FROM UNCLE is a few decades too late, it makes this point hilariously clear. It’s an unforgettable work of genius, and I say, no bullshit: This was 2015’s best Bond movie.

WITCH

I wish there were more movies like WITCH –utterly unfraid to chart new genres, settings, periods, characters, themes, and ideas. Set in mid-late 1600s, a Puritan family in colonial America takes to the woods after exile from their community. There, their infant son goes missing, and they begin to suspect a witch is cursing them from the woods… if not, their daughter. Spoken entirely old English, WITCH represents the forces of regression and traditionalism as anchors and seed to our superstitions, generalizations, and scapegoating. It’s at once a horror thriller as much as it is a family drama. What’s more, it’s a textbook about gender politics, family, growing up, sexual rivalries, and religion. The only reason it wasn’t higher on the list was because I honestly didn’t think it was as scary as it could’ve been.

KINGSMAN

KINGSMAN is an on-the-nose pastiche of James Bond-esque spy thrillers –even to the point of name-dropping and trope-stealing directly, but it’s a pointed deconstruction. It’s a hyper-masculine fantasy tearing down one of the longest lived hyper-masculine fantasy franchises in all of cinema. Teenaged English Chav Eggsy (Taron Egerton) gets recruited to the KINGSMAN spy agency, where he competes against and triumphs over the privileged class, which is only a small facet of the script’s class warfare text. Hell, Sam Jackson’s Richmond Valentine’s evil plan is to murder all the lower classes out of sheer fucking spite. More tangibly, KINGSMAN is a watertight script with slick action, gut-busting dirty humor, some imaginative setpieces, and the single greatest uses of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” ever. There’s a discussion to be had about the trope reward sex by the movie’s defacto Bond girl, but that discussion is largely pointed at the institutionalized sexual objectification that we, as a people, regularly ignore.

ANT-MAN

This is everything I love about Marvel movies; human & simple. On the surface, Peyton Reed’s ANT-MAN is a heist movie about a guy who can shrink –and while that’s imaginative, beautiful, exciting, and laugh out loud funny—it’s thematically a story about parents and children. Love, regret, fears, insecurities, bitterness, and forgiveness. EVERYTHING in ANT-MAN revolves around these kind of relationships, and between Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne, they’re especially poignant. I wrote about Hope Van Dyne, thinking her sidelining deeply unfair, but when I realized that Peyton Reed created these scenes to directly address former Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter’s overbearing misogyny on the MCU, it’s clear how elegant it is. OF COURSE it’s unfair that women don’t get to be protagonists, even when they deserve it. And THAT was the manifesto of 2015 at the movies.

BLACK SEA

We don’t get many submarine thrillers, and in today’s increasingly blockbuster-soaked landscape, it’s easy to understand why. They’re about waiting. Tension. Survival. Character. Things only a movie that knows how to take its time can do well. BLACK SEA is that movie. A joint English & Russian illegal salvaging mission in the Black Sea for Nazi gold, tensions mount in the rusting sub over nationality, paranoia, greed, and sheer mania. Jude Law gives a stirring performance as Robinson, a world-weary, blue-collar salvager with nothing to lose and nothing to live for. Suspenseful doesn’t begin to cover it. By the time this white knuckle descent into hell was over, my fingers had dug holes in the armrests.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION

Ostensibly a structural remake of the first movie, ROGUE NATION’s strength can be summed up in two words: Ilsa Faust. Rebecca Ferguson’s Faust is an incredible spy who brings true intricacy and depth to a movie that might be a little paint by numbers without her. Just as FURY ROAD is a baton pass from Max to Furiosa, so is ROGUE NATION one from Tom Cruise’s Ethan to Ilsa. Seriously, I can’t say enough good about her. Featuring incredible sequences like the opera sniper duel and a cross-desert motorcycle chase (I wasn’t wowed by the plane-hanging or the water tank dive), and the interesting employment of seemingly stock characters, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is definitely one to see.

SICARIO

The strength of SICARIO is in its duplicity. Every shot highlights a dichotomy that’s often thematic, but just as often social, which is the heart of its HEART OF DARKNESS-esque journey through the complexities of the Mexican drug trade. Emily Blunt’s FBI Agent Kate Macer is our lens into a brutal and amoral world policed by CIA sociopaths like Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver and by psychopaths like Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick. It’s impossible deny the potent undertones of double-standards and sexual violence, and to that end, the movie is brilliantly crafted. My lingering question is just how relevant those ideas are.

FURIOUS 7

As much of my list will begin to show, 2015 was the year of indulgence at the box office. “You can have candy for dinner” said the movies, “But they’ll probably give you a tummyache.” FURIOUS 7 is no tummyache. Campy, proud, exciting, sexy (for a cismale perspective), and hilarious, it expertly achieves its goals of ensemble blockbuster mayhem. What was your favorite part? Vin Diesel jumping a car between three skyscrapers? The Rock tackling a drone with an ambulance? Jason Statham’s death mobile? Vin Diesel swordfighting with car parts? Nathalie Emmanuel in a bikini? FURIOUS 7 is the kind of cinematic bliss that comes from taking your camp seriously and giving the audience what they don’t know they want, even if it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s nonsense, but damned satisfying nonsense.

  1. MIDDLING FUN

THE MARTIAN

“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Made firmly in the moment making the language of millennials accessible to other generations, THE MARTIAN combines the cinematography de jour of Matt Damon’s Mark Watney’s reality-style confessional booth interviews with the grandeur of prestige cinema in photographing the surreal landscapes of Mars. Plausible science fiction, it’s as creative as it is fun, and centered in humanity and optimism. Despite all this (and its all-star cast!) THE MARTIAN is still a fairly toothless experience, with nothing feeling as desperate, dangerous, or pulse-pounding as its various elements want you to feel. It’s forgettable, but you can’t help but think about it with a warm feeling in your heart.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Don’t get me wrong; Tarantino’s a great director and this is still a great movie, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Enough cannot be said about Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, pitch perfect over the frozen wastes. Prior to the intermission, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fantastic little character piece, exploring everyone’s dark and complex history, juxtaposed against how they like to imagine themselves. You have typical great Tarantino dialogue, tension, blocking, and acting, and a fantastic monologue flashback, but the story takes awhile to present itself. When it does after the intermission, we’re treated to a rushed closed-door mystery with a cheated solution, a tonally dissonant flashback, and a sudden realization that only five of eight characters were as deep as you thought they’d be, and they weren’t even THAT deep. Thematically addressing a brevy of unfortunately still relevant topics such as institutionalized racism, sexism, hegemony, and more, THE HATEFUL EIGHT IS vital and I can’t recommend seeing it enough… I just wish it was structured to better support that.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

I wanted to love AGE OF ULTRON way more than I did, but it’s a classic example of forcing a story. This isn’t about Hawkeye’s family; it’s about Tony Stark’s hubris in creating Ultron and his relationship to it. Acting under a desire to minimize Tony Stark’s role in a story that is ostensibly his, Whedon’s disparate themes and actions without consequences leads to a third act that feels like an entirely different movie. The classic snappy Whedon dialogue and emotional stakes & consequences are still here… they’re just diluted by all the poor structure. It doesn’t help that the movie was edited to death and was forced to pointedly “set up” (a blight of modern cinema) CIVIL WAR and INFINITY WAR. Despite all that AND that that many threads had no explanation or consequences, it speaks volumes to Whedon’s skill and to Marvel’s production philosophy that it was still super fun.

SPOTLIGHT

A divisive choice, considering its Oscar push, but SPOTLIGHT felt to me like a tepid ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. While the story of the Boston Globe revealing the Catholic priests molestation scandal pandemic  was vital and interesting, the human drama was rendered almost entirely in exposition (a huge detraction from my personal investment), nobody felt personally invested in the investigation until seemingly very late in the movie, and the stakes of publishing the story felt very nebulous at times. I know people who love this movie and felt the tension that I did not, but it just wasn’t my speed. Live Schreiber rocked in it, though.

TRUMBO

A phenomenal performance by Bryan Cranston as the titular blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, this is a historical drama detailing his blacklisting from Hollywood during the communist scare, his stint in jail, and his slow clawing back to success. Much of it falls emotionally flat because the story can’t stay on a story beat long enough for us to get invested. Featuring strong, if typical performances by John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Diane Lane, C.K. Louis, and Elle Fanning, TRUMBO is enormously competent, but without much to say beyond “the Hollywood blacklist was bad.” Quality filmmaking, albeit forgettable.

SPONGEBOB: SPONGE OUT OF WATER

Do you like Spongebob? Would you like to see four original episodes of Spongebob stitched together, each with a different genre and goals? Here’s your movie. Your mileage on Spongebob may vary. I find him intermittently fun, but mostly insufferable. I guess that makes me a Squidward.

PEANUTS

Using a beautiful, tactile animation technique, PEANUTS has a real and present texture, making you feel like you could reach out and pull it apart with your hands. Effortlessly charming, PEANUTS the movie feels like a year’s worth of the comic strips seamlessly stitched together, with every character as you might remember from A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Snoopy’s WWI antics with the Red Baron provide the greatest comedy beats and the most blockbustery action setpieces in what’s otherwise a lighthearted character piece of Charlie Brown trying to befriend his crush, the Little Red Head Girl. While Charlie Brown’s misadventures are meant to highlight his goodness and compassion, the movie suffers from having little to offer subtextually and from regressive plot devices such as the Maiden in Distress and two Women as Rewards. Youthfully innocent, but it’s still a male entitlement fantasy.

BRIDGE OF SPIES

This is a spy thriller that is not a thriller, per say, and it is a courtroom drama that is not a courtroom drama, either. With great actors in a few decent roles, BRIDGE OF SPIES is family-safe on all fronts. Its condemnation of American provinciality arcs to a triumph of American perseverance and ethics; its vision of the Cold War is bloodless, save for a chilling moment at the Berlin Wall; and it has enough “good people” to root for. There are just too many characters in too scattershot a structure with too-long of a first act to feel anything more than relative passing interest.

MINIONS

In a world of Disney and Pixar animated masterpieces that bring so much more to the table than mere text, along comes MINIONS to basically entertain kids for a few hours. The Minions still make for great comedy, even in a solo venture, but when they’ve got to do double duty as semi-serious protagonists, they lose a bit of that off the cuff magic. While Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock provide great voicing to the movie’s villains, they just don’t inhabit a world that’s interesting enough for investment. Everything about the movie –and especially those characters- is vapid posturing and joke-explaining. I’m not wild about DESPICABLE ME’s humor, but at least it was never this obvous.

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER

Buckle down for the most metal sword and sorcery opening sequence ever, featuring vikings getting THE FUCK magicked out of them— Then slouch as it dissolves into a tepid urban fantasy movie. To its credit, LAST WITCH HUNTER has some impressive creature design and CGI… but that’s a low bar for success these days. Vin Diesel is typically growly, but atypically uninteresting; Elijah Wood doesn’t get enough to do; Michael Caine is an afterthought; and it utterly misuses GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie. Mediocre and uninteresting, two massive points against the sadly under-represented action/horror genre.

CINDERELLA

I forgot I saw this. Branaugh’s CINDERELLA has incredible mis en scene, one of the single greatest dresses I’ve seen in movie history (aesthetically AND thematically perfect!), and fantastic performances by Cate Blanchett and Lily James… but it’s utterly paint by numbers with absolutely no surprises and even less to say. In a world where MALEFICENT (2014) offered a credo on women’s relationships in a world dominated by the Patriarchy, CINDERELLA represents a missed opportunity to condemn female in-fighting and rivalry. Without a single song to its credit, CINDERELLA is a pale shadow of the animated masterpiece it adapted.

  1. NOT SO GREAT AND MAYBE EVEN BAD
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  2. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Another controversial choice, but while Abrams’ love letter to the Original Trilogy may have nailed its tone while bringing a more diverse (and talented!) cast and staging a couple great fist-pumping moments, it’s script is way more miss than hit. Sure, there are great exchanges between certain characters and individual scenes work in a vacuum, but as a whole, nothing gels the way it should. It’s a greatest hits of the Original Trilogy without understand how or why any of it worked the first time. My feelings were so complex on this one, I pretty much dissected it entirely. For me, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is about as good as the prequels; there are a few great standout moments, but not enough to redeem it from its numerous flaws. In some ways, the prequels are its superior; they are at least original.

CRIMSON PEAK

I wanted to rate this higher, and there are many who will argue with me, but del Toro’s gothic horror/romance epic fails to work as a script. You couldn’t ask for a greater mis en scene of the slowly sinking Allerdale Hall, or a more perfect cast than Mia Wasikowska as the silver tongued writer and romantic, Tom Hiddleston as her ominous suitor and lonely baron, and Jessica Chastain as his venomous sister with ever-increasingly rivalry… but the story just doesn’t know what it is. Is it a mystery? Is it a horror movie? Is it a romance? CRIMSON PEAK can’t decide, resulting in a movie that’s a tepid and painfully obvious. It may be a 1:1 recreation of all the strengths and weaknesses of a Hammer horror film, but it could’ve been so much more.

JAMES BOND: SPECTRE

SPECTRE’s opening long shot tells you everything you need to know about the movie: surface-level style with an emphasis on mood, padding between beats, and gritty realism. The ensuing helicopter fight offers little in the way of real tension or excitement, and so the movie continues, jadedly hitting all the bullet points of “A JAMES BOND MOVIE,” without any real care or understanding for how they work. Christoph Waltz’ Blofeld hams it up as a Bond villain nearly reaching Dr. Evil heights. The lighting alternates between impenetrably dark and blasting white for the villain’s base. I’d call this a wash if not for the side story of Q, M, and Moneypenny, who are engaged in a Le Carre’-esque spy thriller more about the organization of spy organizations than the spy work itself. It’s clear that director Sam Mendes cares much more about these politics than he does about James Bond, which is why the “Bond story” feels so tacked on and rote. This was a snooze. …but I kind of loved Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall.” Sorry, rest of the world.

TERMINATOR: GENISYS

Controversial for not being lower on the list, TERMINATOR: GENISYS attempts to ride on nostalgia for a property that’s long since burned up all its goodwill. It’s every bit as mismashed, fanservicy, predictable, and unoriginal as THE FORCE AWAKENS and JURASSIC WORLD, but at least it’s tonally unified with plenty of standout beats acting as callbacks to Terminator 1 & 2. The best way to think of it is an event comic where your mind is supposed to be blown because Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents, Uncle Ben didn’t die, or whatever. Action-packed, character-driven, and with a surprisingly touching father-daughter relationship between Sarah Connor (Clarke) and her personal T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger), TERMINATOR GENYSIS succeeded on its own terms. Too bad for it that nobody cared. Have you seen Matt Smith’s scenes in it, though? Textbook unintentional comedy.

FANTASTIC FOUR

I like that director Josh Trank tried to make a Cronenbergian body horror aimed at millennials. With better structure, it could’ve been that and more. Instead, last-minute budget cuts and executive interference from FOX took this self-serious, gritty coming-of-age sci-fi movie, and forced it into a self-serious, self-conscious superhero movie that was embarrassed to be in its own skin. With an overlong first act, an out of place second act, and a preposterously rushed third act, it’s a superhero movie straight out of the 2000s: no idea how to best execute its ideas, and summarily misses the point of all of them. Miles Teller, Jaime Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Toby Kebbell give it all they’ve got, and for a brief moment, you can see the mad genius this all could’ve been.

HITMAN: AGENT 47

Were it not for my uncle, I would’ve been alone in the theater. It’s obvious why. A turgid rebootquel of a poorly received video game movie from 2007 featuring none of the same cast, its most interesting feature was that it was one of several baton passes from a male star to a female star. Rupert Friend’s Agent 47 trains Hannah Ware’s Katia to be the next-greatest super-assassin. There are moments of genius in this lackluster affair -Exotic deaths and hints of a brother-sister rapport- but it’s all lost in its tedious, exposition-driven mythology and in its drivel action scenes. Someone in casting thought Zachary Quinto would make a perfect Wolverine. With liquid metal under his skin, we watched this super assassin “die” multiple times. You’d think that’d be entertaining. It wasn’t.

  1. ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE

JURASSIC WORLD

Nostalgia is all apologists have to defend this mess. “John Williams’ score! An operational park! Dinosaurs!” they cry, realizing there’s nothing else to defend. The characters all seem to operate independently of one another in different movies with disparate moods, stakes, goals, and arcs. Even scene-to-scene, the movie cannot decide on a tone. Is it a sulky understated divorce drama between brothers? A snarky science thriller between researchers? A violent dino-on-man survival horror? Or a comedy between gatekeepers calmly watching oncoming, bloodthirsty pterodactyls? It’s everything and all of it abominably executed. By the time the movie was over, I didn’t feel bad for laughing at it so hard. If this is the best Colin Trevorrow can do with a beloved sci-fi franchise, I’m horrified to think what he’ll do to STAR WARS EPISODE IX.

JUPITER ASCENDING

Holy fuck this was bad. Cool, it’s space Cinderella. Too bad it’s embarrassingly bad. Mila Kunis walks doe-eyed from one scene to the next making weird, bestiality-ridden comments about wolf-man Channing Tatum. Sean Bean tries to sell being a bee-hybrid as best he can with laugh-out-loud bad dialogue. Eddie Redmayne is the only man on Earth who knows what he was playing in JUPITER ASCENDING, randomly alternating between whispering effeminately and yelling like his balls were in a vise. Give the man credit, he made something out of the role, but that something wasn’t pretty. In the movie’s defense, there’s a bizarre moment dead in the middle where Mila Kunis must go through Gilliam-esque space accounting to truly become a space princess, a sequence capped by Terry Gilliam himself wearing something straight out of BRAZIL. I dunno why the fuck it was there or necessary, but at least it distracted me from the movie’s godawful structure and painfully imagined sci-fi universe. The space dogfights were so overblown and particle-ridden, it made the TRANSFORMER movies look restrained. Next time, let the grown-ups write your script, Wachowskies.

CHAPPIE

Holy fuck, this was worse. Coupled with ELYSIUM, CHAPPIE was the one-two punch that killed Neil Blomkamp’s chances of directing an ALIEN movie and thank fucking God for that. CHAPPIE’s got an interesting premise: what if a sentiment machine chose the ghetto lifestyle rather than the generic white mentality we usually see in such films. The problem is, there’s absolutely no internal logic in the movie as Dev Patel and the members of Die Antwoord give Chappie conflicting advice resulting in actions that never seem appropriate or cause and effects that have even less logic. At one point, Hugh Jackman’s I’M A BAD GUY character pulls a gun on Patel’s I’M A GOOD GUY character in the middle of a crowded office then passes it off as a joke. Nobody bats an eye. Die Antwoord are Chappie’s unlikable caretakers and, apart from one comedic scene where they trick Chappie into stealing cars for them, they are abominable. The movie climaxes in separate sequences of urban warfare desperately aping –and pissing on- ROBOCOP, culminating in Chappie fighting a robot with a name that that Sigourney-fucking-Weaver has to sell credibly: “THE MOOSE!” Unoriginal, tone deaf, hateful, unintelligent, structureless, illogical, indulgent, pandering, and soulless, it is the absolute wrong way to make a movie about finding what makes us human. It’s an extra kick in the nuts because I LOVE transcendence stories.

So concludes my list for this year. My 2016 resolution? More indie and foreign movies!

Thanks for reading, you starved-for-something-better-to-do-masochists, you!