Suicide Squad

 

So…Suicide Squad.
I know, I’m a week late. I don’t get paid to write these, not yet at least, so I can’t always get to the movies on opening night. Luckily, I’m not here to beat a dead horse. I’m not going to trash the movie (because lord knows I was prepared to going in) nor am I going to hail it as the superhero film as the year, because it isn’t. It’s not even close. The days of a middle ground in regards to superhero films seem to be a thing of the past. This is most likely because of the massive influx of them, as well as the lopsided-ness of the genre (Marvel cornering the market of shared cinematic universes for years before DC even started its attempt). Whatever the reason may be, a superhero film can’t just be “good” anymore, or decent, or alright. It has to reinvent the wheel, or it is deemed a colossal failure. A movie is either masterpiece or piece of hot garbage, and it all depends on who you ask. DC movies, in particular, especially this year, seem to be inspiring one of those two reactions. There’s an innate, aggressive defensiveness among fans, and in response non fans have taken on a more aggressive offense in their criticisms of the films.

In the end I suppose it all comes down to what you value, fan service, strong writing, visual flair, or subtext. All four of these factors add up to a great film, superhero or otherwise. For Deadpool, it had fair balance of all of them, though maybe light on subtext. Batman V Superman had visual flair, subtext and fan service to spare, but a complete lack of strong writing left it as a series of montages loosely strung together. Captain America Civil War probably had the best balance of all of them. Suicide squad was…certainly a way to kill an afternoon. If I were to review it in a sentence, that sentence would be: “Not great, or even very good, but it has some bright spots, so it’s worth a watch.” It had the possibilities for subtext, about the nature of good and evil, the mindset of a criminal, ect. This largely goes unexplored in lieu of an aesthetic of sheer carnage and mania to match the unstable nature of some of its characters. This results is a god awful 15-20 minute stretch at the very beginning of the film that feels more like a playlist on YouTube than the opening of a film. It’s like having constant noise thrown at you in a bad children’s film, a cadophany of light, color and sound to keep you from getting bored in case Batman v Superman didn’t do the trick. Luckily this manic, hot topic Andy Warhol routine is dropped when the film starts zeroing in on an actual plot, but the disjointedness never leaves.

There are obvious gaps in characterization throughout, with character developments feeling very unearned by the end of the film. This also leads to a generic villain that’s like an amalgamation of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World and Viper from The Wolverine. Rather than emphasize the “true villain” of the film (Viola Davis as Amanda Waller), the film instead opts for the avengers formula of “big bad has a shiny thing that’s blowing up the sky while an army of minion fodder get thrown at the squad to deal with.” And therein lies the main problem with this movie: focus is put on the wrong people at the wrong times. Why is Enchantress (the default antagonist in a film full of villains) singled out as evil, when she, along with every member “task force X” are black ops slaves to shady, Machiavellian government figure who is framed with multiple allusions to the devil throughout the film? Every other criminal on the team is given some element of tragedy, why not her? There is a good movie here, a great movie, even. But something went very, very wrong in the production. Removing some excess characters like Karana or Killer Croc, fleshing others out more, shifting the role of antagonist, and an editor who actually knows how to do his or her job would have accomplished just that.

While so far I’ve done nothing but pick the movie apart, I must stress that I do so because there are parts of this movie that I really, really liked. The cast all around if fantastic. The characters are enjoyable to watch and easy to get invested in, which is more than I can day for DC’s other outing this year. There are even some pretty inventive visual designs and effects work peppered throughout other highly questionable directorial choices. Will Smith is great as Deadshot, Margot Robbie is infectious as Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis is sublimely intense as Amanda Waller. This is also the first movie where I actually really enjoyed Jai Courtney in a role. I’m hoping for a sequel, preferably with a new crew behind the camera, because there is the making of something special here, and it is the shot in the arm that the DC cinematic universe desperately needs. To quote Deadshot, someone just needs to get it there.

The Little Prince

The truest mark of a great children’s movie, if one exists, is to once more feel like a child while watching, and to do so without ever feeling insulted or talked down to. To be immersed, educated, and transformed while also entertained, regardless of whether you’re an adult or child. With that in mind, it hasn’t been a bad year for animated films. Finding Dory managed to not only justify it’s questionable existence as a sequel to a decade old film (that worked just fine one its own), but also delicately and sympathetically shed light on the hardships of living with a mental disability (and living with some who’s mentally disabled). Zootopia provided a fresh, funny blend of buddy cop thriller tropes and punchy real world commentary on prejudice and stereotypes. Even Kung Fu Panda 3 provided some of the most dynamic and dazzling action scenes of any blockbuster this year (in the January dumping ground no less). But this past weekend, the animated children’s film to beat didn’t barrel it’s way into theater to lay waste to box office records. Instead, it snuck in through the back door of online streaming.

Distributed as a Netflix original film after being dropped by Paramount, The Little Prince is a U.S/ French/ Canadian-produced adaptation of the famed novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A stunning hybrid of computer-generated animation and stop-motion, the film features a tour de force of visual ingenuity, a stellar voice cast and the earnest, thoughtful storytelling that made the original novella such a revered classic. The film utilizes stop motion to bring the original novella to life while using CG for an original tale that bookends the known story. In this new story, a young girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy), pushed hard to succeed by her organized, overachieving mother (Rachel McAdams), learns the importance of holding on to the values of a child when she hears the extraordinary tale of the little prince and his journey across space to Earth. The tale is told to the young girl by her senile ex-pilot neighbor (the human protagonist of the novella, voiced by Jeff Bridges). As with any adaptation of the classic story, the movie covers a myriad of philosophical themes, ranging from the facing inevitability of death, faith vs the known, conformity vs nonconformity, loss and the reclaiming of innocence and finding meaning in a busy, apathetic world through singular, unique bonds between people. Not once does the film pander to its audience with base humor or superfluous slapstick. It know exactly when to be funny and when to take itself and its audience seriously, delivering every philosophical point with poise and nuance.

While diehard fans of the source material may be put out by the inclusion of new content (and at such an extensive level), American director Mark Osbourne grounds new additions with humanistic charm, never once “Americanizing” this emphatically French story. The new content is integrated into that of the classic seamlessly, never abandoning or distorting the themes of the novella, but rather illustrating them to the further extent that a feature film length allows. When all is said and done, I can’t imagine a more perfect children’s film to define the terms of all others to come out this year. The Little Prince is an emotional marvel of animated film making that deserves to be seen, and I cannot fathom why it was dropped by Paramount. Whatever the reason may be, it was a colossal mistake on their part.