Category Archives: Wha Happen’d at the Movies?!

The Importance of Being Trailer: The Difference a Shift In Tone Can Make

Well, a funny thing happened on my way to the forum, today.  I had intended on writing about Batman v Superman and the dangers of over-stuffing films, but with the new Suicide Squad trailer and Wonder Woman footage that dropped last night, I wanted to take this week instead to discuss trailers and -following up from last post- tone.

One of the biggest problems I’ve had (as indicated last week with regards to Fantastic Four) with the DC Cinematic Universe has been it’s Grimdark Aesthetic (grimdark, for the uninitiated, refers to an overly gritty, grim tone).

kid batman and superman

“Who’s your favorite superhero, Jimmy?”
“I like the one that tells the other one he’s going to make him bleed!”

When Suicide Squad was announced, everyone was a little surprised…introducing DC villains and the Joker in a film without Batman? Unheard of! (Though we later learned that Batman IS in the film both through the trailer and through living in Toronto) We were also shocked when Will ‘Holy Shit, Seriously? Will Smith?!’ Smith was announced as Deadshot.  With A-Listers Smith and Margo Robbie (Harley Quinn) in place, producers pulled another coup by courting Oprah for Amanda Waller (the role eventually went to the eminently talented Viola Davis; a much better choice).  Already there was something different and neat about this film.  Writer/Director David Ayer kept talking about fun, but our confidence was shaken considerably with the reveal of Juggalo Joker (albeit with the caveat that Heath Ledger’s casting was also met with anger and guffaws.  Granted, he didn’t have a fucking grill, but that’s neither here nor there…)

Jared-Leto-Joker-Suicide-Squad-1.png

Fucking magnets…how do they work?!?!

In spite of this, the first trailer looked vaguely promising…just having Will Smith as a DC villain is already interesting enough to warrant attention, as is the first cinematic appearance of fan favorite Harley Quinn (with extremely promising casting of the yet untested Margo Robbie) and Jared Leto -continuing to prove that he’s a goddamn wizard when the camera is on- proved his Joker, despite the questionable design, was still going to be worth the price of admission.  It was necessarily expository (Waller sets up the premise in voice over), gives glimpses of the main cast and essentially builds to a reveal of the Joker.

But it didn’t read as fun.  It read the same way the other DC Cinematic trailers had: gritty, dark, IMPORTANT. ACTION-Y.  Complete with unnecessarily dark cover of a classic song by a tragic-sounding children’s choir.  FOR EMPHASIS AND IMPORTANCE. Here it is for reference:

So, some neat stuff, but worth being excited about? Meh.

But all that changed about two days ago, with the release of some new images, followed promptly by a new trailer.

In today’s post, I’ll be taking a look at how the tone and narrative surrounding Suicide Squad had changed and why: in addition to getting me genuinely excited for the film, this shift also signals hope for the DC universe and how -yet again- a grimdark overlay can set films up for failure.

One Look? One Look? I’ll Show You One Look!

Here’s the first image of the cast that was released:

Suicide Squad first look.JPG

But which one is Keyser Soze?!?! Smart money is on Margo Robbie.

The image gave fans lots to mull over: it was our first look at how far they were going to go with Killer Croc’s look (hint: exactly far enough!) We got further confirmation that Will Smith was actually in the film (which still seems pretty unreal), and the direction they would go with Harley Quinn (I’ll cover the many looks of Harley Quinn in a future post, but to whet your appetite, here is the range of costumes and looks the film had to choose from…mercifully they found decent mid-ground):

Harley Looks

…As you can see, things have kinda been going downhill since her original look from the 90’s.

We also got final confirmation about who would comprise the Squad (the roster in the comics has changed a lot over the years.)  The characters from left to right: Slipknot (a master of knots and ropes/50 Shades of Grey Aficionado/Expert Arctic Air pilot), Boomerang (think Green Arrow, but with trick boomerangs instead of trick arrows. Played by Jai ‘Oh, for god’s sake stop being in things’ Courtney of A Good Day to Die Hard and Terminator: Genisys ‘fame’), Enchantress (the one standing, she is a magic user possessed by a witch), Katana (crouching, wields a sword called Soultaker that captures and draws power from the souls of those she kills with it), Rick Flag (an elite soldier; was supposed to be played by Tom Hardy, but he was too busy playing ‘get the Oscar nom!’ in the woods with Leo), Harley Quinn (Formerly obsessed with the Joker), Deadshot (The Fresh Prince; super skilled sniper), Killer Croc (a Batman villain with a genetic condition that gives him reptilian looks…in some versions, like this one, he eats people), and El Diablo (a gangster with pyrotechnic powers).  They looked fine, but also at home with the tone of the Superman and Batman photos we’d seen so far: gritty, dark, grim.

Here’s what we got two days ago:

suicidesquadjpg-c73bff_765w

Each of these images has its own breakout poster focusing on the individual characters: they’re funky, interesting, colorful: these suggest a much different film than both the first image and the first trailer.  Usually, these are the kinds of posters that fans make (like the spectacular Mondo posters) but here we are with an official series of posters that are a far cry from anything else we’ve seen from the DC Cinematic Universe so far.

This was followed by another poster:

Suicide Squad poster new

io9 has a great analysis of how these posters contrast with the Batman V Superman ones here, but -in a nutshell- writer Whitbrook describes the Batman V Superman posters thusly:

“The difference is stark. Everything’s so muted. The characters look either mildly concerned, or outright bored. All the personality and vibrancy these characters should have—Batman! Superman! Wonder Woman! The World’s Finest!—is just drained, replaced by an endless malaise.”

Suddenly, Suicide Squad was looking much different from the rest of the DC Universe, but that could just be savvy marketing…after all, the discount bins of the world are full of garbage made to look desirable by great ad campaigns…

terminator salvation poster Sigh

But the fact remained that regardless of the posters, the trailer still felt tonally incorrect.

Until this dropped yesterday:

And with that, shit got real (interesting)

Tonally New Trailer and Friends

Tone wise, this trailer is much more alive: we get to know the characters, see them in action, the film seems fun and snarky, rather than gritty and grim. Even the use of Bohemian Rhapsody (as sung by Queen, not the Glee Club of the Damned) gives the film a more fun and distinctive vibe.  Suddenly, I know what this film wants to be and happily it’s not another grimdark DC flick.

But it is a little familiar…remind you of anything?

If you’re like me, you greeted the announcement of a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with a resounding ‘What the fuck?’ but this trailer completely turned me around. It was so unlike anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and had a sense of fun and play that none of the other films had (being familiar with James Gunn also helped in this case).  But really, above all else, two things stand out in this trailer: the humour and the music.

When I laughed out loud (literally, not figuratively) at Boomerang sneaking a beer in a combat zone, I realized Suicide Squad had hooked me in a similar way.  So, why the sudden turn-around?  Guardians, already being a long-standing success, can’t be the reason for the recent shift in marketing focus (though you can be damn sure it’s success as a fringe property helped this -and the ill-fated Sinister Six film that I’ll be talking about in my next post- green-lit).  While it’s entirely possible that we’re just getting too close to the film to continue to pretend it is tonally similar to Batman V Superman (hell, even Ben Affleck describes Suicide Squad as having ‘a cool cousin’), I think the final push that caused this shift lies in the spandex-clad hands of another hero altogether: Deadpool.

The story of how the Deadpool movie came to be is a fascinating one that I’ll be delving into close to the film’s release date, but in the meantime: Deadpool is a smart-cracking, meta-character (that is aware he’s in a comic) and often engages in hyper-violence and the eating of chimichangas.  After a long campaign led by Reynolds himself (and some conveniently leaked test footage), Deadpool was green-lit and has engaged in one of the most brilliant campaigns of fan service I’ve ever seen.  From the first trailer (which featured a joke about not putting him in a costume that was neither ‘animated or green’ -burning the much maligned Green Lantern film), to a delightfully violent fake-out announcement that the film would be getting a PG-13 rating (fans were furious) followed by Deadpool murdering the announcer and declaring the R-rating, to the recent campaign of parody posters, and finally, the above trailer.  This is a film that by all conventional super hero film logic should not be possible (hard R, sex jokes, swearing, hyper violence…all the fun things studios can’t stand being anywhere near their super hero films; particularly as the rating limits their audience intake.  This was a huge issue on Watchmen and even Live Free or Die Hard, which famously censored John McClane’s ‘Yippie Kai Yay, Motherfucker’ and continues to be an issue with Deadpool, even spawning a campaign led by an eight-year-old to get a PG-13 version released) but despite this, Deadpool has become more hyped that even the new X-Men film.  In large part, this is because of how fully the film has embraced its tone: it knows it’s a different beast and it’s reveling in it.  Consequently, we know what we’re in for, we know whether we’ll be excited or not, and this weird movie can just let its freak-flag fly.

While there may not be a link between the three marketing campaigns, the parallel sends a clear message: regardless of the cinematic universe your film exists in, the tone of the film -not the universe- needs to be front and centre.  By allowing us to see the film as director David Ayer has been describing it for the first time, Suicide Squad has gone from being a curio to a project of genuine interest.  If, however, the marketing had continued to depict the grim, en sepia world of Batman v Superman, we might have no idea why this film was interesting until it was too late.  Now, good or bad, Suicide Squad can stand on it’s own.

I’m now quite unexpectedly eager to be there on opening night to find out. 

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Man of Steel: How We Got What We Want And Lost What We Need.

It’s hard not to feel inspired when you hear the first few bars of John Williams’ legendary Superman theme. Like the hero itself, it seems to ask you to be better than yourself.

Better than you think you can be.

This tone, embodied by Superman since his inception during the Great Depression, is perhaps why there is so much controversy surrounding Man of Steel’s depiction of Superman. When the Batman films were rebooted with Nolan’s Batman Begins, the series shed the light, playful tone that had permeated the franchise since Batman Forever and thus regained some of the character’s credibility; we’ve always been okay with silly Batman (as emphasized by the truly spectacular digital comic Batman ’66) but we were ready for a more serious, more violent Dark Knight. This is, after all, a vigilante prone to brooding, leaving without saying goodbye, and beating enemies to within an inch of their life to avenge his dead parents.

Toronto BatmanOr, to eat Beef Jerky. HIS PARENTS ARE DEAD!!!

But then there’s his counterpoint: Superman. The Man of Tomorrow. The Man of Steel. An alien raised by honest, salt-of-the-earth parents to inspire and lead. Instead of lurking in the shadows, he wears the brightest colours he can find. He actively presents himself as a hero of the people and is often found helping out ordinary people.

Superman’s film history has been lighthearted and extremely unpredictable…for every “Kneel before Zod!” we have a Superman IV. Woof. Through it all, we get an inspiring, heroic Superman, ready to save the world and save us from ourselves.

But then something went wrong…both on film and in comics. After spawning an entire industry of imitators and counterpoints, we grew tired of the original. The smiling, posturing, happy-go-lucky (though lonely) Man of Steel began to frustrate us. Fuck this guy, right?

Part of the problem was that our morality started to shift: we tired of black and white, good/evil stories, as our own access to information allowed us greater and greater insight into things we thought we could believe in (NSA, anyone?) We dig anti-heroes (hi, Batman!) and increasingly thirst for vigilante justice (in fiction…the Zimmerman trial result speaks to our disgust with vigilante actions in real life).

But then there’s Mr. America, Superman. Asking us to believe. In ourselves, in something greater.

superman waiting As I said, fuck that guy. Right?

Which brings us to Man of Steel. It’s an interesting movie, though problematic. First and foremost, this is the ‘Superman vs…’ movie we’ve been waiting for (that is, until the forthcoming Superman VS Batman movie…which will be the best AROUND!). Super-powered heroes are often hard to pair up, since a regular punch from Superman should kill a mortal. The fights are incredible. Fast, varied, and all kinds of awesome. There are also some perfect moments (generally whenever Cavill actually gets to BE Superman) or the truly heart-breaking moment where Pa Kent sees Clark as a kid with a cape on.

In moments like these, the film manages to capture the very essence of Superman, summed up wonderfully in the striking image of the Man of Steel in handcuffs that can’t possibly hold him, but showing the humility and grace that mark our hero.

There’s a bunch of awesome stuff here.

But then there are the problems.

How deep these problems run has somewhat yet to be seen; much like the gradual build of James Bond over the rebooted films, the implication seems to be that this film is about the shaping of Clark Kent/Superman into the character we know (and indeed, in the scenes where he is Superman and the scene where Clark Kent is actually reporter Clark Kent we see how this could go). However, to get there, we basically have to endure a selfish, inconsiderate Clark…which I found particularly troubling during all of his “Hey Mom, guess what? I found my real parents!” scenes –which feels like most of them- as he completely ignores his adoptive parents’ feelings and contributions to his life. Yes, yes, youthful ignorance (I heard the same defence of Harry’s constant whining in Order of the Phoenix), but the strange scatter-shot of flashbacks generally only gives us this version of Clark. I found myself desperately missing the farmboy hero lurking beneath the surface…a lot of characters tell us that he’s like that (and we see heroic actions), but rarely do we catch even a glimpse of what motivates them other than ‘I have superpowers. Canz use?’

To a large extent, the first half of this film feels like a Wolverine movie without the claws.

This angrier, broodier Superman seems to be more in-line with our aforementioned shift away from black/white morality and yet sits ill-at-ease. We wanted a darker tone (Metropolis gets destroyed, thousands die), we wanted a more vicious hero (whose very existence is toted as world ending and who snaps the villain’s neck), and yet we find this Superman lacking.

The answer, I think, lies in the now famous line from The Dark Knight: optimistic Superman isn’t the hero we want, but he is the hero we need.

Angry broody Batman feels right. It fits his backstory, his motivation, and his actions just fine…but we want our Superman to be better. We want to be generally frustrated with his ‘always looking forward for humanity’ attitude, because he can hold it when we cannot. Much like Gene Roddenbury’s hopeful science fiction future in Star Trek (also lost in the new films, which are much broodier…as were the later shows), we look to Superman not to reflect our own attitudes about humanity or heroes, but to give us something to aspire toward. It is often easy to forget this, behind the shiny blue and red veneer (and godlike powers which, admittedly, made him my least favorite superhero growing up), but the reason Superman is an enduring hero isn’t because he is faster than a speeding bullet, or can leap tall buildings in a single bound (which later became flight because…comics); it’s because the Big Blue Boyscout is actually damn inspiring.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to say ‘fuck that guy.’

Perhaps we kind of need him right now.

Now go blare the John Williams theme at top volume…it might just make you want to save the world.

Or at least do the laundry.

Resident Evil Retribution: Focusing on the Film Franchise

Film: Resident Evil Retribution
Games: Resident Evil 1, 2, 4, 6…sort of.

Resident Evil Retribution opens with one of my favourite Simpsons tropes of all time:

“Well it’s come to this: a Resident Evil plot clip show.”

We get the longest “My name is Alice” spiel ever, as Milla Jovovich troopers through the entire twisted Resident Evil film continuity to-date.  For a continuity nerd like me, this is appreciated but needless, however it did highlight something kinda important about this series: The original Resident Evil film debuted eleven years ago, in 2002.  It’s a testament both the Milla Jovovich’s charisma, the zombie genre, and Japan’s continued interest in the franchise that these films are still being made.

Indy

Yep, there are more movies in this franchise than in Indiana Jones.  Look on my works ye mighty and despair.

And thus, a clip show is entirely necessary for bringing us up to speed before launching into the penultimate (and fifth) film in the series…while the film is certainly leagues better than Resident Evil Afterlife (not a terribly high benchmark…), the question remains: how does it link-up to the abysmal Resident Evil 6?

Well, that’s the weird part: 11 years in, the film’s focus has turned its eyes away from the games and inward toward itself; a zombie snake eating its own tale (or an ouroboros, for those supernerds in the house).  Much like with Resident Evil Extinction, this is actually a good thing, as the films have created their own mythology over the years which is just as complex and absurd as the games that inspired them.  By focusing inward, we get a better movie more consistent with the film universe and thus more rewarding as a viewing audience.

Now, we aren’t entirely free of video game insertions.  Not by a long shot.  But ever since Resident Evil Apocalypse, the games and movies have had a tenuous relationship at best, often just shoe-horning in name characters for the sake of ‘the fans,’ leading to the horrendously non-nonsensical Resident Evil Afterlife.  This is still present in Retribution (adding Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry Burton into the mix), but their introduction is plot based-ish rather than “Hey, we have Chris Redfield in a jail cell for some reason.  Look, a 3D effect!” Also, we don’t get the weird antagonistic ‘our characters are better!’ attitude of Resident Evil Apocalypse, instead we get game characters in the place of random commandos, which works just fine.

Now, given that likely few-to-none of you saw the film (I didn’t) let’s take a quick look at what this damn movie is about:

Retribution opens with a stylish backward action sequence (which is one of the first interesting visual ideas presented in the series in some time), picking up immediately after the ending of Afterlife with the entirely unmotivated assault on the remainsof humanity by Umbrella because sure-why-not.  It’s a quick palette cleanser to kill off Chris and Claire and all the other people we don’t want to pay anymore before we’re off to a neat little sequence in a house, which highlights a key problem in a 5-film continuous zombie franchise: if you declare Earth extinct and overrun in the third film, you’re going to have a bad time.

Bad Time Guy

Had to.  It’s like internet law now.

So, we jump back to pre-infection, with Alice married to Carlos and yet another kid-to-protect-for-a-film daughter (who is deaf!  Instant character depth!).  Naturally: zombies happen.  And we get a brief pre-infection sequence, which reads a lot like the flash-sideways sequences late in LOST, where we see familiar figures from throughout the franchise exhibiting strange behavior.

Michelle Rod 2She never stays dead.

Well, it quickly ends in death and sadness, before we get our obligatory ‘Alice in skimpy medical scrubs in giant Umbrella room’ sequence, where brainwashed via “Resident Evil 5 chest scarab” Jill Valentine delivers lines like a speak-and-spell.  We discover we’re in an Umbrella facility full of clones and simulations (hence that weird ‘Japan outbreak’ at the beginning of Extinction) that Umbrella has been using to build weapons.  Okay, so to recap: clones.  Every fucking character we’ve ever liked who worked for Umbrella had tonnes of clones around.  We’re talking ‘that door room from Monsters, Inc‘ numbers of clones.

cloneveyor belt

Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas‘ handiwork, no doubt.

Alice and Ada (who is a generic super soldiery type) have to fight their way through various locations around the world (in the underground facility) to meet up with an extraction team (of familiar movie and game characters).  Along the way, they end up fighting all our favourites: Michelle Rodriguez (back from the dead, just like Fast and the Furious 6!), the captain from the first one who got laser walled (the excellent and highly underrated Colin Salmon), and of course Carlos ‘That Guy From the Mummy!’ Alvarez (we’re missing Lane Pryce and Jorah Mormont…but what’re you gonna do…) It’s actually a really fun conceit and all the video game characters actually make sense in this one (and act like themselves).  We also get our first on-screen kill of a video game character (sorry Barry.)

Barry 2

He was infuriatingly close to saying ‘Jill sandwich’ but didn’t. FAIL!

Gamewise, the added characters of Leon (Resident Evil 2, 4, 6) and Ada (2, 4, 6) are two of the 7 main characters of RE6 (you read that right. 7.) so we have our obligatory connection, we get a locational similarity (RE6 was very globe-trotty, the tagline of Retribution was ‘Evil goes global’) and frankly, that’s all we want.  I never wanted to see Las Plagus (explained as a mutation.  Sure.) or the nail-headed guy (explained as a bioweapon.  Sure, I guess.) but seeing a couple of familiar faces instead of randoms?  Cool.  Other than that, we’ve got a movie about the movies and a game about the games (sort of).

And this makes me very happy.

As I stated above, the inclusion of video game storylines like Nemesis has been consistently frustrating, but here the most references we get are to the earlier films and it’s a lot of fun having them back.  The main enemy is the Licker, the Red Queen computer has decided to KILL ALL HUMANS, Michelle Rodriquez is back being awesome.  And most importantly, it honours the fans of it’s own series, not the games that spawned it.

Yet again, the film succeeds by giving us the ‘twist ending’ of Alice arriving in Washington (Wesker is still alive for some reason) and learns that former ‘KILL ALL HUMANS’ Wesker now wants to save all humans, makes Alice magic again, and ends with a Helms Deep-esque seige of the White House.

Fuck it, why not.

Helms DC

Word to the wise: don’t get the elven master archer to shoot the bomb guy.  Despite that shield-surfing thing a few minutes ago, he will totally fail now that it matters.

It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it evokes my favorite elements of many of the previous ones (especially the first) and has pointed to an actual series ending, which we need after 11 years.

So, yet again, the quest continues.  By the next film, Resident Evil 7 will be upon us and we can put this article to bed once and for all.  But in the meantime, I’m happy to say the films have finally come into their own (again) and the film franchise might get the ending its fans deserve.

And after 11 years, they deserve one hell of one.

It’ll probably have a laser hallway.

resident-evil-laser-hallway

Sorry, Cube.