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Part-Time Characters: Justice League and Thor Ragnarok Reviewed

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The One Where Adonis is Sick
Quote: What phrasing would you prefer Adonis? ‘I don’t know, making out. Or tonguing.’
TONGUING?!

In our shortest episode to date, Bridget, Adonis and I talk about superhero movies, both Marvel and DC. Adonis does his best to defend Justice League and their CGI over Henry Caville’s moustache and Bridget pretends she is not head over heels for Thor. Neither were very successful.

Go on…Part-Time Characters: Justice League and Thor Ragnarok Reviewed

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Ep98: Suicide Squad’s Goals

suicide squad podcast

This week on Now Conspiring, we have a clash of opinions here to review and sort of politely discuss the latest DC comics/Warner Bros. film, Suicide Squad. Our conversation is spoiler-free at first, but we jump into a full-spoiler conversation at the time marked in the show notes.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK (and you’re required to answer this): What would you do to fix Suicide Squad?

Go on…Ep98: Suicide Squad’s Goals

Review: ‘Suicide Squad’ is a Guilty Pleasure Worth Admiring

suicide squad review

Note: This review is spoiler-free, but it does contain a major spoiler from the ending of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You have been warned.

When it comes to comics that center around bad guys defeating even worse guys (and gals), Suicide Squad is one of the most lasting and recognizable of the lot.

It wasn’t the first book to be about villains, of course (though this movie is the first comic book film to have a main cast of villains as characters). But it was one of the first that was actually successful. And that’s probably because Suicide Squad essentially defined the idea of reluctant heroism found in the vilest of our society.

That’s tricky territory, because it presents a philosophical debate that modern society is mostly split on: Are people inherently bad, or are they tainted by an inherently bad world? 

suicide squad review

Fortunately, Suicide Squad doesn’t dwell on these questions for easy dramatic fodder (at least, not as much as it could have). Instead, it takes a note from some of Marvel’s recent films by emphasizing character over spectacle, at least with some of its titular bad guys.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the set up of Suicide Squad from the comics — of which the 80s run is still the best — the idea is simple. A shady black ops leader named Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) wants to assemble her own team of metahumans, like Superman, and unhinged specialists, like Batman, in the wake of Superman’s death from the end of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The team is codenamed “Task Force X,” but as one of their recruits points out early on in the film, they’re really a “suicide squad” in the sense that they’re not expected to live through the mission that takes up the majority of the film. And that’s because most members of Task Force X are dangerous villains, accompanied by a Colonel and “good” metahuman to reign them in.

As noted earlier, the structure of Suicide Squad is brazenly different from typical superhero and comic book films. It’s focused and constrained to one major location, a familiar technique if you’re caught up with director David Ayer’s other work.

suicide squad review

And the decision to limit Suicide Squad to one mission ends up being one of the film’s greatest strengths, because by the end credits, the viewer is left feeling as if they’ve gone through a significant ordeal with these characters, even if the movie doesn’t always stick the landing with some of its big moments.

There’s as much good as there is bad with Suicide Squad, in the sense that Ayer and his team succeeded at getting this movie right where it really counts — notably with  standout characters like Deadshot (played by Will Smith). The problem is that like previous entries in the DC comics cinematic universe, Suicide Squad just doesn’t sweat the details enough.

These details include basic plot mapping (the opening scenes, for example, are a glaring mess), action set pieces (especially toward the end), and the film’s worst offense: its script. Though Suicide Squad has its moments of surprising and smile-inducing dialogue, a great deal of it comes off as hastily tacked on in order to elicit a reaction, usually humor.

For that reason, Suicide Squad practically forces the viewer to accept it in a very specific way. That is, it’s painted and executed as a guilty pleasure movie, and you get the sense that the movie has no aspirations for self-importance or melodrama. Which makes it an easy film to get lost in and just enjoy, without having to “turn your brain off,” for the most part.

suicide squad review

One of the reasons the movie swings more toward guilty pleasure has a lot to do with the care Warner Bros. has put into better fleshing out its world of DC characters, and a good number of them are paraded beautifully. As revealed in the early trailers, Batman (reprised by Ben Affleck) has a small presence in this film, and it plays out about as well as his best moments from Batman v Superman, without any of the confusing quirks added to the character.

And it goes without saying that Suicide Squad is brimming with loving references to other DC stories, reminiscent of how shows like Arrow and The Flash insert subtle asides for eagle-eyed viewers. Put simply, this is the first DC comics movie that does a good job of establishing a coherent personality for this world of heroes and villains, while also integrating it in a more graceful way than we’ve seen in the past.

The only weak link worth mentioning is certainly the Joker (played by Jared Leto), who is balanced with the other characters in this film in a gratifying way so as not to steal the spotlight. This ends up being for the best, though, because this is easily one of the most uninteresting depictions of the Joker of all time, not just in the movies.

Granted, the movie works hard to dress Leto up as the Joker, and sparse dialogue certainly sounds like something Joker might say. But upon close inspection, this version of the Joker does virtually nothing reminiscent of what’s fundamental to the character. There’s nothing he truly does that sets him apart from a flamboyant crime boss/pimp who wants to find his girlfriend.

suicide squad review

Yes, he wears funny costumes. Yes, he looks weird and kills people. But there is far more to the Joker than “oh by the way” scenes of him laying on a floor surrounded by knives. And that’s because his only true motivation in this film is to get Harley Quinn back. There’s no chaos, comedic insanity, or diabolical planning to anything he does or wants to do in the film. He simply acts like he is crazy, rather than truly showing it, and it’s one of the film’s biggest disappointments.

Thankfully, Joker is not the crux of Suicide Squad. Far from it. So it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings of his character in lieu of this film as its own standalone story. It’s not easy, though, to overlook the fact that too many characters in Suicide Squad have poorly fleshed out character ideologies that make sense of their own payoffs toward the end. They do it in spades for Deadshot and Diablo, but that’s about it.

Lastly, the soundtrack does little to enhance or even complement the story, instead only reminding viewers that Guardians of the Galaxy did a much better job integrating a playlist with the rhythm of its plot (as proven by the film sharing one of the same songs from Guardians). In Suicide Squad, it really just feels like the music was added out of obligation, not because it was essential to the scene it was put in.

suicide squad review

And better thought (and edits) put into the scenes is all it would have really taken to make Suicide Squad a better movie than what we’ve gotten, which is a guilty pleasure that only looks good by comparison to the in-universe movies its attached to.

Grade: C+

Extra Credits:

  • There’s a mid-credits stinger and…well, it’s not that relevant or surprising, honestly.
  • I’m not a fan of most David Ayer movies, so Suicide Squad sort of defied the odds in my case. According to all the evidence, I should have hated this movie.
  • The chemistry of the cast is one of the film’s biggest strengths, as emblemed by the fact that a lot of them got “SKWAD” tattoos for the movie.
  • It’s not saying much, but this is my favorite live-action depiction of the Suicide Squad. That’s what full Will Smith can do for a film.
  • A standalone Harley Quinn movie featuring other DC femme fatales has been announced by Warner Bros., but it’s likely that the success of Suicide Squad will still determine whether or not that actually happens.
  • For once, Cara Delevingne wasn’t one of the worst characters in a movie.

    I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Which Is Better? Arrow vs. The Flash

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“Which is Better?” is a new editorial series that dares to compare the best of pretty much everything. In this rundown, I’ll break down everything from story to characters in an attempt to declare which of these superhero shows is truly better. 

Back when it was still The WB Television Network, The CW aired a superhero origin series for Superman, which you probably remember as Smallville. It was a great show in its early seasons (its prime), but it faltered over the years due to its own popularity and unwillingness to end. Essentially, things got too complicated, important characters became throwaways…it was a forgettable mess by the time it finished.

But Smallville did set the standard for modern live-action DC Comics shows. It introduced an entire generation of non-comic readers to Green Arrow, prompting the CW to move forward with a new show/remake dedicated to just that character.

You can thank a lot of the creative vision and ambition behind Arrow and other DC shows to Greg Berlanti, who got his start working on Dawson’s Creek (the similarities between these two shows are unmistakable). Though Berlanti has helped produced some major duds, including the Green Lantern movie in 2011, the director/writer/producer has found great success crafting a DC Comics television universe that has branched off into The Flash and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow. He’s even the executive producer of CBS’s own DC Comics show, Supergirl.

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But the main shows we’re talking about today are truer rivals. They’ve crossed over many times, and The Flash was even introduced within an episode of Arrow. And although Arrow has been around since 2012, The Flash is already in its second season, giving us enough time to properly compare what stands out for each series.

So…which is better? (shoutout to user Tonio0064 for suggesting this entry).

It’s a hard question, and from what I’ve observed, The Flash has been considered by critics and audiences to be superior, despite how young it is. Another thing to consider is that a lot of what’s great about The Flash was pioneered by the teams who worked on Arrow, which suffered a bit from some clunky seasons trying to figure out what kind of show it had to be.

I’ve had a great time watching both shows, so I’ll be breaking down their merits in order to figure out which one really is better. But let’s be clear. Neither have failed this city.

BEST LEAD

which is better arrow flash

Both shows have titular main characters, so having a good lead has been critical to their success. Fortunately for Arrow and The Flash, Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin have done a fantastic job as Oliver Queen and Barry Allen, respectively.

They both walk a fine line between doing the comics justice, but also bringing something new to the character that non-comic fans can relate to. Oliver Queen is traditionally a hero known for being more of a left-wing robin hood type looking out for the little guy, but Amell’s take is more of a tortured warrior who fights for the greater good (at least for now).

Grant Gustin pulls off a Barry Allen with fewer wisecracks but more charm as a confident speedster with a heart of gold. And both of these characters work with larger teams instead of on their own, which is a more suitable format for television.

This is a close call, and I really like both characters. But if I had to choose one who goes just a little further with the character, then I have to pick Flash. Amell is a great actor, but he’s a bit more one-note and sullen compared to Gustin, who just seems to be having a lot more fun with his show.

Point goes to The Flash.

BEST SUPPORTING CAST

which is better arrow flash

In other words, Cisco or Felicity?

One of the most fun aspects of Arrow is how well the show has evolved its side characters. Diggle, Felicity, Thea, and even Laurel have grown into interesting characters who add more to the show than they distract from.

At the same time, though, the show often struggles with what their roles are. Specifically, Thea, Laurel, Roy, Quentin, and Sarah of all people have been hit-or-miss over the years, with Roy even leaving the show Teen Wolf-style.

The Flash, on the other hand, does more with less. Even if you compare second seasons to second seasons, Team Flash just seems to have a better sense of identity. Caitlin looks out for Barry’s health, Cisco makes the cool gadgets and decides on bad guy names, Wells comes up with the plans, Joe keeps everyone in check, and Iris is the unattainable love interest (though her character is slowly getting better than that).

This is a result of The Flash learning and avoiding the mistakes of Arrow, which gives them almost an unfair advantage. But the show still manages to learn and apply what’s worked in the past, and that’s no easy feat in the world of network television.

Point goes to The Flash.

BEST VILLAINS

which is better arrow flash

Arrow was lacking a compelling list of villains early in its first season. The enemies ranged from Nolan-verse archetypes to greedy businessmen, not the intriguing assassins and warlords that would populate future episodes. Even Merlyn was a bit underwhelming, despite his arch-villain clout.

The Flash found easy ways to introduce villains with one major event causing their arrival. The particle accelerator gave Barry and many of the villains their powers, making it Barry’s job to round them up (with the exception of foes like Captain Cold).

You’d think that would give The Flash an advantage, but this is something I don’t love about the series. For one thing, it’s a little too reminiscent of Static Shock, the animated series from the early 2000s that used very similar story elements to explain the sudden arrival of foes Static could contend with.

The major villains of The Flash have certainly been interesting in their own right, but not very unique or diverse. Sure, it’s still early, but Reverse Flash and Zoom are really just rival speedsters. Arrow did the same with Merlyn, a rival archer, but at least in its second season, it introduced two new villains who felt drastically more imposing. What made Deathstroke so great, for example, was how his story had been teased from the first season, and the “why” behind his villainy was more satisfying than Eobard Thawne’s mostly uncomplicated treachery.

I like the villains from The Flash, but I’m much more invested in the villains of Arrow, especially Floyd Lawton. Point goes to Arrow.

BEST STORY

which is better arrow flash

Included in this analysis is storytelling. Which show delivers the best experience in terms of drama and character development?

Arrow had a very promising premise in its first season that gave it the steam it needed to survive. Oliver Queen returned from presumed death after five years. While trying to readjust to his life and friends (including the ex-girlfriend he cheated on with her sister who died under his watch), Oliver took up a crusade as a vigilante, trying to redeem his city with the skills he learned while on a mysterious island.

This initial story worked well because we also saw flashbacks to the island that explained how Oliver survived and became “the vigilante.” By the time we reached the third season, however, the flashbacks quickly became pointless, feeling more like fodder for lackluster B plots. There’s a good one every now and again, but for me, these have been pretty skippable.

In contrast, The Flash utilizes “secret endings” at the end of each episode that shed light on a bigger mystery. Who is Harrison Wells, really? Who is the Reverse Flash? Who is Zoom? Strange I’m mentioning it again, but this is something Teen Wolf has excelled at in a grander sense, using mysteries you actually care about to keep you tuning in.

But does that really make the story better? No, and that’s a good thing. These mysteries are accessories to what make The Flash a fun watch, not the entire hook. I’m fine with waiting to find out which character is who because I enjoy Barry Allen’s journey as a superhero. It’s simpler than Arrow, for sure, and I like that because Flash is a less serious character, so when there’s drama, it feels more genuine when mixed with the comic relief.

This is another close call, but I have to give it to The Flash. While it may lack a narrative that hooks you in immediately, it provides a fleshed out universe that feels more fun to sink your teeth into.

VERDICT

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Well, I guess the critics are right. The Flash is better than Arrow, but it’s a closer match than I think some people realize. In everything we discussed, Arrow had many bright spots that elevate it above The Flash in some respects, especially when it comes to villains.

But overall, The Flash has benefitted from being more refined from the get-go, which is a testament to the work put in to make this show the best it could possibly be. We owe plenty of gratitude to Arrow for paving the way, but it’s honest to point out that it’s not the best, at least for now.

Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments.


Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my mailing list.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

I’m Not The Target Market For ‘Supergirl,’ Which Is Why I’ll Probably Love It

CBS recently unveiled their 6-minute “First Look” trailer for “Supergirl,” which is one of their first superhero TV shows ever and a new connective tissue for the ever-expanding DC comics TV universe controlled by by the mind of Greg Berlanti. Yes, “Supergirl” exists alongside established superheroes like the Arrow and Flash, who currently fight crime on the CW (a network owned by the same company as CBS). That doesn’t mean the show will crossover much or even at all with the aforementioned supers, but it could happen at least once.

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But the real story is how “Supergirl” will make its mark when it comes to its lead character. Leading up to this trailer, many speculators like me have wondered how they’ll portray the character of Kara Zor-El, the cousin of Superman. And you know what? They’ve pretty much nailed it. Look, the issue of handling female superheroes for TV and movies is extremely volatile. Just look at the craziness that erupted with Black Widow over the last month.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of people shaking their heads at how DC/CBS is tackling Supergirl (many of them are even women), but I’m not one of them. Specifically, there are some of you out there worried about having a “girly” superhero living in a romantic comedy script. I’ve heard things like, “Well I’m a guy, so this show wasn’t made for me.”

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Right, because women everywhere who love comics aren’t used to watching shows not made for them. As a guy who’s used to seeing strong, confident heroes like Black Widow and I guess Black Canary to an extent get their time, I couldn’t be more excited about seeing a younger, less sure of herself girl grow into becoming the unstoppable hero we know she can be.

Why does Supergirl have to be GoGo Tomago? Why can’t she be a little awkward and clumsy like, say, I don’t know, Clark Kent? Yes it’s a little silly, cheesy, and corny. So was “The Flash,” and we all know how that turned out. I’m not someone who easily relates to the struggles of a girl living in the big city trying to overcome self-doubt.

But that’s probably why I’ll end up loving the show. It’s new territory in the sense that the story is being told through a genre I absolutely love with a character I wouldn’t normally find relatable.

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Of course, I haven’t seen the show itself yet, so who knows how it’ll actually turn out. I’m a little wary of Jimmy-er-James Olsen being portrayed by this cool and confident professional instead of the bumbling, shy nerd we know from the comics. I’m not crazy about Toyman and Hank Henshaw essentially being the new Harrison Wells/Caitlin Snow (really guys? Can’t we do something different for this show?)

But as for Supergirl herself, I think CBS is onto something, and it’s great news for all of us if other studios start taking notes.

Also

  • Any nitpicks I could make about the overall casting is essentially obliterated by the fact that Melissa Benoist (Whiplash) is playing the main character. They nailed it.
  • The premise of fighting alien threats a la metahumans in “Flash” is interesting enough. It’s good that Kara will have some challenging opponents along with Metallo.
  • Hopefully, this shadow Superman will reveal himself as Dean Cain in the finale (that’s a joke).
  • That costume is the 1.0 version (think “Daredevil”). Hold off all complaints until we see the official version.
  • Wow, “Gotham” is really starting to look like a missed opportunity at this point.

DC’s ‘Suicide Squad’ Movie to Star Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Jared Leto and More

suicide squad movie

Borys Kit | THR

Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are officially set to star in Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. announced Tuesday.

Also cast in the movie based on the DC Entertainment villains-forced-to-be-heroes are Jai Courtney and Cara Delevingne. Much of the castings have been previously reported, but the studio also confirmed which characters the actors will play.

Smith will play Deadshot, best known as a Batman villain, while Hardy plays the group’s leader, Rick Flagg.

Leto will take on the Joker, while Robbie will play Harley Quinn, his on-and-off girlfriend. Courtney will be Boomerang, while Delevingne, the model-turned-actress who is also in Warners’ Pan tentpole, will play Enchantress, a sorceress.

Is anyone else shocked that Will Smith’s superhero debut (Hancock notwithstanding) is not just as Deadshot, but in an ensemble role?

Tom Hardy pulling a Chris Evans and being TWO characters within the same universe?

Jared Leto playing…Well, OK the Jared Leto as Joker part makes perfect sense.

Anyway, this movie could be really good. You know, as long as Jaden Smith stays plenty far away from it.

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