13/08/2016

Suicide Squad - Why Blockbusters Are No Longer Films

Thoughts On: Suicide Squad

All the bad guys come together, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, a bit of the Joker.... you get it.


First of all, I've got to say it's great to be back writing, so much so that I couldn't wait for Monday to start and had to cut the break short. Anyhow, I saw Suicide Squad last weekend, and I feel like there's been enough reviews and time passed for my talk to be insignificant enough as well as contain...

**SPOILERS***

So... I, um... enjoyed this film. I know a whole swath of people didn't, quite a few hated it, loads think DC is over and so on, but whatever. I personally was fighting to not expect the worst going into this movie, trying to stay positive, as I absolutely hated Batman V Superman (links to those talks in the end) and didn't care much for Man Of Steel. But, I didn't watch the trailer and I've never read a comic book in my whole entire life. I think those are two huge benefits. I'll save the latter reasoning for a while, but the trailer... yeesh. This is a whole other talk to be had, but don't watch them. The trailer for Suicide Squad set up a whole lot of lies and fails to represent just what this film is trying to be. In fact, the 'art form' that trailers are, are a huge fault in the world of cinema in my opinion. Trailers are short form media, they are at best a great YouTube video. And I love some of the stuff on YouTube - we all can watch shit on there for hours. But, would you choose to extend one of your favourite 3-7 minute YouTube videos into a 90 or 120 minute picture? I think the answer is quite obviously, no. So, with trailers we are getting the art and work of someone who knows how to entertain to a very high degree, but over a very short period. And I won't lie. I watched the Suicide Squad trailer just before writing so I knew what I was talking about - and it made me excited, really pumped for something that doesn't exist - the movie it tries to represent. But, I've thought trailers have sucked for years, and I never go out of my way to see them, only watching previews in the cinema when I have to, knowing they are bullshit. This all means that I didn't see the trailer and so went into the movie blind. And when you do this, something true and honest can happen. The director, writer and editor are allowed to sell you their own movie. This is what openers and first acts are. They introduce a second act and bulk of a story. And this really works in Suicide Squad's favour as it comes out of the gates open and honest. It starts with bright lights, a flippant sound track, its faulty editing and juddering plot, but with those open arms and a stupid smile. What I then want to then say is that with its opening, this film shows that it knows what it is. This isn't true though because Deadpool demonstrates just what that means - and this film is most defiantly not Deadpool. Instead, this film comes out being what it is. This is a genuinely ok movie, and like Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly, its a real phony - one you can maybe kinda love.

It's with that 55 year old reference that I'd like to make clear that I don't just watch blockbusters, and I'm not really a Marvel fan (and so biased against DC products) either. I really liked a few of the Marvel films, like Iron Man, the first 2 Spidermen and Deadpool. But, the rest, while entertaining, were just ok - much like this film. What I really love are great films no matter the year or genre. I love things like Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans, Rocky, It Happened One Night, Lord Of The Rings, Amelie, Chaplin, Keaton, Kubrick, Fellini, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Linklater, Scorsese, Spielberg, Disney, Leone, Polanski, Gone With The Wind... the list just goes on and on and on. Taking all those films with me into Suicide Squad, no trailers, just a hope for a good film, I managed to see a good movie. This film obviously has problems though. It has too many characters, but that's its premise, so there's not really room to cut things down. Understanding that, you can't complain there, instead appreciate how character driven and concise this is. In regards to character, people are comparing this movie to Guardians Of The Galaxy. Another enjoyable, but ultimately ok film. I've seen Guardians 4 times, and it's not much better than Suicide Squad - especially in regards to character. Yes, the characters in Guardians were unknown to most, but because we enjoyed their movie with this as a determining factor, it doesn't mean they are great characters. In the same respect, we did know some of Suicide Squad's characters, and because we didn't get huge back stories, or our favourite story lines of their histories, you hear people say characterisation was flat - even though Guardians has less back story. It simply doesn't make sense that Guardians is then being compared to Suicide Squad. Now, obviously there was a little back story for the Joker and Quinn and so on, but back story isn't character. And this is an important idea. Character, in film, is an allusive term. It's allusive because character is an invisible concept. You accept good characters, you don't physically portray them, or push them onto people. What I mean by this is that you don't have to show a 10 hour back story, and then put a character through shit to have a good movie. This is because 'back story' is the vessel of character building, not the device. The device, the tool used to create good characters, is time and genuine writing. By writing something believable, and demonstrating that on screen, you automatically build strong characters. Look at films like Rocky, Nightcrawler, American Psycho, 12 Angry Men, The Good The Bad The Ugly. You don't get to see huge back stories in these films, but you get great characters. And this is because we get to spend time with well written people. The same goes for Suicide Squad.

What constitutes well written in regards to Suicide Squad, simply means individuals with specific, predictable, understandable traits. For Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Amanda Waller, Joker and El Diablo, this is true. I always knew what was going through these characters' heads, and what their actions meant. Their back stories spliced throughout helped with this, but what is crucial is time. I enjoyed listening and being around Quinn, Deadshot, Boomerang, Waller and Joker. That alone is character. Character is enjoying a figure's presence - little more. As for characters I didn't understand thoroughly like Boomerang, Killer Croc and so on, well, they are quite clearly devices - just like Slipknot. He was there to be killed - nothing more. And when you give the film the reigns and understand certain characters as devices and others as the focus, you can then enjoy a film on the grounds it gives you. After all, we are going to see the movie, right? Like Lars Von Trier says: 'you are all my guests, it's not the other way around'. And it's now that I'm building to the crux of this talk, but let's save it for a moment and dive into a more concise review of this film.

As I've said, this isn't a great movie, I enjoyed it, but it's not bad. It's biggest fault is the fight choreography. This is a real let down. The only good action scene is where Deadshot starts taking everyone out, all the rest is lukewarm and largely meh. Moreover, the editing isn't good at all. This is most noticeable in the comedic aspects of this movie. It's not that funny at all. But, you know what, neither are any of Marvel's movies. I love the joke in Deadpool about 16 walls, but almost every other joke in the Marvel Cinematic Universe falls flat. In fact, I can't think of a single recent comedy that has made me laugh. However, I still enjoy some of them - Marvel films too. So, whilst the jokes in this aren't funny, they're just the current style of movie comedy. And what makes movies funny to me is time. I love watching films from the 90s and backwards because I can find them hilarious. This is a paradigm that I think rings true not just with me, but all people. How a film is perceived when it first comes out is a gross misrepresentation of what it truly is. This is because its hardly its own film, but again, more on this in a later. Let's wrap up the review part by talking about the bad guys. These are, again, devices. This movie isn't trying to explicitly be The Avengers by having many characters. It seems to be trying to imitate many of the smaller Marvel films at the same time. And in the smaller Marvel movies character is the focus. Suicide Squad takes that idea of characters, breaks it up and puts it into one film, and like The Avengers, doesn't really have a focus on the bad guy. In this respect, the magic aspects of the film are bullshit - and they're supposed to be. They're just a means of facilitating time we get to spend with characters. Whilst this sounds like critique, I don't think it is, or at least not significant criticism. Coming back to the film's opening, it starts by telling us: this is a film about characters, not a huge threat or bad guy. Batman V Superman does a similar thing by saying: this is a film about Batman not liking Superman. What then needed to happen in that film for it to fulfil its promise is to have Batman and Superman fight, or have us spend some good 'character time' with them. None of this happens, because there are no scenes and no cohesion. Suicide Squad has a similar format with little true scenes, but manages to imbue moments with character throughout. That is the primary and fundamental reason why I liked this movie. I could sit through it happily and entertained. So, despite a lack of a bad guy 'character' and with shoddy direction, we get a good script under an incredibly demanding premise. It's then the script in all that it sacrifices, with the few, but major, things that it gets right (character and pacing) that makes this movie ok. Could it have been better? Yes. Are there many examples of how to do this? No. There is no Marvel film that is significantly better than this movie. Not in my view. Full stop.

And it's now that the true take away of this film comes to. It comes with the Lars Von Trier quote ('you are all my guests, it's not the other way around') the idea of time, the style of comedy and character, that I want to discuss the idea that blockbusters are no longer films or movies - they are this alien and quite weird thing. If you take some of the greatest films of all time like Bergman's Cries and Whispers or Persona, Fellini's 8 1/2 or I, Vitelloni, Spielberg's Close Encounters, Tarkovsky's The Mirror, Kubrick's 2001, and put them in the same atmosphere as Suicide Squad or The Avengers, I think it'd be impossible for them to be what they are. These films are an auteur's life, they are their all and they are essentially a gift to an audience. It's this idea of blood, sweat, tears and truth that makes these films great, that allowed a group of artists to build something masterful. For monetary and self-destructive reasons, blockbusters cannot do this and very few films have the opportunity to be great. This has always been true as movies are a business, movies are something studios create to make money. But, when you get good studios like Disney, their ethos is hopefully (to quote Walt Disney) 'we make money to make more movies'. And if you look at Disney's huge catalogue of animated films, especially their earlier works, this ethos pushed them to make widely accessible, but great nonetheless pictures. With blockbusters and superhero movies today, the idea of money, film and the fans coming together is almost toxic. Films are quite clearly being made to make money, nothing much more. Whilst it's easy to blame Hollywood for this, there's a lot of blame to be put on ourselves. With social media, with the internet and so on, fan bases are huge, they are diverse, and they are scary things. Our money fuels the MCU and DC Universe, just like it does remakes and adaptations. This is the business side of filmmaking that is inevitable. But, what sucks is how we are going into these movies. You see this is in almost every single review of Suicide Squad, from the small guys to the big hitters, but the fans especially - it's this idea of I wanted... It hurts me to hear this. Fans of these franchises, older films, books and comics are going into films made for them wanting specific movies. And the people marketing these movies are fuelling that. They create trailers and poster that lie to us, pretending that the Joker is a huge character in this film, pretending like he's the main villain. This is a HUGE disservice to the people making these movies, to the people who are hopefully not just trying to make a bit of money. And looking at David Ayer at the helm of this movie, what is quite clear is that we have a great writer and a pretty good director. Watching films like Training Day, End Of Watch and Fury, it's clear that this is a man that likes heroes, that likes guns, excitement, the fantasy of cinema - but also a good chat, and a good bit of time with characters. I love Training Day, End Of Watch and parts of Fury for this - as do I really like parts of Suicide Squad. But, when fans want a film that Ayer hasn't tried to shoot, when we want certain story lines Ayer and his team aren't trying to utilise, when we want characters actors aren't trying to portray, we are shitting on the hand that is about to reach into a pocket and feed us. What's then hilarious is that we then bite that shitty hand.

I'm not trying to simply defend Ayer and this movie here. I recognise that some people won't like it, that it's not great - but what I won't concede to the idea that this is a terrible movie. I enjoyed it because I didn't think about the money out of my pocket as a fee to get something I wanted, but a fee for something Ayer was offering. And it's this self-entitledness of fans wanting certain films (that I'm guilty of a times) that isn't something I want to be moaning about, or feel should stop. All I'm trying to say is that we're destroying our own blockbusters by wanting a trillion things instead of one good movie. And it's looking at Batman V Superman that you can see a truly altruistic film. It wanted to apologise for the all the movies ever created that didn't contain many powerful women, that had dumb, fun and mindless action in. It also wanted to eat out the asshole of every person that has ever heard of Batman or Superman or have fondled themselves to the idea of the two hitting each other in the face. It's for those reasons that the movie was bland and that it simply sucked ass, never kicked any of it. That isn't to say that films have to ignore certain political ideas concerning gender or minorities to be good or for me to like. In fact, the politics of Suicide Squad are a prime example of how to create a largely politically-correct and inclusive movie that is also quite good. Just look at the cast. They tick every minority box, there's a whole load of women, there's nothing I could pick up on as being misogynistic or too racist. I think Killer Croc's character was a bit on the nose in being black with BET and on, but that was just a half-funny joke - not really offensive. And whilst this seems like a pretty conservative, pro-guns, anti-hero and anti-PC film, it also has what seems to be a black Hilary Clinton, so... I'm not sure what that says. But, it's looking at the politics of this film that you can see a lot going on, with a very cheesy ending, but commendable message of people who have made mistakes being given opportunities to change. But, at the same time, there's also the layer to the message that says bad guys are bad guys, and in some ways just won't change. In that regard, I really respect the politics of this film, especially considering how entertaining and not-entirely-blatant they were.

Coming back to the fans of DC and movie franchises, it's clear that this film is trying to facilitate a huge audience, is trying to tick many boxes and please maybe too many people. Big films have always tried to do this for selfish monetary reasons. What can you do about that? However, whilst it's great that we can see things we love on screen like comic book characters, whilst its integral to critique these movies, shouldn't it also be important to take product as is and try to enjoy it? Because this is the core fault with blockbusters not being films. They are alien networks that have their fingers in TV, comics, books, the internet, theatre, unfathomable fan bases, rife with fiction, hopes and dreams. It's clear that Suicide Squad, for a huge pay day, is trying to work this network of artistry and fandom, but there needs to be objectivity out there too. There needs to be more of us that watch these movies as movies, nothing more. I hate to blow hot air up my own ass, but by not being apart of a community that reads comics, by not succumbing to the marketing, I think I'm trying to serve as an objective voice - and I enjoyed this movie. My only reasoning for seeing it was my love of sci-fi, action and film in general. It was my objectivity and this consideration of a film as nothing more than a film that had me skip out on Fantastic 4 or Ghostbusters. And it's speaking with your money that works - for example, it doesn't seem like Ghostbusters is going to get a sequel. What's more important than simply speaking with your money is not just denying bad films, but bad content too. But, 'bad' is of course a subjective term. So, what makes sense is we try to consume what is right for us, allow content to curate its own audience, not shoehorn us all in even if studios and marketing teams want to. For me, I think trailers are shitty cinematic content - I try not to watch them. I think the tween Twilight-esque movies are probably going to be shit - I don't see them. I don't like TV programs - I never watch any. This might not stop shit content from coming out, but it does blind me to it - which ultimately makes me a happier film-goer. The last and most important aspect of this mindset I try to uphold and behave in accordance to comes back to objectivity, current styles and the future of movies. As said, reviews of Suicide Squad are largely redundant in respect to the artistic content of this film. Reviews coming out now are around to keep people from seeing shit movies, and whilst I think there a faults with how some of those reviewers see a film, they are doing an important job. They are essentially regulating the market. They are keeping the wrong people from seeing the wrong films and hopefully aiding in the quashing of shit franchises. But, what reviewers have to say about films coming out now is largely a half-truth as they are imbued with context and emotion.

It's context and emotion that are intrinsically attached to the task of regulating the movies coming out -  in terms of their style and quality. It's a movie reviewer seeing one of the Paranormal Activies a few years ago that would have said for the one-billionth time that found footage movies need to stop - and for that, most of us hated them, shat on anything to do with found footage and, as a result, the genre has more or less died away. But, what may happen 10, 20, 30 years down the line is a few people find a found footage movie and see it objectively. They see it without knowing about what came out in that month, about the other blockbusters around at the time, about Oscars, about celebrity scandals and a myriad of opinions on the film. You never know, that film could be Paranormal Activity 4 or 5. And when a few people watch this film objectively, no trailer, just taking what the film gives, they may see a brilliance and truth that we in the time it came out couldn't. This paradigm is ultimately true for so many masterpieces - just look at Citizen Kane, It's A Wonderful Life and Vertigo. These are films considered some of the best all time, but were overlooked, or given shit reviews when they first came out. This is why looking at the comedy of Suicide Squad as something of the current times is important. When we watch this film a few years down the line when cinema has moved away and changed, and the stakes of opinion and current cinema's status are gone, I feel like we'll be able to enjoy it all the better. In the same respect, when people start re-watching things like Fast & Furious, they may cringe, thinking: how on Earth did I like this? The truth is, I may be laughing or I may be cringing when I see Suicide Squad later in life. I really don't know which one it could be though, but I look forward to finding out. However, if that is the ultimate goal, seeing a film after it has endured the test of time, is it not sensible that we try to create as close of an atmosphere to that later time when we first go into a movie? Is objectivity, is seeing a film on its own grounds, seeing a film blindly, wanting to see something good and accept it, not helpful to ourselves and the industry? I personally believe that that make pragmatic sense. And if you disagree, if you still hate this movie and think I'm an idiot, well, I still had a good 2 hours at the cinema, so who wins in the end?

But, let's not leave things on winners and losers. I want to end this talk with a simple hope that you too can enjoy more films by maybe accepting them as they present themselves, by seeing them objectively - not trying to see them as shit to fit into a current narrative. Or maybe you don't see films you think will be shit. Ultimately, an artist's audience needn't be self-destructive. It's when the artist is on the brink of doing something stupid, destructive or risky that we usually get greatness. And when you give a great artist a lot of money, you trust them, you're willing to accept their movie, you're giving them the opportunity to make a blockbuster-esque film, you are giving them the means and capacity to create something not just daring, but quite possibly revolutionary. So, it all comes down to you. Do you want blockbusters to be films? Or would you prefer blockbusters to be two hours of fan service, something you could have wrote, directed and starred in?



Before you go, I said I'd link to the Batman V Superman talks and I'll so that in a moment. There's a quick bridge I want to make to Suicide Squad before that. Suicide Squad is a light film, it isn't serious or very grounded. The greatness in Nolan's Dark Night trilogy was founded in realism, was founded it a gritty seriousness. This is, however, what killed Batman V Superman and implies that a successful model of Batman cannot exist in the evolving DC universe. Does this mean that with the Justice League he'll be pushed to the side, eventually squashed out because DC cannot fit the serious aspect of his character in with their others successfully? I think it does. I think the future of Batman is not a bright one, which is kind of sad. But, tell me what you think about that here or in the Batman V Superman talks:




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