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DC Movies Could Learn a lot From Woody Allen

Going out to see a movie can be tough with a toddler. My wife and I, in what feels like another life, used to attend the cinema regularly. While we rarely have a night out at the theater these days, I was able to catch a few of films this summer, including DC’s Suicide Squad and Woody Allen’s Café Society.

I found Café Society to be pleasant while underwhelming and Suicide Squad to be a hot mess. The two films couldn’t be further apart in the audiences they attracted or the marketing used to invite said viewers, yet I couldn’t help but feel those in charge of DC’s Cinematic Universe would benefit from a close study of Woody Allen’s work. Warner Brothers (DC Comics parent company) may have made a big chunk of cash with their recent superhero exploit, but the negative reviews their films have received should result in a readjustment of their methodology.

I would also argue that the backlash from DC fanboys towards critics is terribly misplaced. When I talk to friends who claimed to enjoy Batman v. Superman, I tell them emphatically that they do not love said film: they care for Superman and Batman and want to see them on the screen. I am still a fanboy at heart, and I too want to see the heroes of my childhood represented in big-budget productions. I have now sat through three films in the DC Cinematic Universe that have been terrible movies solely because I do care for these characters. But there is no way in hell I will make excuses for a studio that continues to produce such poorly made representations of these characters, and fans of DC Comics shouldn’t either. We should be demanding that Warner Brothers do something different.

Comparing Café Society to Suicide Squad is a bit unfair; two more unalike beasts have yet been made. Café Society is the vision of a lone writer and director, well versed in his style and craft, developing a singular focused work from conception to screen. Suicide Squad is a corporate product, developed by committee and focus groups to appeal to the largest demographic group possible while overtly placing products to generate revenue. From all known reports, the production of Suicide Squad was a mess of epic proportions, with the studio constantly trying to retool the film to follow recent successes at failures at the box office. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

A source with knowledge of events says Warners executives, nervous from the start, grew more anxious after they were blindsided and deeply rattled by the tepid response to BvS. “Kevin was really pissed about damage to the brand,” says one executive close to the studio. A key concern for Warners executives was that Suicide Squad didn’t deliver on the fun, edgy tone promised in the strong teaser trailer for the film. So while Ayer pursued his original vision, Warners set about working on a different cut, with an assist from Trailer Park, the company that had made the teaser.

By the time the film was done, multiple editors had been brought into the process, though only John Gilroy is credited. (A source says he left by the end of the process and that the final editor was Michael Tronick.) “When you have big tentpoles and time pressure, you pull in resources from every which way you can,” says this source. “You can’t do it the way it used to be, with one editor and one assistant editor.”

I can’t imagine a more foolish approach to film making, but what do I know; my only cinematic work was a poorly acted found-footage comedy done in school. The advice that follows may fall on deaf ears, but the basic lessons of filmmaking present in Allen’s Café Society could encourage DC to learn from a master and craft a watchable movie.

Introductions

 It was well near 40 minutes into Suicide Squad before the narrative focus of the film even began to take form. For the entire first act, we were simply introduced to characters in the most ham-fisted manner possible. Understandably, when dealing with an ensemble cast, time must be given to getting the audience acquainted with the main characters, but Suicide Squad took this to new nauseating heights. At the film’s heart is a story of a group of criminals recruited to do the dirty jobs superheroes could not. The film did not need the level of expository characterization just to get those pieces in place.

Compare that to Café Society. Within 5 minutes, Woody Allen has set the tone, setting and introduced all our major characters, alluding to their goals and failings. Some would criticize a filmmaker for telling us about a character and not showing us via visual ques. This is a fair point, but films of this nature do not require the extended character study you find with Charles Kane or Luke Skywalker. Neither approach is wrong, but if you are going to go down the overt expository route as Suicide Squad did, then get to the bloody point. Woody Allen told me everything I needed to know about his characters within a few sentences. Even when one takes into account the convoluted backstories of many comic figures, Suicide Squad’s characters were not so complex that their origins required 40 minutes of screen time.

Harley Quinn is a good-girl turned mad by the Joker.

Deadshot is a hitman for hire trying to make good with his family.

Captain Boomerang is Australian.

Little more than this was required to get these characters into the narrative action of the film.

Characters

This is where comic book films often fall short. In an attempt to appease fans while tapping into as many demographic groups as possible, they shoehorn in too many characters than is feasible to adequately integrate into a single film. Suicide Squad was fundamentally the story of criminals Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) being groomed/controlled by their government minders Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Every other character could have been removed from the film and had their narrative bits placed in the hands of an aforementioned character. By including so many parts, the audience was not given sufficient screen time to sympathies with any of the characters.

Compare this to Café Society. With a few auxiliary characters present, a vast majority of screen time is spent with those involved in the narrative’s central love triangle (Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart). Woody Allen didn’t give us an extended scene describing Carell’s rise to prominence in 1930s Hollywood, nor did he provide more than was necessary of Eisenberg’s gangster uncle’s escapades. The camera’s eye remained on the core character’s struggle, while only deviating to Eisenberg’s Jewish parents for comedy relief when need be. I excuse these narrative deviations from Allen as what would a film about 1930s café society be without a little nod to Jewish culture?

Score

Some may criticize Woody Allen for returning to the same musical themes in all his works. His reliance on Golden Age Jazz and Big Band tunes may be cliché, but it is very fitting for a film like Café Society. If the score is to help situate the audience in the world of its characters, providing tone and characterization without exposition, than Allen’s arrangement of songs in this film was effective.

Suicide Squad’s approach to scoring felt like a high school student’s first attempt at selecting music to accompany a character. In nearly each case, a pop-song used in the film is too on-the nose. A striking example was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid accompanying a scene with Harley Quinn (“Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind/ People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time”). Ok, we get it; she’s insane (I bet good money that some executive or producer considered Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” for this exact scene).

Composer Robin Hoffmann lists the considerations that should go into selecting accompanying music in any film, and Suicide Squad fails on every count. These songs do not accompany a character throughout the arc, nor are they helpful in establishing tone. They exist just for the audience to think, “I know this song.”

Considering the development process this film went through, I have to believe Warner Brothers saw how successfully Guardians of the Galaxy used pop music as its score that they decided to try the same in Suicide Squad. The major difference between the two is that the music used in Guardians actually had a narrative purpose and wasn’t used to bludgeon you over the head with pointless, unambiguous characterization.

Lighting and Visual Tone Setting

I could discuss at length the way Allen masterfully frames his characters to help tell the narrative’s story. It may not always be necessary, but Allen knows how to block a scene (I highly recommend this interview he gave to Roger Ebert that illuminates the detail Allen put into each scene’s lighting, framing and design). Seeing that Suicide Squad was reshot and reedited by countless hands helps explain its tonal inconsistency and was likely not the fault of its director, but visually placing it next to Café Society is striking. Why bother taking on a competent director who has a clear vision and approach to the film if you believe a committee of executives and focus groups should have final say over the film?

Length

Café Society clocks in at an hour and thirty-six minutes, a fitting length for a film of this type. Suicide Squad gives us a conservative (for comic movies anyway) two hours and ten minutes to accomplish its very simple narrative goal of having superheroes beat up some monster. I am told a much longer cut of the film exists, and maybe it will help make sense of the narrative inconsistencies. But there really doesn’t need to be more screen time added, just used wiser. This is not a piece of high fantasy with epic world building taking place. This is a movie about some villains who come together to beat a bad guy and do some good for society. This trend towards longer and longer films has not helped make these movies any better; if anything, it is making them worse with all the additional padding and plotting.

Conclusion

Like many other nerds, I am excited about the forthcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League films. Not because DC has made movies worth watching, rather my nostalgic affinity with those properties. It is possible to make a decent comic book movie that also stands its ground as a competent film. My fanboy wish is that a few basic lessons about filmmaking be learned by Warner Brothers; it’s not as if they don’t have ample examples to study within their own roster of films.


Staff Writer
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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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65 thoughts on “DC Movies Could Learn a lot From Woody Allen

  1. This clip isn’t about SS, it’s about BvS, and it focuses on the choices of director Zack Snyder. But it’s making a point about editing and pacing and storytelling that I think you are making as well.

    That said, let me push back a little. You said, “At the film’s heart is a story of a group of criminals recruited to do the dirty jobs superheroes could not. The film did not need the level of expository characterization just to get those pieces in place.”

    The above clip mentions how hard Joss Whedon fought to keep the farmhouse sequence (which is more than 15 minutes) in the film. There is a payoff for this, later. When the battle does happen (and we know it will, that’s what we came for) it means something more because of those minutes. When Hawkeye tells Wanda “everything’s crazy” and “If you go out there, you’ll be an Avenger, and I don’t have time to babysit”, we understand that it isn’t just talk from him.

    The tale of multiple editors and reworks makes it likely that it’s a mess, but the same could have been said of The Wizard of Oz, which I cherish as a model of clarity and narrative thrust. It seems the film never gave you a reason to care, because it was so busy trying to make you care.

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  2. Multiple editors and directors aren’t the problem. It’s lack of vision, lack of coherency. You can have a movie shot over years (like the latest PeeWee movie)… You just need to know what you’re doing (or, um, let the actors improv, a lot.)

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  3. This is a fair point, but films of this nature do not require the extended character study you find with Charles Kane or Luke Skywalker.

    Or PigPen, the most complex of the Peanuts gang.

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      • I’ll take that as snark, but I’m now interested to see an analysis of PigPen on the screen.

        SCENE 37

        [Scene opens to a shot of Pig Pen at a distance, sitting at a simple table in his kitchen. As the camera pans around the kitchen, we see shots of empty Spahgetti-Oh cans, molding sandwich crusts, piles of old egg shells. Finally, the camera comes to a wall covered in various pictures of Lucy. Some are school pics, some from magazines, many are obviously taken from secret from a distance, some through windows from outside her bedroom. Underneath the pictures is a small table with several handguns and boxes of ammunition stacked in a pile.

        As the camera does a slow zoom into Pig Pen’s face, we hear the narrator.]

        Warner Herzog (voice over): He is a contradiction. He is the Peanut who speaks least, yet he is the one that speaks most loudly to us. His is of the dirt, but is is also of us. We are repelled by him, yes, but we cannot take or eyes off of him. His cloud of dust stands against the march of modernism, his stench takes aim at this brave new world that leaves the purity of the past behind. He never tells us that he aches, as we do, but he does. He aches. Oh yes, he aches.

        [Now Pig Pen’s face takes up the entire screen, and a small, single tear slowly rolls from his eye down his face.]

        END SCENE

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            • You and me both. Dr. Strange was/is my favorite Marvel character.

              I have a secondary fear, though. I am afraid Dr. Strange will screw up the MCU. Don’t laugh. I’ve watched every attempt to include Strange in various animated Marvel products, side characters and main subjects and they’re all bad. I have a creeping fear that Dr. Strange is fundamentally ill suited to the medium. Magic is a tough biz in comics and especially tough in Marvel because it’s either too powerful (and thus boring) or too feeble (and thus lame). Dr. Strange also seems especially ill suited to the MCU’s MO. He’s a serious fellow who cares a lot about everything. I’m not sure if he can fit into the MCU’s humor-serious vibe. Maybe if he has a slapstick side kick?

              Also the whitewashing is not a good start. I love Tilda Swinton but what were they thinking casting her like that? I have the fear something bad.

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              • While I can understand the “whitewashing” argument with this role (unlike the one with Iron Fist), they didn’t want to close off the Chinese market with the film. China has a huge issue with Tibet and Marvel needs that market to do well. You can see why they need that market by looking at Ghostbusters (2016). Without the China market that film may not make it’s budget/advertising costs back.

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                • Oh for sure, but they could have cast a Chinese actor in that role (which would, admittedly, piss off the Tibetans and left wingers looking for something to be pissed off about but that’s not a lot of people). I mean I generally roll my eyes at that kind of PC stuff but we’re talking about one of the whitest people on the planet playing a Tibetan monk. And I love Tilda Swinton.

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  4. One of the numerous criticisms of Suicide Squad was that the filmmakers were not willing to wholly invest in the concept of villains doing dirty work that heroes could not do. A quick internet search on TvTropes reveals that the comic book Dead Shot likes to pose as an anti-hero but is really in it for the money. The movie version appears to be much less venal. They turned the villains into somewhat to rather admirable people in the movie to avoid the dreaded R rating.

    DC can’t seem to get the comic book format right. Marvel seems to understand the right amount of distillation and appeal to the masses necessary. Its why they use the most well-known and likeable versions of their characters and do not get too dark. DC wants to appeal to the masses to but also wants to keep the grimdark to distinguish themselves from Marvel.

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    • A quick internet search on TvTropes reveals that the comic book Dead Shot likes to pose as an anti-hero but is really in it for the money. The movie version appears to be much less venal. They turned the villains into somewhat to rather admirable people in the movie to avoid the dreaded R rating.

      Which is especially noticeable when you compare that to Deadpool, a movie about an *actual* anti-hero…who is perfectly willing to murder people! Not only, like just the bad guy…there’s a nice fun scene in a taxi where he’s perfectly fine with the taxi driver murdering his romantic rival, and in fact encouraging it.

      That’s how you do anti-heroes.

      I have not seen the Suicide Squad yet, but how you do *villains* should be, uh, somewhat farther, and I suspect it is not. It, at the minimum, should be *there*.

      I understand there are *audience limits*, that you can’t show some of the stuff those characters have canonically done (At least in the comics) at the start of a movie, and then expect the audience to root for them the rest of the movie. Hell, even comics have to do *transitions* that can take a few years, of flipping characters from villain to star-of-a-comic.

      Although the point of Suicide Squad is *not* to have to do that, instead you put actual villains in there and frame the story where them winning is *really important*. Even the villains want the world to continue to exist, and if they’re saving it, we’ll root for them even if they’re goddamn Adolf Hitler and are munching on live kittens.

      But then again assuming DC understand anything about how to put comic books on screen is clearly asking too much, considering this is their third screw up.

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      • There is a scene where Waller coldly kills her tech team because they weren’t cleared for the mess they just witnessed, and all Deadshot does is say, “Damn, that’s gangster”, and then walks out with Waller.

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  5. This post is also Saul bait. During my semi-fandom days, one of the things that drove me batty was the hankering for fannish culture to get more mainstream exposure but not wanting to deal with actual criticism. That’s why critics do, they analyze the merits of the things that they are reviewing. Most fans seemed to just want people to bow to their superior tastes.

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      • You’d think more fanboys would respond by getting really mad that they’re thing was adapted poorly. That’s how I reacted to The Golden Compass and The Hobbit. This kind of reality denial is not a good look at all.

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    • As far as I can tell, , everyone wants people to bow to their superior tastes. Why single out fans?

      And if you think Batman: The Animated Series was a much better piece of work than BvS, I think it’s fine to say so. Fans will engage with that argument as fair. But there’s a level of “I hate this superhero crap” that is embedded in a lot of criticism. My response to it is “Then why on earth are you reviewing it?” and the criticism just doesn’t mean much.

      For the record, I didn’t think the OP here engaged in that, or at least not much.

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      • I love(d) comics and know more about these characters and their sorted histories than I care to admit. Having said that, I can see why many look at these comic films and say “this is silly kid stuff.” At its core, it is. But it seems to me that many comic book films have earned a great deal of critical praise even if they are built out of silly Golden and Silver Age magazines for kids. Thus, DC fans arguing that critics are against the medium in principle seems incorrect.

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      • The thing with fans seems to be is that many of them get on the defensive when their work is subjected to scrutiny be it on the implications of some of the themes or the quality of the writing. Its natural to be defensive and protected about what you like but if you want comic books to be taken seriously as art, it means that they are going to subjected to close and painful examination.

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      • I think that is largely gone. Critics, even critics with arthouse bonafides, give Marvel movies rave reviews or other fan properties. Star Trek: Beyond got amazing reviews.

        The DC movies get bashed for overly relying on grimdark as a shorthand for allegedly being serious when they are just ponderous and sexist and violent. The people who seem most offended are seemingly pathologically incapable of hating anything based on a comic book.

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      • As far as I can tell, , everyone wants people to bow to their superior tastes.

        FSM save me, no. If the masses acknowledged the superiority of my tastes, that would be proof that my tastes weren’t superior (they actually aren’t superior even in the absence of any detectable bowing, but that’s a separate matter). I just want enough people to share my superior tastes :) to make it economically feasible for some providers to cater to the said tastes with adequate quality, and no more. Depends on the cost of developing and providing the superior product, of course: Nolan era Batman needs to be widely popular (seems that it was) to recoup production costs; obscure Hungarian folk metal groups just need to be popular enough to justify a US tour (still waiting :( )

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      • Suicide Squad seemed more critic-proof than Ghostbusters (which got good reviews). The comic fanbase is bigger than the Ghostbusters fanbase. I know lots of Harley Quinn fans who were determined to see the movie.

        I’ll predict a big drop in sales for the second weekend.

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  6. The big issue is that we seem to living in a anti-critic age.

    I can and have enjoyed comic book and fannish movies. The Marvel movies are usually pretty fun popcorn entertainment. Critics love them.

    I haven’t see critics review DC movies well. The reviews seem to massacre the movies as appealing to the ID of 14 year old boys.

    The attitude I see among a lot of fans that it is kind of morally wrong to listen to critics or it at least makes you a sheeple.

    Fans don’t seem to understand that Hollywood only cares about your money,

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    • Any critic that loves popcorn movies is someone who’s worth reading about most movies. If you’re going to be terribly snooty about everything that’s just rollicking good fun, stick to the “arthouse” flicks.

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      • Ummm you are not really paying attention to what I am saying.

        There are reviewers I like and trust who gave Marvel movies good reviews. The same reviewers said that Suicide Squad was incoherent, poorly acted, lacked courage, sexist, etc.

        Yet fans seem to just want the praise and none of the downsides.

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  7. You can’t do it the way it used to be, with one editor and one assistant editor.

    I don’t understand why this is the case. It’s not like in the “old days” editor used to cut X hours of footage into 2 hours of film and now we’re cutting 10X hours of footage down into 20 hours of film. The project seems to be the same as it always was. Especially for a big action blockbuster, scenes are expensive to shoot/create, so I can’t imagine there’s a ton more raw material going in than there used to be.

    So what gives? Why do we suddenly need an army of editors when we didn’t before? Is he just saying that the time between when they finish filming and the hard deadline for release is too short these days? Or is there something in the way films are produced and focused grouped now that causes them to film a lot more possible versions and figure out what the film will be about right before the release?

    Important note: I know basically nothing about the film making process.

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  8. If you go back and read the John Ostrander run of Suicide Squad (87ish to 92ish), you’ll find a fairly decent run of comics that holds up for the most part. Good characters, strong storylines, some mature themes.

    What Ostrander had going for him, however, was that most every character was already established. You know who these people were from other comics you read. You knew their powers, you knew their weaknesses, you knew their catchphrases. So when you read a story in April where the Flash beat up Captain Cold and sent him to jail and then, in August, when you saw Captain Cold in Suicide Squad, that was kind of awesome.

    Then you get to see Captain Cold actually put in a situation where he gets to be *COMPETENT* and actually win a fight against an opponent, that’s kind of awesome.

    And then when he gets beat up halfway through the mission and stands up and says “no, you don’t understand… hate is cold. Hell is cold. I. Am. Captain. Cold.” and then wrecks the (even) bad(der) guy?

    That’s all kinds of awesome.

    But you *KNEW* his backstory before you picked up the book. He’s one of the Flash’s bad guys.

    Trying to put him in a movie without having him show up in a Flash movie? Ugh. I wouldn’t even want to think about how I’d do that.

    Unless I got offered a lotta money…

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    • Have you seen the animated Suicide Squad on netflicks? I strongly recommend it!

      It has such a clever vibe at moments, especially in how most of the characters (especially the non-villain/hero characters) talk about and react to A-list character, the Batman; like he’s a force of nature or physical law to be compensated for or avoided but not confronted. Also though the Joker is voiced by ..someone (not Mark Hamil) he is still really well done. There’s a macabre scene that totally wrecked me (funny as hell) and the way the ordinary people react to him with visceral genuine terror is quite brilliant.

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      • I did! It’s somewhat of a retelling of a run of comics I had already read, though. I thought that it was good but was missing a je ne sais quois. Captain Boomerang, for example, wasn’t half as awesome in the movie as he was in the comics. One of the things that Ostrander was able to capture was that being a bad guy is, in a lot of ways, kind of fun. It’s *FUN* to rob banks. It’s *FUN* to scare people and take their stuff. It’s *FUN* to do whatever you want.

        Captain Boomerang was having the time of his life.

        That was one dynamic. Other dynamics involved Deadshot having a lot of emotional baggage, Amanda Waller being one of the baddest women in comics *EVER*, and a weird exploration of whether the ends justify the means.

        The movie? It had bad guys doing an op. Some of them died.

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      • Captain Boomerang was awesome in the comics. He was a charming sociopath who was having a blast being Captain Boomerang.

        There was a great scene early in the run where he fought against a minor superhero who, like the Flash, had superspeed (though in bursts rather than to the Flash’s level). The fight ended with Digger (that’s his nickname) throwing the guy off of a cliff and then yelling after him “FIGURE SOMETHING OUT! MAKE A TORNADO THAT LIFTS YOU BACK UP! MOVE YOUR LEGS AND MAKE A PILLOW OF AIR TO CATCH YOU!” and then there was the sound effect of something like “thwump” from the bottom of the cliff.

        Digger walked away saying “I guess you just weren’t in Flashy’s league, mate. Sure as hell weren’t in mine.”

        And he did stuff like that all the time. His powers? Laughable. His personality? Yeah, you’d read the books if he was on the cover.

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      • But to answer your question:

        Most bad guys are reverse engineered after the hero has already been created.

        So let’s say you’ve got a superhero idea. He can… um… he’s strong! He can fly! He is allergic to gluten!

        So, eventually, you’re going to have a bad guy who is The Baguette or something and so you can have a story about how your superhero saved the day even though he had his weakness RIGHT THERE before him.

        DC has a lot of superheroes that are based on little more than a superhero idea. Hal Jordan? Boring guy. Boring as hell. Barry Allen? Boring guy. Boring as hell.

        Marvel excelled at coming up with fully realized characters that had to deal with stuff like making rent or showing up to class on time and so you didn’t mind dealing with bad guys like The Vulture or The Scorpion or Rhino or The Shocker (none of whom are any worse than Captain Cold, let me tell you).

        DC’s absolute best villains and best superheroes are stand-ins for other conversations.

        Superman vs. Lex Luthor.
        Batman vs. The Joker.

        You’re discussing civilization there. What it means. Who we want to be. Who we are. The nature of Justice. The nature of Chaos.

        When you get to something like Green Lantern or The Flash, though, you’re telling stories about cool concepts and reverse-engineered bad guys who exploit loopholes in the cool concepts.

        And by the time that the 80’s show up and people start saying “hey, maybe there’s something to this fully-realized character thing”, you’ve already got an entire established canon that are acting as much as a stone around your neck as anything else.

        Luckily, we had writers who understood what Superman means. What Batman means. Watching the show, I think we might have a writer who gets what Mark Waid was going for with his Flash stories and maybe we are nearing a point where we can understand what The Flash means. Green Arrow too, for that matter. Fingers crossed for Wonder Woman.

        I do think that you’ll find that Marvel has just as many crappy bad guys, though.

        When it comes to Lex Luthor or Joker, who among the hallowed halls of Marvel can compete? Doctor Doom, surely… but who else? The Green Goblin, at his best, is only a pale reflection of what’s awesome about Lex and what’s awesome about Joker. Thanos *WISHES* he were Darkseid.

        We have two absolutely amazing bad guys for the two most amazing heroes ever.

        It’s not surprising that they can’t catch lightning in a bottle a third time.

        Be thankful they caught it twice.

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          • Venom works for similar reasons. Spider Man/Peter Parker is the put upon every person that tries to do his or her best despite what the world dishes them. They might complain and kvetch about the injustice of it all and feel sorry for themselves but they maintain a brave front and do the right thing. Venom/Eddie Brock is the opposite. Venom is the type that believes he has been treated shabbily even though they played a part in their downfall and is going to lash out at the world because of that.

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            • I would disagree… I think that Venom is “cool” and had a pretty good arc (before it became a “wait, how do I explain this?” kinda story) but he wasn’t a criticism of society as much as merely the “dark reflection” of Spider-Man.

              Joker, as “dark reflection” of Batman, is a criticism of a lot of stuff.

              I don’t see Venom as a criticism of much more than the whole “grimdark” thing we went through.

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            • The problem with Venom as an antagonist is he’s got one maybe two good stories in him as a character, as the culmination of the symboite storyline and maybe as a creative attempting to ruin Spider-man’s life story afterward. His motivation largely boils down to that he hates the hero and that doesn’t lend itself to good storytelling.

              The best concept for a villian that Spider-man has is Doctor Octopus. Bitter old man vs idealistic young man and one of Parker’s flaws is resentment over how the world treats him which is Octavius’ entire deal so they also mirror each other. The most important thing though is that Doc Ock is well set up to want for and strive towards things unrelated to the hero, which helps make for good new stories.

              The best Spider-man stories though don’t just do a hero vs. villian conflict, they juggle internal, enviromental and antaognist conflicts. Do that and you can have good story even with a simple lunk like Rhino as the villian.

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  9. Having just seen Suicide Squad, I was going to go into reasons why the only thing DC could learn from Woody Allen is economic failure but I’ll just say:

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=dc2016.htm
    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/people/chart/?view=Director&id=woodallen.htm

    Yeah. Woody Allen is not somebody that I would direct DC’s moviemakers to emulate.

    As for why there is a critic backlash, it’s because the critics are wrong on this one. The Ghostbusters reboot, as problematic as it is, only has a 19% difference between the critics and the audience. Even with the defection of certain critics away from the Disney camp (more on that in a sec), there is still an unbelievable 43% disconnect between the critics and the audience.

    https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/suicide_squad_2016

    It is not an unproblematic movie. In the final fight, all the dramatic slowdown had me mentally drumming my fingers. Also, I can see where Harley’s portrayal isn’t really a good feminism portrayal which contributed to no small amount of negativity among critics. (It’s interesting that the same critics who had those issues with Harley didn’t pick up on any of that with Katana. Hashtag WhiteFeminism and/or LackOfIntersectionality)

    But, overall, this was the world-building movie that the DCEU needed that still managed to stay true to the source material. This makes the reviews interesting.

    Is it just that the critics are so used to the colorful world of Marvel (where they gladly ignore the troublesome issues of forgettable villains and disposable female roles) that DC is something that they can’t really process? This happens. When I played the game Flower, I was totally at a loss whether I liked it or not because I had no comparative benchmarks to rank it against. (You play as the wind and your goal is to make the world beautiful. …….. Whaaattt?!?) I imagine that the different tone of DC movies also screws with a lot of the comparative benchmarks that critics use.

    Is it a Final Fantasy issue where the brand name is creating groupthink among critics? This has happened as well and, despite the reference, it hasn’t been restricted to video games in the past.

    Is it an issue with Big Daddy Disney?

    …..

    This is a problematic question to answer.

    With X-men, even the most ardent defenders of Marvel have come to grudgingly accept that Disney is in the process of, if not actively trying to crap on the mutants, not promoting them as well as diminish their presence within Marvel. It is now widely known that whether it is from small issues like Disney abruptly cutting off X-M Studios in mid-production or bigger issues like emphasis in their online gaming to the comics themselves, mutants aren’t welcome in the Marvel lineup. While the “poison pill” clause within the acquisition contract that Disney signed with Marvel prevents them from outright cancelling the comics without cause, that does nothing to keep them from downplaying the mutants.

    As such, when a movie critic at a Disney-owned subsidiary such as ABC is told to write a review of a movie franchise that Disney wants to force to the table, it’s hard to imagine that the critic isn’t aware that the era of the indisposable “Siskel & Ebert” movie critic is long over.

    DC’s success or failure, on the other hand, doesn’t represent a direct financial interest to Disney. However, if Marvel’s 2099 line proved anything, it’s that the life and death of media properties can greatly depend on what is going on behind the scenes. When there is such a large disconnect between the critics and the movie-going public and one is aware that Disney is one of the 4 corporations that control U.S. media (even including a number of Youtube outlets and reviewers), it is hard not to look at the Rotten Tomatoes score (I’m aware that Rotten Tomatoes is owned by Warner Bros but Rotten Tomatoes is also just a review aggregator.) and wonder if there is some pressure to judge the movie harsher than it would warrant.

    In the end, it really doesn’t matter what the critics say. Movie critics, while not as bad as game critics, are nothing more than people who have managed to con their way into making a living by reviewing movies and giving their opinion. Even if none of the above questions apply (and given the disconnect between the critics and the general public, it’s hard not to think of these questions), they’re still just people giving an individual opinion.

    And this time, their opinion is woefully out-of-step with the moviegoing public.

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  10. I just went and saw Suicide Squad the other day. A couple of comments:

    It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as some people are making it out to be.

    It is, however, a very strangely *structured* movie, in that they seem determined to *keep* introducing the main characters. I mean, we had an quick introduction at time A, we had flashbacks, we presumably were still at time A, or maybe not and the squad gets made, introducing the characters again, we had more flashbacks, we had a time jump to time B, and now let’s start the plot, during which we will…make sure all the characters are introduced to each other. Really?

    It’s the same problem as Man of Steel, but at least they only had *one* character there.

    Meanwhile, other characters inexplicably got no introduction at all.

    Hell, here’s a crazy thought: *Linear story telling*. Waller proposes the Squad. Then we see the members get captured and recruited one at a time. Then the actual plot. I know it’s a crazy idea to tell a story in order, but it just might work! (I mean, it’s not like having people being arrested and locked up isn’t a *perfect setup* for introducing them and their backstory to the audience. *cough*GuardiansoftheGalaxy*cough*) And then you can have, if you need them, a *few* flashbacks.

    So there was the problem with the storytelling. But there’s also a somewhat more serious problem…they completely failed to understand the *premise* of their source materials.

    Remember that scene in Avengers where Thor and the Hulk kill one of those flying things, and Thor is like ‘Good work, friend’ (That’s a paraphrase) and the Hulk…punches him and sends him flying?

    THAT IS WHAT SUICIDE SQUAD IS SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s a team full of token evil teammates, with chronic backstabbing disorder, and all of them constantly trying to get out, and feeling free to be as criminal as possible, and generally not actually caring about the mission. (They sometimes will care when it is literally ‘save the world’, because, duh, they live on the world.)

    It’s supposed to be fun, and if the rumors are correct and this movie got a fun-injection after the trailers came out, I would hate to see what it was *previously*!

    The enemy wasn’t even human, so Waller literally killed more people on screen than the entire Suicide Squad put together. You’re doing it wrong, movie. Waller killing people for national security is entirely in character, but you can’t have her killing people and not have the Suicide Squad not doing it! If the rumors of true and this was toned down, it shows they really *really* don’t understand Suicide Squad, which is supposed to be made of *villain protagonists*.

    Hell, the point of the Suicide Squad is to do things that the government *can completely disavow*, not this sort of thing. Yes, the government was covering up the inter-dimensional invasion (Because that somehow makes sense when a moderate-sized city is taken over…and why would that be covered up anyway? The general public already knows about aliens! Granted, this is technically magic, which the public has no clue of, but just don’t tell them that!), but the squad is for *illegal* shit, not just top secret shit.There is a difference!

    Speaking of oddities…those generals sure took the existence of magic and inter-dimensional travelers in stride, didn’t they? Yes, they know aliens exist, but just because one speculative-fictional concepts exist doesn’t mean they all do! OTOH, ARGUS should *already know* about all this crap…where those ARGUS generals? Who the hell were they, now that I think about it?

    Captain Boomerang was done correctly, and backstabbed Mr. No-Backstory-At-All-And-I-Don’t-Even-Remember-His-Name to test if the restraints were real. I liked that.

    Deadshot doesn’t kill women? That’s…um…new. Deadshot has a lot of emotional baggage, and is canonically a death-seeker, but none of it is anything to do with killing women.

    So, a soul-eating sword. Is that going to be relevant? No? Well, okay, then, that seems a bit pointless.

    So, apparently, when the movie is mid-endless introductions, it mentions that Harley was involved in the death of Robin, thus making canon the theory that Joker killed a Robin (Probably Jason Todd) in this universe, causing Batman’s descent into killing. This, of course, makes her speech about *owning* the killing of children much more interesting. Is she regretting that? Is she proud of that? Or, it *would* have made it more interesting if I had managed to catch that *tiny bit of information* an hour earlier in the movie during the approximately 20 minutes it spent introducing her, which I did not! Good job not actually explaining a character trait despite spending a hell of a lot of time on her, movie…or alternately, good job implying something in the on-screen information blurbs that *should* have informed a character, but not actually caring about it in the actual script.

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    • DavidTC, Let me just say that, without having seen the movie we’re talking about:

      You are 100% RIGHT.

      Okay. Without the capslock… either read the situation and take all of the benefit of the relationship…. Or realize that this doesn’t fit and move on.

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    • A couple more points:

      The stinger in the credits…didn’t make any sense for any DC fan. Wasn’t there supposed to be some big reveal? Oh noes, Amanda Waller knows who Batman is. Oh noes, Batman doesn’t like the Suicide Squad. Uh, neither of those are reveals! I don’t think there’s ever been a version of Waller that *didn’t* know who Batman was. That’s basically the job of ARGUS. And Batman doesn’t like the squad whenever he knows about it, which he obviously does if Waller is asking to help cover it up. It’s so standard about the characters that I’m refusing even put it in spoilers.

      When Joker and Harley killed Jason Todd in some of the animated movies, or almost killed him, they actually tried to brainwash him into being ‘their kid’ beforehand. This could mean that when Harley is talking about owning the killing, she’s talking about owning the killing of ‘her’ kid. OTOH, who the hell knows, because this movie universe doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing with her characterization.

      Apparent rewrites:

      There are rumors that Harley and Joker’s relationship was entirely rewritten. Not only was he much more abusive, but he and her were supposed to get in an argument in the helicopter, and he pushes her out. (Admittedly, he does it over a building.) I’m not someone who demands identical comic version of characters, and I could live with the movie versions being less ‘Joker is horrible abusive’ and more they are both codependent crazy people, but rewritting that via *reshoots* makes me somewhat less willing to accept it. Don’t rewrite characters because there are moronic Joker/Harley fans out there. (Seriously, I usually generally accepting of any ship, but if you like the characters: Harley is clearly *much worse* off in that relationship than she would be on her own, and currently *is* on her own in the comics…and who the hell cares how the *Joker* is doing?)

      Apparently they toned down Boomerang’s racism and sexism (He was supposed to be hitting on Katana the entire movie.), which I don’t really have an opinion about (Although giving Katana something to do would have been nice, but I feel it would have been purely cliched ‘He says something lewd to her, she threatens his life’ repeated over and over.), and they also removed the backstory of the headless guy, who was supposed to be a serial rapist…so we don’t feel too bad about him getting killed? Really? That’s how the movie thought that worked? And then, instead, they gave him no backstory or even *personality* at all, so we could seem his death a mile away?

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