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The Death of the Auteur Blockbuster, 2000-2016

Suicide Squad premiered last week, to incredibly negative reviews and an incredibly impressive box office.

There are a lot of discussions to be had about that, but the most interesting narrative is the story that has developed behind the scenes. If rumours are to be believed, it seems that there is a very intriguing book to be written about the production of Suicide Squad, although the less said about Jared Leto’s bodily fluids the better. Writer and director David Ayer was reportedly given six weeks to write a script featuring almost a dozen major characters, only for the final cut to be given to a company that had cut the film’s viral trailers.

suicidesquad

It is not particularly proud moment for film-making, particularly given the emphasis that Warner Brothers had put on their blockbuster slate as “film-maker driven.” Indeed, the laundry list of rumoured deleted scenes has become a convenient stick with which the movie might be beaten. How in the name of goodness could Suicide Squad be so messed up as to portray the fundamentally abusive relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn as loving and affectionate? The answer is that the original cut of the movie was candid about the abuse, but it was cut out.

Although Warner Brothers’ DC movie slate has become an easy target for pundits looking to score cheap shots and drive page-views, the problem is more fundamental than that. In hindsight, with the summer of 2016 coming to the close, it feels like the end of the era. The curtain is drawing down on the short-lived “blockbuster auteur” era of big budget franchise film-making.

captainamerica-civilwar8

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Non-Review Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is a mess.

Like many contemporary blockbusters, it is overplotted and convoluted. For a film with a (relatively) straightforward story and an impressively large ensemble, Suicide Squad twists and turns in a way that makes it impossible to pin down. The film never seems entirely sure when enough is enough, and always seems ready to pile more on top. The film is never entirely sure what the audience should know at a given moment, particularly compared to the characters. Character development is secondary to a series of quick gags and cheap one-liners.

Whacky.

Whacky.

At the same time, there is a certain charm to the film, once it gets past the clunky exposition or the twisty plot or the inevitable myriad of complications that serve to eat up screentime. The core concept of a team of supervillains enlisted to deal with a national crisis is a great story hook, and Suicide Squad featured a collection of intriguing characters brought to life by a fairly great cast. Suicide Squad works best when it lets those characters cut loose, when it cedes the screen to Margot Robbie or Will Smith. There is an energy and verve to it that is contagious.

That energy does not make up for the movie’s shortcomings, but couple with David Ayer’s sense of momentum, it helps to keep the train from coming off the rails for most of the movie’s two-hour runtime.

'Sup Squad?

‘Sup Squad?

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Justice League Unlimited – Task Force X (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

I’ll freely concede that I’m not as fond of Bruce Timm’s Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows as most seem to be. With a larger and more expansive cast, and an impressively epic backdrop, the shows often felt a little too impersonal, when compared to the work that Timm did on Batman: The Animated Series or Superman: The Animated Series. As a result, I tend to favour the smaller and more intimate episodes of those two spin-offs, the ones very clearly focused on the characters rather than on the larger story arcs. I think Task Force X is one instalment that stands among the very best that the animated DC universe has to offer.

X marks the spot…

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Justice League International: Volume 2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

In light of the massive DC reboot taking place next month, launching with a Geoff Johns and Jim Lee run on a new Justice League title, I thought I’d take a look back at another attempt to relaunch the Justice League, emerging from the then-recent Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I loved the first collection of Justice League International (even though I don’t think the book was called Justice League International yet). It was the perfect example of fun self-aware superhero comics that didn’t need to wallow in grime and darkness to feel confident in themselves. It was wry and cheeky, but still sincere enough that it never seemed too cynical. And, in fairness to Giffen and deMatteis, they actually told some good stories with nice grasps on the characters involved. This second collection can’t help but feel a little bit lighter, somehow, less significant – too tied up in other things to have enough fun on its own terms. Which is a shame.

Built on a solid foundation...

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