Top 7 ways SUICIDE SQUAD went epically wrong—and could have gone right

suicide squad cast

Marvel and DC have taken comic books for kids and turned them into an unstoppable machine, designed to entertain the masses while making massive profits.

When all the pieces fit together, it’s memorable and magical.

When they don’t, as in SUICIDE SQUAD, everybody notices. (Warning: this is packed full of spoilers.)

It’s like making chocolate chip cookies: Marvel and DC have well-known, well-liked ingredients that people have loved consuming for decades.

Mix it up, put them in the oven and serve them warm and hot. People are going to eat them. It’s not rocket science.

HOWEVER: your average person has eaten a lot of chocolate chip cookies, and seen a ton of these comic-book movies. They’ll know, right away, if Marvel burns the whole batch or DC forgets to add any chocolate chips at all.

Continue reading “Top 7 ways SUICIDE SQUAD went epically wrong—and could have gone right”

Quirky and Fun versus Weird for the Sake of Weird

In my sacred quest to watch Every Decent Thing on Netflix, I’ve seen a lot of quirky movies that make fun of the action and superhero genres.

All good, right?

Well, no.

Let’s watch three trailers, then take apart two movies with huge promise that both fall flat and one film that nails it.

Spoiler Alert: This entire post is one giant spoiler. Sorry. Can’t help it. Palpatine told me, “Do what must be done.”

First up: TURBO KID

Good trailer, right? And it seems like it’s not trash, since critics apparently blessed it.

SUPER

Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page are the best. Come on. This should be amazing.

KUNG FURY

This is a production with no-name actors and virtually no budget. But the trailer looks funny.

Dissecting all three movies

TURBO KID and SUPER both suffer from trying to be two things: they both want to be cartoonish and child-like while subverting the whole comic-book genre with massive amounts of gore, violence, nudity and profanity.

You expect blood, bullets and every one of the FCC’s Seven Dirty Words in an R-rated action movie. No big deal.

These two movies are trying to be two things at once, though. You can be innocent and fun or you can be gritty and gross. Pick one.

The worst B movies splatter you with f-bombs and blood. The best pick their shots.

How you end a movie also kinda sorta matters, if you care about the audience.

TURBO KID jumps the shark in the end when it turns out not only is his sidekick / girlfriend a robot, but so it the bad guy, despite there being no hint of this at all. The bad guy just isn’t believable as an evil machine. I can completely buy a friendly robot that’s programmed and designed to be a companion. I can’t buy a bizarre, twisted villain actually being a robot beneath all that flesh. How did he get to be that way? It doesn’t fly as a last-minute revelation with no setup.

SUPER lost me in the climax when Ellen Page, playing the sidekick, Boltie, gets shot in the face and killed. She was the heart and soul of the movie, the best part. This film felt like a French existentialist number, with the hero killing the bad guys and saving his wife, but not really winning. It’s not a true a tragedy, either.

You can do stories with mixed endings, if you do them right. A hero can get what he wants, then decide he doesn’t want it. A boxer can lose the championship while earning self-respect and a girlfriend named Adrian.

You can do it. But it has to be carefully constructed.

TURBO KID and SUPER both felt weird for the sake of weird.

KUNG FURY is happily retro, cheesy and creative. There’s still swear words and nuttiness, but it remains fun instead of weird or sad.

With TURBO KID and SUPER, there was a mix of cartoonish surrealism and gritty realism, as if the writers and directors couldn’t choose which direction to take. KUNG FURY has the same tone throughout, but it still surprises you again and again.

VERDICT: Go ahead and fast-forward through the boring bits of TURBO KID and SUPER, if you’re curious about either, but skip the stupid endings so you don’t throw things at the screen. Watch all of KUNG FURY.

7 secret ingredients to cook up a Bad Superhero Blockbuster

We live in the Golden Age of comic book movies, with Marvel and DC pumping them out as faster than you can swipe your VISA for $14 tickets to IMAX 3D and $9 bags of popcorn.

Here’s the secret recipe for mediocre superhero movies and its two sequels, each of which will costs at least $250 bazillion to make and $150 gazillion to market, and no, those insanely high numbers are not why you have to pay so much for tickets and kernels of dried corn that have been exploded. That’s a coincidence.

Note: I strongly deny the theory that this post is suggesting movie studios spend more than 1 percent of the budget on the actual story, because diverting that amount of money would eliminate the CGI budget for the skyscraper that explodes and falls down in the middle of the seventh fight scene, the one in that city that sort of looks like Vancouver, B.C. after the villain kidnaps the love interest and has a creepy dinner with her in his lair, but not the explode-y fight scene where the villain crashes the mayor’s birthday party to announce his plans for doomsday.

Secret Ingredient #1: A hero is born, which means Mom and Dad better have life insurance

Sorry, moms and dads of the world: if your son or daughter is destined to put on a mask and cape to fight evil, there’s a price to pay. Which means you’ve got to go.

Superheroes with dead parents are incredibly common, for these good reasons.

Here are those reasons: (a) any villain with a brain in their noggin could simply kidnap mom and dad whenever they wanted something, forcing (b) every movie or comic book starring a superhero with actual parents to spend precious time explaining exactly how mom and dad are hiding and surviving, (c) dead parents are an easy way for writers to give their superhero their motivation to fight crime and evil and (d) how else would you get Superman to fight Batman except by leveraging his human step-mom?

The list of superheroes with dead parents is so long I don’t even have to start, but I will: Batman, Superman (his real parents, not Martha), Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther—you get the picture.

Secret Ingredient #2: Our hero is a total loser

This is a necessary step to the first movie, which tells the hero’s origin story.

You have to show how lame the hero is before he gets his powers. The bigger the contrast, the better the story.

Peter Parker is a nerdy little high school kid who gets bullied.

Steve Rogers is so small and scrawny, they won’t even accept him as a volunteer to fight in World War II.

Tony Stark is a billionaire playboy who invents and sells weapons when he’s not busy trying to poison his liver and catch every STD known to man.

Finally, here’s an example that shows how going halfway doesn’t work AT ALL.

Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) is a billionaire playboy who’s totally not a copy of Batman, and though Arrow’s rich father is dead, his mom is still alive, and living with him (?) and his kid sister (??) in the same mansion, even though he’s a grown man. Yeah, that’s the setup. It is as soap-opera-ish and stinky as you could imagine.

Secret Ingredient #3: Power up

A superhero needs talents and powers, whether they come from (a) a science experiment gone wrong (Spiderman, Hulk), (b) a science experiment gone right (Captain America, Ant Man), (c) years of training and (Black Widow, Falcon, Arrow) or (d) being a playboy billionaire genius who invents his own suit and arsenal of gadgets (Batman, Iron Man and a dozen other copycats not named Arrow).

Then there are weird powers that we do not, cannot and will not accept, like gills to breathe underwater combined with the ability to get whales to act like underwater taxis whenever Batman and his buddies in the Justice League don’t feel like using in the Batsub or Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.

Secret Ingredient #4: An old mentor who eventually MUST DIE

Sorry. It’s a thing.

The same clause in Sean Bean’s contract that requires him to die in every role is included for any actor playing the mentor to our superhero.

This is also necessary, because eventually (a) the screenwriters will write themselves into a corner and need the ultimate motivation for the hero to go beserk or the aging actor playing the mentor will (b) get sick of being a glorified sidekick and do other roles or (c) demand insane amounts of money to be in the sequels.

Before he dies, the mentor needs to be wise, charming, helpful and funny.

This is almost always a male role, whether we’re talking about a hero or heroine. Sorry. That’s how the Bad Superhero Blockbuster rolls.

Our old and grizzled mentor also needs to own many hats, because he’ll be wearing them all: sidekick, martial arts trainer, tech support and father figure.

But his death serves another purpose, because it opens up the way for five different sidekicks to pick up those hats, dust them off and put them on in the sequels.

Secret Ingredient #5: A dash of young love

Didn’t expect this in a movie with capes and explosions, did you? But it always happens.

Captain America had Agent Carter and now her niece.

Iron Man has Pepper Potts when they can afford Gwyneth Paltrow.

Thor has Princess Leia’s mom.

Batman has Rachel, or he did for a while, though I’ve always said it’s a lot like Harry Potter winding up with his best friend’s sister instead of Hermione: wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman should be forever linked to Catwoman, who rocks.

The new Wonder Woman will have Captain Kirk, which is pretty cool. Great actor. Good choice.

Arrow has–actually, I don’t really care about Arrow’s paramour, and don’t even make me think about what Aquaman does on Friday nights.

Back to our recipe: Preferably, this relationship should (a) start as early as possible, maybe even childhood, and (b) it should be a love triangle, with the third person also a friend from childhood.

That third person, ideally, should be our next ingredient.

Secret Ingredient #6: A delicious nemesis

Not a villain.

No, a villain is common and boring.

A nemesis last. He or she endures.

But this takes time. Like fine wine and good whiskey, a nemesis must ferment. Because they start out good before turning sour.

The hero and nemesis were once friends, if not best friends. Maybe they both wanted the same girl, the same achievements, the same powers and status.

A true nemesis is the flip side of the hero, showing what happens if you take the path less travelled.

Or you could take the easy way out and cast an aging Hollywood has-been as the villain, somebody who used to be box office gold. Give them a terrible foreign accent, a little backstory and let them chew up the scenery until the hero punches them into oblivion and locks them inside a chamber that gets flooded with radiation from the superweapon our big baddie intended to use to nuke LA.

Also: a quick, Cheaty McCheatypants way of creating your nemesis is to give him or her the same powers or power source as the hero.

This so lazy and bad, it rarely happens except for Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, Thor, Man of Steel, Batman Begins, Arrow and fifteen other movies and TV shows I won’t look up right now.

It’s not enough for your villain or nemesis to steal every bar of gold from Fort Knox or crown himself Lord of Canada after unleashing his army of mind-controlled badgers with steel-tipped claws and industrial lasers strapped to their heads.

To be a truly clichéd superhero movie, the villain must threaten to destroy planet Earth, or at least nuke Gotham or Metropolis, which is the same thing for DC movies.

You can blow things up however you like, though nuclear warheads were only used as a plot device in every other Bond movie, spy film and TV show since 1953.

What gives you enough pop to make the third rock from the sun go bye-bye? Here are your choices: (a) an bio-engineered super virus, (b) alien invaders, (c) an army of killer robots / sharks / zombies or (d) manipulating or mind-controlling a hero so the other heroes have to fight them, especially if the hero is somebody unstoppable like Superman.

Secret ingredient #7: Clean up the kitchen and start prepping for sequels

To be a truly Bad Superhero Movie, you must follow the recipe exactly. To the letter.

That means Movie #2 has two villains, two sidekicks and two love interests.

It also costs twice as much. Batman Returns, Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight all follow this formula.

Movie # 3 has three villains and three sidekicks. The number of love interests is your choice. Spiderman 3 and The Dark Knight Rises are good examples. We’re not even going to talk about the Batman movies starring Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

The budget for Movie # 3 is also triple the original.

Despite all the big name stars and big budget for explosions, the story is a mess and entire thing collapses under its own weight, with the only hope of bringing it back being a reboot with a new actor and director.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR does the impossible

What’s hard? Ice skating uphill. What’s impossible? Flying to the moon in a Cessna or making people love a character who’s about as inherently lovable as AquaMan, which is saying, not lovable at all.

Batman is easy to love. Captain America, not so much.

Never read his comics. Never liked him.

So more than anything else, I’m impressed with how Marvel has turned Captain America into one of the most likeable and enjoyable characters on screen today.

This is just about impossible. Robert Downey, Jr. is an incredible actor playing a great part. Iron Man is far more fun on paper. I’m pretty sure Chris Evans hasn’t been nominated for Oscars and he’s a pretty good bet to never be seen as a Serious Actor.

Yet he’s perfect as Captain America.

Instead of taking a role that could easily come off as self-righteous, he makes it human.

WINTER SOLDIER was the darkest and deepest Marvel movie, yet it still had humor and joy. And of all the Marvel movies, it had the most developed relationships. They didn’t feel like cardboard characters reciting lines before more things exploded.

More than the fights, I remember moments like Cap doing laps around Falcon in the beginning, and driving with Black Widow in a stolen truck. The whole thing was beautifully done.

With CIVIL WAR, the Russo brothers out-did themselves.

It would’ve been easy for a movie with so many Avengers to fall apart from the weight of all those characters. Everybody got their time on screen, with interweaving setups and payoffs.

And the relationships are the strong point. Any film or TV show can have amazing special effects today. But can you make us care about the characters?

I cared about all of them.

And one of the best moments in this film is a kiss, I kid you not. That’s an achievement.

CIVIL WAR brought up big questions that don’t have easy answers. It was surprising, fascinating and fun.

Fun is the most important part. As a huge fan of the Batman movies, I have to say Marvel beats DC in the fun department. Every single Batman movie (except for the George Clooney disaster) has been dark and grim.

WINTER SOLDIER and CIVIL WAR prove that you can mix dark moments, tough choices and betrayals while still having an incredibly fun movie.

It’s an impressive achievement for what’s really an Avengers movie, since everybody except Thor and Hulk are in this thing. And I liked it better than either of the Avengers films.

Verdict: A+. I’ll buy it on Blu-Ray and would happily watch it again tomorrow.

Superhero movies: Golden Age or insane glut?

batman-v-superman-poster-ben-affleck

You can’t escape the marketing blitz. Superhero movies have targeted your local multiplex and they WILL. NOT. STOP.

Ever since Hollywood took a risk by turning Tim Burton and Michael Keaton loose on BATMAN, studio execs in Hollywood figured out yes, you can make mountains of money on superhero movies–if you do them right.

Marvel perfected the formula of interlocking movies, and now DC is trying to copy it with BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN leading up to 5.6 bazillion movies with Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman (what?) and 16 other superheroes only fanboys would know.

Here’s a look at the six comic book films I’m aware of so far. Somebody will point out strays I’ve missed. By the year 2019, every weekend there will be a new Marvel or DC movie opening up, competing with Star Wars and Pixar sequels. All other movies will be relegated to Netflix.

Continue reading “Superhero movies: Golden Age or insane glut?”

8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week

Name something popular, anything at all, and chances are it’s a series instead of a One Hit Wonder.

This is about why that is, despite a serious quality handicap, and how your favorite series either does it wrong, does it halfway or flat-out nails it.

There are two basic types of series: evergreen and meta-stories.

Evergreen

This includes sitcoms, mysteries, and other shows where things don’t really change … except for the villain or problem, which constantly changes, until the movie series runs out of steam, the novelist gets sick of it or studio execs at NBC look at the dying ratings and pull the plug.

The advantage of an evergreen story is the audience can fire up Netflix and watch any random episode without being lost. You can , buy any of Lee Child’s series at Barnes & Noble and enjoy Reacher beating people up for 325 pages without needing to know anything about the other books.

Star Trek, in all its forms (original, TNG, Voyager) was an evergreen series.

HOWEVER: the best string of movies was a meta-story about Spock, with Spock sacrificing his life to save the Enterprise and crew (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Corinthian Leather), then Kirk and crew sacrificing to bring Spock’s newborn body back from Planet Crazytown (Star Trek 3: We Stole This Sweet Klingon Warbird) and finally Spock is back with us and directing the movie, which was smart {Star Trek 4: Save the Whales), except it lead to a future movie where Shatner directed, which turned out to be an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey.

 

The disadvantage of an evergreen series is huge: it inevitably grows stale. Also, the lead actor will always be tempted to cash out and bail for the movies. And often, the ratings or sales simply tank, making studio exec or publishers pull the plug, ending the series with a whimper. Continue reading “8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week”

Top 6 reasons why MAD MAX crushes AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Now, I enjoyed AVENGERS 2: GIVE DISNEY ANOTHER BILLION DOLLARS and it’s perfectly fine as another piece of the Marvel movie assault on the galaxy.

It’s just that I wouldn’t happily head to the theater tonight to watch it again, while I will go back to see MAD MAX: FURY ROAD with friends who’ve yet to see it.

And I’m not alone: critics are going nuts for MAD MAX, with 98 percent of them loving it on Rotten Tomatoes vs. 74 percent giving the thumbs up for AVENGERS 2.

The New York Flipping Times wrote a glowing review of MAD MAX. That’s nuts.

Why is the Australian underdog kicking the pants off the greatest collection of box-office superheroes ever assembled? Continue reading “Top 6 reasons why MAD MAX crushes AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON”

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What you need to know before seeing AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Unless you live in an ice cave, you know that AVENGERS 2 opens on May 1.

When it does open, all your friends will go see it, then ask what you thought about it, and What This Movie Means for the next 10 Marvel movies. Those films will feature Thor, Iron Man, Loki, and 16 other characters, and they will make $18 billion dollars.

Let’s get you educated on the whole Marvel shebang, then talk about why Marvel, against all odds, has taken over movie theaters for the next century.

Before you spend $42 on Imax tickets, 5800 calories worth of popcorn with fake butter drizzled on it and 72 ounces of Diet Coke, watch this video to refresh your knowledge of all things Marvel:

And now I’ll get serious for a moment.

Why have the Marvel movies rocked the box office so hard? Continue reading

Top 3 reasons why the new, extended trailer for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON rocks so hard

1) It’s funny, and not in a forced way, like a Saturday Night Live skit that repeats the same joke seventeen times.

The actors seem natural and relaxed.

2) The director lets this scene play out.

Today, that’s rare, with directors eager to bust out the CGI and blow up more stuff that only exists as pixels on giant servers.

Josh Whedon figures he has enough excitement packed into the movie and gives us a long, funny breather. Which is wonderful, because not rushing the payoff for this scene makes is far more powerful.

3) That payoff is amazing, and a completely different emotion than how the scene started.

Ultron showing up like this is not only a surprise, but a shock, and his lines are simply perfect. Unsettling and dark and wonderful.

Well done, Josh the Whedon, well done. A far better trailer than the usual Michael Bay explosion-fest that’s required of every big-budget action movie.

 

Top 11 posts about the Big Screen and Such, Because Top 10 Lists are Common and therefore Boring:

The Red Pen of Doom dissects every Batman movie IN HISTORY

Top 5 reasons EDGE OF TOMORROW works — and why it redeems Tom the Cruise

THE WOLVERINE proves Writing Law #1 – Less is More

Seattle superheroes challenged by supervillain Rex Velvet

Hollywood: Sidekicks do NOT need their own stupid sidekicks

Seven movie clichés that must be NUKED FROM ORBIT

MAN OF STEEL and the Invincible Hero Problem

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Why it works

Big, Beautiful Movies with Sad, Stupid Endings

THE AVENGERS + THE BREAKFAST CLUB = AWESOMESAUCE

Like Godzilla in Tokyo, PACIFIC RIM smashes all expectations

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.
Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Many Bothans died to bring us this teaser for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS teaser

Long ago, in a galaxy named after a candy bar for some reason, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced–because the Mouse had bought the entire Star Wars franchise.

Everybody who grew up on the original Star Wars movies felt this pain.

I prepared myself for Disney princesses with cute neon pink lightsabers, then endless straight-to-video sequels and prequels that would make STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE look like THE GODFATHER. (Related: Why new STAR WARS movies by Disney are an achy breaky big mistakey)

However: this was before they announced that JJ Abrams would direct the first new movie.

Also: Disney also owns Marvel now, and Marvel is on an insanely successful roll.

 

All of the Marvel movies since IRON MAN have rocked. I figured the Captain America ones would stink, since it would be easy to make those corny and uber-patriotic, but they nailed both of them. WINTER SOLDIER is darker than dark. Loved it. On the other hand, FOX studios proves you can take a great character and great actor and absolutely blow the thing with two horrible Wolverine movies.

Marvel can’t do wrong. And now JJ Abrams, after rebooting Star Trek into awesomesauce, looks like he’s doing the same thing with Star Wars.

The only way this trailer could look and feel better is if the new Sith uses his wicked lightsaber to make a clean break with the Lucas prequels by slicing Jar-Jar Binks in half.