Friday, September 23, 2016

“The Magnificent Seven” – Yee *snore* haw.

If there’s one thing about being a movie critic that is annoying it’s when people get all incredulous when I tell them I haven’t seen . It’s usually a movie that happens to be their favorite movie, so life stops making sense to them when I have the temerity to tell them I haven’t seen their favorite movie. Or every movie ever made, for that matter. This is always immediately followed by “well, you really need to see it.” This is a good time to remind you, dear shocked readers, that I am only thirty-seven years old and “movie critic” is not currently a paid job that I hold. I do this in my spare time and I watch roughly 70 movies released each year. I’ve even added an extra movie a week with my Movie Fixers podcast (shout out to my two friends that co-host with me), which means I’m watching 120-ish movies a year and given that movie watching schedule, I don’t really have time to watch everyone’s favorite movie. I’m fairly certain you aren’t watching that many movies, so you probably don’t want to start a game of have-you-seen-this-movie with me.

I bring this up because I’ve never seen the original The Magnificent Seven. No less than two people were surprised by this, even though the original came out 16 years before I was born. Granted, according to a little research, it’s the second-most shown movie on television (behind The Wizard of Oz), but it’s not like The Wizard of Oz is shown on a daily basis. Plus, the original was considered a box office disappointment (just $2.25M in the US) and is really only well-known for its musical score. It might even be more of a surprise if I had seen the original.

Anyway, this year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven is what you would expect from a remake – uninspiring and not an improvement on the original (so I was told), which explains why it was released in mid-September despite starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. The plot was tweaked from “seven gunman protect Mexican town from pillaging bandits” to “seven men protect farming town from pillaging gold mine owner.” While I don’t have any problem with the overarching plot – it’s standard fare for Westerns – the details left a lot to be desired.

The biggest problem with the film is the severe lack of character development. All seven of the magnificents were nothing more than cardboard cutouts, as was the woman who hired them, Emma (Haley Bennett), and the villain, Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). You root for or against them for the most basic of reasons – Bogue is greedy and kills people, Emma’s husband was murdered by Bogue’s men, and the magnificent seven are the titular characters. Beyond that, you have no reason to care about any of them when the bullets start flying, and you won’t care when the bodies start piling up (on both sides, including some of the seven). Bigger than that is that all seven of these guys are hinted at being shady characters, yet all of them join this most righteous of crusades with little-to-no convincing required. For the lack of information given on any of them, it’s just as easy to believe these guys are in it simply to kill people as they are to help out the townsfolk.

1, 2, 3, yep - that's 7.

Just to linger a moment on motivations and relationships here, we have no idea why Sam Chisolm (Washington) picks most of these guys. We hear a piece of a war story that connects him to Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), but nothing to explain why they decide to hug each other at their reunion (they fought on opposite sides of the war). Besides Goodnight (and, yes, that’s his actual name), the rest join simply by being in the right place or because Chisolm once heard of them. None of them have any special or unique skills which means we’re in for a very generic gunfight in the climax.

Who are you supposed to be again?

Much is going to be made of the diversity of the casting of the seven (Washington, Pratt, Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier), but shouldn’t change an opinion of the film when all seven characters are interchangeable, one-dimensional gun slingers (though Lee gets a knife skill and Sensmeier is a Comanche wielding a bow and arrows)? It’s hard to get excited about the lesser-known actors when the writers don’t bother to give them any backstory to speak of. Plus, why isn’t Emma part of the seven? She seems to be nearly as good a shot as any and is the only person who seems to actually give a damn about saving the town. She shows more emotion than the entire seven combined.

The Seven are long as we aren't counting women.

What this boils down to is this film is another ho-hum remake a long list of remakes this year that nobody asked for. If you are into throw-back westerns and high body counts, this movie is for you. If you expect more than that out of a movie, especially one that wastes Chris Pratt’s comedic talent (the jokes are there, but the seriousness of the movie steps on most of them), you’ll be bored by this film.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and I won’t get mad at you for being shocked that I’ve never watched a Clint Eastwood western.

Friday, September 9, 2016

“Sully” – Sweet dreams.

If you are the type of person who gets nervous or anxious when flying, you probably hate me. I’m the guy sitting next to you sleeping through take-off. While I won’t apologize for that, I will apologize for any snoring that may occur. Also, you should not watch Sully. You may know the story of the Miracle on the Hudson, but you don’t want to see it happen in living color. It’s bad enough that you probably already have nightmares involving airplanes; you don’t need to add to them by watching this movie.

Back in 2012, Denzel Washington starred in Flight, Sully’s spiritual predecessor. They are basically the same movie – an airline pilot saves everyone on board a failed airplane, then that pilot faces investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Sully is the movie Flight wanted to be, even to the point of coming out just three years after Captain Sullenberger successfully landed an airplane on a river. The difference is that Sully is a very good movie and Flight is, at best, meh.

The biggest thing that makes Sully a much better movie than Flight is that you care about Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks). Denzel’s pilot is a drunk cocaine user, including when he is piloting aircraft. Sullenberger is our kindly, straight-laced grandfather. So, when the NTSB investigators start digging into Sully’s actions, there is never a moment where we are actively rooting for the investigators. The movie even helps us out by sharing Sully’s nightmares of crashing airplanes to induce more sympathy. Incidentally, Sully’s nightmares are the other reason you folks with a fear of flying should not watch this movie. You definitely do not want to see a jetliner trying to thread through skyscrapers.

He's calm now, but he doesn't know about the upcoming nightmares.

The other thing that makes this movie great is the pacing. It’s short (just 96 minutes), so it doesn’t waste time focusing on things of little importance, and it does a good job of building up the suspense. No, not the suspense of if he saves everybody (you smartass), but how the investigation turns out. As in Flight, the point of the NTSB investigation is to determine fault and the investigation skews heavily toward pilot error. So, much of Sully is spent in meeting rooms where the investigators (Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, and Jamey Sheridan) keep telling Sully and first officer Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) that they could have landed safely on a runway at one of two nearby airports and Sully and Skiles insisting the investigators and computers (algorithms and simulations) are wrong.

The film (directed by Clint Eastwood) also does a good job of switching between the investigation and the crash over its duration. The constant transitions keep the movie from becoming monotonous, which is exactly what turned Flight into a slog (not to mention Flight’s overly long 139-minute run time). Eastwood also sprinkles in the nightmares and some short scenes with Sully’s wife (Laura Linney) to complete the humanization of Sully. This is an absolute must because if you don’t know anything about Sully beyond his water landing, you come into this movie imagining him as an impervious hero. In order for the film to work at a dramatic level, Sully has to come off as a regular human and one that might have made a mistake. Serious kudos should go to Eastwood because, after watching him lecture an empty chair four years ago, I never would have thought he’d still be capable of putting together a coherent movie, much less a great movie with exceptional drama.

Clint's still got it.

After watching the film, there was one question it raised that I was very curious about – have there been other successful forced water landings by similar aircraft? I’ve personally logged around a quarter of million air miles (as a passenger, not a pilot) and not once have I ever believed I would actually utilize my seat cushion as a floatation device. The good news is that there have indeed been successful forced water landings besides Sully’s. The bad news is you can count them on one hand. I know that doesn’t help your flight anxiety, so I’ll just go back to sleep. Wake me when we land.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless you paid for the in-flight snack. What a ripoff.

Friday, September 2, 2016

“The Light Between Oceans” – It’s okay to cry.

If there is one cliché about parenting that is absolutely true, it’s that there is nothing that can fully prepare you for it. You can read books, take classes, babysit your sister’s kids, or even intern at an elementary school, but there is always something that will completely surprise you. Every parent can tell you at least one thing they’ve said that they never imagined would be a single sentence. Something like “son, please don’t throw Fig Newtons into the shower.” One thing nobody warned me about was that random things now have the potential to make me tear up or cry. I’m not talking about typical tragedies or severe injuries or extraordinary joys; I’m talking about crescendos in songs I’ve heard a hundred times. And, I know exactly when those man-walls-of-toughness I built up over my early years were demolished into a fine powder – the day my son was born (a little over four years ago). Now, I can’t watch The Lego Movie without yawning to cover up my glassy eyes and even mentioning Hans Zimmer terrifies me.

The Light Between Oceans is exactly the kind of movie I never would have teared up at before parenthood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a tear-jerker; I just didn’t use to well-up at obvious tear jerkers. This film features a married couple, Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander), living alone on an island where Tom tends a lighthouse. A couple of days after her second miscarriage, they spot a boat drifting near the beach and discover a baby and the dead body of the baby’s father. In her inexplicable grief, Isabel sees this as a gift from God while Tom sees it as an event that must be reported to the mainland immediately. Isabel convinces Tom not to report it and they decide to raise the baby as their own. After a couple of years, they return to the mainland to christen the child and Tom discovers who the child’s mother is (Rachel Weisz), and that she, Hannah, visits the grave of her daughter and husband every day. The guilt he felt before was nothing compared to the level it ratchets up to upon seeing Hannah in the cemetery. It’s the kind of guilt that not even Catholic or Jewish mothers can inspire (though not for lack of trying).

The full guilt hasn't kicked in yet.

I won’t tell you anymore about the plot and what I did tell you is on the back of the book this movie is based on (same title), so no whining about spoilers. However, I will tell you that the story is really about love, more specifically what parents will do for their kids and what spouses will do for their partners. In this scenario, the child is just the catalyst for the choices forced upon these three people. Think of this as the worst multiple choice test you’ve ever taken and multiply by Romeo and Juliet.

At this point, you probably have two questions. Question One – why would I review a movie like this when I typically review movies featuring robots, car chases, explosions, or exploding robot car chases? Answer – Rachel Weisz, Michael Fassbender, and Alicia Vikander. All three of those actors are near the top of my list of actors I will watch in anything, and they did not disappoint. Pay special attention to the scene where Isabel is pleading with Tom not to call in their finding and watch their faces. If you didn’t know what anguish looked like before this film, you will after that scene.

Question Two – did I really cry? You’ve probably already guessed that I did, but you’re not sure how much. Answer – I did, but not in the theater. I held it together through a combination of determination and raw, manly toughness. Think Tim Allen and his barking and multiply by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then, I got in my car and made it about five more minutes before my parent brain kicked in and wept like a bride on her wedding day. Really, that’s all you need to know about this film.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask for some tissue for the drive home.

Friday, August 26, 2016

“Don’t Breathe” – Happy Thanksgiving

That tagline will make sense later, but for now let’s talk about the latest horror flick to cross the silver screen – Don’t Breathe. Also, this is the earliest SPOILER alert you will ever get from me.

The premise is simple – three young burglars pick the wrong house to rob. The plot is also simple – will the burglars survive the night in the house or will the blind, Iraq-war veteran (Stephen Lang) who lives there kill them all? It’s your standard slasher, cabin-in-the-woods flick with very morally ambiguous characters. The real question you will have is who to root for? On one hand, the burglars deserve what’s coming to them. It takes a special kind of asshole to rob a blind war veteran, especially, a blind war veteran whose daughter was killed in a car accident. And, yes, the burglars know all of this information prior to the burglary because their goal is to steal the settlement money the man got from the family of the girl that killed his daughter. On the other hand, the movie will reveal some very disturbing things about the Blind Man (I’d love to tell you the Blind Man’s name, but it is never given, his character is literally listed as The Blind Man in the credits) that will make you think twice about rooting for him. In other words, flip a coin.

There's a turkey baster in your future.

Of course, that coin is weighted. Of the three burglars, only one of them truly deserves death – Money (Daniel Zovatto). Yes, that’s his real name and the first glimpse we get of him is during an earlier robbery in which he is breaking things for no reason and pissing all over the kitchen. He comes by his assholery honestly and is purely in this for the money. Conversely, Rocky (Jane Levy) is just trying to score enough money so she can take her young sister to California to escape her dead-beat mother. She’s the easiest one to root for as our third burglar, Alex (Dylan Minnette), doesn’t seem to have a motivation at all. His dad works for a home security company and they seem to be doing just fine, especially considering this is happening in Detroit. Alex uses his dad’s access (in the form of passwords, remotes, and keys) to target and rob homes that use said security service. The best motivation I can come up with for Alex is an apparent crush on Rocky (whose boyfriend is Money), but that’s a pretty thin reason to commit larceny. He’s also the brains of the outfit, constantly reminding the crew what they should and shouldn’t do in order to avoid felony charges should they be caught. He even warns them against robbing the blind man, initially refusing outright, and then ditching them during the penultimate robbery when Money brandishes a gun. Plus, he’s also cautioning them that he doesn’t want to get his dad in trouble, which begs the earlier question – what the hell is Alex even doing this for?

Dick move, bro.

As a standard slasher flick, the movie is pretty tight, but not without flaws. They avoid several of the standard horror movie clichés, but not all of them. A great example is the lack of a double-tap. At one point, Alex clocks the Blind Man in the head with a hammer, twice, then handcuffs him in the basement. The problem is that the Blind Man regains consciousness extremely quickly and even holds a conversation with the remaining burglars before they attempt their next escape. The obvious fix for this is to just leave the Blind Man unconscious because, either way, we know he’s not done. It’s just more believable my way.

If there’s one major flaw with the movie, it’s in the unevenness of the directing. Parts of the movie are masterfully done to create great levels of tension and misdirection while other parts come off like an elementary school play. There are unnecessary zoom-ins on props and set pieces that scream “this will come into play later,” robbing the viewer of any kind of satisfaction of recognizing those things without prompting. There is the terribly misused “let’s show the viewer something at the beginning of the movie that actually happens much later” technique that serves no purpose other than to tell the viewer that a character is going to make it at least until you see that scene again, thus destroying the viewer’s belief that said character might die at any moment. Finally, there are lots of plot elements that you have to just live with if you want a chance to enjoy the movie. (Again – SPOILER ALERT) Don’t ask how a blind man managed to kidnap the girl who killed his daughter. Don’t ask why the Blind Man is the only resident in an entire neighborhood filled with abandoned, dilapidated homes (his home is just fine). Don’t ask why the Blind Man’s senses seem to come and go as the plot requires (he can smell stinky shoes, but not stinky feet. He doesn’t notice or hear the person in the hallway that he misses running into by less than an inch). Don’t ask why a guy holding a hostage in the basement would have an alarm system capable of alerting the police. Don’t ask why security-service-dad keeps a drawer full of keys to his clients’ houses in his desk at home or why said service would have those keys at all (would you trust ADT with the keys to your house?!) And don’t ask why the news report following the conclusion doesn’t mention the weird room in the basement.

No way this works.

But, like I said, there are great elements in the movie as well. The best is when the Blind Man kills the power and we are treated to him hunting Rocky and Alex in his maze of a basement, shot in grey night-vision. There are long takes of the burglars exploring the house upon their initial entry that lend depth and direction to the house. And then there’s the turkey baster scene that will make you fear Thanksgiving for the rest of your life. All I will tell you about it is that the entire audience realized what was going on in unison, uttering a theater-wide groan in revulsion at the revelation. Yes, I said turkey baster.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. My “don’t ask” questions can’t be completely ignored.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“War Dogs” – A case study.

When it comes to movies, writing is more important than everything else. Without writing, the stuff in a movie is meaningless. Costumes are being worn because actors get cold and the movie is supposed to be rated PG-13. Sets are just piles of wood, nails, and paint that actors run across because a guy with a bullhorn and a headset just gave the go ahead to blow up that car. Lights are turned on so the actors don’t trip over props while running from the explosion. In other words, nothing is happening for any reason, and nothing you are seeing has any meaning…without a story. Writing gives all of that stuff purpose and good writing ties all of it together in ways that make you glad you spent money and time to watch it. And that’s how we got The Dark Knight. But without a story or any decent writing, I guess a movie like that must simply meet its release date. And that’s how we got Suicide Squad.

But, this isn’t about DC movies. This is about a movie called War Dogs. War Dogs is the perfect example of how good writing makes a great movie. More specifically, it’s a perfect example of how to adapt source material into a screenplay. One of the biggest complaints by moviegoers about Hollywood book adaptations is that “the book was better.” In other words, Hollywood often screws up the source material in an adaptation. While there are countless examples of poor adaptations, there are also numerous examples of superior adaptations, and War Dogs is one of them.

War Dogs is based on a Rolling Stone article titled Arms and the Dudes telling the story of the rise and fall of two twenty-something American men who became international arms dealers and found themselves winning a $300 million defense contract to supply arms to the US military in order to arm the Afghan army.

If the screenplay writers had adapted the story with no changes, it would have made for a fairly uninteresting movie. Don’t get me wrong, the article is fascinating and worth the read, but it isn’t worth two hours in a theater. The two men, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) are both greedy war-profiteers who have no qualms about the legality of what they are doing. The US government officials contracting them are well aware of what they are doing and simply don’t care. They work with several shady arms dealers who are all in it for the same reasons – money. Do you see the problem here? Not one character or entity discussed in the article comes off as the hero or even anti-hero in this story. So, in the movie version, who are you supposed to root for? After watching such a movie, you’d wonder why they spent $45 million on what amounts to a 60 Minutes segment.

Rather than bore you with an overly long night-time news segment, the writers took the characters, the bones of the story, and a couple of fun details (David was a masseuse prior to running guns) and turned it into something worthy of a theater. To start with, they made David the hero and improved his motivation. He also gets a pregnant wife, Iz (the gorgeous and scene stealing Ana de Armas), and is forced to work for Efraim because he is failing to earn enough money to support his family. In contrast, the writers bring Efraim as-is because being a sleazy, greedy, shitbag of a friend makes him the perfect villain. Now we have two well-defined characters whose roles are clear throughout the film.

Then, they embellish a couple of the contract stories and align them in a way that perfectly escalates the stakes and the tension as the movie approaches its climax. The best way to describe it is as a movie that plays out much like Two for the Money or 21. Our hero is brought into the lucrative business, finds early success which leads to more success, which leads to the ‘big one,’ which leads to the inevitable crash, which leads to a satisfying end. In addition, the US government doesn’t come off nearly as shady because the movie needs it to be the uncorrupt lawman (if only this wasn’t an embellishment *sigh*).

There were a few more tweaks, but that’s the meat of the movie and I’m not sure they could have adapted the story any better. On top of that, they nailed the casting. Hill was every bit the villain they needed him to be and you’ll want to punch Efraim as much as David does. Teller also proved that he can actually act when given a decent character and we can now forgive him for his abysmal Mr. Fantastic. As I mentioned earlier, de Armas manages to upstage Teller in their scenes together, especially when she calls him out for being a liar late in the movie. And then there’s the gorgeous and scene-chewing Bradley Cooper (playing arms dealer Henry Girard), every bit as engaging as we’ve come to expect from him. Even in his relatively few scenes, it’s hard to believe he’s not actually a slimy, dangerous arms dealer brought into this movie to make it more real. And that, my friends, is how you write a movie worth watching that is based on literary source material.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and go read that article.

Friday, August 12, 2016

“Sausage Party” – Food for thought.

Several years back, I was at my in-laws’ house, it was late at night, and I was watching an episode of South Park. The boys were trying to avoid getting in trouble for hitting Butters in the eye with a ninja star. Halfway through, my father-in-law walked in, watched for a minute, looked at me incredulously and asked “what are you watching!?” I told him there would be a point, he just had to wait for it (and I didn’t know yet what it would be). He did not wait (and went to bed) and the point of the episode was that if sex is involved, nobody cares about violence. The point is that South Park may look and sound crass and juvenile, but there is often brilliant commentary embedded within. In other words, when you watch Sausage Party, don’t be the person who can’t see the forest for the trees.

That forest idiom is important here because some people get stubbornly stuck on things like cussing or nudity or dick jokes when reviewing movies and call them terrible movies for those things. These people should not watch Sausage Party because they won’t make it five minutes into the movie before running out of ink tallying up the number of times ‘fuck’ is uttered. These same people will ignore the fact that animated, talking food stuffs are doing the cussing. Meanwhile, those of us who don’t have constipation over naughty words will stare in wonder at a movie that looks like Pixar but sounds like Cinemax. Then, we will grin like maniacs when the movie becomes more than food wanting to fuck each other in the great beyond.

Horn dog - meet hot bun.

The premise of the film is that all of the food and products in a grocery store believe that when they are chosen by the gods (humans), they are going to heaven (outside the store). A sausage, Frank (Seth Rogen), and hot dog bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), want to get chosen so they can have sex. When a returned jar of mustard (Danny McBride) rants about how the great beyond is all a big lie and that the gods are actually monsters, he inadvertently prevents Frank and Brenda from leaving the store and getting busy. At that point, the movie becomes a quest – Frank and Brenda want to get back to their shelves for another chance to be chosen. Along the way, they are joined by a bagel (Ed Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz) and pursued by an evil douche (Nick Kroll) – yes, an actual douche – who blames them all for him being denied his destiny (it’s exactly the destiny you think). At this point in time, if you aren’t completely sold on the insanity of this movie, here’s where it gets good and where Trey Parker and Matt Stone would be proud.

You mean heaven is a lie?

On the surface, the film is a crass, profanity-laced comedy about horny food. Every food-sex pun you’ve ever thought of is probably in this film. Just like the forest and the trees, beneath the surface are hilarious commentaries on religious belief vs. science and the absurdity of the ongoing Israel vs. everyone else in the Middle East battle. The bagel – Jewish. The lavash – Muslim. Yes, every complaint these two sides have made will be addressed in this film. But for my money, the religion/science battle elevates this movie to greatness. It bites on the idea that there are people who refuse to bend even in the face of overwhelming factual evidence (currently, we call these people Trump supporters and climate change deniers), then bites back by pointing out that calling those people idiots is the absolute wrong way to try to change their minds. You may be right that they are idiots, but nobody ever changed an idiot’s mind by calling them an idiot, and not for lack of trying.

As you may have guessed already, I loved this movie. If nothing else, it’s an original movie, the kind that people keep yammering at Hollywood to make. But it’s so much better than that. Hopefully, all the people whose assholes pucker at the very mention of sex or potty words can get over themselves long enough to appreciate that Rogen and fellow writers Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill (who also voices a sausage) have created a brilliant and funny movie that asks us all to step back and see the damned forest. And, like in sex (usually), there’s a massive payoff in the end – a giant food orgy. If you thought they hit every food-sex pun before this scene, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back as it should leave a great taste in your mouth (what? I can’t do one pun?).

Friday, August 5, 2016

“Suicide Squad” – A eulogy for the DC film universe.

As I was pondering what to write about DC Comics’ latest movie, early reviews for the film started to trickle out and let’s just say that the DC fanboys weren’t happy with it. This is an actual headline from an article on USAToday, dated August 4, 2016:

“Critics slam 'Suicide Squad,' so fans try to shut down Rotten Tomatoes.” Here’s the story for your amusement.

In short, a person called Abdullah Coldwater started a petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because, to paraphrase he and the 18,494 other people who signed the petition, “critics are big poopy-heads.” Forget about the fact that such a petition carries no ability to actual do or force what it’s calling for, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t actually have a staff that reviews movies. It’s just a place where reviews (that meet a certain set of requirements revolving around quantity of site views or number of publications) are linked to so people have a central place to find them and tallies up all the ratings to get an aggregate score. I’m guessing these geniuses don’t understand that. Nor do they seem to know that Metacritic and IMDb exist – both of which do the same thing and both of which have similarly low aggregate scores for the film – because they aren’t calling for those sites to be shut down as well. But here’s where it gets even more fun – Warner Brothers owns the DC film rights and also owns a share of RT. So, even if RT really was responsible for the bad reviews, why would Warner Brothers publish bad reviews of its own movie? Like I said, geniuses.

(Note: To his credit, as of yesterday, Coldwater ended the petition himself, stating: “In fact i started this petition to gather dc fans to express our anger just for fun. I didn't mean it to be taken that serious.
After thinking. I found this petition is pointless. And the only thing that it does is spreading a speech of hate and online fighting among the supporters and objectors . The movies is something to enjoy. And the hate and fight is the opposite of enjoying.”)

The question I have for those 18,000+ people is “have you actually seen the movie?” I am often at odds with many opinions of other critics, but I have never accused them of being idiots prior to seeing a movie for myself. I’ve seen Suicide Squad and I agree with the majority of critics – it’s not a good film. It’s certainly not a Batman v Superman spectacle of shit, but it’s the final strike for me in hoping that DC was going to spend any time developing the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) they’ve been touting and that sucks.

Here’s the short version of my review, in case you have somewhere else to be – if all you want to see are a handful of DC bad guys shooting at things for two hours while classic rock songs are played over the action, this movie works. It’s every first-person shooter game you’ve ever played – kill hundreds of foot soldiers while running through destruction to fight the final boss at the end.

Now the long version (and, yes, SPOILERS, but there really isn’t anything to spoil. I’ll explain).

Suicide Squad should have been a tee-ball given the premise – a team of really bad villains is assembled to combat existential, global threats. Awe! Some! But then the movie starts. The first ten minutes of the film are devoted to introducing us to the Squad. You read that right – TEN minutes to make you love and identify with eight characters, the bulk of which is devoted to just two of them, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). And, we get it in the form of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the person who wants to build the team, reading us files on how each of them was caught over dinner with some other government stiff (not so awesome). Even worse, when she first names the character, a bunch of text appears on the screen that describes the character, but is pulled from the screen so fast we’re lucky to catch even half of it. What a waste.

The only two characters that matter.

Cut to a briefing room where Waller is trying to convince an admiral to approve funding for the team with the following rationale – “What if Superman decided to rip the roof off the Capitol? There are more and more meta-humans showing up every day and we want them on our side.” To emphasize this point, she calls upon archaeologist Dr. June Moone, (Cara Delevingne) – that’s actually her name – to demonstrate. You see, the good doctor has been possessed by a 6,000-year old Mayan witch called Enchantress who is super evil and can teleport (among many other things) anywhere she wants. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that? Enchantress teleports, stealing a top secret file from a vault in Iran in moments and the admiral is immediately convinced, even though he was just telling us how bad an idea this sounded like. And he’s right because, how do they control Enchantress? They’ve got her heart in a box and Waller stabs it with a pen whenever Enchantress starts to get out of line. Seriously, that’s her control method and there’s nothing special about the box. But don’t worry, the box has a lid. And it’s in the room with them where Enchantress can see it. And Enchantress doesn’t just snatch it up right then and there, even though the remainder of the movie is Enchantress wanting her heart back so she can destroy the human race with a giant glowing trash circle in the sky. One more thing about Enchantress, she can decide to take full control of Dr. Moone whenever she feels like it and isn’t confined to a room or 24-hour surveillance. The name June Moone doesn’t sound like the dumbest thing in this movie anymore, does it?

I, too, thought Joker was supposed to be the villain of this movie.

To answer your questions, yes, the Squad is tasked with stopping Enchantress and, yes, this whole mess was started by the very person putting the team together to stop messes like this. How does this make any sense? Or Enchantress at all, for that matter? Does she have to stay in the archaeologist’s body? And why isn’t she chipped with the explosive? And even if she was, couldn’t she just possess literally anybody else, including Viola Davis? It also appears that she can manifest herself whenever she wants, so how does Viola Davis think she has any kind of control over her? And again, if enchantress can teleport, why doesn’t she immediately jet with the heart as soon as she knows where the heart is?

Putting aside that awful bit of writing, let’s evaluate this team to find out if they can combat a witch that can teleport, has telekinesis, turns people into deadly soldier things, can conjure up magic that can destroy the world, and is basically immortal. Just ignore the fact that the entire problem can be solved at any time by Waller destroying the heart.

-Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – no super powers, team leader, special ops soldier, has phone app that can trigger explosive devices in the necks of bad guy team members. Oh, and did I mention that June is his girlfriend, because Waller needed June to seduce him so Waller could blackmail him into working for her?

-Deadshot – no super powers, but can shoot real good, and quip even gooder.

-Harley Quinn – no super powers, but is crazy and swings a mean Louisville slugger. Also, comic relief, eye candy, and a convenient excuse needed to justify Joker (Jared Leto) being in this movie.

-Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – no super powers, can hold his breath for a long time, is a great swimmer, and looks like a crocodile. Sure, this guy will come in handy.

-Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) – shut up. That’s not really a character is it? It is? Shut up.

-Slipknot – no super powers, can climb real good. Seems like a climber wouldn’t want the word slip in his name.

-Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – the one character with legitimate super powers – can shoot fire out of his hands and face. Except, he has to get really mad, otherwise he just stands there watching (really, this happens).

-Katana (Karen Fukuhara) – not an actual bad guy. She’s friends with Flag, is there as an extra precaution against the bad guy team members should they not cooperate, and has a sword that traps the souls of its victims. Sure, why the fuck not?

-Dozens of special forces soldiers – hang on, why are these guys here? The whole concept of the team, as described in detail by Viola Davis, is that they will be sent into impossible situations and disavowed if they fail. So, why put actual soldiers outside of Flag with them? Are they considered expendable as well? And if you have all those soldiers, why do you need the Squad at all?

We're with you Katana - we don't know why he's here either.

So, that’s the Squad, and if we do the math – carry the one, divide by the ratio of soldiers to villains, multiply the number of superpowers by pi – we see that there is no fucking way this team can defeat Enchantress, let alone someone like Superman. The movie even acknowledges this when, after kick-fighting with the squad for a while, Enchantress gets bored and disarms them all with a wave of her hand. Yes, my friend and I both laughed when this happened because it literally nullifies the entire preceding hour of fighting.

If there’s a redeeming quality, it’s that Smith and Robbie lead the cast in what are all solid performances. Robbie and Smith are both doing everything possible to save this movie, delivering some decent one-liners at times and keeping the film from becoming a complete slog of action. It’s also painfully obvious that the movie was set up to feature them and only them. Look no further than the costumes to see how little care was given to the characters not named Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Deadshot gets a red body suit covered in armor, complete with a white mask and targeting eye-piece. Quinn gets a full-body costume consisting of skimpy shorts and cheeky shirt, colored hair and face, and symbols and words all over her body. Killer Croc, Diablo and Boomerang are all wearing jeans and a jacket. Even Flag, who gets plenty of screen time, is almost indistinguishable from the random special forces soldiers assigned to the group. I suppose you could make a case for Joker and Enchantress, both of whom were given far more visual appeal, but neither were in the movie enough to mistake them for equals to Smith and Robbie. My complaint isn’t that this happened, but that it happened with no pre-work done. Marvel wrote the freaking playbook, use it. This movie should have been a follow-up to standalone movies for Deadshot and Harley Quinn (both of which I would absolutely watch…well, as long as Zach Snyder isn’t involved).

You can tell who they are by their jacket.

Look, I know I’m being a little harsh, but this movie suffers from the same problems as BvS and Man of Steel. My friends didn’t think I should completely trash the movie, but the more I let the movie fester in my brain, the more I realized it was worse than I originally thought. Nothing is happening for any logical reason, the characters are woefully underdeveloped (TEN MINUTES), the reason for the team existing at all is a self-fulfilling prophecy, any world building of a DCEU is non-existent, the structure of the opening of the film exists solely to justify the music, the team’s abilities don’t come close to their opponent’s, and the tie-ins to the other DC movies are painfully clunky and forced. The worst thing about the movie is that these bad guys never actually do anything bad, which was kind of the whole freaking point of making this movie in the first place. I’m not saying I hated this movie (it’s the best of DC’s three DCEU movies so far); I’m just disappointed that DC has crapped the bed yet again in an attempt to shortcut their way to what took Marvel thirteen movies to do. Rest in peace DCEU, we never even got to know you.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back if you are not one of the people that signed the shut-down-RT petition. I know 18,000+ who will love this film.