The Suicide Squad

STREAMING REVIEW:

Warner/HBO Max;
Action;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The presentation on HBO Max also includes several behind-the-scenes promotional featurettes.

Batman: The Long Halloween — Part One

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
$29.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, bloody images, language and some smoking.
Voices of Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Billy Burke, Titus Welliver, David Dastmalchian, Troy Baker, Amy Landecker, Julie Nathanson, Jack Quaid, Fred Tatasciore, Jim Pirri, Alastair Duncan, Naya Rivera.

Originally released in 1996 and 1997 and best known today as a graphic novel collection, the comic book miniseries “Batman: The Long Halloween” is considered one of the seminal works of the Batman canon.

Taking place over the course of a year early in Batman’s career, “The Long Halloween” tells the story of how Gotham City transitioned from gangland violence to being overrun with costumed supervillains, while also tracking the toll it takes on new district attorney Harvey Dent, who eventually becomes the villain Two-Face.

This first half of the two-part animated adaptation (the second half coming in a month) is heavily focused on the mafia side of things, and feels very much like Batman (Jensen Ackles) has been dropped into the plot of The Godfather.

This is a Batman still perfecting his skills as a vigilante. He makes obvious mistakes, isn’t too adept at jumping from roof to roof just yet, and he doesn’t seem interested in being a detective. He forms a pact with Dent (Josh Duhamel) and police Capt. Gordon (Billy Burke) to clean up the gang wars, but this only puts more of a target on Dent’s back, much to the chagrin of his wife. It also opens the door for the costumed crazies that Batman has inspired, such as the Joker (Troy Baker) and Catwoman (voiced by the late Naya Rivera in one of her final roles), as a serial killer begins targeting key mob personnel each month on a festive holiday.

Batman fans already familiar with the “Long Halloween” arc should appreciate the adaptation, which matches the animation style of the earlier Superman: Man of Tomorrow and Justice Society: World War II, potentially putting it in the same shared universe as those adventures. Long Halloween was reportedly intended to kick off this new continuity years ago, but was delayed when it looked as if Matt Reeves’ The Batman would be doing the storyline.

Casual Bat-fans who don’t know the graphic novel will likely recognize many aspects of the story, particularly the troika of Batman, Dent and Gordon, and the focus on Gotham’s mob bosses, from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, which was heavily influenced by Long Halloween.

The Blu-ray includes a nine-minute preview of the upcoming part two, which delves further into Dent’s transformation into Two-Face.

There are also showcases for previously released Batman animated movies The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Gotham by Gaslight.

As is customary for these DC Universe releases, the Blu-ray also contains two cartoons from the Warner Bros. catalog that are thematically similar to the movie — in this case, the “Batman: The Animated Series” episodes “Christmas With the Joker” and “It’s Never Too Late.”

Also included is the newest DC Showcase animated short film, the 16-minute The Losers. This one’s about a special forces unit during World War II caught up in a mission on an island overrun by dinosaurs brought from the past by a powerful energy barrier. The premise seems cobbled together from a few familiar sources and as a whole the short doesn’t amount to much, but the implications of some of the plot developments could be intriguing if explored further.

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Ant-Man and The Wasp

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/16/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $216.42 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for for some sci-fi action violence.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas.

The 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived in a somewhat awkward position for the franchise. Coming off the dire circumstances of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp offers more of the lighthearted, fun romp first served up in 2015’s Ant-Man. It’s certainly a shift in tone for dedicated Marvel watchers, but also serves as a satisfactory palate cleanser for the despair that “Avengers” movie dished out.

Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man wasn’t in Infinity War, and this movie delves into what he was up to as Thanos was preparing to battle the rest of the Avengers. Under house arrest as a result of the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Rudd) is once again recruited by the father-daughter science whiz team of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly), who are now fugitives because Lang used their shrinking technology to help Captain America fight Iron Man.

Hank needs Scott’s help to locate his wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the quantum realm, where she vanished 30 years ago after going too microscopic to return. Hope, meanwhile, has become The Wasp, fulfilling the setup from the first film for her to don a shrinking suit of her own.

However, their efforts have attracted some unwanted attention in the form of a criminal (Walton Goggins) who wants to get his hands on their technology, and a girl (Hannah John-Kamen) who needs energy from the quantum realm to reverse the effects of an accident that is causing her to phase out of existence.

Scott, meanwhile, has to avoid getting caught by the authorities by making sure he’s back home before they stop by for an inspection, lest he be sent back to prison for 20 years.

Director Peyton Reed takes advantage of the size-shifting premise to present both some very funny gags and some inventive action sequences. Reed says in an introduction to the film and his feature-length commentary that one of his main goals on the sequel was to really take advantage of the different perspectives that shrinking and growing can offer, much more than he did in the first film.

The film also sets up how Rudd will make his way into the fourth “Avengers” film, leaving even more clues with which fans can speculate about how the whole Thanos saga will be resolved next year.

For the here and now, though, the Ant-Man and The Wasp Blu-ray includes more than 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes with some good insights about establishing the characters in this new story, plus how the production design team mixed practical and CG effects to create sets and sequences that immerse the viewer into a world where the scale of everyday items is often out of whack.

The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes running about a minute each, which are interesting on their own but weren’t essential to the overall story. Then there are about four minutes of gag reels, including a minute of Stan Lee’s outtakes trying different lines for his cameo.

The digital editions include an exclusive eight-minute retrospective on the concept artists of the now 10-year-old MCU, plus a minute-long commercial for a company at the center of one of the film’s key running gags. Vudu also offers a two-and-a-half-minute featurette about Reed.