Let’s get this out of the way from the off; Cats is quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen in a cinema. I shall explain my rationale for such a statement in due course but basically it fails on every single level.
The release of the trailer for Cats brought a collective shock. Shots of high profile actors with completely ineffective CGI triggered global ridicule. Director Tom Hooper kept working right up until the very last moment to try and salvage the picture. Unfortunately, his efforts have been in vain.
A decision was made to realise actors in cat form using computer generated fur technology. It does not work. Faces are merely transplanted onto an artificial frame. As a result every shot leaves the viewer perplexed, possibly horrified but crucially distracted. It is a significant stumbling block and the fact that at no point senior creative people involved in the production didn’t recognise that the technology had failed and would sink the box office takings is astonishing.
The major issue is that there is no blending of the performers facial features and the artificial feline creation. In the original West End production the makeup was intended to conceal the human face and make it appear more feline. It wasn’t entirely effective but it gave you an idea. For this movie they simply haven’t bothered with any makeup which makes the differentiation between the real actor and the CGI facade all the more stark and jarring.
Although there is seemingly no need for the costume department to become involved given the reliance on the computer, some characters do have costumes. For example, Dame Judi Dench and Idris Elba wear fur coats. Fair enough if this is part of the look for the character, consistent with the CG fur but then those coats are removed. Elba for instance appears without his outer garment in one scene which just makes it look like his character is completely naked. Except for CGI fur of course. It is utterly bizarre. Other cats are seen wearing shoes, helpful when Skimbleshanks the railway cat tap dances across screen but it is impossible not to ponder, “why are these cats wearing shoes?”
Additionally, the choreography in terms of the physical performance is inconsistent. At one point Jennifer Hudson crawls away on all fours, like a cat. Not long later she walks in like a bipedal mammal. Similarly, seeing Dame Judi Dench reclining in her basket like Kate Winslet posing for her drawing in ‘Titanic’ seems rather undignified. So this creates further inconsistency. Characters behaving like cats one minute, nuzzling each other affectionately then dancing superbly in the next. We know these are human beings pretending to be cats but be consistent with how they are presented and you might convince viewers that you’ve actually put some thought into all this. The choreographed dance numbers are strong but the direction of them leaves a lot to be desired.
Tom Hooper’s style of directing is typically tight and mid-shot to get up close in order to capture the emotions of his performers. That makes sense for Jennifer Hudson performing ‘Memory’ (more of that later), but isn’t as effective for the big dance numbers with multiple performers. When Hooper does push the camera wide it exposes yet another flaw in this doomed production. The set design, specifically the scale, is all over the place. There are certain shots where the cats look tiny in the environment, such as on the railway rails, and in others, unsurprisingly, they look human size.
Another major issue with the film stems from the source material and should’ve been expected. There isn’t really a plot to Cats. Originally developed as musical accompaniments to a series of T. S. Eliot poems it remains just that. A series of songs about individual cats and eventually one of them will pass on to the Heaviside Layer in some sort of implied mercy killing. This group of Jellicle cats gather at the Jellicle Ball to make the Jellicle choice. The term Jellicle comes from the original T. S. Eliot poem describing a specific type of nocturnal black and white cat. But if all the cats looked the same it wouldn’t be that appealing visually so that uniformity is abandoned. Yet the term Jellicle remains. It is nonsense but over the years the songs in particular have connected with audiences. Not least the show’s big hit ‘Memory’.
The ‘Memory’ moment is appropriately big. So highly anticipated was it that it was given prominence in that much maligned trailer. Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award with her debut performance in ‘Dreamgirls’, has been brought in to deliver the song. She performs it well but even if you get beyond the CGI distraction there’s another one. I’m not sure if Hudson recorded the scene whilst suffering a heavy cold but the fluid streaming out of her nose completely takes you out of the moment. Elaine Paige need not worry. Her version of ‘Memory’ will remain the song’s pinnacle.
Taylor Swift, a self-confessed cat lady, fully embraces her brief role. Although the false English accent is toe-curling, she is probably the highlight. Swift and Jason Derulo are arena performers and unsurprisingly deliver the best moments in the film, knowing how to convey a song to thousands in an audience rather than delivering a performance to camera. Conversely, James Corden and Rebel Wilson doing yet more ‘chubby comedy’ is as embarrassing as it is unfunny. Both are better than this. More traditional stage actors, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen bring gravitas but lack the dynamism, amongst other things, that this version of Cats really needs. Francesca Hayward as Victoria is clearly a talent, you’d expect that from a Principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet, but the decision to have her play a white cat is bordering on the abhorrent and possibly the biggest sin of the entire film.
Overall, Catsis horribly and catastrophically executed. Without doubt one of the worst things ever to be released into cinemas. On every technical level it fails spectacularly. No wonder it stands to lose A LOT of money.
I have been looking forward to Joker for several months. Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite actors and has been since he played Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line’. But after Romero, Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger (we’ll ignore Leto), could Phoenix bring something new to the character? Yes. Would this movie live up to expectations? An even bigger yes.
Firstly, the film is set within a Gotham City of an unspecified period but somewhere in the 1980’s. This extends to a retro Warner Brothers logo which is a lovely detail. It is the period of ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘The King of Comedy’ and the seminal Batman graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’, although in reality a period separated by more a decade. As with these key influences the setting is an amalgamation. The non-specific time frame also allows for commentary on our modern world.
Gotham is a city which is bubbling with social unrest. The elite, epitomised by Thomas Wayne, are safe within their bubble seemingly unaware of the hard times and suffering which the less fortunate people in Gotham are having to endure. News reports are inflaming the situation further with stories of giant rats feasting on the festering rubbish littering the streets due to a strike. Budget cuts are causing the removal of care services. Medications are no longer available for those who need them.
Joaquin is Joker
Simply put Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing. He dominates the film and is in every single scene. His descent into the more maniacal Joker that we are already familiar is a shocking and at times deeply distressing journey. Phoenix’s appearance as Arthur Fleck is merely a reflection of how he has been mistreated and abused mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Malnourished. Bruised and beaten. He works as a clown but even that is not without perils. In the evening he returns home to take care of his mother and, much like his job, is also a negative experience. Fleck is not a character that you have sympathy for, instead you just pity him.
Whilst watching the movie it is difficult not to want to see that eventual metamorphosis into Joker. That’s why we bought the cinema ticket. But at the same time you don’t really want it to come because, when it does, you realise it isn’t going to be pretty. Boy, is it not pretty!
The explanation of Arthur’s laughter being an involuntary response, seemingly occurring at times of stress, anger and nervousness, was a smart way of accounting for that particular trait of Joker. Medicalising it as the result of a brain injury or impairment was, in my opinion, reaching a bit. But it also balanced with his inability to understanding comedy. Arthur has a desire to be a standup comedian but laughs at the setup rather than punchline. His sense of humour is not obscure or dark, it just isn’t funny.
Directed by Todd Philips
Perhaps the only genuine criticism that I can level at this film is the lack of subtlety. This should be no real surprise as it comes from the director of the Hangover trilogy. The points being made are unquestionably clear. ‘Look what happens when you don’t treat people with mental health problems appropriately’. ‘This is what happens when the wealthy defecate on the poor’. ‘A lack of gun control and the accessibility of weapons can have dangerous consequences’. ‘The media portray the wealthy in glowing terms no matter what they do’. These themes are not painted with the dexterity of a paintbrush on canvas, more like a wrecking ball smashing into a wall. But the messages are clear and that has proved to be effective.
Joker won the Best Film award at the Venice Film Festival plus others and is expected to perform well when awards season hits. That is a credit not just to Phoenix’s sensational performance but to director Todd Philips who have collectively created something truly unique. It isn’t a comic book movie in the conventional sense. The whole thing also looks incredible. A period setting, brilliantly shot and with terrific cinematography by Lawrence Sher. If you can get to an IMAX screening then I would highly recommend it.
It is unquestionably a movie which has created controversy. Joker could quite easily be considered to be a dangerous film, capable of inciting violence in a way that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was claimed to have influenced on its release. Much of the attention of the debate surrounds the violence which Joker instigates but that would be missing the point entirely. Fleck’s violent outbursts are as a result of the violence he himself has had to endure. Those moments are a reaction to something inflicted upon him but they become increasingly greater over-reactions. First, a physical assault. The second and third instances are based upon long-term abuse with the latter more implied and not entirely clear. Finally, a reaction to being made fun of. Instead of continuing to take the abuse Fleck lashes out in increasingly dramatic ways. Much like Gotham itself the bubbling anger and frustration boil over and the result is carnage and chaos.
That said the film could’ve been far more gratuitous in its violence. In the UK the film received only a 15 certificate so it could easily have gone further still and achieved an 18. The violence is shocking because it occurs unexpectedly. Yes the acts are inherently violent in themselves but in a lot of cases it will catch people off guard and that accentuates the shock. It is a movie full of tension but not a constant unease which elicits terror in the viewer. Uncomfortable to watch but not due to the content if taken in isolation.
Special mention has to be made to the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir which is a work of brilliance. Mournful sounds of cello strings accentuate the tension and contribute to an unforgettable experience. It is not for the faint of heart. Whilst I did not need to see yet another version of Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in front of a young Bruce, it felt like an appropriate ripple as Gotham caught fire. Joker becomes a hero. A symbol for a groundswell of social unrest. Let’s hope this particular element remains where it belongs, on screen and not in reality.
I would be surprised if Joaquin Phoenix does not get award nominations for this role. Whilst it is a difficult and at times harrowing film to watch Phoenix and Philips have delivered something truly exceptional.
Last week Doctor Who ‘Extremis’ burrowed away in my brain for days and gave me a breakdown of sorts. My initial positive reaction gradually dissipated as gaping holes in the setup opened wide before me. There were huge flaws but as a story to set up a trilogy I accepted it. But then comes ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’…
Firstly the episode has to open with a recap of what happened last week. This means Bill relays the story that The Doctor has told her to her date, Penny. Knowledge of The Doctor is shared pretty freely it seems. Anyway, Bill and Penny return to the kitchen table. Now Steven Moffat clearly found his joke about the Pope interrupting a date so funny that he not only had to replay it for the audience but repeat it with someone else. It was misjudged in ‘Extremis’ and verging on offending the viewer by expecting another laugh seven days later. The pre-titles therefore serve no purpose whatsoever except to prepare you for what is to follow; scene after scene of plot exposition.
From the very outset viewers endure scene after scene of humans and alien creatures conversing. Humans talking to humans. Humans taking to aliens. Alien talking to aliens in the presence of humans. The only potential action sequence of multiple human forces attacking the pyramid is swiftly negated. Instead we get scene after scene of exposition. There is no action whatsoever. Dialogue heavy scenes sunk series 9 stories and we are back to that method of storytelling. No show, all tell.
All the way through the episode is desperately attempting to explain what the hell is going on. From why is the pyramid in Turmezistan to the Monks need for consent, all of this has to be spoon fed to the viewer. The three minutes to midnight doomsday clock had to be explained too but why these creatures choose a 5,000 year old pyramid to hide out in was not.
At least the Monks did something this week. They actually took a few lives. But overall they just stood around, walked, pointed, did their inconsistent speech (flapping the jaw up and down irrelevant of the dialogue) and droned on about consent. “Fear is not consent.” If BBC Shop was still open that could’ve been the next t-shirt slogan. Was it intended to be a weird allegory about rape? Anyway, the Monks require a disaster to befall the human race in order to be invited to take control of planet Earth. But they don’t want the humans to know about it, just take their word for it. The Monks don’t even cause it, they just watch it happen. If the humans don’t know about the disaster befalling them then they won’t consent effectively to saving. But I imagine these creatures of seemingly limitless power and benevolence can rectify everything even after it is too late? It’s just nonsense.
Last week we learned that the creatures have run simulations to identify Earth’s weakest moment. This was a simulation so intricate that it could predict the presence of two non-humans and that one of them was blinded by events that occurred in the far future. Yet they still didn’t anticipate that The Doctor, like he always has done, would save the day, which he does. For the viewer there was absolutely no doubt as to where the disaster would occur because they’d been shown it.
One scientist has her reading glasses broken and the world will end because a hungover colleague gets his sums wrong and loses the ability to close airlock doors properly. What the hell kind of story is that? Getting the quantities of chemicals wrong, fair enough. But an experienced scientist is expected to lose the ability to shut an airlock door behind him because of a hangover? Come on! When you are working in that environment you are meticulous about safety protocols. Equally you wouldn’t just remove your helmet because you felt nauseous. Those suits are worn for a reason. Similarly what kind of air filtration system removes bacteria only to pump it out into the atmosphere? Bit of a design flaw that. At this point I lost patience with the product.
Anyway, The Doctor solves it all because that’s what he does. Then for all the technology in the laboratory a door is fitted with a manual locking mechanism. Why? Because The Doctor, you might not have realised this, is blind. You wouldn’t have thought so the way he flew round the laboratory but honestly he’s blind.
Blind or not blind?
When The Doctor first appears in the episode he opens his eyes and moves around the TARDIS console strumming his guitar. He then places the instrument down without any problems at all. No missing the rack, he just turns and places the guitar safely in its place. It certainly doesn’t imply that The Doctor is still blind. In the remaining scenes the sonic sunglasses provide some form of vision. Surely if you were actually blind you’d still move a little hesitantly even with these sonic shades?
To make things worse as The Doctor was locating the lab he removes his sonic shades, holding them in one hand. Despite being blind he still managed to move directly towards the TARDIS console and operate the correct lever to dematerialise. It was a smooth movement. He’d already walked around the console and yet showed no hesitancy whatsoever. And this was supposed to be a character who was blind? All of this inconsistency meant that I simply stopped believing that he was blind because he wasn’t moving like he was. The sonic shades were also so effective that he just moved around as normal. No tripping up the step in the TARDIS, or catching the corner of console. Nothing. So when I needed to believe that he was trapped because he couldn’t see I just didn’t.
Earlier in the episode the sonic screwdriver was shown to have the ability to lift a MANUAL barrier. It was seen in the series trailer and in promo pictures, you can’t miss that it is manual barrier. A sound effect tried to hide this fact but even the most moderately attentive viewer would’ve noticed this. If this magic tool can lift a manual barrier then to see it stumped by a door was simply inconsistent. Similarly, the idea that Bill had not worked out that the Doctor was blind stretched credibility. Nardole stood metres away telling the Doctor what he should be seeing made it a bit obvious. So far the character has been presented as sharp and intelligent making this at odds with the rest of the series. In her defence I stopped believing he was blind too. To base the entire finale on resolving this inconsistency was utterly bewildering. So then suddenly The Doctor has his sight back again.
Ultimately we’ve spent two episodes, nearly an hour and a half, to get to the point where The Doctor has sight again and we can have an episode with the Monks in charge of Earth. As a result we have had to endure not one but TWO setup episodes to get to that point. Frankly, it hasn’t been worth the effort. Missy will also be in that episode next week too so the Monks will probably be made redundant so she can get in her sparky dialogue. Other than the line “To rule with fear is inefficient”, there is very little about the Monks that makes sense thus far. In fact there is very little about them which is even notable at all. They just feel very generic and bland.
Next week ‘The Line in the Land’ could be a classic with some fabulously dystopian imagery. However the journey to get to that point, over the course of two episodes, has been prolonged, confused and tedious, full of inconsistent messages. After the first five episodes were so consistently strong, two thirds of the Monk trilogy have so far been nothing but filler material. I liked the simulation idea but gradually it fell apart. This week it didn’t take extended consideration to become irritated by the paper thin idea that a hungover scientist will bring about the death of civilisation.
When added together ‘Extremis’ and ‘TPATEOTW’ don’t stack up. Spectacular power and simulation technology is made completely futile when ultimately all they needed was a manual locking mechanism on a door to achieve their goal. Perhaps next time they attempt to take over a planet they could lead with that one and save us all the bother!
It has been a few days since I watched Doctor Who ‘Extremis’. On first viewing I was gripped and thoroughly engrossed with what was presented. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more the episode falls apart…
Initially I was impressed with this revelation, largely because I didn’t see it coming. My initial thoughts were of the Matrix or Deep Thought from ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’. Unfortunately buying into the concept exposes the flaws of it.
Firstly, this simulation is so intricate that not only can it account for the rogue elements of a Time Lord and his assistant Nardole, but also details such as the inside of the TARDIS. Similarly, this simulation is so advanced that it can legislate for The Doctor going blind. What makes this even less likely is that these events occurred not only off-world but also in the far future. If an alien species can create technology that advanced why would they need to rehearse an invasion? In fact, what was it that was frightening about the Monks?
Visually the Monks were very striking. When the distorted facial features were revealed it was a strong moment. But other than emerging from the portals which they presumably opened, they did nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Consider when we were introduced to the Silence who, let’s be frank, are not a million miles removed from this new creation. In a scene in the Ladies toilet (The Impossible Astronaut, 2011) the quirk of forgetting the creatures when you were no longer looking at them was introduced. The alien then murdered an innocent woman in front of Amy Pond. In contrast the Monks ambled after a fleeing Doctor and did some pointing. There wasn’t actually anything which they did that was fear inducing. Even they way they spoke was clumsy. The mouth opened and a voice was emitted. Fine. Worked well for the Cybermen. But then there were moments when the jaw did move whilst the voice was projected. Pick one! Plus they fell into the classic Doctor Who monster flaw; utterly inept in a chase situation. Even a Doctor struggling to see managed to elude them.
Again my initial reaction was how refreshing it was to see The Doctor being vulnerable. However the more I’ve considered it, the more illogical it became. In the past we have seen the Time Lord use some of his regeneration energy. Once it was used to recharge a fuel cell (Age of Steel, 2005) and on another occasion this energy was donated to Davros (The Witch’s Familiar, 2015). And yet this ability has been forgotten. Instead a new tool was introduced with some nonsense about borrowing from a future regeneration. The Doctor’s blindness could have been implied at the conclusion of ‘Oxygen’ then the simulation revelation could’ve been further reinforced by the bombshell that he was indeed still blind in our reality. Instead this simulation was, somehow, able to anticipate The Doctor going blind.
Assisting The Doctor is of course Nardole and we had a hint that he’d been sent by River Song. He even claims and behaves like a bad ass, elevating his character above that of comic foil. Unfortunately seconds later he shrieks and undoes all of that positive work immediately. His character is just so inconsistent. Also we can assume that he isn’t human and is slightly robotic but yet the Monks were able to legislate for his presence and fit him within the software subroutines. Once again his place within the simulation program lacked credibility.
The preview scene of the Pope interrupting Bill’s date typifies the episode. It is clumsy. Firstly, there’s a touching moment where Penny begins to reveal her nerves about her sexuality. Bill shapes up to help her through it in the caring manner that we’ve come to expect of her. To ruin this poignant moment is, of all people, the Pope. The way Penny reacted, not thinking it was a foolish student housemate but instead recognising the real Pontif was telling. This implied a history of Catholicism but that was not clear. Instead the scene degenerates into comedy but falls flat on it’s face.
Another guest appearance in the episode was a returning Missy. Her plot thread ran alongside the main story as The Doctor reminisced about the events leading to his guarding of the Vault which has been developing throughout the series. Whilst it came as no surprise who was in the Vault it could’ve been handled so much better. Firstly, whoever was in the Vault was clearly alive as we previously heard them banging on the door from the inside. Part of me was anticipating a Moffat-esque twist where it turned out not to be Missy inside. However with The Doctor venturing inside in an earlier episode and stating Missy directly by name that twist simply would not work. Again the more you think about it, the more you realise that it doesn’t quite work. Much like CERN.
The famous research centre’s inclusion was an intriguing prospect. Why a catholic priest felt the need to share a translation that the world we are in was in fact a simulation is beyond me. With that information why would they then feel the need to partake of a mass suicide, using stock from ACME it seems, again doesn’t make sense. Had those responsible at CERN believed that they had been the ones responsible for opening the portals into our world, unleashing the alien creatures, then that would’ve been more logical. It would also have generated a sense of guilt and despair. Instead they just couldn’t deal with the idea of being part of the simulation. Like most of the other pieces of this episode’s puzzle it simply could’ve been better.
‘Extremis’ is the first of a trilogy and perhaps some of these elements will be developed further. My initial reaction of the episode was a positive one but as the days passed it began to trouble me all the more. I hope this post has outlined why.
The Power Rangers from Saban are back in a new movie. Specifically a film adaptation of the origin story for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television series which became a global hit in the 1990’s. The series has since undergone multiple revisions including Samurai and Jungle Fury. Now given a big budget and the limitless scale of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) available does this modern reboot do the source material justice?
Firstly, some context. As a youth I was very much into the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I had action figures. I vividly remember buying the Megazord and playing with the constituent Zords constantly. Similar memories are also held of the White Ranger’s sword, a toy which came complete with sound effects. When the original television series made its big screen debut I entered a drawing competition at the local supermarket, putting the White Ranger onto paper and actually won tickets to see the movie. These memories have resurfaced because of this film and that strikes upon the appeal of this new movie; nostalgia.
For those of us of a certain age Power Rangers strikes a chord with what we remember of the series that we became swept up with as youngsters. Additionally, actors Bryan Cranston, from Malcolm in the Middle and of course Breaking Bad, and Elizabeth Banks, who we’ve seen in Role Models, The Forty Year Old Virgin, The Hunger Games and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, draw us in even further. Banks in particular savours the freedom to go wild with the villainess Rita Repulsa. Cranston largely appears as the talking face on the wall called Zordon. However neither appears to have just shown up for the pay cheque and indeed take the process reasonably seriously. Perhaps they too were savouring the nostalgia of the project?
This search to deliver nostalgia is indicative of the tone of the film. It is not a film for children with some particularly dark moments, the implication that Rita was pulling gold teeth out of a homeless man’s skull for instance. Unfortunately the screening I attended had two families with young children who were clearly scared in these moments. Although the 12A certificate is entirely appropriate for this film, it does not mean that it is suitable for 6 year olds even if they are accompanied by an adult. It is clearly intended for that older audience, now in adulthood, that darker tones appeal to but without straying too far away from the original. Those kids in my showing also failed to have their attention kept by the extended character development.
As with any origin story time is spent explaining the premise. However the majority of the running time is dedicated to exploring the five lead characters. My heart sank with the prospect of a Breakfast Club style setup. Happily however that was dispensed with quickly. With the change of environment, from weekend detention to a quarry, the unlikely friendship then begins to develop between the teenagers. Although a slightly generic motley crew of characters they do cover all bases. The star quarterback has dented his future with some youthful hi-jinx. A former cheerleader who didn’t quite fit the Mean Girls mould. Someone struggling with how her ‘perfect’ family would react to her sexuality. Similarly a young carer struggling to look after his sick mother. Plus the smart one on the autistic spectrum. All of these characters however are handled well. Sensitively in fact, with a subtlety often missing from most movie blockbusters.
Each of them have a point to prove. Seeking acceptance from the other outsiders they form a strong bond as a group. Those themes of friendship and acceptance add an additional layer to the generic superhero and sci-fi material that will hopefully speak to others at that impressionable age. On reflection, this process of teasing out the character back stories is too long, not that I was in a hurry to see the inevitable battle between the Zords and Goldar. However I was caught up enough in the characters that I was eager for them to get their suits which were particularly impressive given the movie level budget. Admittedly this movie is not likely to receive widespread critical acclaim. The plot and script are not likely to win any awards for instance. But some films deliver based upon what the viewer brings to it.
As a nostalgic 30-year-old I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting a story from my youth. A modern retelling with a good budget and featuring two actors who I have enjoyed in other things before. Excitingly an extra scene in the credits alludes to a further story involving the Green Ranger. Perhaps history will repeat itself and he will trigger a peak in popularity for the Power Rangers?
The debut series of Class has now concluded its run on BBC One. The DVD and BluRay have also been available for a couple of weeks. It also still remains available on the BBC iPlayer for several more months. But is it any good?
Firstly I have to preface my comments with a note. I am not the demographic for this show. I am not the YA (Young Adult) section of the viewership who listens to Radio 1 and watches the new BBC3 regularly. However, I was attracted to this show because of an advertised appearance from Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in the opening episode. When The Doctor does arrive he takes the best lines regarding IKEA and Media Studies. But his inclusion in the first episode proved to be a double-edged sword.
For Tonight We Might Die
This show supposedly explores what happens on Earth when the Time Lord is not around. So for him to turn up and save the day right at the start weakened the programme because it set an expectation. At any point in the remainder of the series, when things get tough and at their most perilous, The Doctor could legitimately just turn up and solve it all because we’ve seen him do that already. This therefore waters down the drama. Peter Capaldi’s appearance is therefore, an attempt to obtain legitimacy and acceptance. What it actually does is expose the inadequacies of the group. His assertion that they are well prepared for what is going to be thrown at them is simply false and gets underlined throughout the series. However, the opening episode had bigger issues than Peter Capaldi’s cameo.
A British version of an American show?
The show centres around the “redeveloped” Coal Hill Academy. Whilst I initially considered this was a political comment on the Conservative Government’s interest in academics, it is actually an artistic direction to make the environment more American. Wide corridors with lockers on either side akin to a pop music video or any other show imported from the US. This strategy is made even more obvious with the action of the last act taking place at a Prom. Whilst the American invention of ‘the Prom’ has indeed made its way over the Atlantic Ocean, I didn’t expect for it to rear its head in a British TV show. Or at least not in the very first episode. But suddenly the reasoning became apparent.
Towards the end of the episode, a list of comparisons is made, name checking ‘The Vampire Diaries’ for example. However it was the description of Coal Hill as the “Hellmouth” which triggered the epiphany. Class was trying to replicate the success of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. That particular American show was a cult classic for a generation growing up in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s. It also influenced the relaunched 2005 version of Doctor Who under Russell T Davies. So if you are going to aspire to match a show which has gone before then credit for aiming your sights at one of the best. Buffy aired from 1997-2003, nearly 20 years ago now. So whilst I have seen this sort of thing before there will be plenty of people who have not. Hopefully, this show will be the Buffy for a new audience, a new generation.
My expectations were of something new and fresh and exciting but I was left a little disappointed that there was a repackaging of ideas seen elsewhere. This also extended to some of the visuals. For example the “count the shadows” had similarities of the Vashta Nerada and the physical form of the Shadow Kin had more than an element of Pyroville from ‘The Fires of Pompeii’. As the opening of a brand new series, the episode was also heavily hampered by the need to explain the back story. An extended period was dedicated to explaining everything – where Miss Quill had come from, why they were in Shoreditch and why Quill couldn’t use her gun. There was no careful unravelling of the detail-heavy information it was just presented through an extended flashback. It is a difficult task to introduce all the characters and back story on a new show but it can be done and done well. For example in a previous Doctor Who spinoff.
The Torchwood spectre
The choice to release Class onto the iPlayer on the day that Torchwood celebrated its 10th Anniversary left a sour taste. It couldn’t possibly have been a coincidence. Torchwood’s debut episode carefully unravelled the truth behind the secret organisation without revealing everything all at once. There were glimpses into the personalities of the characters, which the viewer followed through Gwen Cooper, with flashbacks instead saved for Series 2. Class even borrows a concept from Torchwood; a rift in space and time. Where Torchwood succeeded was that the show felt new, fresh and different. The second episode for example, featured an alien gas which craved orgasmic energy. I’d certainly not seen anything like that before. With Class however, I feel like I’ve not only seen it before but seen it done better.
The combination of characters is generic but ticked all the boxes. There’s the athletic jock who, unsurprisingly, has a heart of gold. The odd one that turns out to not be of this planet. The smart one to provide the brains. The emotional heart of the group. This selection of individuals, who in reality would never become friends, covers all bases and appeals to everyone. Each viewer in the intended audience can empathise and connect with at least one of the group. Further statements are made regarding diversity. Ethnicity, sexuality and disability are all covered. Whilst I’d like to think that there is no need to make those statements these days sadly there is because not all shows are as diverse. Having a gay lead is a positive in some respects but equally disappointing because there is still a need to make that statement. This is simply a sad reflection of our society and television in general. But it is also a missed opportunity. Perhaps it would’ve been a stronger statement had Ram’s character, the macho, popular guy, been gay instead, particularly given the lack of footballers publicly acknowledging their sexuality.
The most recognisable actor in the regular cast is Katherine Kelly who has plenty of moments for scenery chewing but her sarcastic character left a strong impression. A little over the top at times, Miss Quill does at least grab your attention even if her back story is a little bemusing. Her gun which also fires at the person holding it seemed rather confusing. It also raises another issue. Guns, even alien ones, have absolutely no place in schools and so should not be presented there. The first teaser image of Quill holding a gun in front of a blackboard is not the sort of thing that should be presented to an audience. Particularly in an Americanised environment where guns are a dangerous issue. Guns breed violence, something Class is not short of as it is.
The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
Torchwood was intended to be an adult show but yet Class seemed more graphically violent. The leg slicing in the first episode was very well achieved but particularly gory. Despite this, an attempt was made to attract younger viewers by including Capaldi in a programme easily accessible to younger audiences with no transmission regulations. The blood splatter too was unnecessary but a way of demonstrating that this show is not for kids. This would be repeated in the second episode which took the gore to another level. Human beings getting skinned alive by a dragon. Blood everywhere. It isn’t horrific, hence the DVD being given a 15 rating, but it is there and it is pretty gross. I also can’t recall what the point of it was in narrative terms. Or why the dragon became trapped on the coach’s skin. Or how, despite that, it could leave his body to feed. It seemed to just be there as a deterrent for younger viewers. Although the second episode will more likely be remembered for blood trickling down drains and skinned bodies being dragged across the floor, it is actually Ram who takes centre stage. Ram had to come to terms with the memory of seeing his girlfriend killed in front of him and, unlike most teenagers, the effects of a new alien leg. This sets the tone for what the success of the series really is; it’s characters.
Characters Dictate Structure
Although the setting of Class is hampered by familiarity, it is the characters who are engaging and the real strength of the show. Nightvisiting continues the work of the previous episode with a focus this time on Tanya and her deceased father. Again there is a flawed premise with an alien tentacle able to open presumably locked windows from the outside. However it continues the decision to manoeuvre the characters so that they take the focus of the episodes. Although dark in tone, the dead visiting those left behind, themes of family and grief are not just explored through Tanya but also with the developing relationship between Charlie and Matteusz. Their intimacy is skilfully handled and cements the show in the modern world and hopefully encourages the rest of the media to frankly get on with it and catch up.
A further backstory is also shared from April who then gets her moment under the spotlight for episode 4. That particular episode is perhaps most memorable for a post-sex scene between two of the Shadow Kin which is bizarre to say the least. The rest of the episode is a prolonged meander towards the next episode ‘Brave-ish Heart’ which verges on utter nonsense. It consists of scene after scene of extensive info dumping, more and more dialogue about genocide, and anyone who buys into April’s triumph over the King of the Shadow Kin is clearly more absorbed into the narrative than I was. For the kind and sweet girl to defy those instincts and magically acquire the ability to wield a pair of swords much less defeat an alien warrior king is far-fetched to say the least.
The series is very precisely structured. Episode One, introduce everyone and everything. Two focuses on Ram. Three focuses on Tanya. Four focuses on April. Episode Five includes an examination of Charlie’s character, whilst there is plenty of other stuff going on at the same time. Charlie is perhaps the weakest of the group. Haunted by his position as Prince and keeper of souls, which also happens to be a dangerous weapon, leaves him largely spineless and unprepared. The formulaic strategy continued therefore with the main characters brought together in one classroom to analyse their relationships with each other. Of course being teenagers the truth hurts. Titled ‘Detained’, but frankly should’ve been called ‘Detention’, he really does step up with the final act of confession finally purging Charlie of his burden.
Logically the penultimate installment of the series centred on Miss Quill. In between the impressive spacehopping there are quieter moments which draw real empathy and warmth for Quill, a tough task given she is frequently labelled a terrorist, a term that should not be tossed around lightly in our modern climate. Katherine Kelly is stellar in this episode however. She does plenty of over the top stuff but she can be equally steely as well as comedic when required. However once again two alien creatures are brought down to the level of the animalistic instincts of human beings for reasons that are beyond me. Anyway this leads us into the series finale.
Predictably the series’ only real villain the Shadow Kin returned for the finale. The continuing trend of explaining what is going on whilst Corakinus holds a sword over someone’s throat and Charlie points a weapon at him made me ponder how much screen time is actually dedicated to these scenes over the series. I might time it all one day. Also predictably, after an entire series of discussing it, the Cabinet of Souls is finally used by Charlie but not without further prolonged discussion about the ethics of the weapon. The fact that Series 1 only consisted of eight episodes clearly hampered the show. With little time for other stories to breathe the series effectively just told one story introduced in ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ and concluded in ‘The Lost’. The intervening episodes therefore became character pieces with no opportunity for unique stories to breathe within them. Compare the two images of Charlie holding the gun. The first is actually from the opening episode of the series whilst the second is from the finale. Over the course of eight episodes we have effectively returned to the same stand off where we started. The only exception is that The Doctor doesn’t turn up so Charlie has to use the Cabinet of Souls.
Whilst the journey makes for an enjoyable watch the elements introduced in ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, notably the Shadow Kin and the Cabinet of Souls, were obviously going to come together in ‘The Lost’. Despite the hampering of an Americanised environment and lack of a USP (Unique Selling Point), plus the unhelpful Capaldi cameo other elements such as the mysterious Governors did work exceptionally well and showed the programme’s potential. Similarly the show approached it’s intended young adult audience maturely with themes of acceptance, love and loss all sensitively and impressively well-handled. In those terms it should be seen as a shining example for other programmes to follow. Now all the introductory stuff is out of the way with Series 1, we know all the characters well enough now, the show has the potential to fly. To say that Series 1 ended on a cliffhanger is an understatement largely because it actually left viewers with two cliffhangers. But will there be any more?
Whilst Class was another positive production for BBC Wales’ drama studios in Cardiff it had an element of testing the water when it came to broadcast. It was the first major show to debut on the new BBC Three which was only available through the BBC iPlayer. Although receiving some promotion the programme was dependent on people at home seeking out the show at a time that suited them. As a result other more popular programmes dominated the iPlayer charts with the show failing to break into the Top 50 on demand shows meaning less than 185,000 people accessed the episodes. When the show did finally get a traditional broadcast slot on an actual channel it was buried by BBC One on a Monday night at 10.45pm. Worst still episodes were shown in pairs back to back. That meant that the second episode would finish in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Talk about not giving the show a fair chance at attracting to an audience! On BBC America Class will be screened after episodes of the next series of Doctor Who which although potentially odd to follow two series simultaneously does mean it will at least receive some prominence.
Unsurprisingly ratings on BBC One were poor. Worryingly the show actually posted viewing figures below the average for that timeslot. Of course it must be considered that the episodes had already been available for months prior on the iPlayer, stunting viewing figures further. Perhaps most telling is the fact that the most watched episode was the first but the show couldn’t retain or build on that audience. Consistently the second episode in the double bill lost half of the audience. Given that it began at 11.30pm this is probably not surprising. Much like the main show it seems that the BBC set it up for failure but at least it could be found at a consistent time every week. Perhaps it will be the broadcast of Class on BBC America which will seal the show’s future. Although flawed the series has undoubted potential and it’s true success or failure can only be measured within it’s intended YA audience.
One of my biggest gripes about Batman Vs Superman was the movie’s very existence. I questioned what the point of it was. Rogue One however is the complete reverse. The fact that it has been created is extraordinary. It is a film that explains an important plot point in a different movie that was premiered forty years ago now. It didn’t need to be made. The Star Wars saga existed comfortably before and after Rogue One was released. But yet it provides an engaging, thoroughly enjoyable and visually impressive Star Wars film that comfortably sits alongside those which have come before and those still to follow.
Spoiler Warning! Details will be discussed that will hamper viewer enjoyment for those yet not to see it.
Unlike other simplistic ‘cash-in’ movies within franchises, incredible thought and effort has gone into delivering Rogue One. For instance, I was astonished that Peter Cushing was in it. And in it a lot! So much so that I doubted he was actually dead. Post cinema visit I had to check and yes the legendary actor, who also played Doctor Who on the big screen, passed away in 1994. There are also a number of other cameos. One is delightfully amusing and brief. Another is chilling and full of grandeur. In fact all of the sequences featuring Darth Vader are very impressive, from the horrific realities of his injuries to an astonishing ass kicking rampage which will make a whole new generation fear him. The final surprise appearance however is utterly heartbreaking given recent news but did distract me from the slightly dodgy rendering to achieve the effect of youthfulness. None of these cameos overshadow the piece and just added to the ‘this is for you fans’ joyousness.
Overall, Rogue One is a bit bland compared to other entires in the Star Wars mythos. This is largely because the audience is obviously less invested in newer characters that are introduced for this movie. However all of these individuals are delivered well. They are unique and have suitable personalities that carry the viewer along with the story. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna were both excellent and actually the fact that they were new characters allowed for the unexpected moment when they were actually killed off. This twist added a refreshing change for Star Wars and particularly for a Disney movie!
Rogue One also finally brought the ‘war’ element to Star Wars. In addition to the spectacularly well delivered battle sequences and the fighting on the beaches, the film also creates the scale of a universal conflict. This made the planet hopping of the first act less tedious and more necessary. Another interesting direction saw the rebels presented as not simple moral crusaders. Instead it is alluded to some of the more horrific acts of being at war that these fighters have had to do. The reality of lead characters not making it out alive against the impossible odds also made for a welcome change. Sacrifices being made in this movie also made you appreciate the small battles that need to be traversed for later, more memorable victories. Time to dig out ‘A New Hope’ I think!
Summerslam is WWE’s second biggest show of the year and the first proper Pay Per View (PPV) since the brand split. Both Raw and Smackdown were able to build and present their matches for the ‘biggest party of the summer’. The only exception to this was the main event which featured Brock Lesnar of Raw and Randy Orton of Smackdown.
The matchup had been promoted for many weeks, built as a match 15 years in the making. Unlike the main event of UFC 202 the previous night, this contest failed to live up to the hype. With the exception of an RKO on the announce table, Lesnar physically dominated and abused a 12 time world champion. Now this is not unheard of, a similar fate was endured by 15 time world champion John Cena a few years ago. However with Cena seemingly taking time away from WWE, the destruction of Orton belittled Smackdown’s only other marquee star. With the Miz holding the Intercontinental title and Dolph Ziggler falling short once again, the blue brand surely needs to push AJ Styles to the top-level and challenging for the WWE title to give their top prize credibility.
Anyway, back to Lesnar v Orton. The conclusion of the match was shocking and unexpected, even to long-term fans. There was no escaping the obvious. Lesnar caught Orton with an elbow to the head which split him open hard. If that was indeed the intended finish then it was a bold move. Since the move to the TV-PG rating WWE’s output has been significantly watered down with blood loss an obvious absentee. So for the main event on the second biggest show of the year to be stopped in this manner was unexpected to say the least. It was quite grizzly too as Orton clutched his head and when eventually Lesnar was pulled off the third generation superstar he was prone in a pool of his own blood. To complete the finale a F5 was delivered to Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon, which will inevitably lead to a storyline suspension. Brock Lesnar’s limited dates contract means that he’ll have some time off, possibly get in another UFC bout and return around Royal Rumble for Wrestlemania season. As a result, this main event achieved nothing whatsoever other than a mildly entertaining watch. Like the majority of Summerslam it was therefore a disappointment.
With the exception of the AJ Styles and John Cena match, which was spectacular, the rest of the card could be described as average at best. Sasha Banks failed to defend her women’s title as a back injury necessitated her dropping the strap back to Charlotte. During the match Banks took a nasty looking bump off the turnbuckle which could easily have broken her neck. It’s no wonder she’s injured her back based on that evidence. None of the other championship matches were much to write home about. One of them didn’t even happen as Rusev and Roman Reigns brawled without actually having a match, robbing those who had bought the event on PPV of seeing another title up for grabs. A new addition to the Championship scene also debuted at Summerslam as the Universal Championship belt was unveiled.
This new title is not just ridiculous sounding, a champion of the entire universe, but now also looks terrible. It is so odd that the current Intercontinental title belt is an old version but at least it has a unique look to it. Now the WWE World, WWE Universal and WWE Women’s championships are almost identical with the only major differentiation being the colouring of the strap. I don’t have a problem with the consistent design but the red leather ruins it for me. What is more important however, and has rightly been pointed out by Mick Foley online, is that two competitors at the top of their game put on a good match for it.
Although good the match was a little disappointing, there’s no getting around that. The first time Finn Balor and Seth Rollins had met in the ring was hoped to have had instant chemistry but although exciting and entertaining it just lacked a little something. As it has turned out Finn Balor suffered a shoulder injury early on and incredibly popped the dislocated joint back in within seconds. However, this did not seem to hamper his performance. The capacity crowd also seemed more concerned with voicing their displeasure to the appearance of the new belt than following the action in the ring which killed the atmosphere. The moment that Balor won the title should’ve been met with a deafeningly positive reaction. Sadly that reaction was absent. I had concluded that the PPV debut of the Demon couldn’t possibly end in failure. Perhaps the crowd had also reached this verdict. It set things up nicely for a series of Rollins/Balor classics as Seth fails to overcome the Demon, elevating the myth of this dark side of Finn Balor. Depressingly we have now been denied this feud as news broke that Finn would be spending months on the sidelines following surgery.
On Raw just 24 hours after winning the title, Finn Balor relinquished it, causing the intended plan for the next few weeks to be ripped up and a hastily arranged series of matches worked out to crown a new champion. I am a big fan of Seth Rollins. Like most of the WWE Universe I am keen to cheer him despite his persistent heel character. But his buckle/throw powerbomb has not only caused the neck injury that retired Sting but has also embarrassed the WWE by injuring one of the company’s most exciting new talents. The curb stomp was replaced by the Pedigree as that was deemed too violent a move and surely now the buckle bomb has to be culled too.
Following three nights in a row at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn there needs to be a time for reflection. Both rosters need to scramble together and analyse who is left without suspension. As discussed injuries have also struck with even Samoa Joe breaking his jaw at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II. The Dudley Boyz have retired too. But such is the fast paced turn around of the business the show must go on. Bayley made her debut on Raw. Nicki Bella is back and thought to be joining Smackdown. The blue brand will also now start building for their Backlash PPV which starts with Smackdown Live tonight…
Update: Smackdown Live
Opening the show it was announced that the blue brand would have new tag team and women’s titles to be crowned at the Backlash PPV. Continuing the pattern identified by WWE the new belts match the current ones on the Raw brand but with a change to the colours, incorporating the blue of Smackdown. Personally I prefer the blue, particularly on the silver penny tag title design.
The episode saw Nicki Bella get beaten up by Carmella, more Heath Slater related irritating comedy and set up an intriguing encounter between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. There was also the implication that a Shane McMahon v Brock Lesnar stunt match could be on the cards. I also noticed that David Otunga said during commentary, on two separate and unrelated occasions, that “desperate times call for desperate measures”. Otunga is like a confused and bewildered pensioner. Spouting total nonsense. Yet Jerry Lawler is reduced to pre-show duty.
As I hoped AJ Styles was rewarded for his Summerslam performance with a title match. He also proved his worth by defeating Dolph Ziggler in the show’s main event. Styles will now challenge Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship at Backlash. Perhaps by then that title belt might have got a blue updated strap.
As the 31st Olympic Games drew to a close in Rio de Janeiro it is time to reflect on the latest instalment of the so-called ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. Prior to the event the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IAAF faced their biggest crisis in recent memory. The host country itself had safety concerns with the spread of the Zika virus and faced questions regarding financing and the water quality in Guanabara Bay. Yet despite all these issues the competitive action has spoken for itself, providing gripping tension, explosive excitement and unforgettable moments.
With the Games fast approaching an investigation found state sponsored doping in Russia bringing into doubt their participation. Despite the findings, the IOC refused to grab the opportunity and impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes, a mistake the IPC did not make. Instead individual sport’s governing bodies would make the decision regarding Russian participants. As a result Russia acquired a total of 56 medals, placing them fourth in the medal table. It is impossible not to ponder the legitimacy of these medals. Russian athletes are having samples retested and are being stripped of medals from Beijing 2008 and recently shot putter Evgeniia Kolodko lost her London 2012 silver medal. Those elevated to receive medals long after the event have been robbed of their moment to stand on the podium and see their national flag raised for them. Drug cheats ruin it for everyone. Justin Gatlin’s failure to reach the 200m final felt like justice but he leaves Rio having taken silver in the 100m. He has been banned not once but twice for doping offences but is still allowed to compete. If the Lance Armstrong saga proved anything it is that dopers are often ahead of the testers. The presence of Gatlin and Russian athletes jeopardises the sport and unfortunately with the golden poster boy from Jamaica appearing for the final time this process of spectator apathy could be accelerated.
Usain Bolt is now unquestionably a legend. The triple treble of gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay is a feat which is incredibly unlikely to be bettered. He is not just a phenomenal athlete but the humblest of men. Bolt is a showman. Box office. A man that transcends athletics. His record at the Olympics is unheard of but all achieved without anything other than natural ability, most notably his stride length. It is no coincidence that when he was competing the stadiums were at their fullest. Unfortunately not all events were as well populated by spectators.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Rio 2016 were the numbers of empty seats at events. The reality of hosting the Games in a country gripped by rampant poverty, plus the enormous geographical difficulties resulted in the poor ticket sales. In contrast, London 2012 saw millions of tickets for every event fail to match demand. Brazil had also hosted the FIFA World Cup only two years earlier and with the threat of the Zika virus deterring potential visitors further, some of the biggest successes were played out against a background of empty seats.
One of the most exciting events in the early stages of the Olympics was the Rugby 7s tournament. Rugby Union had not been included in the Olympic Games since 1924 and in that 92 year gap the seven aside game had become the perfect competition to complete inside three days. The combination of 14 minute matches, incredibly fast athletes and stunning tries made for two riveting tournament for the medals. Few are likely to forget the tension of Team GB’s epic quarter final battle with Argentina, Japan defeating New Zealand, the Australian women overcoming their trans-Tasman rivals or Fiji’s offloading masterclass to seal their own historic gold medal triumph. Team GB’s women fell short in the final stages, failing to claim a bronze medal but the Men’s team, brought together over the summer, did take away a spectacular silver. This would prove to be just one of a record haul of medals for Team GB.
After the incredible achievements of Team GB at London 2012 few imagined that it could be matched, especially without the backing of home support. But yet Team GB managed to not only match but then to exceed all expectations. Their 67 medals edged the 65 achieved in 2012. 27 golds also placed GB second in the medal table, delivering a bloody nose to traditional powerhouse China. In a number of interviews athletes praised the contribution that funding from the National Lottery has made. In the brutal reality of medals equal funding, performances like this prove that the strategy works. It was only 20 years ago that Team GB left Atlanta with only a solitary gold medal. The transformation is astonishing. Not only have the athletes themselves savoured their moment of glory but thousands of miles away so did the British public.
Despite the time difference millions watched on as incredible moments became etched in history as Mo Farrah, Jade Jones, Andy Murray and Nicola Adams retained their titles. Those were just a few of our stars but contributions came from a wide variety of sports. Team GB picked up medals in the Velodrome, on the athletics track, on water, in the water, in the boxing ring and at the Gymnastics. That isn’t even a comprehensive list. The gripping elation of the penalty shootout victory for the women’s hockey team no doubt provided the highlight to many people’s Friday night. For me the most emotional gold medal victories came for Charlotte Dujardin and her legendary horse Vallegro, in his last competition, and Nick Skelton. At his seventh Olympic Games the 58 year old won individual showjumping gold after a tense six-way jump off. Stood on the podium the emotion took hold and the man who once retired after breaking his neck finally had his well-deserved moment.
Whilst for many in Great Britain London 2012 will forever be the greatest Olympic games ever, without doubt Rio 2016 has been the greatest for our athletes. Team GB exceeded expectations and proved that our small island is still a country to be reckoned with in sporting competition. In Tokyo in 2020, anything could be possible…
The critics have been pretty scathing about this latest offering from the DC comic universe whilst fans have been very vocal with their enjoyment and aggressive towards those who have not shared their opinions. As is always my policy, only by viewing the piece can comment be made. So I have watched it and have thus formulated my own opinions. However I have found myself falling off the fence towards the opinions shared by critics.
The following will include a number of spoilers so do not hamper your own enjoyment by reading on if you intend on watching the film yourself.
Following on so quickly from the dud that was ‘Batman vs Superman’, released mere months ago, comes ‘Suicide Squad’ a tale about a group of villains from the DC Universe coming together for a special mission for the good guys, who are of course the US Government. The formulation of this squad is based on the possibility that now Superman is dead another Superman might exist and could potentially not be on the side of the authorities and therefore a terrorist. This Taskforce of unruly and uncontrollable maniacs is supposedly going to be a line of defence against the forces of darkness. It makes as much sense as two good guys (Batman and Superman) going up against each other. That being said the concept has vast potential. Antiheroes receiving the focus for an entire film fits the DC Universe much better than Marvel given the darker tones explored through the comic books and also previous film adaptations such as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Sadly, the final result is nothing but a crushing disappointment.
This is probably an old-fashioned idea but this film needed someone to write the plot and a scene breakdown on a piece of paper. Such a basic act would’ve revealed the well documented glaring structural problems that exist throughout. As expected, the film required a number of scenes introducing the vast cast of characters who would form Taskforce X. These introductions are not balanced in the slightest with numerous flashback sequences and a central focus on Deadshot and Harley Quinn but more of them later. Making the introductions is Amanda Waller, a Government official who has struck upon the nonsensical idea of using the most dangerous criminals to execute dangerous missions. She is deliberately unlikeable to encourage the audience to root for the squad, revisiting conspiracy-fuelled themes of distrust for authority figures.
To be clear however there is no immediate threat that requires the formation of the Suicide Squad. Such is the abysmal plotting, the squad’s formation creates the threat that they end up battling. Amanda Waller manufactures the peril herself as before the team is even formed one of the members goes rogue, the Enchantress.
Cara Delevingne is a model trying to act and frankly it comes across that way. She is the most bland villainess to hang an entire movie on. The key to any good drama is to create peril with an imposing and believable villain. It is no wonder that when it really matters her dialogue is heavily manipulated by voice effects in an attempt to add gravitas and threat which Delevingne is simply incapable of delivering. As the movie reaches is climax the Enchantress has created a Stargate in the sky because magic is the perfect excuse for yet another CGI monstrosity that looks visually impressive but lacks meaning or intelligent thought. Similarly, her faceless soldiers are meaningless fodder to add jeopardy and her brother, another CGI creation which is particularly unconvincing.
Part of the Enchantress’ backstory is that this mythical being, worshipped as a God by an unidentified Central American civilisation, has taken over the body of archaeologist June Moon. She in turn is the love interest of Rick Flag, the military man charged with controlling the unruly Suicide Squad. His character is quite strong, admittedly with questionable motivation but he is a solid presence in the film and shares the lead with the only major actor Will Smith as Deadshot with the two characters providing an engaging double act throughout.
Deadshot is the real lead of the piece, sharing entertains exchanges with Rick Flag. This is unsurprising given the casting of consistent leading man and box office draw, Will Smith. The appearance of such a familiar star does mean that Deadshot’s mask is only worn briefly so as not to conceal the film’s top star. Deadshot does however receive the most attention regarding his backstory. In fact Deadshot receives three introductions all of which are focused on his daughter. Whilst it is of course difficult to be separated from your child the point is excessively laboured and frankly he may be a talented shot but he could always get a job at Wallmart to provide for his daughter instead of choosing the life of the hitman. Fortunately Smith’s ability as the wise-cracking lead, mirroring Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman for Marvel, showcase those skills honed in other summer blockbusters such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. This influence is crucial in making the chaos presented remotely passable for viewers.
Other members of the Suicide Squad receive much less attention. Diablo is particularly interesting, seemingly underestimating his power and ending up incinerating his wife and children, but even this could’ve been presented clearer. Killer Croc is also very well realised but is presented as a simple monster. Similarly, Katana and Boomerang are given very little introduction but the latter is at least particularly entertaining outside of the fight sequences. Shamefully the character of Slipknot is not even introduced properly but appears only to get killed, such is the amateurish plotting to prove a point as to why the squad are participating in this madness. With so many characters it was always a tall order to give them equal coverage but that possibility is extinguished as the limelight is instead hogged by Harley Quinn.
The character of Harley Quinn is intriguing, corrupted by the Joker and choosing to follow in his crazed footsteps. Margot Robbie is tasked with bringing her to the screen and is very entertaining as the pigtailed lunatic. However, Harley is completely over sexualised, bordering on the grotesque mysogynistic. Sexually licking the bars of her cell is one thing but deliberate shots of her hotpants and rear end are simply unnecessary. Her impractical outfit is then maximised by a predictable rain shower which allows for Harley’s entry into a wet t-shirt contest. Whilst I am sure none of the suits involved in constructing this film are even remotely aware of the popularity of Harley Quinn with cosplayers but the sexualised image presented in this film is going to be replicated by teenage girls. As a result all those involved, from the film makers to the distributor, have a responsibility to consider how these images are going to impact on their audience. Another individual hampered by the decisions made regarding their onscreen appearance is the Joker.
Jared Leto’s Joker is an irrelevance in the film. Whereas Ben Affleck’s Batman makes a few cameos over the two hour duration, the Joker can only be described as having an extended cameo. I’m not sure if I was expecting more of him during the film but watching Leto’s portrayal I am grateful that his appearances were limited. He has to provide the worst onscreen version of the Joker ever. It is a modern interpretation but that results in an image conscious gangster, hanging out in nightclubs, covered in bling and tattoos. He is unpredictable and manic, capable of spinning on a razor blade but the Joker’s unpredictability should also extend to his image. The sinister false smile is sadly now only a tattoo on the back of his left hand. Making the Joker look like a typical gangster, save for the green hair, reduces him instead of elevating him above stereotypes. This gangster image therefore smothers what interesting aspects Leto was attempting to bring to the role. The one successful line is when the Joker declares that he is “just going to hurt you, really, really badly”. Leto is stripped back and delivers the line in a truly sinister manner, it is just a shame that there is so little else that matches this high point.
I cannot understand how the final product can possibly be the vision which the director David Ayer had set out with when embarking on the project. It is a textbook example of a studio corrupting their own output based on the reactions of the public to other movies. For example jokes are inserted, not skilfully but in a manner akin to dropping an anvil onto an orchestra and expecting a symphony, because Deadpool’s wit entertained audiences. Similarly, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ featured a brilliant soundtrack, presented as a mix-tape which entertains both Star Lord during the story as well as the watching audience but the retro tracks also juxtapose so well with the futuristic alien visuals. Suicide Squad however just drops recognisable tunes into the edit with no connection whatsoever to the visuals. The most appropriate word to describe it is ‘cynical’.
DC have been playing catchup with Marvel’s movie offerings but instead of embracing the differences they have simply attempted to replicate their successful formula. Suicide Squad is a missed opportunity that is so poorly executed but because it has drawn massive business at the Box Office it will be declared a success. The standalone Wonder Woman movie looks promising and hopefully will not be clouded by the influence or appearance of another superhero to distract from the plot. DC’s inevitable response to Marvel’s Avengers will of course follow with the Justice League movie. Given the deeply flawed offerings of ‘Batman vs Superman’ and now ‘Suicide Squad’ the Justice League movie has to be approached with a significant amount of trepidation.