Tag Archives: Jai Courtney

Suicide Squad

“That is a whole lot of pretty. And a whole lot of crazy.”

As I write this, it’s 3am on Suicide Squad release day. I’m absolutely exhausted and I’m in desperate need of sleep. The problem is, I’m fresh back from the midnight screening of my most anticipated movie of 2016 and I’m all hyped up on the pure adrenaline rush that I just saw.

I promise, I’ll try to be as coherent as possible.

The Skwad‘s story is a dead simple one. Seven or eight criminals, all varying degrees of nasty-bastard or crazy-nutbag have been brought together by the powers that be to form Task Force X: a literal suicide squad that the government can throw in at the deep end with complete deniability if something goes wrong.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just as they’ve wrapped up the back stories, along comes a shifty looking supernatural thing that means to destroy humanity and rule the world. Fitted with explosive low-jacks and threatened with imminent death, the squad are airlifted into Midway City. Their mission: traverse the ruined streets to rescue and evacuate a high value target, and take out the apocalyptic threat in the heart of the city.

Adding to their woes is world-famous psychopath and world creepy laugh champion, The Joker (Jared Leto). Caring little for the squad’s mission, the crazed maniac just wants to be on the same side of the prison walls as his sweetheart and Task Force X member Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). As such, he is inserting himself into the squad’s lives whether they want him their or not. It’s all fun and games if you’re a bad guy.

This is still early on in DC’s extended cinematic universe, but my biggest fear going in was that I’m not a comic book reader. I had the same issues when we started getting invested more in the MCU and I had no more than a passing acquaintance with some of these characters. It’s the same with DC. Outside of Batman, The Joker and the many and varied Batman villains from the films, the only knowledge I have of a lot of these characters comes from playing the Arkham video games and DC’s TV universe.

So when poor reviews (the only time I’ll mention those) poured in this week and director David Ayer – a real long-time favourite of mine – came out and gave the infuriating “I made it for the fans” quote, I was concerned that I was gonna be left out in the cold, not knowing what the hell was going on nor who anyone was.

Luckily, this wasn’t the case at all. In the opening minutes, we are introduced to the ragtag group of criminals in a way that you might expect from an Expendables movie or Borderlands video game. Each member of the team gets their own little over the top vignette to give us a look at who they are and why they’re here. And man, what an impressive cast we get.

A quick rundown I reckon, but you don’t need much more. Impressively, the film gives you everything you need and you came here for a review, not a bullet-pointed list.

Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most prominent character. The man that never misses is a killer-for-hire, but is easily manipulated into doing as he’s told by the powers that be; and man does that make Mr Smith mad! Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker are the King and Queen of Gotham City. With one of the pair of psychos in prison and the other trying to free them from the government’s clutches, their story (and their chemistry) is, as expected, a highlight of the film.

Theirs isn’t the only exploited relationship here. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is a decorated special forces colonel who is dragged in as Task Force X’s on-the-ground leader. Whether or not he agrees with them, he always follows his orders. In no small part because of his relationship with Dr June Moone. Cara Delavingne plays the good doctor, whose body is inhabited by the eons old Enchantress; a character deserving of her own horror movie she’s so spooky. Jay Hernandez gets to sink his teeth into Diablo, a pyrokinetic former gang member haunted by the deaths that he’s caused. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s reptilian Killer Croc is the muscle of the group. A sewer dwelling monster that seems almost unstoppable, Croc is a product of the way he’s been treated because of how he looks (absolutely NOT a political statement, I’m sure). Jai Courtney is almost unrecognisable as thief and killer Captain Boomerang; and Karen Fukuhara brings up the rear as Kitana, a deadly martial artist with a soul stealing sword and close friend of Rick Flag. Like I said, ragtag!

Running the show though, is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. A ruthless, heartless woman who can manipulate anyone to to what she wants. Compared to this vicious bitch, Task Force X are a Boy Scout troop.

This massive ensemble can lead to problems, especially for a film this early on in a universe that we are expected to invest in. Everyone has a backstory and only a small percentage of the cinema going audience are going to know it before the opening titles roll. It means you have to get me, a film lover but a comic book virgin, invested in your characters without sacrificing too much screen time or turning your film into a PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, I think Ayer (who was also on writing duties for our anti-heroes) gets the balance just right. Mixing in an occasional flashback with a little dialogue-driven exposition during the lulls in action to make sure that by the time the credits roll, we are all caught up and more or less on an even footing with the comic book lovers that came with you to see the film.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have problems. In fact, I’m almost – ALMOST – feeling a little forgiving of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice after watching Suicide Squad. The film has many of the same problems as its predecessor and I’m starting to think that a large part of it is studio interference and not just director incompetence. I mean, Bats Vs. Supes definitely suffers from having a rubbish director and, in my humble and slightly David Ayer fanboy opinion, the Squad doesn’t have that issue. But the film has been edited down into a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, not by any stretch of the imagination, but there are very obviously bits missing and evidence of chopping and changing that messes with the film’s pace a little.

Luckily, a competent writer and director has led the charge for this film and he’s clearly taken a hands on role in the editing of this film so it’s not been shredded to within an inch of its life like the previous entry in the franchise has.

While I thought he was probably the weakest character in the film, Leto’s Joker was interesting to watch. He bounced almost incoherently between quiet psychopath and feral monster. Both iterations are fun to watch but he gets woefully little screen time to build the character. That said, it’s not his film. It’s his introduction to this Extended Universe and I am looking forward to seeing his character grow.

On the other side of that coin though, Harley Quinn is portrayed brilliantly by Robbie. In a role that could be easily overplayed and annoying (or worse, over-sexualised and used simply as teenage masturbatory material) she’s been written so well and portrayed so brilliantly that every flash of that typical hyper-sexualisation, that would be simply gross in most instances, is owned by Quinn. It’s her doing it and she’s not just the daft doll she pretends to be. Every overtly sexual act is empowering for her – and I bloody love her for that!

Everyone stands out though. Every character is fun to watch. Smith’s Deadshot is pretty much just Will Smith; wise-cracking, smart-talking and always cool to watch. Delavingne’s Enchantress is creepy and scary. I would love to see DC break the mould and do a full on horror film prequel for the 6000 year old witch. The same goes for everyone. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Rick Flag; the whole bunch are fun to watch. I would love to see more of Kitana, but that’s my love of watching great martial arts on screen talking. And a part of me that thinks she needed just a little bit more screen time.

I would kill for some more Diablo. Jay Hernandez blew me away as the gang leader that is trying desperately to live in peace, regretting every life he’s snuffed out with his gift. His quiet and reserved demeanour, juxtaposed with what happens when he lets himself fight with his new team is a beautiful thing to watch and I will queue up for every single film that DC want to put this man in. He’s amazing.

The film is such a tremendous amount of fun, you just can’t help but smile your way through. It’s certainly helped by having one of the most fun “various artists” soundtracks this year. The music compliments the film brilliantly.

Ok, there is one jarring section at the beginning of the film where, and I didn’t realise this was even a thing, but the film somehow smash-cuts the bloody soundtrack together giving us three very different tracks in just a few minutes, one after the other. Overall, though, a very good effort on the licensed music front.

I still think DC has a long way to go to be able to solidify this Extended Universe they are trying for. In the hands of lesser filmmakers these films could fail miserably. Batman Vs. Superman is testament to that.

Like I said, Suicide Squad shares many of the same problems, but competent filmmaking helps a lot. However, you know what helps it more? The film is fun. It’s non-stop, guilty pleasure style action. Roll on the blu-ray release, it’ll take pride of place on my shelf right next to Punisher: War Zone.

Terminator Genisys

Whilst it’s great to see Arnie back in the leather jacket, and although it’s an improvement on the previous two films in the franchise, Terminator Genisys is far from reaching the impossible heights that James Cameron set.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

terminator genisysSet in the year 2028, Joel Kinnaman plays Murphy, a brutally murdered cop who — wait a second. Sorry. I appear to have started this article off by reviewing the 2014 remake of RoboCop. Let me try again. Ahem…

Space. The final frontier. Or rather the first of many frontiers for director JJ Abrams as he and Chris Pine — Oh man! I appear to have done it again. I’ll try once more.

With a surprising and disappointing lack of Colin Farrell getting his ass to Mars, the Total Recall reboot is — Oops!! This is trickier than it looks.

OK. For real this time.

It’s very rare in Hollywood for a much beloved franchise to get a reboot some years later and turn it into a huge success. For every Jurassic World, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there are ten alternatives. After The Halcyon Company fought hard to acquire the rights for the Terminator series, they produced the bore-fest that was 2009’s Terminator Salvation. Alas, it was critically panned and the company folded not long after the film’s release due to various financial difficulties, despite making a profit on McG’s futuristic sci-fi actioner.

Thus with the rights to the series not reverting back to James Cameron until 2018, we now have Terminator Genisys (that’s without the colon in the title, unless you’re from America in which case you do get a colon), the fifth instalment of the franchise that began way back in 1984 with Cameron’s original movie. Although an argument could be made for placing this as the sequel to the original The Terminator, rather than the fifth in a series, and in the process wiping T2: Judgement Day, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation completely out of cannon. Not to mention the short lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They’re all ultimately pointless as director Alan Taylor (and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) retcon the entire job lot.

Or… do they?

You see, the plot and the placement of Genisys within the sequence of movies is almost as convoluted as the history of who has owned the franchise itself at various points over the past 30 years. Its opening scenes are almost carbon copies of the original, albeit with less visible buttocks and silhouetted Arnold Schwarzedongs as this is a 12A certificate film, after all. It also cuts out the Kyle Reese narrated opening scene of a Terminator drone flying over a dystopian future wasteland, kicking off instead immediately with a T-800 (played by an Arnie body-double) arriving in 1984 with a flash of light shortly before approaching a group of punks on Washday Eve. Then things get a little less familiar. Waiting for our original Terminator is a visibly older version of the killing machine, dubbed “Pops”, and the two duke it out in a bout of fisticuffs.

As it transpires, this “good” Terminator, Pops, was mysteriously sent back in time even earlier to await the appearance of the 84 Terminator in a plot device that sends ripples through the timeline, distorting all manner of logical and illogical story lines. Jumping from the altered past to the future-future, we’re then treated to a show of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and John Connor (Jason Clarke) taking out Skynet in the final battle. An enactment of an event that the original Kyle Reese (in Cameron’s movie) talked about occurring. Only now, it isn’t the final battle, as Skynet had one last trick up its sleeve. Back to the past, and Reese (now also naked and in need of a hobo’s trousers) is on the run from yet another Terminator in a 1984 that is unlike the one he expected. Waiting for him is a dreaded T-1000, played by the often under-appreciated Lee Byung-hun doing his best Robert Patrick impression. Apparently, the unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Reese went back to save was now never a waitress at all, but is in fact a heavily armed survivor ready to take the impending apocalypse head on. She’s also apparently fully prepared for Kyle’s arrival and his involvement in her future, and invites Reese to come with her if he wants to live. And so begins the unravelling of an entire woolly-jumper-only-wardrobe’s full of threads after one tiny quizzical tug.

I realise that all sounds rather confusing, so to help you understand all this, here’s a quick summary. You ready? Stuff that we don’t really know about yet (wait for the sequel) has now happened in the alternate-past (1973) that has affected the current-past (1984) leading to alterations in the future-future (2029) that have changed Judgement Day in the prior-past (the mid 1990’s) to the new-present (2017). Clear as day, right?

And yet, despite this convoluted soft reboot, struggling to grasp when and what is taking place is not actually that difficult. In fact, whilst you’re watching what is yet another generic blockbuster blueprint executed to the required standard for a generic summer blockbuster box-ticking exercise, having to think about how each set piece fits alongside the other is a welcome relief. If you’re worried about whether you will be able to keep up, then have no fear. Exposition is your friend. “Mr Exposition” to be precise, played by JK Simmons, who helpfully pops up every so often to either personally explain what’s just happened, or to ask the other characters in the film if they wouldn’t mind quickly filling him (i.e. us) in on everything, just in case we missed it. You might mistake that for me complaining about Simmons. I’m not. I only wish he were in it more and had better dialogue to work with. The same could be said for Lee Byung-hun. Both actors were incredibly underused.

My major beef with this fifth instalment isn’t even to do with the acting, which a lot of other reviewers seem to have taken issue with. Jai Courtney – who I’m not ashamed to admit to have defended in public before – he in particular is used as a stick to beat the film with and I’m not entirely sure why. After speaking to Failed Critics writer Nick Lay about it, he told me that people dislike Courtney because “he just seems to be the type of lead that comes off a dull production line”. I get that. When you see him compared to actors like Sam Worthington, Taylor Kitsch etc, I totally see where folks are coming from. He’s good looking, well built, gradually getting bigger and better roles in bigger and better movies (or at least more expensive movies) without the average Joe being able to recognise his name if you sent them a CV with photo and portfolio of work. But still, I like him. He’s perhaps not made the best choice of film yet (let’s not talk about A Good Day To Die Hard or I, Frankenstein ever again), but he’s got charisma and can genuinely act, unlike a lot of his comparators. Like a lot of things about Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney is fine.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor is fine. Regardless of the fact she spends more time literally kicking arse than Linda Hamilton in the second Terminator film, she still seems less like an arse-kicking heroine and more like an adequate requirement for the story. But she’s fine. No better or worse than she’s been in Game of Thrones, for example. Jason Clarke (no relation), playing a slightly larger role than was perhaps expected in this time-hopping fiasco, is also fine. No better or worse than he’s been in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty or last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example.

I don’t really care what anyone else says about “The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator”, “Pops”, “Uncle Bob” or whatever you want to call him, it’s always great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the role. In the atrocious Terminator 3, he remained one of the best things in it, both in terms of his performance and having the best individual lines and scenes. Again here, he’s the outstanding performer. There’s call-backs aplenty to the more humorous wise-cracking T2 interpretation of the character, with the third film’s goofyness toned down considerably. Expanding on the idea that he potentially has the capacity to not just fake human emotions in order to better integrate himself into society and ultimately infiltrate human rebel bases, but actually organically acquire and increase his own emotional depth over time, effecting his decisions, ties quite nicely into the overall arc of the movie reflecting Skynet’s ultimate aim. It might come across as corny, but have you seen Judgement Day recently? Exactly. Original film aside, they’ve all had their fair share of cheese.

Technically speaking, Terminator Genisys hits the majority of the right notes. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s also not boring. It makes you laugh whilst simultaneously turning the action set pieces into progressively bigger and louder (and usually dumber) old fashioned fun. Sure it might sound a bit complex at first glance, but it’s actually a bog standard A-Z time-travel 12A family blockbuster. And that is its biggest problem. There are zero risks taken here. If there’s any part of the plot that veers from the already tried-and-trusted big-budget formula, I must’ve missed it. Having not just one, but a number of high-tech killing machines who stop at nothing until you are dead, it should be far more menacing a movie than it actually is. Instead, any moments of potential darkness are bizarrely steered well clear of, either through deus ex machina or – more often than not – characters just doing the complete opposite of the easiest / simplest solution in order to prolong events.

Need to kill Sarah Connor? Need to save Sarah Connor? Need to have certain events still happen to ensure the future works the way you want? Need to change the past radically to keep things how they are? It’s all a load of complete and utter nonsense that follows neither rhyme nor reason. Complete and utter gibberish with things happening simply for the sake of continuing the story longer than would realistically be necessary. But, I didn’t hate it. It’s dumb, but so are so many other movies of this ilk.

Come five years time, if somebody asks me whether [scene A] happened in Terminator Genisys, Star Trek Into Darkness, Jurassic World or Men In Black III, I won’t have the foggiest. It’s as indistinguishable from the next $155m movie as any other before it. However, if you scratch hard enough, you’ll be able to glimpse the relatively decent concept buried underneath the astonishingly stupid and generic exterior. I can think of worse ways to spend two hours. Hell, I can think of two worse films within the actual franchise that this film belongs to!

Insurgent

A step-up from Divergent, if nothing else, Insurgent still isn’t compelling or really any good.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

51587.cr2I can remember nothing about Divergent.  I remember that it was terrible and boring, and that a character in it voluntarily calls himself “Four” which makes any scene in which somebody calls out to him resemble that of an overly emotional balloted deli counter, but I don’t remember any specifics about the film.  I couldn’t tell you any character names besides Tris and Four – and, look, I’m sorry, I really did try taking his name seriously this time, but I just can’t, I can’t – I couldn’t tell you any plot points, I couldn’t tell you any personality traits of any of the characters, I couldn’t tell you anything that happened in the finale that, direct quote from my review, “is practically the film ticking off the last free spots on its [genre] bingo card in quick succession”.  Nothing.

That, I think, might be the biggest problem with Divergent.  It’s a bad boring movie, but it is so utterly blandly forgettable that I cannot remember a single damn thing about it besides its bizarrely strong cast and the feeling of having had my time wasted.  It didn’t even have the decency to be interestingly or entertainingly bad, with the exception of the ridiculous and mostly inexplicable nature of the Faction system that its world is based around, because it was too busy blandly cribbing from every single successful, and even some of the non-successful, Young Adult franchise ever in the hopes that money will magically fall from the sky and into the studio and filmmakers’ laps.  Unfortunately for all, it did (sorta) and so now here’s Insurgent, soon to be followed by Allegiant, Parts 1 & 2 because, hey, why not also steal the “unnecessarily split your last book into two separate films for twice the cash money” part too, eh?

Actually, I’m being unnecessarily mean.  If nothing else, Insurgent is a far better movie than Divergent ever was.  Where that movie plodded and dragged onwards with no end in sight, Insurgent moves with some semblance of a pace and clearly builds to a logical end game that doesn’t feel like it takes multiple goddamn days to reach.  The scope expands – which stretches the already thin narrative credibility to beyond breaking point – which managed to keep me somewhat engaged, even whilst the film mostly just loops back on itself constantly, and with the exceptions of Kate Winslet – who was already checked out in the first film and who is acted off the screen by Ansel Elgort in a sentence I never thought I would ever type – and Shailene Woodley – whose patience for this series visibly drains the further into the film we get – the cast is still trying their damndest to make the crap they’re given work.

I mean, it’s still not a good film, I cannot make that more abundantly clear, but it’s not offensively boring, this time.  You know when you’re watching something on TV and you’re not bored but you’re also not completely engaged?  Like, you don’t connect emotionally in the slightest with what’s going on and you’re really not bothered about what happens, but you also have absolutely no urge to change the channel or check your phone excessively or what have you?  That’s the level that Insurgent is operating on, which is at least a step up from Divergent’s mind-numbing boringness, even though it’s got so little going on and is spread so narratively thin that it’s basically the final third of Divergent that was withheld because DOLLA DOLLA BILLS, Y’ALL!!

The big problem, the thing that continues to kill this series the further along it goes because it becomes more and more apparent, with its refusal to even attempt fixing it feeling even more like a deliberate act of pure laziness, is that Insurgent still has no characters.  None of its cast have any definable personalities, nobody goes on any real arc, and most beings (which is the best way that I can describe these lumps of mould) have no consistency at all.  Characters hot-foot between allegiances as the plot demands with no adequate explanation, many characters are excessively angsty for no particular reason, and the finale of the film occurs as if Tris is being told off-camera in-universe that she needs to do something real stupid because otherwise the film won’t have an ending.

It’s all best encompassed by Tris herself, our nominal protagonist, who is less a character and more a blank slate who has a whole bunch of emotional problems that the story’s target audience might have thrown onto her.  Unlike, say, Katniss Everdeen, Tris’ near-total lack of agency, with the exception of maybe two instances late on in the film, has no narrative or thematic reason other than lazy-ass storytelling, that only serves to call attention to the fact that I have no idea what she wants or who she is as a person outside of the plot pushing her forward.  I have spent two films and nearly 4 and a half hours in her company and I still have absolutely no idea what makes her tick or what makes her so special – the film’s constant repetition of “She is the one!  The special one!” feels more and more like attempted indoctrination the further and further on it goes.

She is a cipher, nothing more.  This is especially problematic as the final third of the film, which is where Insurgent’s big and incredibly cheap-looking CG action sequences reside, is all about her working through her emotional baggage, her insecurities and fears.  Not one moment of it resonates, though, because it’s all artificial, conflict thrown onto a character without any true grounding through prior character work or actions.  Tris has survivor’s guilt from the last film but it only manifests when the specific sequence of film calls for it, compared to Katniss’ survivor’s guilt which informs her entire character, ditto her desire to not be Divergent and “special” which literally only comes up in one extremely ham-fisted sequence during the film’s first climax before being unceremoniously punted off-screen.

When a character does manage to make an impression, it’s either down to themselves being the equivalent of Saturday morning cartoon villains – Miles Teller, who is better than Hollywood, has a noticeable blast indulging his inner-Draco Malfoy, whilst Sam Worthington Jai Courtney is well-cast as an entertainingly smug prick that the film shuffles off Stage Left way too early – or the actors and actresses just happening to be actors and actresses who have inexplicably decided that this is where they want to pick up their paycheques for a year or two – notable newcomers this time are Daniel Dae Kim as the leader of Candour, Naomi Watts as the leader of the Factionless and also Four’s long-thought dead mother (because OF COURSE), and Octavia Spencer who is the leader of Amity and is third-billed despite being on-screen for about 428 seconds max.  Otherwise, it’s just people-shaped husks doing stuff that’s apparently important but that I never once truly cared about.

Incidentally, if you’re coming to Insurgent in search of more of that sweet insipid stupidity that powered Divergent, then you will get more than your money’s worth by the finale.  It’s the kind of finale that purports to explain things, specifically why The City is ran in the idiotic faction system and why the Divergents are such a big deal, but doesn’t actually explain anything, instead offering the illusion that answers and explanations are being given whilst actually skirting around everything in favour of a separate reveal that is unbelievably stupid.

It also poses the exact opposite problem of Divergent’s ending: where that left more loose ends than a police corruption investigation headed by a corrupt cop, this one leaves no loose ends.  This is An Ending, in the most definite sense one can manage, where everything is tied up and there is really nothing else to do.  The final shot of the film even does what should have been done in the finale of the first film, for crying out loud!  Like, I do not know where Allegiant could go for barely 2 minutes, let alone two 2 hour films!  I also can’t really say I’m excited by this prospect either cos, well, I really don’t care about any of these non-entities masquerading as characters that I’m supposedly supposed to give a crap about.  So, all we’re really going to be doing is coming back to line Summit Entertainment’s pockets with even more cashola.

Again, I don’t strongly dislike Insurgent.  It’s OK.  In its best moments, I could sit and pretend like I was watching a better Young Adult adaptation or sci-fi film – Teller’s Malfoy impression calling to mind Harry Potter, Tris’ occasional extremely unconvincing (can we launch a Kickstarter to rescue a genuinely miserable-looking Shailene Woodley from this franchise, please) rage against the machine reminding me that Mockingjay, Part 2 is out in just 8 too-long months, the simulations being a bargain-basement Matrix – than this Frankenstein’s Monster of a series, and shaving off 20 minutes and having a clear end goal does wonders for the film’s pacing.  However, the plotting is still a mess, the world is still stupid, and there are still no characters, which makes being emotionally invested in anything that goes on a completely fruitless endeavour.

It’s a baby step forward and nothing more, is what I’m getting at.  Making the presentation less drearily dull without actually fixing the underlying problems that caused that symptom.  The equivalent of putting a child’s Band-Aid over a gaping shotgun wound.  The Divergent Series still has given no adequate reason as to why it should exist, other than to give some studio execs, a seemingly creatively-bankrupt novelist, and otherwise talented actors a nice large steady paycheque for four-or-so years, and Insurgent gives no evidence of that changing any time soon.

But, hey, I wasn’t bored stiff this time.  That’s progress, I guess?

Callum Petch will kiss the ground where you kneel.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!