HUGH JACKMAN AS THE WOLVERINE

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When I was a kid there was one superhero and his name was Superman and as played by Christopher Reeve he was a giant. There was something noble and good to admire about the man but there was nothing square about his decency. It was something to aspire to and there was a knowing eyebrow raised at times. Looking back it is a startling performance of little gestures, he sold Clark Kent being unrecognisable with body language more than the glasses he hid behind and there was anger and humour there in the character too. Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Tobey Maguire, Thomas Jane, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and certainly not David Hasselhoff have ever measured up to that performance and that hero. Hugh Jackman is no different but perhaps that is a time and a place. I’m no longer a kid and maybe if you were a kid who grew up on these films Logan opening this month will have some poignancy for you. Because never has an actor performed over 17 years in 9 film appearances the same superhero. An achievement in itself, for my money Hugh Jackman was always a great actor in the role in films that sometimes didn’t deserve that greatness. With that in mind let’s take a look back at these films, performances and overall sex appeal throughout the years. With these shirtless shots I should buy untold credit to post girls in lingerie for several reviews. ;-P

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X-MEN (2000) ***

The Performance: Jackman had done a few indie hits here in Australia and was performing Oklahoma on the West End when he got wrangled to replace Dougray Scott (his filming for Mission Impossible 2 had ran over schedule) at the last minute and thus a star and let’s not forget a sex symbol was born. Wolverine was always the cool anti-hero Han Soloesque figure of the X-Men and while never plumbing the depths of Wolverine’s painful past here Jackman delivered the vibe of the character well. His chemistry and protectiveness of Anna Paquin as Rogue was the heart of the film and foreshadows in part his relationship with Laura (Dafne Keen) in Logan.

The Film Itself: Not long after the Batman series of films had stalled, The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer kicked off the next era of comic book films which have become the most dominant form of blockbusters in the past decade as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have faded away. The 90s had seen two great cartoon series based off old comic book storylines in the form of the X-Men and Spider-Man. Two years later Tobey Maguire put on the spandex and we were off to the races. If you ask me the first great comic book film of that decade was Spider-Man 2 but it all starts here and it is a solid fun film brimming with potential for the sequels.

Shirtless Rating: Jackman getting hired late in the game supposedly meant he didn’t quite achieve the look he wanted for this film. In recent interviews he’s even pointed to photos and remarked how he’s quite not cut enough. Image result for hugh jackman wolverineYeah very disappointing Mr Jackman.

X-MEN 2 (2003) ***1/2

The Performance: Jackman was pushing to show off more of that berserker rage and when the X-Mansion is attacked and he’s the lone adult defending it you see a bit of that. Brian Cox’s performance as a pseudo father figure Colonel Stryker is brilliant and we start to see more of Logan’s aimlessness caused by not knowing his own origins. Jackman was still in a happy blockbuster but there is a heart to the performance and him clearly taking more of a centre stage role as the star. Special note to his stunt work where he did jump off that stair case onto some waiting mattresses below. To have his arms outstretched like that takes some discipline.Related image

The Film Itself: Easily the best of the first trilogy and arguably the best X-Men film full stop. More a chase film with characters racing to the next predicament, there’s not too much character development but Xavier has a nice turn as a captor, everybody else is on fine form and the action is first rate. At the time, the opening setpiece in the White House was a game changer. I saw this film 5 times at the cinemas with different groups of friends, I’ve only done that for one other film.

Image result for x men 2 wolverineShirtless Rating: 34 year old Jackman was on fine form here even nudeing up for the ladies and fellas that way inclined. Think of all the chicken cutlets he had to endure for your entertainment.

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X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND (2006) ***

The Performance: Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen’s Halle Berry’s stocks were pretty high at this point and so they feature pretty well in this film but Berry never got a fair shake at the part and I never got over wanting them to have cast Angela Bassett as Storm. Famke Janssen came to the fore and whatever the film lacks, Jackman and her played well the pain of loving someone but knowing they were dangerous. That ending is truly operatic in emotion and scale.

The Film Itself: We’ll never know what could’ve been if Bryan Singer has gotten to complete the trilogy but I think Brett Ratner did fine. Some things are cheesy or appear low rent but he got the finale right and he let his actors play the roles they had established. Who doesn’t feel something when that house comes toppling down. This was made back in the day when studios did trilogies not shared universes and there’s some emotional weight and a sense of finality here. In some ways  the series has been always struggling to want to go back and nail the Phoenix story so we’ll see what happens but I myself yearn for the day when doing trilogies meant you wrapped up characters stories.Image result for x-men last stand finale

Shirtless Rating: Jackman brings the rain again but that haircut ain’t quite right. This would be the last time Jackman played Wolverine where I didn’t have Karen in my life. I wonder what she made of these first three films?

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X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) *1/2

The Performance: Jackman is every bit the movie star here in his first solo effort, getting into rip roaring shape, assembling younger beefcake all around him like a group of back-up dancers and playing a range of emotions. It’s just…well you don’t really feel it. Fatigue had set in, this gave us all the answers we ever wanted about the character and his past but very little reasonated and while I love Jackman I’m putting some of that at his feet as the star.

The Film Itself: Easily the worst of the bunch but there are some good things here. We see Logan had a painful childhood, the war montage is good and Ryan Reynolds was funny in his first scene and I like the line “I come with you, I’m coming for blood. No law, no code of conduct. You point me in the right direction, you get the hell out of my way. ”

Shirtless Rating: Jackman seemed to step up the routine even more as he got older looking more and more ripped. Here he re-created scenes from X-Men 2 around about the time he turned 40. During his nuddy run I looked over at Karen practically inhaling popcorn as she watched transfixed at the images onscreen. I didn’t have the heart to tell her in the moment CGI seemed to be being used. Shame really.Image result for x-men origins wolverineRelated image

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) ***

The Performance: Hugh is essentially in this in a very celebrated cameo. PG-13 films in the U.S. are allowed one F word and Wolverine got it for his 25 second appearance. Long term readers may note, inspired by this I tend to put one swear word in every review. It’s not a rule I strictly enforce but I like the idea of it being an ongoing gag. Anyway the cameo was the epitome of fan service without ruining the film. Loved it.

The Film Itself: Sir Ian McKellen was brilliant as Magneto and at one point there were plans to do an Origins film of him. Instead they recycled some of the plot for that film into this. The best bits are Michael Fassbender as Magneto going around the 1960s like a young James Bond. Fassbender and McAvoy got the relationship right between Charles and Erik. There was also a great subplot with Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and  Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Too bad they just played variations on this in subsequent sequels.

Shirtless Rating: Sadly in the half minute of screentime Jackman doesn’t get his kit off but Karen has helpfully suggested I get the bath scene from Australia in here somewhere so why not here.  hugh jackman GIF

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THE WOLVERINE (2013) ***

The Performance: Every time a new X-Men film came out Jackman would promise he was finally releasing the berserker rage in this one. I’d argue that didn’t really happen until Logan but after his first solo run tanked Jackman put in the hard yards in this sequel. Following his loss at the end of The Last Stand, Jackman perfectly conveys Logan’s grief and need for redemption.

The Film Itself: Directed by James Mangold maybe the finale falls a bit flat, maybe some of the dialogue ain’t great but he’s got a cool sidekick in Yukio (Rila Fukushima), some great lines (once again getting the sole F-bomb of the film at the perfect moment) and the story taking us to Japan. The train sequence looked terrible in the trailers but was fantastic in the film.

Image result for hugh jackman wolverineShirtless Rating: Now 45 Jackman got into even more rip roaring shape. At this point I think Karen was more self conscious when Jackman got shirtless so there was no popcorn devouring this time. Must have been me knowingly turning to her in this scenes with a great big grin on my face and an elbow in her ribs that took her out of the moment. Can’t say for sure.

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) ***

The Performance: After a couple of solo efforts, Logan was back in an ensemble X-Men film for the last time really. Him and Jennifer Lawrence’s prominence on the poster tells you that even after all these years Jackman was enduring as a star like few. He’s charming and cool here as he’s ever been and generous with his co-stars with Bryan Singer returning to the helm.

The Film Itself: Fox’s answer to The Avengers and regarded by many as the best of the series. It’s tougher for men because there are not pays offs here I would have liked but it rights the series, has the famous setpiece with Quicksilver and for all the wonderful spectacle the finale is essentially old friends ironing out their differences. That takes courage, I rate X-Men 2 higher maybe even The Wolverine but this was a good return to form.

Image result for x-men days of future past wolverineShirtless Rating: The man is a machine. This was him in training for the film, if the bar ain’t bending you’re just pretending. Image result for hugh jackman trainingAt one point he bench pressed 136 kilograms. Judging by his nude butt scene he also did a few squats because that 46 year old arse was tight yo!

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) **1/2

The Performance: Essentially re-doing his alkaline lake scenes again but this time better than X-Men Origins. This is the closest you could get to Logan at his most savage without an R Rating and I for one didn’t mind the extended cameo.

The Film Itself: Reviewed on this blog previously, the film fails to draw you in with plots that have already been done before and a villain that mostly fails to engage. Bryan Singer has delivered better in the past and I don’t know where the series goes from here but there are possibilities. In a way the series started off as a film adaptation of a cartoon series that it has mostly now done the plots of. It might be time to head off in new directions but if they bring back some of the cast here I would like to tie up some storylines like Beast and Mystique.

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Shirtless Rating: Still looking good Wolvie and who doesn’t like a man with his shirt off and his helmet on.

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Logan (2017) ***1/2

The Performance: Hugh Jackman finally delivered everything he promised, he got to the guts of the character’s pain, had a deep meaningful relationship with Xavier (Patrick Stewart), showed Logan’s inherent goodness and nailed the berserker rage. This has always been an old broken down man and here we finally experience that with all its despair and resilience. Since his wonderful turn in Les Miserables I’ve been saying Jackman plays middle aged really well and I can’t wait to see what he’s done next.

The Film Itself: Some kids will tell you they don’t see a point in comic book films that aren’t comic book films. I shake my head. This is a story, a good one because it involves you and it makes you feel. Blockbusters can do that as much as kitchen sink dramas can bore the shit out of you with terrible dialogue and performances. This is easily my favourite alongside X-Men 2 and a very different film from the former.

Shirtless Rating: Well now that Logan is old and ravaged Jackman of course he won’t look as appealing as he did in previous entries.

Related imageOh for fuck’s sake! Well I wonder if Karen liked the extra grizzle on Mr Grizzly. I’ll go out on a limb and say yeah.

In closing thank you Hugh Jackman for all the hard work over the years and the passion you put into getting the role right. It’s been a bumpy road but in the end you’ve stayed true to the word and given us one last great performance in the role to send the character off in style. As I once said of Christopher Reeve as Superman, I’m sure a few kids say now Hugh Jackman was, is and always will be Logan – The Wolverine.

-Lloyd Marken

 

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X-MEN A GO-GO

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X-Men: Apocalypse appeared in a crowded market of sequel s and comic book films this summer. The series was coming off a high of X-Men: Days of Future Past which combined the cast of the original run of films from 2000-2006 with the reboot X-Men: First Class kids ala like a Marvel Avengers team-up film. Intended as a trilogy capper to the young First Class crew, the scale of this X-Men film is bigger than any previous efforts with real world ending threats and yet the film is quite underwhelming. Where other films however muddled have felt fresh this year, this X-Men outing feels like a call back to better earlier trips. Even James McAvoy pointed out on Graham Norton “Charles goes bad again, I try to appeal to his inner humanity again.” That’s not what the main problem is though, Apocalypse is to put it mildly A bit of a fuckin mess. Too many characters, too many plot strands, an underwhelming villain and a finale that looks impressive at first but ends up like they always do being a big overblown cartoon that makes the audience feel no impact nor sense of stakes in the choreography. That is not to say it is without merit though. Their biggest mistake here is to not give closure to their cast of characters instead choosing to leave open the door for more profit-I mean storytelling.

Picking up from the events of Days of Future Past which was set primarily in 1973, Apocalypse takes place in 1983 with everybody fairly happy. Prof Xavier (James McAvoy) is running the School with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and doing a bang up job. There are some particularly gifted students in attendance in the form of Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) who we all know will become Cyclops and Phoenix. Jennifer Lawrence who proved the be the big break out star of this franchise due to her own one The Hunger Games, is back as Mystique rocking a leather jacket and being a bit of a symbol for mutants world-wide. She rescues them and is still fighting the good fight of mutants against humans who would hate, enslave or murder them or you know just humans in general. After almost killing the President, Magneto went back to Poland and raised a family. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoThese early scenes with Fassbender are low key and enjoyable. It feels like a natural progression for the character in middle age having fought the war for mutant rights and decided to go back where he came from, to where it all started and try to live a simple life as a man. The problem is we all know where this will end so it’s hard to get too involved with characters that will be the fate of an inevitable plot development. At least though there is something dialled down and interesting going on in Poland. Quicksilver is back in this film too which makes you think something inevitable will happen there too since he mentions Magneto is his father. Inexplicably this does not take place and I think it has less to do with character motivation and more to do with copyright legislation.

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Added into this mix is the villain En Sabur Nur or Apocalypse, a very old mutant maybe the first who used to make life tough back in the day for Egyptians and now has returned to……Sigh. You know it really doesn’t matter. You’d be better off seeing Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year Image result for a most violent yearor Inside Llewellyn Davis or Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook or James McAvoy in Filth or Tye Sheridan in Mud or  Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones or Evan Peters in American Horror Story or Olivia Munn in The Newsroom or Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road or Michael Fassbender in any movie he made with Steve McQueen or Lucas Till in…..in…actually this is probably Lucas’s Till’s best work. Still you get the point, there are better movies out there but I guess this one is not bad.

Look back in Egyptian times there was a mutant who ruled over the world with four deputies which allude to the Four Horsemen of the Biblical Apocalypse. I’ve heard Highlander the TV series did this idea more justice than this movie…… let that sink in for a moment. Awakened in modern times Ennie Sabie No feels a bit out of sorts and decides this old world of ours needs a bit of a renovation sensation which coincidentally includes our annihilation. How a victim of the Nazi’s final solution gets on board with mass genocide is beyond me but little Magneto has had a rough time of it. Image result for x-men apocalypse gifsA startling close up of Isaac describing our world while connected to a TV is oddly compelling but sadly his motivations or how he draws in his followers of four is less convincing. There are some tantalising Meta jokes, references to past relationships but no real payoff. Hoult and Lawrence had a nice chemistry in First Class and it would have been nice to develop their love story to some resolution in this film. Image result for x-men apocalypse magnetoMore inroads are made with Rose Byrne and McAvoy but still no cigar. There is another stand out Quicksilver sequence which has less impact this time around but there is a good joke with Peters and Lawrence. En Zanzi Bur is a powerful figure with immense power but without a proper motivation the finale lacks emotional power. Things blow up, pixels play across the screen, and some actors even go flying through the air on wires but ask yourself in 3 months if you remember any of it. You’ll remember Han Solo on the bridge a damn sight better or even Superman throwing that Kryptonite Spear into Doomsday.

Yosub Kim, Content Strategy Director x-men purple olivia munn swordMake a good film and everybody will beg you to be the only one to do a sequel, make a less than great film and everybody says it’s time to put the franchise to bed. Both are knee jerk reactions that don’t necessarily hold true. Bryan Singer has directed some fine films and been with these characters a long time, for me the best remains X-Men 2 which was 14 years ago. I wish him and 20th Century Fox well with the franchise and any choices they make in the future. In the end this could be as good a time as any to end this part of the story but if not, the directive should be simple – make it good. X-Men Apocalypse ain’t bad though.

-Lloyd Marken

SUICIDE SQUAD WILL TEST YOUR WILL TO LIVE

Image result for jared leto the jokerImagine a comic book movie of refreshing anti-heroics, witty repartee amongst its characters, well choreographed action scenes and attitude to burn. Imagine no more. You can grab a DVD of, download, stream, get from vending machines or hang out on a mate’s couch looking at him as he play acts out the whole movie of Deadpool or for that matter 2013’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It will be cheaper and depending on your friend’s acting prowess a damn sight better than seeing this new Suicide Squad at the movies.

Whoever created the trailers for Suicide Squad should be hired to do the work for the next Ghostbusters movie by Sony.

Those trailers popped with energy, eye popping visuals and sass. You can’t deny the Brothers Gibb and Queen helped up with that, (Bohemian Rhapsody and Becky Hanson singing I Started A Joke played over the trailers) but after lacklustre marketing for Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters, Star Trek: Beyond and X Men: Apocalypse the Suicide Squad trailers promised at the end of this summer there would be one bright spark of originality and fun. Then Batman’s Mum Has the Same Name As Superman’s Mum came out and underperformed and there were rumblings of re-shoots, cuts for PG-13 audiences and instead of rejoicing about the fact that Suicide Squad would be vastly different to the current DCEU light lifters instead there was disquiet and a need for re-direction. Now Jared Leto is nodding his head as interviewers note his on air screen time is so small you could argue his role is that of a cameo and he’s playing the Clown Prince of Crime for fuck’s sake.

Somebody call Al Pacino, Gene Hackman,

Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell or Billy Bob Thornton or anybody else who’s played a legendary movie coach and sent them over to Warner Bros. and TELL THEM TO GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER! FYI Warners this is what shit together looks like.

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Copyright: Warner Bros. Studios

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Honestly I would’ve been kinder to Batman Vs. Mopey Superbeing Who’s Superbummed About Rescuing People Cause Feelings and His Girlfriend Is Super Nice and Looks Like This, Image result for amy adams vanity fairhad I known how underwhelming the rest of the blockbuster season would be except for you Ricky, you brought it little buddy. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE   hunt for the wilderpeople

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Harley Quinn was created in 1992, by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for the much respected Batman animated series of the time, which is relatively recent by comparison for most DC comic book characters as for example the Joker whom first appeared in 1940. Dr Harleen Quinzel has built up quite a fan base in the relatively small time, studied for the contrast of her kick ass persona that still is very much under the spell of a man who may not really value or treat her well. Someone who has robbed her of autonomy and sanity but also made her a stronger individual rebellious of society’s expectations. Fans have been waiting a long time to see her on the big screen and Margot Robbie does not disappoint. There’s no denying the attractive actress wears hot pants well but Robbie subtlety shows that her sexuality is just another weapon in this character’s arsenal. An important aspect of the character is she appears a harmless beguiling woman capable of inflicting incredible violence with no restraint. In addition to being a fighter she’s also lovesick for the Joker. Image result for jared leto margot robbieYet how much can two insane and immoral characters be with a messed up power dynamic be in love? Does the Joker really love her and does she really love him? These are intriguing questions. The Joker appears throughout the story focussed on being reunited with his incarcerated woman, risking much but she’s also partly incarcerated due to him abandoning her. She exists this way because of his brainwashing, is there affection there or are they merely playing the part of a couple. It is a new take on the Joker being done on film to give him a lover and their relationship could prove fascinating but the bulk of their only time onscreen are mostly brief flashbacks that barely establish their relationship let alone probe the dynamics of it. Which is a shame because it’s the most interesting thing above the film. Talks of a Harley Quinn spin-off should be met with approval and despite the film’s flaws, getting the adaptation of a beloved character right straight out of the gate is rare and should be celebrated.

Image result for suicide squadIn fact most of the squad are full of interesting characters well realised by the actors playing them. There’s Amanda Waller played by Viola Davis, an intelligence operative who puts the squad together and sees metahumans as the next strategic upper hand in world affairs and deterrent. The most powerful being in the squad is Enchantress, a witch goddess who has taken over the body of the archaeologist who found her Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne). Dr. Moon can bring her forth but can’t necessarily control her. Leading the team is her boyfriend Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who is looking for a way to free June from the Enchantress. Actually he’s not, he’s not doing much of anything actually for a Special Forces soldier he spends most of the film being rescued and losing everybody’s respect. Being a good guy not as powerful as evil people he has to lead could have been a fascinating dynamic but mostly he just stands there and points guns until it’s all a bit too much for him. His only real display of a personality comes when he is dismissive of hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) despite their shared military background.

Anybody holding their breath for Will Smith to play against type as a ruthless killer should start inhaling now. Smith plays Floyd Lawton, a father and a good man who just happens to shoot people for a living but hey we only see him kill a criminal. Smith one of the most likeable movie stars on the planet is cool, funny and sympathetic here but the most prickly he gets is being a smartarse to Flagg. The Fresh Prince made the smart play segueing into a different kind of character as apart of an ensemble film rather than rehash past glories but the film doesn’t reward his choice and I really would have liked to see Captain Steve Hiller return. Image result for will smith jeff goldblumAs Richard Jackson pointed out he concludes many scenes with “let’s do this” which remains unclear since they basically were doing the same thing they are doing now. Quinn and Lawton form a bond in the movie although why is unclear except maybe the two characters are aware of the good chemistry that Robbie and Smith had in Focus. Rounding out the team is gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who has the superpower of projecting flames (arguably one of the most powerful members so naturally he doesn’t want his powers following a tragic incident from his past), bank robber Captain Boomerang who has some reaaallly cool Boomerangs, a mutant played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje called Killer Croc (although nobody is going to use the word mutant in DCEU film), Slipknot (Adam Beach)who is really good with ropes and Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who wields a magical samurai. Most of these members are hardly super powered but apparently the powers that be see them as a fallback if the next Superman goes rogue. Why use bad guys too after Batman worked so hard to lock them up? So that they can be plausibly denied and expendable except we never see these guys do harmful things to innocent people (an effective choice in say The Godfather but here denies the whole point of what makes these characters different in this genre). Image result for amanda waller viola davisWe see Amanda Waller kill an innocent in cold blood which is supposed to make her look cool and ruthless but makes her more evil than the squad. Interestingly Viola Davis read M.E. Thomas’s autobiography Confessions of a Sociopath to prepare for the role and described Waller as “relentless in her villainy” so the act is true to the character but is not as appealing as other aspects of her character. Or again we don’t really see enough of the character to understand the complexity and contradictions at the heart of her. That’s the problem with the film, Waller, Quinn, Joker, Deadshot and Killer Croc are interesting characters and Davis, Robbie, Leto, Smith and Akinnuoye-Agbaje are good actors but we get tantalising glimpses rather than hard looks.

The attitude and sass of these characters is infectious and the saving grace of the film, a scene in a bar late in the film has the right kind of energy that should have appeared in bigger doses to establish characters and develop relationships.

The most disappointing aspect of this action film is the action scenes often boil down to people shooting at things and lacks real excitement and inventiveness. Given the expensive sets and effects it is disappointing that they weren’t put to more effective use with the set pieces, cinematography that includes spectacular shots like this film jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiefilm jared leto cara delevingne suicide squad margot robbiethat are sadly not in abundance throughout. Former submariner and director David Ayer made the critically acclaimed Fury and End of Watch but here with a $175 million budget something has been lost. Speaking of lost, many questions are raised by the editing of the film suggesting that key scenes were scrapped and re-shot hurting the narrative flow of the story.

Suicide Squad frustrates with missed opportunities, an action film that fails to excite with its action scenes, a film of bad guys that don’t appear to be all that bad and flashbacks that hint at a story we’re not told. Suicide Squad was the last and great hope of 3 weeks of watching disappointing blockbusters that kicked off with Central Intelligence. None were bad and none were great, the best thing that can be said about Suicide Squad unlike most of the others is that it makes you excited to see these characters again in a film worthy of them.

-Lloyd Marken