Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Screenplay: Christina Hodson

109 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.

 

It feels like the DCEU has found its footing under the new leadership. After Justice League, the DCEU was handed off to others, and both Aquaman and Shazam! achieved generally positive reviews, so where does Birds of Prey land in all this? Did it continue that hot streak? Well, yes and no, but mostly no.

The Joker has dumped Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, Peter Rabbit), and now the queen of mayhem is alone on the streets of Gotham and everyone wants her dead. It seems like all of Gotham has a vendetta against Quinn, including mob boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!, Doctor Sleep), who tasks her with stealing a diamond, but this is all an attempt to take her out. Harley is in over her head, and in order to stop Sionis, she needs help from others who have been wronged by him.

Cinematic universes have changed the way these stories are told. Relationships and characters evolve across multiple films, but this is a problem for Birds of Prey. It seemingly assumes that we, as audience members, understand the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. Hell, the inciting incident of the film is the destruction of that relationship. The issue with that assumption is that we didn’t get a good look at the central relationship in Suicide Squad; there simply wasn’t enough time dedicated to the relationship or the Joker in general to make the breakup have any impact. Since Jared Leto doesn’t appear in Birds of Prey, we again get nothing to go on that made me really connect with what Harley is going through in the film.

Thankfully, Margot Robbie is excellent in the role of Quinn, and yet again, she is such a dynamic presence onscreen that makes up for the lack of empathy and stakes to her central character journey. This is great because, for a film that sold itself as being a Birds of Prey film with a tiny hint of Harley Quinn, this is really a Harley Quinn film with a dash of Birds of Prey. Given that so much screen time is dedicated to Quinn, it’s great to know that Robbie continues to captivate as the Maid of Mischief.

Even Margot Robbie’s tremendous work as Quinn cannot save a very muddled and convoluted plot. I think the idea was to make Birds of Prey into DC’s version of Deadpool, so the film is edited to give it a loose narrative structure that hops around, but it lost me several times. I was never confused, but it lost my interest every time it left the main narrative.

Birds of Prey was very fun, but it struggled to consistently maintain my interest throughout its run time. I enjoyed several chunks of the film, and overall I really enjoyed the film, but altogether, this film is an absolute mess. It’s saved by an engaging Robbie performance and the awesome turn from Ewan McGregor, and I still believe that the film is worth watching for fans of the Harley Quinn character and the DCEU, but it’s a bug jumbled mess of a movie.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, click here.

David Ayer to Direct Dirty Dozen Remake?

Suicide Squad was once referred to by David Ayer as “Dirty Dozen with supervillains.” Well, it would seem he is up to direct a remake of The Dirty Dozen, so we’ll see how right he was.

Ayer is also in talks, according to The Wrap, to pen the screenplay for the remake. The original film starred several notable actors including Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Charles Bronson. It’s not clear at this point if the aim is to be a remake of the film or another take on the 1967 novel written by Robert Aldrich, which was itself based on true events.

I’m a fan of David Ayer, but I’m not sure this is the right move for him. The optics just don’t really add up. His Suicide Squad is one of the more maligned films in the DCEU, and being so similar in plot, I feel like attaching himself to The Dirty Dozen will only bring up the past, one which Ayer doesn’t seem too fond on bringing up. Yes, I know that studio meddling had a factor in the Suicide Squad film, but that won’t protect any backlash on the film. It just sours the whole process, and I’d like to see Ayer tackle something different.

What do you think? Should David Ayer write and direct a Dirty Dozen remake or should he be working on an original idea for his next project? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

I Can’t Believe We’re Still Talking About the Snyder Cut

In today’s edition of “Things I’d Rather Not Continue Talking About,” more DCEU actors are coming forth asking to #ReleasetheSnyderCut two whole years after Justice League released.

To clarify, yes, I would’ve liked to see Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League instead of the bare-bones recut of the film we ended up getting. All that out of the way, it’s the same reason we didn’t see a director’s cut of Avengers: Age of Ultron when that was rumored.

But now, with Damon Lindelof teasing to his Instagram followers that he probably hadn’t seen it, but if he had, he would support releasing it. Calm down, Lindelof.

Along with that news comes tweets of support from Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck even, someone who hasn’t spoken much of his time in the DCEU, so this is gaining steam.

Okay, let’s be a realist on this one. There are two potential problems with releasing the Snyder Cut of the film at this stage. First of all, it’s been two years, and in that time, the studio has rearranged their plans for the DCEU in order to keep the franchise alive and successful into the future. Since Justice League‘s release, we’ve had Aquaman. We’ve had Shazam! We will soon have Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984. Not to mention films like The Suicide Squad, The Batman, and Black Adam in the works. These films have all relied on what was created as far as mythology goes in the Justice League film. We’ve heard rumors of things like an appearance from Martian Manhunter who’s been hiding in plain sight for several movies and a completely different take on the ending, and all that stuff would change canon.

That’s right. Canon.

Canon is incredibly important to a franchise and cinematic universe. Building a canon can make or break a universe, and by releasing the Snyder Cut, you are ripping up the canon, something that WB should absolutely not do.

The other reason is simpler. Money.

That’s right. Money. More important than Canon to the studio. Why would WB release the Snyder Cut, knowing they would have to spend millions to even complete the damn movie. We know that a version of the Snyder Cut exists, but it wouldn’t have any CGI or effects completed in the film. That’s not how filmmaking works. They don’t finish the CG without at least having something edited together first. The Snyder Cut would be an absolute mess, and releasing it like that would be unacceptable and rather foolish. So they’d have to finish the movie, while doesn’t seem feasible. Who’s going to front the bill to complete post-production on a film that will not make enough money back to support the extra work. Is this a charity?

So there you have it. I don’t believe all this squabbling over a Snyder Cut is worth it, and I wish we’d all just move on. If we, as fans of the DCEU keep looking to the past, we’ll miss what’s possible in the future. So stop it.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

We May Have an Alfred! Andy Serkis in Talks for The Batman

There’s been a lot of info coming out concerning The Batman casting over the past few days, and I’m not sure I can keep up with all of it. First, I’m hearing that Matthew McConaughey is set to play Harvey Dent (I’ve seen only rumors on this one so far). Then there’s news that Colin Farrell is in talks for The Penguin. Finally, and what should be the smallest of these castings, Andy Serkis is entering talks to play Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler and surrogate father-figure.

I just want to unpack the interesting bit here about Serkis. Andy Serkis is an incredible actor, both in Motion-Capture and also in real world performing. People don’t talk about Serkis as a non-CG performer, but he’s great at both. I loved his work in The Prestige, Black Panther, and the cook in King Kong. So hearing him playing Alfred seems so inspired and something I hadn’t thought about. I had been hearing rumors of him as The Penguin, and again, my mind went to CG, and I was very excited. He has previously worked with director Matt Reeves on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and its sequel, so again, I wasn’t surprised by his inclusion in the DC Batman world, but its only that I hadn’t for a single second thought about him playing Alfred Pennyworth.

But now, I can’t believe the thought never occurred to me. It’s such a brilliant translation for the Alfred character after seeing what the DCEU had done with him as a guy-in-the-chair sidekick-like assistant to Bruce when he dons the cowl. It’s so perfect.

So I’m completely on board with Andy Serkis playing any damn role in The Batman, and if that happens to be Alfred, then I’m perfectly happy.

What do you think? Is Andy Serkis right for Alfred Pennyworth or is there a better fit? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Feige Talks the Disney/Fox Deal and How to Incorporate the New Properties

I’m sure Kevin Feige is done talking about the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, but during an event for the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home, he took some time to talk again about it. So let’s unpack a few things he said.

First, he kept to his statement about taking his time, saying that he was in no real rush to add these characters to the MCU. This is still a smart statement for many reasons. First, we should point out that Kevin Feige makes a plan and usually sticks to it pretty close. Notice how his initial Phase 3 announcement compares to what we’ve see play out. The only major changes, to my memory, are the inclusion of Spider-Man, which didn’t need as much work and didn’t wrinkle the plan too much, and the movement of the Inhumans to a series from a movie, a move that you can say either worked out well for him or didn’t. The jury is still out on what an Inhumans movie would have looked like. Now, think about the reactionary approach to a DCEU or even The Dark Universe. A plan was made and then seemingly thrown out the window. He also has to come to terms with the failure of Dark Phoenix, which will leave a stain on the X-Men for a bit. Add that to the stain of a major Fantastic Four failure from a couple years back and Feige will have to play this one carefully.

He also stated that, while he is in no rush, he has been working on this possibility for a while now. Years, he states. He’s been playing though plans that have included and excluded the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man for years now, and that’s how Spider-Man: Homecoming was able to come together so quick in time to open up Phase 3.

It’s important to note that Phase 4 has been kept pretty secret for some time, but I would imagine, based on some of the statements from Kevin Feige over the years, that he has had some form of Phase 4 in his head for a long time. He stated a couple years back that he had storylines planned out through 2028. Now, this was back when Marvel was releasing 2 films a year, and maybe that changed when they moved to 3, but I have to imagine he’s had a future beyond Thanos and the Infinity Stones.

He shared that some character introductions work better in their own films and some, like Spider-Man and Black Panther, worked better in someone else’s story. It’s true, and the more I’ve thought about this, the more it has made sense. I would take that as a possibility that we could see a non-powered Reed Richards appear in someone else’s film in the MCU before the Fantastic Four get a solo movie. I could even believe that perhaps a Hank McCoy/Beast or a Professor X might get an appearance before an X-Men Proper film. These properties have fan expectations, so this one will be a tough inclusion process that might aid them to have an appearance elsewhere first.

So what do you think? When and how will we see the Fantastic Four and X-Men appear in the MCU, if at all? Let me know/Leave a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Zack Snyder Reveals Image of Darkseid for Father’s Day

Fans online lamented over the past week that Justice League Part II would now be in theaters if the original plan for the DCEU had worked out, and it’s a true statement that hit me. I was really into the wild take on the DCEU’s initial plan, and it they didn’t have such snap reactions to their films, it may have worked, but Justice League Part II is off the table with no knowledge of when we may see another of the superhero team-ups.

This week, though, Man of Steel, BvS, and Justice League director Zack Snyder shared an image of the sequel’s lead villain, Darkseid, who was to take over from Steppenwolf in the follow-up. Initially, Darkseid was to show up in the cliffhanger ending to the first film, but if you saw it (and not many of you did), it did not play out that way.

Zack Snyder was likely let go from Justice League, another decision that didn’t help, and though fans have clamored for a Snyder Cut of the original Justice League, it probably doesn’t exist, but Snyder continues to incite interest in his vision. He has frequently shared info on his Vero account (I pretty much only have a Vero account of my own to see stuff from Snyder).

I was pretty adamant that WB and DC not put one director in charge of their entire universe in a Feige-like position, and while Snyder never had all the responsibilities of a Kevin Feige, he did direct 3 of the, at that time, 5 DC films and was going to do another one. After Man of Steel, he was handed BvS and Justice League I & II. That’s a lot of faith to place in a director who has a vision when people were still pretty split on Man of Steel.

Now, when they did put their faith in Snyder’s vision, I went in on it too, and then they changed their mind, and the franchise barely survived.

So what do you think? Would you have liked to see Snyder’s vision come to fruition? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Suicide Squad Casting Benicio Del Toro?

Mark this one up as a rumor for now, because there’s been so strong evidence to really support it, but information coming from Forbes indicate that Benicio del Toro, recently featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Big Top Pee-Wee (look it up), may be joining the upcoming The Suicide Squad from director James Gunn. It would make sense if you look at the layers. He did appear in the MCU for Guardians of the Galaxy’s The Collector, directed by Gunn. Given that we still don’t know the status of The Collector, who appeared in Avengers: Infinity War but as a vision or fabrication, his time in the MCU may be done, but his addition to The Suicide Squad would further the argument that these two comic book giants are not enemies but coexist together.

As of now, The Suicide Squad will feature the returns of Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. Idris Elba has also recently joined the project as a new character, with many speculating him to be Bronze Tiger. All that is known for Elba is that he will not be playing Deadshot as was recently rumored. Del Toro is rumored for The General, who will be one of the film’s villains. David Dastmalchian seemingly confirmed his involvement in a recent interview, praising Polka-Dot Man, and more rumors have circulated of John Cena’s involvement and frequent Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker (though he has since denied his addition), so this installment of the DCEU is shaping up quite nicely.

To this writer, Benicio del Toro only adds an air of quality to the upcoming installment, and I certainly hope the rumors are true. Adding talent like his can only help a movie. I’ve been randomly seeing him pop up in a lot of films from the past recently, and revisiting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Sin City have affirmed that he is one of the more interesting personalities currently working in the filmscape.

As far as the character of The General goes, I know very little. I read some of the Suicide Squad books a few years back, but I don’t think he was ever in any of the ones I read.

I will chock this up as good news, because in James Gunn I trust. Every film he’s directed has been solid (if you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen Slither, you’re doing yourself a disservice), and every bit of casting news surrounding The Suicide Squad has been exciting me, so count me in.

But what do you think? Are you excited for Benicio del Toro in the DCEU? What’s your favorite performance of his? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

The Suicide Squad will be unleashed again on August 6, 2021.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

The New Batman is Here, and He is Sparkly

Okay, okay, okay…

So we finally have an announcement as to who is taking up the mantle for the next entry in the Batman series, currently titled The Batman. The film, to be written and directed by Matt Reeves, is scheduled to begin production later this year for a September 2021 release.

The new Batman is Robert Pattinson.

The internet took it pretty well actually. No wait, I didn’t say that right. Let me correct…The internet lost its collective shit because the internet hates everything, and as I said about Game of Thrones recently, no one hates Batman casting picks as much as Batman fans do.

Early reports claimed that Reeves was searching for a younger Batman, and upon reading everything I’ve read about the film, I still believe it will be tangentially related to the larger DCEU, set some time before Batman looked like Ben Affleck. There will likely not be any reference to the larger DCEU, but that would be a smarter thing than forcing it in or confusing the general movie-going audience by adding another separate Batman franchise next to the standalone Joker movie and the DCEU proper. It’s just messy.

As far as Battinson (see what I did there?) goes, I’m rather excited. No, he wasn’t a very good sparkly vampire, but his work in the Twilight franchise was a decade ago, and he was working from a not-great screenplay and source material. Compare the Twilight books to the larger Batman comic books. If you agree that Batman’s source material is better, then you have to assume that a better screenplay and director at the helm can only help.

If you’ve seen Battinson in films like The Rover or Good Time, then you’ve seen a range that will separate him from his Twilight days quite effectively. Hell, he wasn’t half-bad in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

To put it simply, and to paraphrase Spongebob Squarepants’s thoughts on Krabby Patties, the only people who don’t like Battinson have never tried him.

I think I’ve made my point.

 

UPDATE: Just as this was set to be published, as with all news stories from DC, it appears there is more to this than previously thought. It would seem that Nicholas Hoult, known for his work as Beast in the X-Men films and also playing J.R.R. Tolkien in the new biopic, is also in the mix for Bruce Wayne/Batman. Now, I don’t have any funny nicknames for Hoult as with Battinson, so that’s one strike.

On the other hand, though, Hoult has proven himself time after time to be an excellent actor with a wide range similar to that of a Michael Keaton. Keaton was a controversial choice back in the 80s to play the Caped Crusader, but with turns from Beetlejuice to things like Mr. Mom, he proved he had the right mixture of professional acting and insanity, something I would argue Hoult also has. Don’t believe me? Check Mad Max: Fury Road to see that level of Let’s-Get-Nuts that a Keaton would have. There are indeed similarities.

So what it boils down to is that both of these choices would be inspired, and in Matt Reeves I trust, so whatever he decides, I’m down for the ride.

So what do you think? Who should play Bruce Wayne/Batman? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Screenplay: Henry Gayden

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.

 

After the success of Aquaman, it seems like the DCEU may finally be righting the ship with their cinematic universe, and now, only a few months later, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually bring a wacky character like Captain Marvel (no, not that one) to life. Well, I have the answers you seek.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Driven to Dance, TV’s Andi Mack) has been bounced from one foster home to another for years following his accidental separation from his mother as a child. He’s been given one last chance with a large foster family run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Billy, not one to settle, struggles with connecting to his new family, but while fleeing bullies after defending foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Beautiful Boy), Billy finds himself pulled out of the world, landing in a strange place where a mythical wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Captain Marvel) informs Billy that he’s been chosen as the new champion, Shazam. After saying the word Shazam, Billy finds himself transformed into an older and much more powerful version of himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to fix it, but Freddy might.

It seems like the DCEU has finally adopted the MCU viewpoint of developing great stories that just so happen to include superheroes. The screenplay by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) is, first and foremost, a film about family, both the search for one and the power of finding one, and its themes permeate the story with subtle moments that use the Shazam lore to expose character and progress plot nicely. The emotional beats of the film ring true in a lot of ways, and it’s great to see representation like this on film.

Beyond all that, Shazam! is a ton of fun. The tone of Big as a superhero film is perfect, and it weaves seamlessly into the darker material surrounding Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, TV’s Deep State). The film takes its source material seriously while pointing fun at what would happen if a teenager all of a sudden gained superhuman powers. This is a movie that is perfectly encapsulated within its trailers, as opposed to a tonally troubling film like Suicide Squad which was sold on one tone and struggled to find one in the finished product.

Zachary Levi (Blood Fest, TV’s Chuck), who plays the heroic older Billy/Shazam, is a kinetic and magical onscreen presence. He consistently shines as a superheroic version of a teenager, and he’s believable in the role, something many performers before have struggled with. I bought into the whole thing quite well. His interactions with Jack Dylan Grazer were pitch-perfect.

Mark Strong is mostly great as Dr. Sivana, but the one problem with his arc is that he is another DC villain who falls prey to the DCEU villain problem. It took Marvel some time to dig out of this as well, and Dr. Sivana is a step in the right direction, but parts of his villainy devolve into CG monster territory.

Shazam! had a tall order after its first few trailer gave us a feel for the tone of the film. I was excited but apprehensive because I’ve been hurt before by DCEU films like Suicide Squad which sold one tone but ultimately gave me a different one. Thankfully, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) has done it again by crafting a film wholly different than any of the others he has been known for. Shazam! is aided by powerful turns from its entire principal cast, and it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that its predecessors have fallen into. This is a fun and exciting superhero movie unique to its character and story and well worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2013), click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

The Suicide Squad Losing Will Smith?

The DCEU has been having a rough go of keeping their stars. Now with confirmation of Ben Affleck’s official exit as Batman and Henry Cavill in an on-again-off-again return status as the Man of Steel, Variety is reporting that Will Smith, who played Deadshot in Suicide Squad back in 2016, may not be returning as the infamous DC assassin and villain.

It should be noted that this has not been confirmed, so we will judge this as a rumor for now, but their sources say that the split was amicable.

It’s been discussed quite extensively that James Gunn, recently fired by Marvel/Disney only to be taken on for the new installment, is planning on shaking up the team and rebooting this portion of the DC Universe with the new film, so it was a bit up in the air who, if anyone, would be returning to the franchise this next time around.

If this is indeed true, I will be saddened but hopeful that we will see Smith return in some form in the future. Smith and Margot Robbie were the two best characters in Suicide Squad, so losing him is tough. That being said, in James Gunn I trust, at least as far as making kick-ass movies goes.

The DCEU is gaining steam following the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and the future is looking brighter as long as they can keep some stars attached.

So what do you think? Are you sad to lose Will Smith or are you thinking Good Riddance? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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