Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Suicide Squad and Pete's Dragon (2016)

One of this summer's most hyped blockbuster releases surrounded David Ayer's super-villain action comedy, Suicide Squad. Despite overwhelmingly harsh reviews, the film opened to a record-breaking $133.6 million dollar weekend. Clearly audiences weren't initially deterred by what the critics had to say, but which is it? Is Suicide Squad an over-analyzed summer sensation or another dud from the DC Comics film universe?

When a dire threat unveils itself, the U.S. Government is forced to assemble a specially selected team on super-villains to restore order. With promises of reduced sentences looming over their heads upon the completion of their mission, all eyes shift to these worst of the worst who must decide whether or not to do something for the greater good.

As someone eager and motivated to rush out and catch Suicide Squad on Friday morning of its debut weekend, I had high hopes for this massively marketed DC Comics flick. However, a punishingly poor screenplay destroys any chance of a redeeming feature. Suicide Squad's progression is riddled with untimely and ineffective flashback sequences that spoil the entire essence of Jared Leto's Joker character and more. Furthermore, the film's lopsided amounts of screen-time for its many characters creates a highly uneven playing field. Margot Robbie shines as the most memorable performance, followed by Will Smith. Not surprisingly, both are awarded ample face-time while the rest of their bad-guy crew just goes along for the ride. Consequently, when the stakes are raised and the audience is required to make a connection with these ancillary characters, Suicide Squad falls regrettably flat.
Drowned by preachy and elementary dialogue that refuses to allow the viewer to ever forget that these are "bad guys", Suicide Squad culminates as another wildly mediocre inclusion in the ever-expanding DC Comics universe.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Full disclosure, I have always held a special place in my heart for the 1977 semi-animated Disney film, Pete's Dragon. And after learning that the artistic eye of indie writer/director David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) would be in charge of this summer's remake, I became extremely critical of the release. Make no mistake about it, this new adaptation of Pete's Dragon deviates from the original and serves as its own film experience. Sadly, though, it loses a bit of the fun and flair that the 1977 delivered so well.

Following a tragic traffic accident that sends Pete (Oakes Fegley) off into the deep and desolate wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, he encounters a magnificent dragon named Elliot who helps provide a watchful eye over the orphaned child. Years pass and a state forest ranger named Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) discovers Pete and takes him back to the nearest town. But as she learns about his sidekick dragon, they venture back into the woods so she can meet Elliot herself.

Pete's Dragon is an overly safe effort from an artistic visionary such as David Lowery. While his direction is fine, the script revolves around a simplistic story that fails to generate the same depth as its predecessor. Buying into the film's rapidly developed family dynamic is essential, yet one dimensional characters generate more of a question mark than a connection. Moreover, the CGI dragon provides some visual spectacles that truly catch the eye. However, it was much more difficult to identify Elliot's facial expressions than the animated format which was used in the original. Also, a weak antagonist to the story leaves a gaping void in the plot that screams as the film's overall ineffectiveness. There are a few genuinely nice moments and I appreciate Lowery's bravery in taking this new version of the film in a completely different direction, but Pete's Dragon leaves a little to be desired.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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