Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Lightyear,’ starring the voices of Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba and James Brolin

June 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from bottom left: Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), Izzy Hawthorne (voiced by Keke Palmer), Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi), Darby Steele (voiced by Dale Soules) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced of Chris Evans) in “Lightyear” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

“Lightyear”

Directed by Angus MacLane

Culture Representation: Taking place in various part of the universe, the animated film “Lightyear” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing people and robots connected in some way to travel in outer space.

Culture Clash: In this prequel to the “Toy Story” movies, heroic astronaut Buzz Lightyear tries to make things right when he causes an accident that strands several human beings on a foreign planet that is frequently under attack.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Toy Story” movie fans, “Lightyear” will appeal primarily to people interested in animated films about time travel in outer space, but should be prepared for a plot that’s more convoluted than the average family-oriented animated film.

Buzz Lightyear (voiced of Chris Evans) and Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) in “Lightyear” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

In the animated film “Lightyear,” the plot about time travel in outer space often gets messy, but the movie has good messages about teamwork and confronting the past without dwelling on the past. The movie’s title character is astronaut Buzz Lightyear, who became the basis of a talking toy character that is one of the main stars of the “Toy Story” series. “Lightyear” is the movie that shows his origin story and shows why the movie resulted in Buzz becoming a popular toy. It’s a “movie within a movie” premise that has some stumbling blocks, but it works out well enough to be entertaining overall for people who enjoy animated films that take place in outer space.

Directed by Angus MacLane (who co-wrote the “Lightyear” screenplay with Jason Headley), “Lightyear” could easily be a stand-alone movie that doesn’t require anyone to see any of the “Toy Story” films. That’s because, with the exception of Buzz and villain Emperor Zurg (who was first seen in “Toy Story 2”), all of the characters in “Lightyear” are being introduced to movie audiences for the first time. Tim Allen is the voice of Buzz in the “Toy Story” movies. Chris Evans is the voice of Buzz in “Lightyear,” which depicts a young-man version of Buzz in the beginning of movie. It’s a seamless transition, considering that the Buzz in “Lightyear” is not really the same Buzz who’s in the “Toy Story” movies.

The opening scene of “Lightyear” shows that Buzz is part of an exploratory mission in outer space where he and his fellow astronauts from Earth visit other planets in a spaceship nicknamed The Turnip, because Buzz thinks the ship looks like a “root vegetable.” The Turnip has an on-board computer called IVAN (voiced by Mary McDonald-Lewis), which has the type of artificial intelligence that can have conversations with people. Buzz is an astronaut called a Space Ranger, whose duties including peacekeeping and law enforcement in the universe.

Buzz and his commander Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) are part of a crew of more than 1,000 scientists and technicians who are heading back to Earth for what they think has been a successful mission. They are about 4.2 million light years away from home when disaster strikes. Their space vessel picks up a signal that there’s a new planet called T’Kani Prime that hasn’t been explored yet for possible untapped resources. Buzz becomes curious about this unknown planet, so he makes the fateful decision to take a detour to visit T’Kani Prime.

The explorers find out too late that it’s an extremely hostile planet with dangerous vines and giant bugs that attack. While under attack, The Turnip sustains some damage, including damage to the hyper-speed crystal that allows the ship to travel to other dimensions. Buzz, Alisha and most of their crew survive, but they are now stranded in this strange and unwelcome world.

Up until this point, Buzz was an overconfident (and some might say arrogant) Space Ranger. However, he feels humility and tremendous guilt over his colossal error in judgment. He vows to make things right and to find a way to get everyone back home to Earth. But the hyper-speed crystal keeps malfunctioning and isn’t working at the speed it used to have. Buzz worries that this malfunction might leave everyone permanently stranded.

After every attempt to use the malfunctioning hyper-speed crystal with The Turnip in outer space, a dejected Buzz has to return back to T’Kani Prime. However, he finds out the first time this happens that four minutes of his time in outer space equal four years of time on T’Kani Prime. And so, every time Buzz comes back from a failed hyper-speed attempt, years have passed, while Buzz does not age at that same pace. Buzz also finds out that the faster he flies into outer space, the further into the future he travels.

After one of his early attempts to get back to hyper speed, Buzz returns to T’Kani Prime and is assigned a cat robot named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), who is described in the movie as an “emotional transition robot.” Sox is intuitive and acts as an all-around helper for physical tasks, getting encyclopedia information, and offering words of advice and comfort. During a few of the action scenes, Sox also has a recurring catch phrase/joke about buying time to stall any antagonists in the scene.

Buzz finds out after coming back from a failed hyper-speed trip that Alisha has fallen in love and gotten engaged to a female crew member named Kiko. He’s happy for the couple, but he also feels sad that the lives of other people are passing him by, and he still hasn’t found a way to get everyone back to Earth. Buzz’s frustration at not being able to achieve his goals as quickly as he thought he would is the movie’s obvious message about how life can have unexpected setbacks.

As shown in a montage sequence, Alisha and Kiko get married, and they have a son together. Their son gets married and has a daughter named Izzy (voiced by Keira Hairston), who from a young age, has been determined to follow in her beloved grandmother Alisha’s footsteps as a commander Space Ranger. As for what eventually happens to Alisha, that’s easy to predict, considering that T’Kani Prime is not a planet that can stop the aging process.

None of this is really spoiler information, because the majority of “Lightyear” is about what happens when Buzz ends up going on a mission with Izzy when she becomes a young woman (voiced by Keke Palmer) and other members of a motley crew of explorers. (This plot is in the “Lightyear” movie trailers.) What happened to cause this mission?

The stranded community’s gruff new commander Colonel Burnside (voiced by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) abruptly informs Buzz that Buzz’s most recent mission was his last one, because the program is being shut down. As part of the shutdown, Sox will be decommissioned and probably become part of a robot scrap heap. The stranded scientists have built a laser dome over their community for protection, because they’ve resigned themselves to thinking that they might never be able to leave T’Kani Prime—at least not in their lifetime.

Colonel Burnside orders that Sox get taken away from Buzz. However, Buzz can’t bear the thought of Sox “dying,” so he escapes with Sox in The Turnip. Through a series of circumstances, Buzz and Sox come back to T’Kani Prime, 22 years later. Izzy is now a young woman who’s part of a group of wannabe Space Rangers called the Junior Zap Patrol. And the planet has come under attack by giant robots, led by an entity named Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin), who is somewhat of a generic villain.

Guess who’s going on a mission to save the planet and possibly the universe? Buzz and Sox join forces with Junior Zap Control members Izzy, goofy Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi) and sarcastic Darby Steel (voiced by Dale Soules) to often awkward results. That’s because the Junior Zap Control is untrained and often incompetent. And even though Izzy wants to be a Space Ranger, she’s terrified of being in outer space.

“Lightyear” has a few surprises, but the movie mostly sticks to a familiar formula in “heroes who save the world” sci-fi/fantasy stories. One of the movie’s greatest strengths is that it introduces characters with memorable personalities and quirks, with Sox being the one that viewers might be talking about the most. Some viewers might think Sox is adorable, while other viewers might think Sox is annoying. Either way, this character was clearly designed by the “Lightyear” filmmakers to sell Sox toys and other merchandise in the real world.

“Lightyear” falters in having a few characters that are somewhat useless or too predictable. Supporting characters such as Airman Díaz (voiced by Efren Ramirez) and Featheringhamstan (voiced by Bill Hader) seem very two-dimensional and underdeveloped. Some of the jokes are very simple-minded. And all of Buzz’s zipping back and forth between eras and dimensions doesn’t leave enough room for Buzz to slow down and develop relationships with other humans where he can connect with them without missing several years out of their lives.

The movie’s world building of T’Kani Prime is more focused on what the planet looks like, rather than the sociology of the planet. However, there’s one interesting dietary quirk that’s revealed about T’Kani Prime that different from how things are done on Earth: The descendants of the stranded community have developed a custom of preparing and eating sandwiches with bread on the inside instead of the outside.

“Lightyear” has the distinction of being the first Pixar Animation Studios movie made specifically for IMAX screens. The visuals are definitely up to Pixar standards, but the visual effects in “Lightyear” are not really game-changing or extraordinary. The voice actors bring a lot of spark to their roles, even if some of the movie’s dialogue is unremarkable and the plot gets a little muddled.

Some viewers will like the time traveling aspects of “Lightyear,” while others will not. And a big twist revealed in the last third of the movie could be divisive to audiences, depending on people’s expectations on how the movie’s characters should be. “Lightyear” spends so much effort trying to be way ahead of the audience, some viewers will feel annoyed by being expected to keep up with all the time jumping, while other viewers will be up for the challenge and enjoy the ride.

Disney/Pixar Animation Studios will release “Lightyear” in U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on August 3, 2022.

Review: ‘Free Guy,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi

August 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy”

Directed by Shawn Levy

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action comedy film “Free Guy” features a predominantly male, mostly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and one Māori/indigenous cast member) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A video game’s simulated city becomes the focus of conflict from the game’s characters and the gamers in the real world who want to manipulate actions in this simulated city.

Culture Audience: “Free Guy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedic action movies that revolve around video game culture and put more emphasis on style over substance.

Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy” looks like an outdated idea for a video game movie that would’ve worked better when the SimCity video game was first released in 1989. It’s a dumb action comedy that tries to be clever with convoluted video game scenarios to dress up its very weak plot and cringeworthy jokes. The movie overloads on tech jargon and formulaic action scenes as gimmicks that can’t hide this movie’s lazy banality.

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, “Free Guy” was obviously made to appeal to video game enthusiasts as a target audience. However, because video games have progressed immensely since the early years of SimCity—especially when it comes to world building, visual effects and multilayered outcomes—much of the video game that’s at the center of “Free Guy” looks simplistic and boring. The only real nod to 21st century gaming that this movie has is that people worldwide have the ability to play the game simultaneously over the Internet.

The video game in “Free Guy” is called Free City, which is about a simulated city called Free City that’s supposed to be a mid-sized American city where chaos and destruction can happen at any moment. (“Free Guy” was actually filmed in Boston.) Players of Free City get more points and can advance to the next level (also known as “leveling up”), based on acts of unprovoked hostility and violence that they can put in the game.

Every day, an armed robbery takes place at Free City Bank. This financial institution is the place of employment for cheerful bank teller Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) and his wisecracking best friend Buddy (played by Lil Rel Howery), who’s a security guard. It’s a scenario that plays out with such routine predictability that Guy has come to expect it.

Guy, who is the voiceover narrator and protagonist of the movie, explains that in Free City, laws are like “mild suggestions.” The “heroes” in Free City can be identified by wearing special eyeglasses. Later, Guy finds out what happens when someone in Free City puts on these special eyeglasses. But in the beginning of the movie, Guy is just a character that’s supposed to stick to the same routine every day.

Guy is stuck in a rut and doesn’t even know it at first. When he wakes up in the morning, he says and does the same things. When he goes to a local coffee shop before heading to work, he places the same order: coffee with cream and two spoons of sugar. Guy is the type of character who says, “Coffee: It’s like losing my virginity, but in my mouth.”

Almost everyone in Free City has a daily routine. The city is so basic that there are no tourist attractions, and anyone who doesn’t have the special eyeglasses is just supposed to fade into the background. In other words, whoever thought up this video game has terrible world building skills and gave the players very limited options what they could do. In this city, people are either aggressors or potential targets for that aggression.

However, one day, Guy’s life takes an unexpected turn. At the local coffee shop, he orders a cappuccino instead of his usual coffee with cream and sugar. The barista named Missy (played by Britne Oldford), who always serves the same order to Guy, freaks out because she doesn’t know what to do because Guy has ordered cappuccino.

On that same day, when the bank robbery occurs at Guy’s job, instead of handing over money to the robber, Guy gets into a fight with the thief, takes the thief’s gun, and shoots the thief. During the altercation, Guy takes the thief’s special eyeglasses. And that’s when Guy can see and experience Free City in a whole different way. He immediately notices that when he wears the glasses, he has superhuman strength and things appear in his sight that he wouldn’t be able to see without wearing the glasses.

While wearing the glasses, Guy sees a medical bag floating in front of him. And when he takes the bag, the wounds he sustained during the bank robbery fight (such as cuts, bruises and a broken nose) are automatically healed. When Guy goes to an ATM to get money from his bank account, he sees that the money he had in the account (less than $150) has turned into thousands of dollars, because the ATM now acts like a jackpot machine.

Meanwhile, Guy has “infatuation at first sight” when he sees a mysterious woman (played by Jodie Comer) on a motorcycle and armed with a gun on the street. She wears the special eyeglasses. She seems to be independent and fearless. And she’s wearing an outfit (white button-down shirt with black trousers, suspenders and thigh-high boots) that looks like a costume rejected by Charlize Theron’s badass assassin character in 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Guy is convinced that this mystery female on a motorcycle is the woman of his dreams. Guy and this woman eventually meet. She calls herself Molotov Girl, but she’s really a British avatar for an American video game developer named Millie Rusk. Molotov Girl wears her black hair worn in a bob, while Millie has long blonde hair.

In the real world, Millie is embroiled in a messy lawsuit with Soonami Studios, the video game company that released Free City, a game that has become a big hit for Soonami. Millie is suing because she claims that Soonami stole intellectual property that is the basis of Free City. Back in 2015, Millie and her former business partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (played by Joe Keery) were considered hot up-and-coming video game developers of a game called Life Itself.

Soonami’s greedy and corrupt founder/CEO named Antwan (played by Taika Waititi) bought the rights to Life Itself (one of the most boring video game titles in history) for Soonami, and then promptly shelved Life Itself, only to release the game under the name Free City. Why isn’t Keys suing Soonami too? Because he now works for Soonami as a programmer, but he spends much of his work time actually being a customer support representative. Keys’ best friend at the company is a coder with a sarcastic personality named Mouser (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who worships Antwan and does pretty much anything Antwan tells Mouser to do.

Why is Millie spending so much time playing Free City using the avatar Molotov Girl? Because she secretly wants to find certain proof that the game has the intellectual property that was stolen from Millie and Keys. Meanwhile, Guy becomes emboldened by his newfound powers due to the special eyeglasses. He starts doing things (many of them heroic) of his own free will, and his character becomes a worldwide sensation. Free City game players around the world have given him the nickname Blue Shirt Guy because of the blue shirt that Guy wears to work every day.

Not everyone is a fan of Blue Shirt Guy, of course. Antwan is furious because he thinks Blue Shirt Guy is a major “bug” (or error) in the game. There’s a kind of a silly sequence of Keys and Mouser disguising themselves with avatars to go into the Free City game and to try find out why Guy, a non-player character (also known as an NPC), seems to be acting of his own free will. Keys is dressed as a cop, while Mouser is dressed up in a ridiculous-looking pink rabbit costume. Why is Mouser dressed like he’s at a kids’ costume party? Just because he felt like it.

In fact, much of “Free Guy” consists of half-baked ideas thrown in between the hackneyed action scenes. There’s a stretched-out subplot about getting to a certain person’s stash house. There’s another subplot about how Soonami is about to release a Free City sequel called Free City: Carnage (also known as Free City 2), so there’s a race against time involving the release date.

The budding romance between Guy and Molotov Girl looks kind of icky because he comes across more like her dorky, much-older brother rather than a potential boyfriend. Guy is in his 40s, while Molotov Girl/Millie is in her 20s. It’s yet another Hollywood movie where the male lead actor gets a female love interest who’s at least 15 to 20 years younger.

In an attempt to gloss over this big age difference, there’s monotonous repetition of how Guy and Millie have some superficial things in common. They both love Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit song “Fantasy,” bubblegum ice cream and playing on swings. How old are these people again? Twelve? “Fantasy” is played enough times in the movie that it will get stuck in your head after the movie is over. And that’s not a good thing if you don’t like the song.

“Free Guy” is yet another Hollywood action movie where the cast members who get top billing are several men and only one woman. Comer is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie, and her Moltov Girl/Millie character is severely underdeveloped. Moltovgirl/Millie doesn’t have a life outside of anything to do with how the male characters affect her.

The featured male characters in “Free Guy” have friends and/or co-workers, while Millie does not. And the movie tries to make Millie look like some kind of feminist gaming prodigy, but everything she’s shown accomplishing in this movie is because she got help from a man. People who are fans of Comer because of her stellar, Emmy-winning work in “Killing Eve” will be disappointed at how limited her character is in “Free Guy.” The character of Millie, just like Molotov Girl, is just a hollow avatar who was created to be a sidekick for a male character who gets most of the glory.

As for Keys, he is portrayed as a wimpy and shy “nice guy.” But looking at his actions, Keys really has dubious morals and shaky loyalty, because he will go along with anyone who will benefit him in some way. He betrayed Millie by working for their enemy, and he doesn’t support her in her lawsuit to get justice for all the hard work that they did. And to make matters worse, Keys wasn’t even given a lofty position at Soonami. He’s now essentially a low-paid customer service representative at Soonami, where he is treated like dirt by rude and condescending Antwan.

It’s supposed to make viewers feel sorry for Keys, because the company is wasting his talent. But it just makes Keys look like a fool who’s being taken advantage of because his own bad choices. There are other companies he could work for besides the one that screwed over Keys and Millie. But if he worked for another company, there wouldn’t be the predictable “inside man” plot development that you know is part of this movie. There’s a trite character arc for Keys that’s extremely phony and doesn’t feel deserved.

There are fundamental plot holes in “Free Guy,” because it’s obvious that the filmmakers don’t want anyone watching the movie to think too much. For example, if Free City is so popular worldwide, and the point of the game is for players to create as much violent chaos as possible in Free City, then there would be a lot more death and destruction in Free City than what’s presented in this movie. Free City looks too pristine and orderly, as if hardly anyone is playing this game, which contradicts the movie’s premise that Free City is supposed to be a worldwide hit.

Much of the plot is based on Millie’s lawsuit against Soonami, but “Free Guy” purposely keeps things vague. Don’t expect any mention of the fact that it’s very common for corporations to buy the rights to intellectual property from independent creators and then just shelve it. And buying the rights also means buying any patents associated with the intellectual property and the right to release the intellectual property under a new name. In all likelihood in the real world, Millie doesn’t have a legitimate case for her lawsuit.

“Free Guy” also muddles the logic of how Millie needs to be an avatar in a video game in order to find the coding proof that she needs. Any good computer programmer/video game developer would have kept that coding proof, even after the intellectual property had been sold. But this movie isn’t about being realistic or logical. And that’s excusable if the characters and story had been much better than the unimaginative stereotypes and uninspired dialogue in “Free Guy.”

Keery and Ambudkar play the typical video game nerds. Howery plays the typical loyal best friend. Waititi plays the typical over-the-top villain. Waititi, who is naturally funny, tries to do his best with terrible lines of dialogue, but even he can’t overcome how stilted and awkward everyone looks in what are supposed to be hilarious scenes.

Reynolds has done plenty of action films and comedies where his character starts out as an underdog and then becomes a celebrated hero. It’s all so mind-numbingly monotonous, because he doesn’t do anything new as an actor in “Free Guy,” which is far from his best movie. The stale jokes in “Free Guy” seem like they were programmed by a computer from the 1990s.

The movie’s action scenes and visual effects are so basic and forgettable. One of the “Free Guy” trailers revealed that Guy fights a giant He-Man-ripoff version of himself, so this trailer reveal ruins that surprise. There are a few “surprise” celebrity cameos in the movie that don’t have much of an impact. Channing Tatum pops up in a scene, but he wears out his welcome with his one-note character. Chris Evans has a cameo that lasts a few seconds and should get some quick laughs.

“Free Guy” (from 20th Century Studios) is such a soulless and corporate movie that it has shameless plugging of movies from other Disney-owned studios. There’s “Star Wars”-influenced light saber fighting, in a nod to Disney-owned Lucasfilm. And there’s a reference to Captain America, the superhero character that Evans portrayed in several movies from Disney-owned Marvel Studios. No references to Disney princesses though, because the filmmakers of “Free Guy” want men to dominate in this movie.

Movies like 1982’s “Tron” and 2018’s “Ready Player One” have shown how it’s possible to be creative in a movie about people who transport themselves into a video game and end up having real connections with characters in the game. “Free Guy” could have brought a clever comedic spin to this concept, but the movie is just a messy compilation of lousy jokes and garbled plot developments. There are lot of video games that are better than a junkpile movie like “Free Guy.”

20th Century Studios will release “Free Guy” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.

Review: ‘The Suicide Squad,’ starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, David Dastmalchian, Viola Davis and Daniela Melchior

July 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Joel Kinnaman, Alice Braga, Daniela Melchior, King Shark, Idris Elba and John Cena in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad”

Directed by James Gunn

Culture Representation: Taking place in Louisiana and a fictional South American country called Corto Maltese, the superhero action flick “The Suicide Squad” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing government officials, superheroes, villains, fantasy creatures and everything in between.

Culture Clash: The Suicide Squad—a ragtag group of prisoners and outlaws with special abilities—is ordered by the U.S. government to go on a secret mission to destroy a nefarious scientific operation that is intended to control the world.

Culture Audience: “The Suicide Squad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent, zany and foul-mouthed superhero movies that skillfully blur the lines between heroes and villains.

Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, Margot Robbie, Peter Capaldi and Idris Elba in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad” is the bonkers and bloody action spectacle that fans of iconoclastic superhero movies deserve. It’s a worthy and memorable alternative of writer/director David Ayer’s 2016’s much-maligned “Suicide Squad,” which was a confused and muddled film that ultimately played it too safe for these roguish and rude DC Comics characters. “The Suicide Squad” (written and directed by James Gunn) gives a much-needed adult-oriented resuscitation—not just to the original “Suicide Squad” movie but also to the superhero genre in general, which has a tendency to be formulaic and predictable.

“The Suicide Squad” is the superhero movie equivalent of someone who will kiss you and kick you at the same time. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, there are surprises that most superhero movies would never dare to have. Several characters initially look like they’re going to be prominently featured in the story, but they actually get killed off early in the film. And there are more unexpected deaths that defy the usual expectations of who lives and who dies in a typical superhero film.

Because of all these unexpected deaths in “The Suicide Squad,” the only way to describe the movie without giving away spoiler information is to say that the Suicide Squad’s mission in this movie is to go to the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a top-secret scientific operation called Project Starfish. Just like in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie and in the DC Comics series that inspired this movie franchise, the Suicide Squad (whose official name is Task Force X) consists of dangerous inmates who are held at a federal prison called Belle Reve in Louisiana. The members of the team have special skills or powers that make the Suicide Squad an above-average combat group.

Belle Reve is a recruiting center for a no-nonsense, tough-talking U.S. government official named Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis, reprising her role from 2016’s “Suicide Squad”), who is in charge of monitoring the Suicide Squad members when they go on their black operations (in other words, government-classified missions), under orders from the U.S. government. If the Suicide Squad members complete the mission, then they can get a pre-determined number of years shaved off of their prison sentences. In case any of these Suicide Squad members try to escape or defy orders, an explosive device is implanted in each of their heads, and Amanda has the power to detonate this explosive device.

While Amanda keeps tabs on the Suicide Squad in a control room with elaborate high-tech surveillance, her subordinate Colonel Rick Flag (played by Joel Kinnaman, also from 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie) is the military commander who accompanies the Suicide Squad on their missions. In other words, he does a lot of dirty work that Amanda doesn’t have to do, and his life is more at risk than hers. Colonel Flag is a loyal government employee. He’s gritty but not as cold-blooded and ruthless as Amanda. And in “The Suicide Squad” movie, viewers will see how he handles an important ethical dilemma.

Who are the members of the Suicide Squad in this movie? They are, in alphabetical order:

  • Blackguard (played by Pete Davidson), whose real name is Richard Hertz, an American guy in his 20s who’s an immature and nervous jokester.
  • Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba), whose real name is Robert Dubois, a cynical, grouchy, middle-aged Brit who’s an expert marksman and who is in prison for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, which landed Superman in a hospital’s intensive care unit.
  • Captain Boomerang (played by Jai Courtney), whose real name is George “Digger” Harkness, a hot-tempered Australian in his 30s who uses a deadly boomerang as his main weapon.
  • Javelin (played by Flula Borg), whose real name is Gunter Braun, a cocky German in his 30s who has a javelin as his main weapon.
  • King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a talking mutant shark that has the intelligence of a 3-year-old human child and an appetite for eating humans.
  • Mongal (played by Mayling Ng), an orange alien with superhero strength and agility.
  • Peacemaker (played by John Cena), whose real name is Christopher Smith, an extremely patriotic middle-aged American who is an expert marksman and immediately has a rivalry with Bloodsport.
  • Polka-Dot Man (played by David Dastmalchian), whose real name is Abner Krill, an insecure American guy in his 40s who has “mother issues” and the ability to eject deadly flying polka dots from his body as weapons.
  • Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a ditsy American maniac whose past heartbreaks (including her former romance with iconic villain The Joker) and personal grudges affect many of her decisions.
  • Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior), whose real name is Cleo Cazo, a compassionate Portuguese orphan in her 20s who has the ability to command rats to do her bidding.
  • Savant (played by Michael Rooker), whose real name is Brian Durlin, a jaded, 61-year-old American who is an expert in weapons and hand-to-hand combat.
  • T.D.K. (played by Nathan Fillion), a stoic American man in his 40s, whose real name is Cory Pitzner and whose T.D.K. nickname initials stand for The Detachable Kid, because he has the power to detach his limbs and use them as weapons.
  • Weasel (played by Sean Gunn), an easygoing, giant weasel that cannot talk.

Harley and Boomerang were in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie. The other characters are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) live-action movies. Of these new characters in “The Suicide Squad,” Bloodsport, Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2 are the ones with the significant backstories that are described in the movie. Amanda tells a reluctant and anti-social Bloodsport that he will be the leader of this revamped Suicide Squad.

Corto Maltese is a country in a lot of political turmoil. For years, the country was ruled by royals called the Herrera Family, but the entire family was murdered by a public hanging during a miltary coup of the government. The leader of this coup is General Silvio Luna (played by Juan Diego Botto), whose right-hand man is Mayor General Mateo Suarez (played by Joaquín Cosio), who’s old enough to be General Luna’s father. General Luna has appointed himself as the military dictator president of Corto Maltese.

Meanwhile, General Luna and his inner circle know all about Project Starfish. The secrets of Project Starfish will give Corto Maltese the ability to become a world superpower. The geneticist in charge of Project Starfish is a Brit named Gaius Grieves (played by Peter Capaldi), who has the nickname the Thinker. He’s the key to getting access to Jotunheim, the name of the scientific research facility that houses Project Starfish in the Corto Maltese city of Valle del Mar. The Thinker is also easy to spot, because he has electrode-like amps, spark plugs and valves portruding from his head, in order to enhance his intelligence.

The only information that the Suicide Squad has about the Thinker is what he looks like and that he often likes to go to a “gentleman’s club” after work. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that the Suicide Squad will be going to a strip club, and there’s going to be a big fight scene there. The way the scene is filmed is not cliché as it sounds. And it has moments of comedy, such as when the Suicide Squad members get drunk and some of them awkwardly start dancing.

In addition to many surprise twists, what makes “The Suicide Squad” different from most other superhero movies is how it manages to be a nihilistic, graphically violent movie with heart and genuine sentiment. It’s a tricky balance that most movies with these intentions would not be able to achieve. The Suicide Squad members might have reputations for being amoral, but the movie shows (in ways that 2016’s “Suicide Squad did not) a certain depth to their emotional damage.

Bloodsport has a rocky relationship with his 16-year-old daughter Tyla (played by Storm Reid), a rebel who has recently gotten into trouble for stealing a StyleWatch, which is described as a device that’s a lot like an Apple Watch. (Tyla’s mother is dead, by the way.) When Tyla comes to visit Bloodsport in prison, she tells him about how she’s gotten in trouble for this theft. Instead of giving the usual parental lecture, Bloodsport chastises Tyla by saying that she should’ve had a thief partner so she wouldn’t get caught.

They yell “fuck you” to each other, because Tyla has a lot of resentment over having an absentee father who has not been there to give her the guidance that she obviously wants. She shouts at Bloodsport that she’s ashamed that he’s her father. And the hurt expression on Bloodsport’s face shows that he’s not so tough after all, at least when it comes to his daughter. Later, after Bloodsport meets Ratcatcher 2, he shows his vulnerable side again when he tells Ratcatcher 2 that she reminds him of his daughter.

Other characters reveal how their family-related traumas have affected them. Polka-Dot Man had a mother (played by Lynne Ashe), who worked at Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories, also known as S.T.A.R. Labs. According to what Polka-Dot Man tells the other Suicide Squad members, his mother was obsessed with making her children superheroes, so she conducted illegal scientific experiments on them.

Polka-Dot Man’s polka dots on his skin are an interdimensional virus that he got from these experiments. His face can balloon into a bloated disfigurement with polka dots unless he expels them. (This transformation is shown in the movie.) Polka-Dot Man says at one point, “I don’t like to kill people, but if I pretend they’re my mom, it’s easy.” And yes, there are some scenes were the Polka-Dot Man hallucinates seeing his mother.

Ratcatcher 2 is the daughter of Ratcatcher (played by Taika Waititi, in a flashback cameo), who taught her how to summon and control rats. The rats kept them company when she and her father lived on the streets of Portugal. During a bus ride with other Suicide Squad members, Ratcatcher 2 talks about how she moved to the U.S. from Portugal, and she’s an orphan because her father died from his “burdens.” (Ratcatcher 2 never talks about what happened to her mother.)

The flashback shows that Ratcatcher’s main burden was a needle-using drug addiction, and he died of a drug overdose. Ratcatcher 2 also says after she moved to the U.S., she was arrested for armed bank robbery, and she can’t believe that her rats were considered a weapon. Ratcatcher 2’s closest companion is a very intelligent rat named Sebastian, which Colonel Flag jokingly calls Ratatouille.

Meanwhile, there’s a running gag in the movie that macho Bloodsport is very afraid of rats. On that bus ride, he reveals why: His mercenary father, who gave him weapons training, would punish Bloodsport as a child for not doing something correctly. One of those punishments was to lock Bloodsport in a crate for 24 hours with hungry rats. Bloodsport’s rat phobia is used for comic relief as well as a very touching moment in the movie.

Harley does not have her signature baseball bat in this movie, but she has a rocket launcher and a javelin that she puts to good use. How she got this javelin is revealed in the movie. In 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” Harley was depicted as a scantily clad sexpot who was lovesick over the Joker. In “The Suicide Squad,” she’s more of an independent badass, just as she was in the 2020 movie “Birds of Prey,” but not like the two-dimensional caricature that she was in “Birds of Prey.”

In one part of the movie, Corto Maltese president Luna summons Harley to his palace for an elaborate lunch date, in order to seduce her and convince her to become his wife. Luna is very anti-American but he’s attracted to Harley because her hellraising antics seem to be anti-American, and he thinks she’s very sexy. Harley is dressed for the occasion in a frilly red gown that she wears for the rest of the movie and during her biggest action scenes. Wearing the red gown while in combat is a symbolic contrast of how Harley sees herself as both girly and gonzo when it comes to fighting.

“The Suicide Squad” has fun with Harley’s image as the Suicide Squad member who’s most likely to make a fashion statement. Early on the movie, Harley wears a red and black leather suit with a jacket emblazoned with the words “Live Fast, Die Clown” on the back. And later in the movie, when she’s wearing the red gown, it’s shown that she has a back tattoo that reads, “Property of No One” next to a jester head that’s mean to signify the Joker. She also has a chest tattoo that reads “Daddy’s Lil Monster,” in a nod to the T-shirt that she famously wore in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”

Harley might come across a flaky and erratic in some ways, but “The Suicide Squad” presents her with a fascinating and complex mindset. She has a monologue in the movie that’s very revealing in how she still has some inner conflict over how much she’s willing to let her head, not her heart, rule over any decisions that she makes. This movie is Robbie’s most compelling portrayal of Harley Quinn, because she’s finally given the dialogue that this character should have.

Visually, “The Suicide Squad” is the best so far of any live-action movie featuring Harley Quinn. There are some whimsical qualities, such as plot developments spelled out in giant words that are part of the scenery. (“The Suicide Squad” was filmed in Atlanta, Panama, Puerto Rico and Portugal.)The most gruesome and bloodiest scenes have an almost cartoonish quality, so that things don’t appear to be completely depressing and grim. And some of the action scenes have a poetic beauty to them, particularly one sequence involving Harley Quinn and a cascade of flowers in bloom, which are very metaphorical to the blossoming of her character.

What will affect viewers the most is not the violence but who dies in the movie. These deaths are examples of why people in this ragtag Suicide Squad are reluctant or afraid to get emotionally attached to others. (However, in the end-credits scene, it’s revealed that the one of the “dead” characters actually survived.) Although the violence in “The Suicide Squad” is brutal, it’s not without consequences. Too often, superhero movies make most of the villains die and all of the heroes live. “The Suicide Squad” is a big middle finger to that idea.

The rivalry between Bloodsport and Peacemaker provides a lot of comedy, as well as tension-filled moments. As an example of the insult jokes between these two alpha males, Bloodsport derides Peacemaker for his shiny chrome helmet, which Bloodsport says looks like a toilet seat on Peacemaker’s head. Later in the movie, Peacemaker snaps back, “It’s not a toilet seat! It’s a beacon of freedom!”

The acting in “The Suicide Squad” is not going to be nominated for any prestigious awards, but all of the cast members get the job done well for their characters. Robbie and Elba stand out for bringing some nuance as emotionally wounded troublemakers Harley Quinn and Bloodsport. Melchior and Dastmalchian also have some standout moments as Ratcatcher 2 and the Polka-Dot Man, who are the kindler, gentler members of the Suicide Squad. King Shark is written as very simple-minded, so there’s not much going on with this character except fighting, eating humans, and a standout scene where King Shark is fascinated by the contents of a giant aquarium.

The Suicide Squad members have two outside allies from Corto Maltese in their mission: Sol Soria (played by Alice Braga) is the leader of a resistance movement against the military coup. She has a very negative first impression of the Suicide Squad because of a colossal mistake that directly affects Sol. Milton (played by Julio Cesar Ruiz) is a hired driver who becomes the butt of a joke about how people don’t pay attention to service employees in movies like this or in real life.

It’s an example of some of the offbeat sensibilities that Gunn (who’s also known for directing “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movies) brings to “The Suicide Squad.” Another example is how Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” song is used in one of Harley Quinn’s big action scenes. And in Amanda’s surveillance control room, her subordinates take bets on which Suicide Squad members will live or die during a mission.

One of the ways that “The Suicide Squad” doesn’t play it safe is by having some political themes about American patriotism and how Americans are often perceived by people in other countries. These themes in the movie might get divisive reactions from audience members. But considering that so many superhero movies deliberately avoid politics, “The Suicide Squad” should be commended for going outside the norm and taking some bold risks, even if they might alienate some viewers.

In others words, “The Suicide Squad” is not for the type of superhero movie fan who only wants pleasant, lightweight, family-friendly entertainment. The movie shows the good, bad and ugly sides of humanity in a way that will elicit a wide range of emotions in viewers. But one way that “The Suicide Squad” won’t make most viewers feel is bored.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Suicide Squad” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on August 5, 2021, moved up from the original release date of August 6, 2021. The movie was released in cinemas in select countries, including the United Kingdom, on July 30, 2021.

2019 Toronto International Film Festival: TIFF Tribute Gala honorees include Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix, Taika Waititi, Roger Deakins

August 14, 2019

TIFF logo

Meryl Streep (Photo by Rick Rowell/ABC)

The following are press releases from the Toronto International Film Festival:

Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, Co-Heads of TIFF, announced that three-time Academy Award winner ​Meryl Streep​ will be honored with the ​TIFF Tribute Actor  Award​, Sponsored by RBC at this year’s new TIFF Tribute Gala awards event. Taking place on Monday, September 9 at Fairmont Royal York, during the 44th Toronto International Film  Festival, the Gala is an annual fundraiser to support TIFF’s year-round programmes and core  mission to transform the way people see the world through film, and to celebrate the film  industry’s outstanding contributors.

With an extensive film, television, and stage career spanning over 40 years, Streep has won  three Academy Awards — for her roles in ​”Kramer vs. Kramer​,” ​”Sophie’s Choice​,” and ​”The Iron Lady”  — and, in 2018, she set an unsurpassed record with her 21st Oscar nomination for her role in “The Post​.” She has been nominated for 31 Golden Globes, winning eight times, and in 2017 she  was the recipient of the Cecil B. deMille Award. Streep currently stars in the Emmy  Award–winning series ​”Big Little Lies​” and will star with Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas in  Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film ​”The Laundromat​,” which will have its North American  Premiere at TIFF this September.

“Meryl Streep is undoubtedly one of the most talented and versatile actors of her generation,”  said Vicente. “Her tremendous contribution to cinema, television, and the stage spans five  decades; from her early roles in ‘​The Deer Hunter​,’ ​’Kramer vs. Kramer​,​’ ​and ​’Sophie’s Choice’​ to later  films including ​’The Devil Wears Prada​,​’ ‘The Iron Lady​,​’ ​and ​’The Post​,’ she has portrayed characters  that are as compelling as they are timeless. TIFF could not be more thrilled to honor such a  skilled and exemplary artist.”

Joaquin Phoenix (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Grey Goose Vodka)

Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, Co-Heads of TIFF, announced that three-time Academy  Award–nominated actor ​Joaquin Phoenix​ will be honored with one of two ​TIFF Tribute Actor Awards​ at this  year’s TIFF Tribute Gala awards event. Taking place on Monday, September 9 at Fairmont Royal York, during  the 44th Toronto International Film Festival, the Gala is an annual fundraiser to support TIFF’s year-round  programmes and core mission to transform the way people see the world through film, and to celebrate the  film industry’s outstanding contributors.

With a wide-ranging career spanning over 35 years, Phoenix has starred in such films as​ “The Master​,” “Inherent  Vice​,​” “Walk the Line​,” ​”Gladiator​,” “To Die For​,” and “​Her.” ​He has been nominated for three Academy Awards for his  roles as Commodus​ ​in ​”Gladiator​,” Freddie Quell in ​”The Master”​ and Johnny Cash in​ “Walk the Line​,” for which he  won a Golden Globe.​​ This fall, Phoenix portrays the title character in Todd Phillips’ ​”Joker​,” ​a standalone origin  story ​that will have its North American Premiere at TIFF.

“Displaying both raw instinct and consummate technical skill, Joaquin Phoenix is the complete actor, and one  of the finest in contemporary cinema,” said Bailey. “Over three decades, he has brought a piercing truth to each  groundbreaking role. TIFF is thrilled to be celebrating an artist of his caliber with this inaugural award. We can’t  wait for Festival audiences to experience his electric turn in ​Joker​.”

“We’re thrilled that the extraordinarily talented Joaquin Phoenix will be honored at the TIFF Tribute Gala this  September,” said Vicente. “His outstanding contribution to cinema acts as a testament to TIFF’s core mission  to transform the way people see the world through film.”

Director Todd Phillips’ “J​oker​” centers on the iconic arch-nemesis and is an original, fictional story not seen  before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Phoenix, is of a man  struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society.

Taika Waititi (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios/Disney)

Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, Co-Heads of TIFF, announced that  Academy Award–nominated New Zealand filmmaker ​Taika Waititi​ will be honored with the  TIFF Ebert Director Award​ at this year’s new TIFF Tribute Gala awards event. The award  recognizes and honors a distinguished filmmaker for their outstanding contribution to cinema. Taking place on Monday, September 9 at Fairmont Royal York, during the 44th Toronto  International Film Festival, the Gala is an annual fundraiser to support TIFF’s year-round  programmes and core mission to transform the way people see the world through film, and to  celebrate the film industry’s outstanding contributors.

“Taika Waititi is one of the most innovative, bold, and exciting filmmakers working in the  industry right now,” said Vicente. “TIFF is thrilled to honor his extraordinary talent with the  inaugural TIFF Ebert Director Award.”

“Taika Waititi is the rock star cinema needs right now,” said Bailey. “His films are full of  razor-sharp humor, faultless style, and boundless generosity. Somehow he manages to stuff  both indie hits and massive crowd-pleasers with big, radical ideas. We’re thrilled to be  premiering his latest, “​Jojo Rabbit​,” at the Festival and to hand over the inaugural TIFF Tribute  Award for direction to this 21st-century master.”

Waititi directed the superhero film ​”Thor: Ragnarok,​” which made over $850 million at the box  office worldwide, and will write and direct the upcoming ​”Thor: Love and Thunder.​” His films as  writer-director also include ​”Boy​” and ​”Hunt for the Wilderpeople​,” and he co-wrote, co-directed, and  co-starred in ​”What We Do in the Shadows​” with Jemaine Clement. He was nominated for an  Academy Award for his short ​”Two Cars, One Night​.” Waititi’s upcoming anti-hate satire “Jojo  Rabbit​,” starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie  Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, and Waititi himself, will have its world premiere at TIFF  and will be released by Fox Searchlight on October 18, 2019.

The ​TIFF Ebert Director Award ​is an evolution of the organization’s former Roger Ebert Golden  Thumb Award, which celebrated a remarkable filmmaker who reflected renowned film critic  Roger Ebert’s passion for cinema. Past recipients include Claire Denis, Martin Scorsese, Ava  DuVernay, Agnès Varda, and Wim Wenders.

Roger Deakins (Photo by Rick Rowell/ABC)

Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, Co-Heads of TIFF, announced that Academy  Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins will be honored with the ​Variety​ Artisan Award​ at this year’s  TIFF Tribute Gala awards event. The award recognizes a distinguished filmmaker who has excelled at their  craft and made an outstanding contribution to cinema. Taking place on Monday, September 9, at the Fairmont  Royal York, during the 44th Toronto International Film Festival, the Gala is an annual fundraiser to support  TIFF’s year-round programmes and core mission to transform the way people see the world through film, and  to celebrate the film industry’s outstanding contributors. ​Variety​ is proud to be the exclusive trade media  partner on the event.

Deakins won an Academy Award for ​Blade Runner 2049​, and was nominated for an additional 13 Oscars for his  work on films including ​”The Shawshank Redemption”; “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; “No Country for Old Men”; “Skyfall​” and ​”Sicario​.” His illustrious career, spanning more than 40 years, also includes four ASC Award wins for  Outstanding Cinematography, four BAFTA Awards, and collaborations with directors such as the Coen  brothers, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Angelina Jolie, Sam Mendes and Denis Villeneuve, making him one of  the most sought-after cinematographers in the industry. Deakins’ latest work will be featured in the upcoming  film ​”The Goldfinch.” Directed by John Crowley and starring Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn  Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman, ​”The Goldfinch”​ will have its World  Premiere at TIFF and will be released by Warner Bros. Pictures on September 13, 2019.

“For nearly half a century, the name Roger Deakins has exemplified both breathtaking cinematic beauty and  fearless cinematic risk-taking,” said Steven Gaydos, EVP of Content at ​Variety​. “From his early-career work on  music docs and small British features through his decades of stellar work for the world’s greatest filmmakers,  Deakins has carved out a unique place in the history of cinematography. Capable of exquisite painterly  flourishes as well as groundbreaking technological advances in the cinematographic arts, his Oscar win for ‘Blade Runner 2049​’ capped a run of nominations that included everything from blockbusters like ​’Skyfall​’ to Best  Picture winners like ​’No Country for Old Men​.’This year, with both ​’The​ ​Goldfinch’​ and ​’1917′ on the horizon,  Deakins continues to dazzle and inspire as he pushes the boundaries of his craft and helps make masterpieces  with equally fearless auteurs.”

TIFF previously announced that ​Participant  Media​ will receive the ​TIFF Impact Award​, accepted by Founder and Chairman Jeff Skoll and CEO David Linde.  The recipient of the inaugural ​Mary Pickford Award​ supported by MGM, honoring a female emerging talent in  the industry in celebration of United Artists’ 100th anniversary, will be announced in the coming days.*

Mati Diop (Photo by Huma Rosentalski)

*August 20, 2019 UPDATE:  Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, Co-Heads of TIFF, today announced director ​Mati Diop​ as the  inaugural recipient of the ​Mary Pickford Award​ supported by MGM, to be presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on  Monday, September 9. The award, named in honor of Toronto native Mary Pickford, recognizes an emerging  female talent who is making groundbreaking strides in the industry. Pickford was the pioneering actor,  producer, and Co-Founder of United Artists, and the award is being launched in conjunction with United Artists’  centennial this year. The creation of the award follows TIFF’s continued commitment to championing women  and diverse voices in front of and behind the camera.

“We’re thrilled to honor the incredible Mati Diop as our inaugural Mary Pickford Award recipient, as United  Artists marks its centennial year,” said Vicente, Executive Director and Co-Head of TIFF. “She is a vibrant and  important new voice within the industry and one to watch closely.”
“Mati Diop’s film ‘Atlantics’ is a profound and unsettling work of art,” said Bailey, Artistic Director and Co-Head  of TIFF. “We know this is just the start for such an original and authentic voice, and we’re delighted to celebrate  her success at this year’s TIFF Tribute Gala.”
“Like Mary Pickford, Mati Diop has demonstrated her trial-blazing influence both in front of and behind the  camera, making her the ideal inaugural awardee.  We look forward to partnering with TIFF to honor Pickford’s  legacy and United Artists in celebration of their 100th year,” said Jonathan Glickman, President of MGM  Studios’ Motion Picture Group.
She has directed the short films ​”Atlantiques​,” “Big in Vietnam​,” and the documentary ​”A Thousand Suns”​ — all of  which played the Festival — as well as ​Snow Canon​ and ​Liberian Boy​. ​”A Thousand Suns”​ was presented by Claire  Denis in 2013 as part of TIFF’s year-round Cinematheque programme. In 2019, Diop became the first Black  female director to screen a film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival with her debut feature ​”Atlantics​,” which was based on the short ​”Atlantiques​” and went on to win the prestigious Grand Prix at the festival. The  film, written by Diop and Olivier Demangel, stars Mama Sané, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou,  Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. ​”Atlantic”s​ will have its  North American Premiere at TIFF and will be released by Netflix later this year. The film is produced by Les  Films du Bal, Cinekap and FraKas.
Of all Festival titles in this year’s lineup, 36% are directed, co-directed, or created by women, and women  comprise half the Festival’s programming team. Following the organization’s signing of the 50/50×2020 pledge  at last year’s Festival, TIFF has steadfastly worked to integrate responsible data management and practices to  understand the diversity and inclusion of its film programming. TIFF gave filmmakers the opportunity to  self-identify to inform gender representation in the Official Selection. As part of TIFF’s Share Her Journey  campaign, the organization will continue to provide over 120 female creators free access to TIFF’s Industry  Conference and year-round programming. The overall number of speakers at this year’s Conference represents  a 50/50 gender split, as do TIFF Talent Development initiatives such as TIFF Studio, Filmmaker Lab, and TIFF  Rising Stars.
Mary Pickford was the highest-paid actor — male or female — during the late 1910s and was a savvy  businesswoman who helped shape the industry as we know it today. In 1919, she revolutionized film  distribution by partnering with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists.  Pickford, who also went on to co-found what is today the Motion Picture & Television Fund and the Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, continued to be a part of United Artists through the early 1950s. The award  will be supported by MGM Studios, whose retains the United Artist library as part of its global film and  television library of content.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5–15, 2019.

For information on purchasing a table for the TIFF Tribute Gala, please contact ​[email protected]​.

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About TIFF 

TIFF is a not-for-profit cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world  through film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film  Festival in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and  entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates  an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors  including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the  Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more  information, visit tiff.net.    About ​Variety  Variety​ has been the seminal voice of the entertainment industry for 114 years and counting. Featuring  award-winning breaking-news reporting, insightful award-season coverage, must-read feature spotlights, and  intelligent analysis of the industry’s most prominent players, ​Variety​ is the trusted source for the business of  global entertainment. Read by a highly engaged audience of industry insiders, ​Variety’s​ multi-platform content  coverage expands across digital, mobile, social, print and branded content, events, and summits.    Follow Variety on Facebook at facebook.com/variety, Twitter @variety, and Instagram @Variety. The Variety  Group — Variety, Variety.com, Variety Insight, and Indiewire — is owned by Variety Media, LLC, a division of  Penske Media Corporation.

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