With the Olympics in full swing in Rio de Janeiro, it’s no wonder that America and much of the rest of the world is abuzz over the same thing: how bad Suicide Squad is. Wait, what? Is this really what we are so consumed with? Yes, yes it is. Sure, Michael Phelps swam his final race, and Usain Bolt left everyone in the dust once again, but these guys getting gold was anticipated, expected really. The DC film universe, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) crumbling upon its newly established foundation? Some may have seen it coming, but surely not so badly (and it is “badly”, Joker!) Furthermore, this is a film franchise built with the hopes of rivaling the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the gold standard for multiple blockbuster film releases a year. Marvel has not been perfect, but it has been overall better than originally expected, and continues to shine with quality stories that highlight characters who are human no matter how superhuman their abilities may be. DC desperately wants to catch up to this success, but three films in they are picking themselves back up and considering an overhaul of already filmed content after stumbling out of the gate. So why has DC been so bad where Marvel has been so good, and what can they do to fix it?
The esteemed Nerdwriter1 has a fantastic web series you should check out for many items of interest, and as it happens, he presents a great explanation of what has made the DC films so lackluster compared to their Marvel big brothers. The problem lies in director Zack Snyder’s preference of shots that look cool over established sequences with weight to them. In other words, moments favored over scenes, as explained in this short video.
Now that we know the distinction between movie moments and scenes, and how something that looks amazing has less gravity than an interchange between a character and something else like an object, place, or another character that takes its time to develop, let’s take a look at a scene from another director/filmmaker who has an instantly recognizable style: Quentin Tarantino. Occasionally his scenes go on too long with too much dialogue, but for the most part, Tarantino constantly hits with scenes of weight to the story that show character growth in situations that range from an extreme of calm of driving in a car to an extreme brawl of arms and legs being chopped off by a katana. Looking past how his films all take place in some convoluted universe (does that make his films a franchise?), his style and classic writing has been brought into many genres of film over the years. From multiple angles of crime and noir, to Eastern martial arts, to war, to Western, with touches of just about everything in between, Tarantino has managed to make his mark in genre after genre with critical and commercial acclaim in both. How exactly does he step up to the plate with such a consistently higher batting average than Snyder then? Consult this scene form Django Unchained (2012). Django (Jamie Foxx) has recently been freed and brought into the world of bounty hunting by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). They have tracked down three men who once worked at a plantation where Django was a slave to collect the price on their heads.
We get a flashback with an uptempo song and highly stylized moments throughout, and it all works beautifully. The flashback serves to show exactly how Django knows these men, and gives us reason to understand his hate for them. Similar to the Nazis in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, we are not sympathetic to the slave drivers because history has shown us that these men are the worst of the worst. Nevertheless, the flashback in this scene serves to show how these particular men have wronged Django, leaving him with a vengeful desire to inflict their own wicked punishment upon them. It also provides us with an early look at his love, Broomhilda, who is Django’s, and the film’s primary motivation to do what he does. This flashback not only sets up a cool shot (literally) of blood spurting onto cotton, but truly the entirety of the plot is hinged upon what we see in this flashback and ensuing sequence. Not to mention, that that moment where Schultz shoots Ellis long-range as he rides away and sprays deep red blood all over that clean, white cotton is a brilliant movie moment that does so much for this scene, and again, the whole film. It works as a spectacular trailer spot (the spot that made me decide to want to see this movie, in fact) while also bringing so much to the end of this scene. Thanks to that gorgeous clash of colors in a realistic splash of blood – something that will cease to exist as the film goes on and ramps up the style because it paves the way so well early on – we get a satisfying conclusion to the scene that revolves around revenge, blood, and bounty, as well as rectifying the wrongs of the evil men of the era. Obviously, seeing fictional racist white men getting whipped and brutally killed does not make up for the real events that happened all too often in the American South in the 1800s, but the blood on the cotton is a metaphor as much as it is a pretty shot in slow-motion. You would be hard-pressed to find something similar in any way in Snyder’s works.
Thanks for reading and watching! I hope that you’ll return next week for more entertaining and hopefully educational words. Undoubtedly I’ll also have a video or two, so rest assured that you’ll always get a bit of a substitute teacher who has given up and is just trying to get to the end of the day from me. Although, I will always eagerly read any comments, questions, or requests for writing topics at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go Team USA!