Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad


Directed by David Ayer.
2016. Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Cast:
Will Smith
Margot Robbie
Jared Leto
Viola Davis
Jay Hernandez
Joel Kinnaman
Jai Courtney
Cara Delevingne
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Karen Fukuhara
Adam Beach
Scott Eastwood
Ben Affleck
Alain Chanoine

In a post-Superman world, the rules have drastically changed. Amanda Waller (Davis) is a government big-wig who knows we were lucky the last son of Krypton shared our values (kinda-sorta). She poses the question what if 'the next Superman' is a bad guy? Who will protect us. She believes the answer is employing some 'meta-humans' for the job. The only ones she has access to are all bad guys Batman (Affleck) has busted, plus Enchantress, an ancient witch who has possessed the body of archaeologist June Moone (Delevingne). Waller is in control of heart, literally. Despite the inherent risks of trusting these people, Waller convinces her boss this is a good idea. She gets the troops out of their various jail cells and puts them in action when Enchantress escapes and brings her just as evil and powerful big brother back to life. To control the crazies she's using for the job she implants a tiny bomb in each of their necks and lets them know it will be detonated immediately if they try any funny business.

As in any team-up movie, there are a couple characters more important than the rest. In this case, that would be Deadshot (Smith) and Harley Quinn (Robbie). Deadshot is a hit man for hire who never misses a shot. Despite how many people he's killed he's just trying to be a good dad to his pre-teen daughter. Harley is a pure nutjob, through and through. She also happens to be the love of Joker's (Leto). Joker is not part of the squad, but dammit, he's coming to get his lady and she can hardly wait. The rest of the group is made up of El Diablo (Hernandez) who can control fire, master thief Captain Boomerang (Courtney), Slipknot (Beach) who is an expert in grappling and scaling, and finally Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who looks like and has the abilities of a crocodile. Their actual mission is ran by Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and his team of Navy SEALs. Flag is personally invested because the witch, er Dr. Moone, is his girlfriend. Also having Flag's back is Katana (Fukuhara), an expert martial artist who's sword traps the souls of its victims. Nice. Away we go.

Taking a page from Marvel's playbook, Suicide Squad focuses heavily on the eponymous team. Their conflicts build camaraderie as the movie progresses. They debate the merits of working for Waller, plot to escape, and there is some humor along the way. Most impressively, we get into the backstories of these people and root for them despite their inescapable badness. We become invested in a number of its characters, especially Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and El Diablo. In the case of the two guys, they are conflicted men. As mentioned, Deadshot just wants to be a good father. He is great at killing people, even enjoys it, but he doesn't want that for his little girl. Like any other parent, he wants the best for her. Smith gives us an excellent performance handling the role in a way that manages to fall in line with his good guy persona, yet doesn't undermine the character. Hernandez plays his role in a similar fashion. His El Diablo is one who actually refuses to take part in any fighting because of the destruction his power has caused in his own life. Though saddled with more stereotypes than any other role, Hernandez manages to rise above this to create a character we can get behind.


Harley Quinn is not at all conflicted. However, much time is devoted to developing her relationship to Joker. As twisted as it is, we see her as a woman hopelessly in love. Though we know her and her beau are bad people and do lots of bad things, there is a part of us that wants them to be together. Their devotion to each other is nothing short of romantic, in the craziest sense of the word mind you, but romantic nonetheless. Who knew two people jumping into a vat of acid could be an effectively tender moment? The key to this working are the performances of our lovers. Margot Robbie delivers a memorable turn as a girl who's not all there, capable of heinous things, and yet still fragile. She fully embodies the character as Batfans have envisioned her for a couple decades, now. It's a fantastic performance with one small, but noticeable problem. As portrayed on Batman: The Animated Series, where the character originated, Harley Quinn has a very distinct accent. Robbie only attempts to use it sporadically. She should have either used it all the time or not at all. Doing one or the other would make her work here would be undeniably great. As it stands, it's a really enjoyable turn with an unnecessary flaw. The other component, Leto's Joker, has no such physical shortcoming. Much has been made of the actor's maniacal preparation and execution of the role. Without question, he completely disappears into the character. The problem here is there isn't enough of him. After painstakingly setting up their relationship early on, he is absent for large chunks of the film. When he is on screen, it is as a bizarre Prince Charming trying to save his princess. This serves the film well from the standpoint of getting us to care about the characters, but leaves a void in the conflict department. If it were filled by something else, we wouldn't bat an eye. It is not.

That void is the gaping hole where the villain should be. In this case, it's the plural villains, and I don't mean the Suicide Squad, either. Enchantress and her brother Incubus (Chanoine) make what should be a memorable pair. They have seemingly infinite magical abilities and an Ultron-esque kill all humans plot. Unfortunately, they too are strangely absent for long stretches. In their place are the hordes of disposable minions they dispatch to face the squad. When the main baddies are around they have nothing to do other than build whatever contraption they're going to use to wipe us all out. By build I mean stand around and shout Latin (I guess) while CGI swirls about the screen. Speaking of which, Incubus himself is an entirely CGI creation, but that's neither here nor there. The issue isn't how the character is created, but that he makes so little an impression. It doesn't help that they should have been defeated before they even got started. Their existence as a problem lies squarely at the feet of Amanda Waller. She is a wonderfully portrayed by Viola Davis as a sadistic (and more interesting) version of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, and is more interesting than she has been in the numerous DC Animated flicks in which she appears. Still, it's her easily avoidable error that causes the problem. Even after making it, she could have cured half the problem at any point during the first hour and half of the movie but never took the opportunity.

Without having read a single review of this film before writing this, I suspect the paragraph prior to this is a major reason there has been so much negativity towards it. It's currently tracking at just 26% on rottentomatoes.com. Generally, I find myself in line with what the critics are saying, but not this time. While I recognize the issue of not having a compelling villain in a movie full of villains, and the inherent problem of trying to make some of them sympathetic characters, I don't think either was enough to sink the film. Forgettable bad guys is something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrived mostly without. As far as turning bad guys into good guys, Suicide Squad handles it quite well. Characters who would seem to be unlikable become sympathetic figures. The action, of which there is plenty even though I haven't even mentioned it, is brutal. The overall tone is fairly dark, but still light enough to keep it from being oppressive. For all of those reasons I'm siding with the audiences who are almost exactly opposite of the critics, sitting at 73%. Maybe it really is that good. I think so. Then again, maybe my expectations were just really low after Bruce v Clark: Dawn of Martha.

24 comments:

  1. I'm going to wait for this on TV as I'm just going to wait for Wonder Woman. That film better be awesome or else DC is fucked.

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    1. Got my fingers crossed waiting on that one.

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  2. " Robbie only attempts to use it sporadically. She should have either used it all the time or not at all" - I think Margot's accent going in and out was part of her performance and showing that Harley has many personalities.

    I had fun with this movie but what WB did with cutting 40 minutes of footage and how Jared Leto was his treated, most of his scenes gone, yet the studio involving him in promoting the film, is simply despicable.

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    1. I could be wrong, but I never thought of Harley as having multiple personalities, just a really unstable one. Besides, she such a great job of showing how crazy the character is without that.

      WB has shown a pattern of alienating it's stars because they don't trust their directors to make good movies, or at least ones they think will take in the most dough.

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  3. Haven't seen it yet but have of course read so much negativity towards the film. I think it comes down to a combination of things and they both expectation in different ways. Firstly, you have the expectation generated by the studio (trailer, posters etc.) which served to celebrate antiheroes or villains in a darkly comic way. It worked well. Secondly, you have a lot of preconceived ideas about these films because they are based on fiction that already has a solid fan base. People are already invested in these characters before a filmmaker asks you to "invest" in their version. It doesn't always work. I think this might have hampered Suicide Squad more, partly because Batman V Superman left a lot of people pretty disappointed. Good piece of writing though Wendell. Enjoyed that.

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    1. Excellent point about preconceived ideas. People really are invested in these characters before they get to the theater. It's something comic book movies deal with more than any other genre. Even all those movies adapted from YA novels don't have to deal with it as much as comic book films. This most certainly contributed to the overwhelmingly negative reception this film has.

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  4. I still want to see this, mostly to see just HOW much they ruined this (and for Robbie) but I'm nervous. These reviews are rough. Glad you enjoyed it enough though.

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    1. There is no doubt, it could have been better...much better. As for how much they (by they, I mean WB) messed it up, you can start with the fact 40 minutes of screentime of Leto as the Joker wound up on the cutting room floor.

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  5. Great review mate. Whilst I'm on the other side of the fence on this one (hugely disappointed, I was so pumped for this movie), I respect you're opinion. There are certainly no shortage of people out there who would agree with you :)

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    1. Thanks! No shortage of people on my side, but we've heard a lot more from people on yours, lol.

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  6. It's a weird thing: Warner Bros tear the guts out of films that are guaranteed to make bank because they're afraid of something, ruining relationships with directors and stars etc, but Clint Eastwood can make any damn film he wants without so much as a minute of controversy. Something is wrong at the House of Daffy.

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  7. I agree that I did feel like I began to care about Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and El Diablo, though I'd say I was more entertained by Harley Quinn rather than engaged, but the cast of character pale in comparison to those in the Marvel canon. I felt this is because Marvel took time to build their characters before throwing them all in together by giving (most of them) them films of their own. DC did not do this and for this reason the film failed in my eyes.

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    1. There is definitely something to that. The whole DC universe feels rushed which was a huge problem with BvS. In this case, I don't know if it was rushing as much as panicking that made them hack this thing up the way they did.

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    2. Myeria's comment is spot-on. Too many characters thrown our way in one film, resulting in all but two (or three) of them fading into the background. Smith and Robbie are the stars of the show and it's a damn shame the villain is so f--king worhtless, giving them far too little to do.

      Honestly, I think the whole setup is flawed, as I explained in far-too much detail at my site. Had they just given these characters their own films, maybe even where Batman was the bad guy, this sumbitch would have been insane.

      Bring on the hot chick in the invisible plane, I guess.

      I dig the post, as always Dell. (even if I think we saw a different movie!)

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    3. I would love to see a film for one of these guys where Batman was the bad guy. However, something tells me we'll never get that.

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  8. Hahahhahaha Dawn of Martha. Excellent!!! I think this film has several flaws but I still enjoyed watching it and would probably watch it again as soon as the DVD comes out. The film does well to put Will Smith centre stage and let his charisma drive the movie forward. I don't think Joker's absence was too much of an issue because he isn't a member of the Squad and therefore doesn't really do anything for the storyline. I didn't notice Robbie's fading accent till you pointed it out. Was it just me or did she sound like she was from Boston at times? Either way, I loved her and hope to see more of Robbie's version. I think the critics are being a bit cruel towards Suicide Squad.

    Still laughing at Dawn of Martha hahahahahaha!!!

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    1. Thanks! Will Smith was excellent. Having more Joker would further explore the relationship he has with Harley and deepen both characters, adding to our experience as viewers. However, if the studio was dead set on presenting the most family friendly film possible, I get why lots of his scenes were cut. They have a pretty twisted bond. Yes, on Harley's northeastern US accent. That's how she talks all the time on Batman: The Animated Series. Critics are being cruel, indeed.

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  9. I haven't seen SS yet (waiting for my at-home experience) but from what I can gather, both this, BvS and the older Man Of Steel kinda seem like a rushed hodge-podge of studio interference for the sake of "catching" Marvel's cinematic universe, and people are starting to see it. I've never been a huge fan of the "villains as heroes" books DC put out, but I applaud DC's attempt to make them popular or cool somehow.

    That said: DC struggle to give their "universe" a cohesive whole simply having it rendered so desperately anarchistic. Angry Superman, insane villains lacking (apparently) sufficient audience knowledge to their backstory to make things "click", slam-bang battles and apocalyptic sequences of destruction that lack emotional resonance - it combines to make the viewing experience a chore rather than fun. And nobody likes chores.

    I hope Wonder Woman really course corrects the DCEU next year (really, because if they screw that film up, there goes any chance of my reboot standalone Catwoman fantasy film starring Melissa McCarthy) but there's already rumours that Jenkins' film suffers similar issues to BvS and SS. Rumours, mind. I hope they aren't true.

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    1. I agree with all of this. I just happened to enjoy this particular rushed hodge-podge of studio interference. I swear I hope they learned their lesson with WW. One last thing: you have officially blown my mind with your hopes for Catwoman. If that ever happens, I'd be curious to see it, but I fear the internet would implode with hatred and take all of humanity with it.

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  10. I'm glad you had a better time with this Dell, because I did not. And while you certainly make some very good points in the film's defense, ultimately for me, it just suffers from too many basic problems that are not easy to forgive. But respect your opinion and glad you enjoyed it more.

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    1. Thanks. This island is getting pretty lonely.

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  11. Finally read your review (great as always)! I definitely see your point of the villain problem being present throughout almost all the MCU as well but I think this film's villains are worse than any in the MCU. These two aren't forgettable, they're painfully terrible. That being said, I much prefer this film's tone over the MCU's. Not a huge fan of their quip-heavy, colourful costumed campiness. I definitely join you on the side of liking this film.

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    1. Glad to have you aboard. There are some big problems with this one, but I can look past enough of them.

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