Monday, August 15, 2016

Suicide Squad

It’s been over a week since I saw Suicide Squad in the theater, and I’ve been mulling it over in my head ever since. There were things I liked about it and things that I didn’t. Some bugged me more than others. But in the end I will say that the film is an entertainingly flawed semi-superhero film.

A group of heinous villains are chosen by the government to become an expendable black ops team in exchange for shortened prison sentences. When a catastrophe caused by one of their own threatens the world they are called in to stop it by any means necessary.
The third film in the DC Cinematic universe certainly continues with what has come before it as the death of Superman weighs heavily here while Batman and Wonder Woman are nowhere to be found (outside of a few flashbacks, one including The Flash) and the formation of the Suicide Squad being a direct result. Seeing the backstories of all the main players explained and shown is a fun treat told over dinner by the amazingly cast Viola Davis as the enigmatic Amanda Waller. In fact, virtually the whole cast is pretty fantastic and is the main reason to watch this flick in the first place.

Will Smith tries and succeeds to get another hit under his belt as the expert marksman Deadshot. He isn’t super jokey and I was thankful for that. Margot Robbie as fan favorite Harley Quinn is a godsend. She completely encapsulates all that makes that character equally fun and disturbing while not going off the overly sexualized/objectified deep end. Joel Kinnaman makes up for his taciturn version of Robocop as Rick Flag, military leader of the squad, and actually gets a few great dramatic moments. Jay Hernandez is awesome as the non-violent El Diablo, the only person who has actual superpowers in the group and has the most tragic past of them all. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is unrecognizable in heavy prosthetics as Killer Croc and barely has any lines, but he owns his role as you can see him in the background totally into his character. Cara Delevingne has a dual role as archaeologist June Moone and the evil Enchantress, her alter ego. While the June character doesn’t have much screen time Cara manages to make Enchantress a freakishly creepy entity. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is one of the most useless characters in the group as his only ability is that he’s a master at utilizing his namesake, but he manages to make his character fun and somewhat relatable by his realistic attitudes toward the situation the squad find themselves in. Karen Fukuhara’s Katana joins Croc in the minimal dialogue club, but she makes the most of her screen time and has a nice moment toward the end of the film. The already mentioned Viola Davis just owns this flick even when she’s not on screen.
On the flip side are the two big issues I have with this flick – Adam Beach’s Slipknot and Jared Leto’s version of The Joker. Omitting Slipknot’s origin story from the opening of the film pretty much lets you know that he’s going to die early on. Not surprisingly, he does in a very stupid way while doing something incredibly dumb. Sure his character is kind of lame (he’s a rope expert… what?!), but you could have added in a no-namer character to sacrifice instead of an actual member of the Squad. I feel sorry for Adam Beach as he seems to be stereotyped to play characters like this for the past ten or so years. Dude can’t catch a break.

And the big point of contention when it comes to the Suicide Squad is The Joker. While I definitely appreciate Jared Leto not copying Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight I found his version of the character to be completely underwhelming. Coming off more as a spoiled rich suburb kid who wishes he were Lil’ Wayne than a scary and unpredictable master manipulator, Leto’s Joker is, well, kind of a big joke. He’s shoehorned into the plot in order to cause problems to pad out the runtime and give Harley more of a starring role since she’s so beloved by the geek community. I heard rumors that there was so much Joker/Harley material shot that it could be a movie of its own, but thankfully most of it was left on the cutting room floor because I couldn’t stand this version of the character at all. What we got was more than enough for me.
Director David Ayer is known for helming movies featuring an ensemble cast, and he really excels with this one (more so than with the cast of the overrated Fury). Everyone gets their time to shine and everyone seems to be putting their all into their roles due to his contribution. Even though I didn’t care for this version of The Joker I admire the effort Ayer got Leto to put into bringing the character to life. He’s also stepped up his visuals game a great deal. Along with cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, Ayer makes the world in which the story takes place a drearily colorful wonderland. There are plenty of awesomely framed shots, from Harley falling out of a helicopter to El Diablo taking out a squad of enemies with his flamethrowing powers. Visually the flicks a stunner. The action is fun too, although a little too frantic with the camera being either too zoomed in to make sense of what’s going on or it being way to dark to see it clearly.

In the screenplay department the film isn’t so successful. The reasoning and motivations behind the big bad, or should I say the two big bads, is a little muddled and weird thanks to the script by Ayer and John Ostrander. Why would a sorceress need a machine to take out the world when we have learned that she is more than powerful enough to do it with her abilities alone? What was the point of having The Joker in the story outside of being a nuisance halfway through the film? What was up with Boomerang leaving halfway through the film and showing back up with no reason given? Why are abusive relationships made to look like a nonstop neon drenched party? There’s a lot of headscratcher moments that I suspect were either due to the random reshoots to perk up the humor or some seriously bad editing choices. This could have been a lean and mean 90 minutes, but it’s stretched a little too thin and the end result is a very uneven flick.
There are also a few things that made me laugh unintentionally, such as Enchantress’s pop-and-lock dance moves while casting her spells and the ridiculous treatment of the aforementioned Slipknot. But there are also a lot of really fun easter eggs, like seeing Harley Quinn in her original jester outfit and calling The Joker her “puddin’”. We even get a hint that she was the one who killed Robin. The bits with Batman were cool too.

I also have to mention the use of music in the film. While it does seem to take after Quentin Tarantino’s approach to using licensed songs in his movies, I will say that the old school and modern tunes chosen were absolutely perfect. The same goes for Steven Price’s score which is as percussive as what Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg composed for Batman v Superman and yet more varied when it comes to the somber moments.
Suicide Squad is the most genuinely fun film in the DC Cinematic Universe so far, but I still feel that Batman v Superman was the superior entry. Especially the Extended R-Rated Cut (review to follow). Lots of great humor, action and comic booky goodness is held back by some bad character choices, nonsensical writing and dumb developments. It’s definitely worth seeing in the theater, but it’s certainly not the revelation to the genre we were all hoping it would be.

3.5 out of 5