Cinema Dispatch: Suicide Squad

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Suicide Squad and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by David Ayer

After Batman v Superman, I can’t imagine how everyone behind this movie wasn’t shaking in their boots now that the ENTIRE franchise is resting on their should to right the course and bring audiences back around before the Justice League and Wonder Woman movies have a chance to kick this cinematic universe into high gear.  In fact, the heavily publicized reshoots of this movie were probably due almost entirely those expectations being thrust upon this after Batman v Superman fell flat on its face.  Still, even when that movie was running its course, there was always the hope that this one would be the fun alternative to the somber and serious Snyder film and the marketing at least was leaning heavily on that idea to sell it to the masses.  Does this succeed in distinguishing itself from the rest of the DCCU which includes a maybe a third of a good movie and a really awful one, or were DC and WB playing us all for fools by convincing us this one would be different?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows the first undertaking of The Suicide Squad which is a group of SUPER criminals that the US government plans to use in order to fight meta-human or otherwise extremely dangerous threats.  The project is being pushed forward by the tough as nails Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and is comprised of Deadshot (Will Smith) who is a perfect shot, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who… I guess is good with a baseball bat, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who’s actually doing this under duress as he’s given up his fire spewing ways, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agabaje) who’s… half man half crocodile I think, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who is pretty good at throwing boomerangs, and of course Slipknot (Adam Beach) who doesn’t do shit.  Along with the squad is Col Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who’s basically serving as their babysitter and also has the power to blow their heads off if they step out of line (NOTHING at all like Battle Royale) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who I think is supposed to be a good guy at least compared to the other members (as far as I can tell, she’s NOT actually in jail and volunteered for the mission) and she’s got a magic sword.  Not what I’d call the best team to send out when a city gets very nearly leveled by an evil witch called The Enchantress that is inhabiting the body of Dr June Moone (Cara Delvingne) who JUST SO HAPPENS to be Flagg’s girlfriend, but at least the government won’t have to pay for their funeral expenses when they surely get obliterated by dark and unimaginable forces.  Can the Suicide Squad manage to infiltrate the city that’s crawling with monsters summoned by the witch and save a highly valuable target inside?  What about the Joker?  Isn’t he supposed to be in this too?  Does the fate of the world REALLY need to rest on the shoulders of Captain Boomerang!?

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“Deadshot!  Secure the perimeter!  Harley!  Keep an eye on the door!  Boomerang!”     “WHAT IS IT BOSS!?  I’M READY FOR ANYTHING!!”     “Go get me a coffee.”

Despite the clearly troubled production that haunted the buzz around this movie in its final few months, I think they managed to turn out a damn fine film!  It’s no masterpiece to be sure, but as far as trying to cram the entire DC catalog into a grim and gritty cinematic universe, it at least succeeds where Batman v Superman spectacularly failed.  This movie is the SPECIAL HOLOGRAPHIC VARIANT FIRST EDITION WITH FIFTEEN SPLASH PAGES of comic book movies that exists for no other reason than to give its audience exactly what it thinks it wants; character moments, action beats, cheesecake, blood and guts, and some overly simplistic melodrama to cap it all off.  And you know what?  It works!  This movie ended up hitting all the right buttons for me, and I guess it’s because it knows to be fun rather than try to take itself so seriously unlike its counterpart.  You could argue that Batman v Superman was going for the same thing, but like the ill-fated comic it took so much inspiration from (The Death of Superman) it never earns what it wants from its audience, and doesn’t give them anything to get them there.  This movie is all flash and very little substance, but then what exactly do you WANT from a movie about glorifying villainy?  No doubt we shouldn’t be giving movies a pass just for being cheap popcorn thrills (I’m certainly not going to overlook the clear faults in this), but this hits what it aims for with such precision in places that one can hardly argue against it succeeding at being exactly what it wants to be.

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“Are you fucking KIDDING me right now!?”     “Man, what the hell does she even expect us to DO about this!?”     “I don’t know.  Looks kinda fun!”     “You WOULD think it looks kinda fun…”

In terms of its tone and style, I liken it to GOOD Zack Snyder lite.  It’s reminiscent of his better works such as Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and parts of Man of Steel, but where it falls short is that it never ends up feeling like its own unique vision; rather it REALLY feels like something fifty people tampered with and adjusted to make sure that all the pieces fit together just right.  This is most blatantly obvious in the first half where the style is out of freaking control and the pacing is all over the place; not to mention the insane and inexplicable soundtrack they got for this that’s more of a distraction than anything else.  Can someone give me ONE plausible reason why Creedence Clearwater Revival’s FORTUNATE SON is playing during the backstory for Killer Croc?  Anyone?  A song about the poor having to fight rich men’s battles COULD have worked if placed somewhere else (maybe if it replaced Eminem’s Without Me during the suiting up sequence before the mission) but it has zero bearing on Killer Croc who frankly barely even has a character in here.  That’s another problem with the first half, or more specifically the first ACT; half the crew is pretty one-dimensional when first presented.  Now the way the members of the Suicide Squad are introduced is pretty novel and could have been a highlight of this movie if it managed to take full advantage of the idea, but sadly it falls short.  We get snippets of them in their jail cells to start the movie off, but they really come into this when Amanda Waller starts explaining their profiles to some Government SuitsTM who she’s trying to sell on the idea of The Suicide Squad to (not actually called that… I think) and these profiles take the form of interesting little side stories that reminded me a bit of what Snyder did in Watchmen where we got a pretty solid short film just about the origin of Doctor Manhattan sandwiched in the middle of the second act.  Unfortunately, they cut this premise short as we only get properly told (and interestingly executed) intros for Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and The Enchantress.  El Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and Killer Croc do get mentioned, but it becomes clear early on who the A Team is and who’s relegated to the B Squad.  It’s a shame because those scenes really did build up a lot of pathos and intrigue for Deadshot and Harley Quinn (not so much The Enchantress, but we’ll get to the villains later) which would have been nice to have for the other characters before sending them off to die in this mission.  Some of them get more interesting as the movie goes along (El Diablo arc pays off pretty well towards the end), but this is hardly the way to get us invested in these characters.

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Who the hell are you two again?

We might as well start talking about the characters since we’re on that subject, and honestly they ARE the whole reason to see the movie in the first place.  I ended up liking them all despite the lack of interesting arcs for most of them, but there are some cringe worthy aspects to most of them that dampened my enthusiasm to a certain degree.  Harley Quinn isn’t exactly an easy character to get right when trying to go for grim and gritty, because the temptation is always to fall back on the fetishization of abuse which is DEFINITELY the case here, though for what it’s worth Margot Robbie does do a damn fine job at being the hottest girl you wouldn’t want to get close to, and her action scenes are executed extremely well.    She’s a walking talking symbol of male gaze and the objectification of women but I still managed to like her whenever she was on screen (though I guess that can be seen as more of a confirmation of those negative aspects rather than her being an excellent character DESPITE those negatives).

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“What, see something you like?”     “Is that a trick question?”

Deadshot gets PLENTY to do here as Will Smith isn’t going to show up for a movie without being front and center, and I’ll give it to him that he did a fantastic job as this character.  I don’t have any particular attachment to Deadshot (that guy in Arrow is nothing to write home about) so I couldn’t tell you if him being so likable and more or less an honorable guy is a BETRAYAL OF THE CHARACTER, but as a Will Smith character, he manages to bring a lot of heart and gravitas to the material.  Speaking of gravitas, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is about as spot on of a comic book translation as I’ve ever seen outside of… well most Marvel films, but my point still stands!  Amanda Waller is a straight up monster in this movie which is exactly how you want the character to be played, especially in a movie that wants to blur the line between good guys and bad guys, and it’s frightening whenever she’s on screen because you never know what she’s going to do in the name of her duty or her own self-preservation.

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“I’m at least a head taller than you!”     “Not when you’re bowing.”     “And why would I do that?”     “Because I can have your entire family killed with a single phone call.”     “…”     “You can get on your knees at any time!”

Those three are the highlights as everyone else pretty much falls into background character status.  Joel Kinnaman is fine as Rick Flagg and the leader of The Suicide Squad, but kinda generic as the good guy who questions is own moral superiority over these supposed Bad Guys.  I like where they take El Diablo’s character (he reminds me a bit of Miguel Alvarez from Oz), but he’s pretty damn stereotypical as a Cholo Banger.  The fact that they gave him a decent storyline about trying to make peace with himself and the terrible decisions he’s made does kind of make up for that a bit though, but that may not be enough for everyone else to get past how broadly the character is drawn.  That said, at least he’s better than Katana who’s just as stereotypical as El Diablo, but doesn’t have the interesting character arc to make up for it.  Sure, she manages to kick all kinds of ass (I always like seeing sword fights in movies), but the only characterization she gets is that she speaks Japanese, is good with a sword, and wields an ancient Japanese Katana that’s been cursed to hold he souls of its victims… I think.  They just want to make it VERY clear that she’s Japanese and it’s just too much as this becomes her sole defining characteristic.  Well, that and the fact that she hates everyone there.

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“Pop Quiz.  You try to run again, you will A: get away, B: get your head blown up, or C: get this katana shoved so far up your ass you’ll taste metal?”     “Is it C?”     “Very good!”     “Sweet!  You want to go out after this?”

The biggest surprise here was Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang; an actor I have gone on record as saying he was an untalented and uncharismatic hack, but they give him just enough funny characteristics, a silly costumes with even more ridiculous facial hair, and just enough lines to NOT overstay his welcome, that the character ended up growing on me quite a bit.  There’s no way he could carry a movie as the star or as the villain, but I’d definitely like to see this guy pop up whenever we get that Flash movie.  Less interesting though is Killer Croc just stands around and says one liners every once in a while.  He’s an interesting effect and it’s not like he drags the movie down; he’s just barely even there.  Speaking of barely even there, Slipknot gets one scene I think and then he dies.  His sole purpose here is to get us to believe in the bombs they put in the Squad’s necks, but then the death has no impact because he didn’t get more than five minutes of screen time.

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Now there’s one more person in here that I’m SURE you’re all just waiting to hear about.  Jared Leto as the Joker is probably the weakest Joker we’ve ever gotten, but he’s still REALLY fun to watch on screen.  The thing is that I really can’t think of a bad actor to play the joker outside of Michael Emerson in The Dark Knight Returns, and Kevin Michael Richardson in THE BATMAN (Rastafarian Joker!?  SERIOUSLY!?).  Jared Leto does not do a poor job here, but he doesn’t have the terror or Heath Ledger, the star power fun of Jack Nicholson, or the character defining interpretation of Mark Hamill.  He’s in the movie just enough for us to get a sense of what he’s going for (probably the closest comparison would be Brian Azzarello’s version from that one graphic novel he did) but not enough to particularly stand out here or for us to get a sense of him outside of being an inexplicably well-funded mob boss.  I’d like to see him play the character again, but only if he cuts the behind the scenes bullshit as his “method acting” didn’t really turn out a spectacular performance.

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“You think I’m doing good so far?”     “Yeah.  I mean… you’re no Heath-”     “HA HA HA HA HA!!  Oh boy… you REALLY don’t want to finish that thought.”

Now that’s basically our key players here, but what about the villains?  Or at least the VILLAIN villains?  They kind of suck unfortunately.  The Enchantress has some REALLY interesting effects scenes early on, but once she breaks free and joins up with her brother (another ancient and evil spirit), they  have nothing left to do in the story other than to wait for the heroes to come to them and then get their asses kicked by Harley Quinn and some dude with a boomerang.  The brother in particular is an EMBARRASSINGLY bad special effect, and while I’m kinda amused that the movie actually gave us generic monsters in humanoid shapes to beat up (their heads can be blown up while STILL keeping the movie PG-13), they are by no means interesting or serve any other purpose than as targets for our main characters to let out their aggression and look bad ass while doing it.  Still, there’s an element of absurdity to the villains (and especially the final fight) that hit me just the right way to make the whole thing a giddy delight.  I kinda like that the six thousand year old witch goddess was taken down by a someone wielding a baseball bat flanked by two guys with guns, someone swinging a sword, and Captain Boomerang doing nothing particularly useful.  Hey, it worked for Guardians of the Galaxy which is a MUCH better movie, but I think the absurdity (mixed with its winking GRIM AND GRITTY tone) manages to give it so much charm as to become infections.  It’s just too bad the villains couldn’t do a damn thing of interest UNTIL they got their asses kicked.

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“SHH!!  We don’t want to take any of Jared Leto’s precious screen time!”

So what about the story?  Well… there really isn’t one.  Seriously, if you try to look at this for an actual plot, it makes no god damn sense (which means it makes slightly more sense than Batman v Superman).  Oh sure, it has character beats that are fun and some of the subplots work (I like the Joker’s subplot in particular and how he’s completely extraneous to what the hell is ACTUALLY going on) but the overarching plot, the scene to scene transitions, and any of the internal logic falls flat on its ass and is completely laughable.  You want to get a bunch of psychos to fight our wars for us?  SURE!  Let’s draft Charlie Manson and send his ass to Baghdad!  WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG!?  The Suicide Squad is sent into Midway City to rescue one person, but then doesn’t escort them OUT of the city?  MAKES SENSE TO ME!!  I know I praised Amanda Waller earlier, but that’s almost entirely based on the performance by Viola Davis and a few scenes where she shows how much leverage she actually has on everyone.  Her plans from beginning to end are dumb as hell and should have gotten her and everyone else killed within fifteen minutes of the movie.  That said this is one of the times I’m okay with overlooking the story line as the movie itself doesn’t really bother focusing on it.  This really is a movie about showing how cool their characters are and how creative they can get in terms of cinematography and comic book aesthetics, and in my estimation they succeed pretty well.  I will say that I wish the action was shot a bit better (not quite CLOSE UPS!  QUICK CUTS!  SHAKY CAM! but close to it) and it’s REALLY hard to ignore the herky-jerky editing, but the movie manages to stand on its own almost entirely through sheer force of personality which CAN work if it’s done REALLY well.

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“How long before the city blows up?”     “Who cares?  It’s Miller time!”

I don’t know exactly what movie we were going to get before the reshoots and the post production stuff after the trailers garnered such positive responses (despite supposedly being wholly unrepresentative of the movie), but I think the one we ended up getting was definitely a solid film and easily the best of the  DCCU.  I don’t have much hope for the future of this Cinematic Universe, but this template with a steadier hand on the wheel and a better script from the outset could become something that MIGHT rival Marvel.  For now, I think this is good enough as it gave me a bit of confidence for what the future holds, though Justice League isn’t looking to good so far which is probably the one that will try to ape this movie the hardest.  Oh well, maybe Phase Two will get the formula right.  For now, I think this is definitely worth seeing as a fun summer popcorn flick; a term I don’t use lightly as it’s often used to justify awful movies like Transformers, but I think it applies here more than pretty much any movie we’ve gotten this year.  You don’t have to turn your brain off to enjoy it, but it does work on a pretty simplistic and flashy level that manages to be entertaining enough despite its lack of depth and clearly overproduced production.  I mean, you COULD go see Ghostbusters again if you want flash AND substance, but this here isn’t half bad.

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Suicide Squad (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Ultraviolet Combo Pack)

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3 thoughts on “Cinema Dispatch: Suicide Squad

  1. ArthurCrane

    I thought it was OK, but it’s the kind of OK where the things they got wrong are more interesting to talk about than what they got right. Performances are generally good all around, with a few big standouts, some of the character work is genuinely terrific, though I feel that Joker was seriously overhyped. I get that has more to do with the character’s legacy thsn anything else, but still, Jared Leto’s performance doesn’t quite deliver on the promise that the film’s BTS stories would suggest. It’s also plainly obvious there was plenty of studio interference, which is pretty funny considering that WB/DC want to brand their films as “director-driven” to stick it to Marvel’s more homogenous approach to tone and style. It really feels like a marketing gimmick, regardless of how this film comes as close to properly realizing WB’s vision of their movie universe.

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  2. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: Sing | The Reviewers Unite!

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