Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad
Directed by: David Ayer   
Written by: David Ayer based on the comic book by John Ostrander.
Starring: Will Smith (Floyd Lawton / Deadshot), Jared Leto (Joker), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jai Courtney (Digger Harkness / Captain Boomerang), Jay Hernandez (Chato Santana / El Diablo), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Waylon Jones / Killer Croc), Cara Delevingne (Dr. June Moone / Enchantress), Karen Fukuhara (Tatsu Yamashiro / Katana), Adam Beach (Christopher Weiss / Slipknot), Ike Barinholtz (Griggs), Scott Eastwood (GQ Edwards), Alain Chanoine (Incubus), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/Flash).
The DC cinematic universe is in trouble. Only three films in, and the company has yet to really find the sweet spot that seemed to come almost naturally to Marvel nearly a decade ago when they started on the same path. There have been dumps in Marvel’s road of course – and increasingly, I get a little annoyed with how bloated the movies have become, and the growing sense that the series is never going to wrap up anything, but just keep on expanding ad infinitum. Yet, those movies have been remarkable in terms of their relative consistency – even the lesser films usually deliver an entertaining night out at the movies – which is something DC hasn’t done yet. Man of Steel was okay, but awful dour for a Superman film. March’s Batman vs. Superman was a downright train wreck – bloated, dark, heavy and joyless – a film that really only came alive in those few minutes Wonder Woman (and that great music that accompanied her) was onscreen. For the second movie in the franchise, that film felt like it wanted to do too much – it introduced too many characters for the movie to possibly sustain, and the movie collapsed under its own weight. Now comes the third film, Suicide Squad, which suffers from some of the same issues. This feels like a film that should come later in the series – after most of the characters in the film have already been properly introduced and developed. As the movie stands now, it spends about half its runtime just setting up who everyone is, before its comes to a ridiculous climax, laden with bad looking CGI, which, like seemingly other blockbuster, basically amounts to a bunch of floating crap crashing into each other. Suicide Squad is a slight improvement over Batman vs. Superman though – mostly due to the fact that there are some really good performances going on, despite everything else going on around it, and at least certain elements of lightness to the tone – it doesn’t take itself as thuddingly, dully serious as the two Zack Snyder movies that kicked off this series does. Is that enough to hang onto some hope for the future of this franchise? I guess it better be, because it’s coming whether we like it or not.
The movie takes place in the aftermath of Batman vs. Superman – with Superman apparently dead, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a senior government official of some kind, thinks that the American government needs to be prepared for the threat that “meta-humans” pose. After all, Superman was a good guy, but what if he wanted to destroy America? Who would stop him? She proposes the government form a team of very talented, very bad guys they already have locked up. They will use their special skills to help the government – and if they don’t comply, they all have a chip implanted in their neck that will allow her to kill them with the push of a button. There’s Deadshot (Will Smith), a hitman who never misses a shot. There’s Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the former psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, who fell in love with the Joker (Jared Leto), who turned her into a love crazed killing machine. There’s Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a thief who is good with, you guessed it, a Boomerang. There’s El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a L.A. gang member who can set things on fire with his bare hands. There’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a half man/half crocodile like creature. There’s Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevigne), who has become possessed by an ancient witch named Enchantress, who can do pretty much anything. Oh, and I forgot Slipknot (Adam Beach), but then again, so did the movie, until he was suddenly there, and someone says “This is Slipknot”. They are led by a Special Forces man, Rick Flagg (Joel Kinneman), who is in love with June Moon, and backed up by Katana, a Japanese woman with a sword that traps the souls of the people she kills with it.
That’s the character list, and a handy plot summary for the first half of the movie or so, which does little else but introduce these characters one at a time. Eventually, they will be sent out on a mission, when Enchantress turns evil, frees her powerful brother from a stature, and starts to build a weapon, which looks like a swirling vortex of CGI crap.
This is no way to make a movie. In an ideal world, all of this characters would have been introduced in previous movies, so that by the time they get together here, we already know who they are, so the limited character development won’t hurt the film as much. No one is more hurt by this that Harley Quinn. Robbie is brilliant in the role – she plays cracked and crazy brilliantly, but her backstory about being abused by the Joker, and turned crazy, needs more than the flashbacks it is given during the course of the movie. You can make an interesting character out of Quinn – the idea of a woman being in love with her abuser is a sad one, but one that is true to life in some cases – but it requires more than this film gives it. The fact that Quinn works as well as she does in the film is a testament to Robbie’s performance – the strongest in the film. As for Leto’s joker, well, he isn’t my favorite actor, and he would not have been my top choice to play the role. But, he was given the nearly impossible task of stepping in for Heath Ledger, whose work in The Dark Knight is justly legendary, and Leto, I think acquits himself well. His onset antics may be a distraction, but who really cares. But he isn’t given much to do other than cackle maniacally, which he does well. Other performances work as well – Will Smith proves once again why he is one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, because as Deadshot he is effortless and cool. Viola Davis is badass as Amanda Waller – I’d watch a whole movie of her just being her. No one else is really that good though – and none of them are even really given a chance. Some of them – like El Diablo, the gang banger with a domestic violence past and Katana, the cold as ice Japanese assassin with a sword, and Killer Croc, the African American who is literally half animal, even cross the line into dangerously retrograde/offensive ethnic stereotypes – which may have been overcome had they been given more to do. No one is given a shorter straw though than Delevigne – a model turned actress I really like in Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel and the YA romance Paper Towns. As June Moon, she is given no character to play. As Enchantress, she is asked to do little but spout evil lines, and dance ridiculously in front of the CGI vortex of crap.
The writer/director here is David Ayer – who, in ideal circumstances, probably could have made a good movie. He has done so before – with the PTSD drama Harsh Times, the LA cops on the street End of Watch and the WWII actioner Fury. Apparently though, he didn’t have much time to write the screenplay – and it shows. The structure is off, the plot silly, the characters under developed. The whole movie feels like it was rushed, from the writing, to the editing to the special effects work. If you want people to do good work, you have to give them the time to do it.
And that strikes me as the problem with these DC movies as a whole – they feel rushed. DC lagged behind Marvel in setting up their giant, interconnected universe, and they seem to want to jump right in with both feet from the start. Marvel didn’t assemble The Avengers until their sixth film – establishing individual characters for years before combining them. DC wants to jump in right away. It’s the wrong approach – and leads to films as jumbled and messy and unsatisfying as Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad. I want these films to be good – hell, I want all films to be good – but I do want DC to succeed, mainly because Batman has always been my favorite superhero, and in general, I think DC has a far better stable of villains than Marvel (perhaps the weakest element of the Marvel films so far has been their inability, aside from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki to create a truly great villain). But they aren’t going to get there making films as scattershot and messy as Suicide Squad.

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