Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad Review

Suicide Squad Review
"Suicide Squad" is based upon a DC Comics title where the who's-who of DC's rogue's gallery are taken in by the United States government, given explosive charges injected into their heads, and are sent on top-secret, highly dangerous missions. They are bad guys, they have nothing to lose, so the government uses them with glee and if anything should happen, the bad guys get thrown under the bus. The villains are given a choice, go on these missions and get adjusted prison sentences, die in action, or escape and die anyway. That has the potential for a juicy set-up and despite what happened with "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" earlier this year, I was ready and willing to give "Suicide Squad" a chance. After all, it stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney and Jared Leto as The Joker. It was written and directed by David Ayer, who wrote "Training Day" and made "Fury," "End of Watch," "Street Kings" and "Sabotage." He's the king of bringing immoral sons of bitches to the big screen. So Ayer in charge of "Suicide Squad" was a match made in heaven, right?

Well, yes and no. As always with Ayer motion pictures, the characters are nice and rich. Will Smith finally leaves his "Will Smith persona" at home and delivers one of his best performances in quite awhile. Smith plays Deadshot, the world's most dangerous assassin and a casual Batman villain. Will Smith brings none of his usual smug Smith quirks, he plays Deadshot straight and its the most fun I've had watching him in awhile. Margot Robbie plays Harley Quinn, originally a psychiatrist assigned to The Joker, who ended up falling in love with him, becoming his "girlfriend" and partner-in-crime. Its been a long time coming for Harley Quinn to appear onscreen and Robbie nails it time and time again. I got plenty to say about how she bounces off of Leto's Joker and his performance in particular, which I'll get to in a minute. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, a high-ranking government personality who brings the Squad to life, is as perfect a casting decision as Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man was. She isn't the female Nick Fury, she has nothing resembling a moral compass. She's an awful, terrible person at moments and Davis does it all well. Also keep a eye out for Jay Hernandez, who plays El Diablo, a member of the Squad who can control fire. These and more are all mesmerizing performances, hitting the appropriate character notes for a film like this. If I based this entire review on character work alone, it would have been an A+.

But there is so much more to a film than just the performances. I think the most important thing a film can do is not character work, but how these characters and performances can mold a good story. I am actually blown away that "Suicide Squad" is a formulaic and crass blockbuster wrapped in good acting. Much like "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice," "Suicide Squad" feels like a missed opportunity more than most. Warner Brothers and David Ayer had the opportunity to make something many studios haven't touched yet. A movie about the villains. They could have completely subverted everything we know about how superhero movies work. They could have set a brand new standard. They could have done so much more than just a "Dirty Dozen" with superpowers, and it would have had lots of mileage. Sadly, "Suicide Squad" is just a typical blockbuster, following the same rules and using the same formulas DC said they wouldn't use. I also can't believe how David Ayer wrote this. Given his past films, he basically took bad guys and gave them heroic qualities and made just another superhero movie with "Suicide Squad" stamped on it. Where is the filthy landscape of the criminal world he knows and loves? Where the snarky corruption? Never do these characters really feel like actual villains. Except one, that is.

I am little hesitant to get into how Jared Leto gets into The Joker. If you need an excuse to really see this in theaters, it is to watch Leto's Joker and Robbie's Harley Quinn's chemistry. Jared Leto is very good as The Joker, but if you go in expecting something along the lines of what Heath Ledger did with the character, you'll be sadly disappointed. Batman, The Joker, and their mythology has been quite flexible. The best thing Leto did with the character is he made it his own. There isn't an ounce of Ledger anywhere here. Just as there wasn't an ounce of Nicholson or Romero in Ledger's performance. We have already seen so much Joker in movies, cartoons and video games that the only way to keep the character relevant is to be different. The only thing that sucks is that Leto isn't in this very much. But the best thing that happens is that I'd love to see a Batman movie full of Leto's Joker. I have read many people say that the Joker-Harley Quinn relationship in this movie shows relationship abuse. Well, of course. The Joker and Harley Quinn are two vile, broken people. Harley Quinn chooses to fall in love with him, she chooses to allow Joker to hurt her, physically and emotionally. She chooses to jump into that vat of chemicals because The Joker demanded it. The Joker may "love" her, but that's just code that he doesn't want anyone else to have her. If he had to choose between himself and her, he'd choose himself every time. This is their relationship, and its truly ugly and disturbing. And yes, one of the best things in the movie.

If you are a fan of these comics, there is a lot of character work to be happy about. I just wish the same energy went into telling a story worthwhile with these characters. Instead we get another movie that feels like every other blockbuster out there. You see, there's The Enchantress, who possesses the body of June Moon (Cara Delevingne). The Enchantress was originally going to be apart of Waller's squad, but Enchantress worked her way out of it and plans to destroy the world. So Waller sends Deadshot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo and the rest of the squad to stop her. The other members include Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); who uses special boomerangs, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); a human reptile who eats people and Slipknot (Adam Beach) who is an escape artist. The team is lead by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who has a bodyguard named Kitana (Karen Fukuhara) whose kitana blade possess the souls of who she kills with it. Together, the squad travels to Midway City where The Enchantress has freed her brother Incubus (Alaine Chanoine) and build a weapon that will destroy humanity.

Can you guess where this is going yet? If not, buy a ticket and see "Suicide Squad." Then buy a ticket and see "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows," then see "Ghostbusters" (something I will review here very soon), and "Star Trek Beyond" and even see "WarCraft." Then go home, and rent both "Avengers" movies and all the "Transformers" movies. The thing that all of these movies have in common is that they are all the same movie. Enchantress's weapon shoots lights into the sky, and glows. The entire climax of the third act involves different members of the squad doing their part, showing off their skills in order to turn off Enchantress's weapon. Its a trope that is sadly taking over Hollywood blockbusters and for all the talk about how DC is doing things differently, they went and made a movie that feels like every other blockbuster out there right now. I was extremely disappointed by how the third act was handled. 

What made the Suicide Squad special was that even though they are doing good things, they are still bad guys. They go right back to their jail cells after they save the world. But while on mission, they behave just like you'd think a supervillain would. You can see that perfectly in the episodes the Suicide Squad have shown up on CW's "Arrow" and the wonderful, straight-to-DVD, animated film, "Batman: Escape from Arkham." Here, we see lots of big action, but its PG-13 action in a film about villains. Since the WB screwed up so bad with "Batman vs. Superman" that they have to try and keep their PG-13 crowd. And in a moment when everything changes for the team, each member of the squad saves the world, cheesy one-liners and all. Not because they are forced to, not because they have nothing to lose, but because its the right thing to do.

At that point, I had to pick the ticket out of my pocket and make sure I was still seeing "Suicide Squad."

A movie like this is actually the most frustrating to review. Had the movie been all the way bad, its easy to trash a bad film and tell people why not to see it. Had the movie been all the way good or even great, its easy to write a love letter for a movie that deserves it. There is so much good in this movie and I can't believe that it all slips away right at the end. Had it not been for the top-notch performances, had it not been for some very good character moments, then this would just be another forgettable blockbuster in a summer movie season that hasn't been that exciting. This was supposed to be a different kind of comic book movie, and it ended up being just like the rest. I wouldn't call "Suicide Squad" a terrible movie, but its not great either. Its so painfully mediocre and so disappointing when you think about what could have been.

If you want to see Will Smith tearing it up in a way that has been sorely missed for years, then go see it. If you want to see a pitch perfect look at how The Joker and Harley Quinn operate together, then go see it. If you want to see some brilliant character acting, then go see it. Don't see it if you are a rabid DC fan. Don't see it if you think Warner Brothers will salvage their DC Universe on film, because I don't think that's going to happen. In an effort to be subversive, they made something that ended up being disposable. Worst of all, I just don't think "Suicide Squad" is built to last, and it may end up being a film you end up largely forgetting after a few more key images later this year. I am hoping one day, sometime soon, I rave about the DC Extended Universe finally coming to focus. But the year 2016 just wasn't their year.


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