Friday, August 19, 2016

"Suicide Squad" Review: It Looks Good And Is Fun To Watch But Something Is Still Amiss...


We have become a jaded bunch when it comes to our superhero movies. Thanks to Marvel we have such an over abundance of mostly quality movies dedicated to the genre that we no longer appreciate the fact that we have them at all. Many seem to forget that just over a decade ago all we had were films like Daredevil (2003), Catwoman (2004) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) just to name a few. Sure we had a few glimmers of goodness with Spider-man 2 (2004) and Hellboy (2004) but they were more the exception than the rule. The point is, fans and critics alike have become spoiled and like anyone who gets too much of a good thing it is all too easy to take it all for granted. Case in point is the latest entry into the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) Suicide Squad, a superhero film sans said superheroes and what may be one of the most divisive films of the year. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 3 min
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: August 5, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: The idea of a Dirty Dozen but with supervillains
Likes: Harley Quinn (the character), Joker (the character), Will Smith (the actor)
Neutral: The current state of the DCEU
Hates: That we got three great trailers for a not so great movie
Batman was in this right?: Yes but very briefly.

Will Smith works well in an ensemble and should do it more often.

Humans are inherently reactive creatures and when we are faced with an omnipotent being such as Superman we logically look for anyway possible to even the playing field. That is the main selling point for Amanda Waller's (Viola Davis) proposal of Task Force X, a group of meta-humans who are capable of standing toe to toe with whatever crazy s**t the universe tries to throw at us. The catch is that these recruits are not exactly voluntary as her plan calls for the recruitment of incarcerated criminals or more to the point supervillains. By implanting each member of her "Suicide Squad" with a tiny capsule in their neck that makes their heads go pop if they try to run away, she forces each individual to do her bidding which for their first mission entails taking back Midway City from a supernatural force that, surprise surprise, threatens to destroy the entire world.

It's sort of funny and ironic how things worked out this summer. The two movies with a record number of dislikes for their trailers (Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond) actually turned out pretty good but the film which most unanimously agreed had a string of well received trailers turned out to be far inferior to what we were eventually got. That film of course is Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. and DC comics second attempt (we aren't counting Man of Steel) to form their own cinematic universe. While it is arguably a much more enjoyable experience than Batman V Superman (BVS henceforth) was and at least has a semi coherent plot, the same pitfalls (along with some brand new ones) that plagued BVS rear their ugly heads once again in what should have been a slam dunk summer blockbuster but instead ends up as the red-headed stepchild of the DCEU.

Margot Robbie's performance is pitch perfect but sadly the character just doesn't feel right.

Those early trailers for Suicide Squad were kind of amazing. The music, visuals and editing coupled with a sinister sense of fun were unlike all the other comic book movies we have been spoon fed for the past decade and we all ate them up. We got our first look at a new Joker, the very first and long awaited film incarnation of Harley Quinn and this really cool premise of supervillains being the primary focus. It was clear that DC was trying to create a unique identity for this possible franchise that would set it apart from everything else in the genre and that helped it feel sort of fresh and even exciting. But while watching the actual film reality begins to seep in when you start to realize that what we were shown and promised did not come to fruition.

When BVS hit earlier this year it was lambasted by critics and fans alike for being too dark, gritty and sort of joyless. While that film had a laundry list of issues (such as an incomprehensible plot and trying to jam 7 movies worth of exposition down our throats in a 2 plus hour time frame) it was clear that all Warner Bros. decided to focus on was this idea that it needed to be less dark and more fun. Shortly after BVS was released it was made public that Warner Bros. went back for some extensive reshoots on Suicide Squad but they made it abundantly clear to fans that this was not in reaction to what everyone was saying about BVS and that these were just things to help tighten the film up with, something every film generally goes through.

Surprisingly enough Amanda Waller does worse things than any of the so called supervillains.

So, why is any of this relevant? Because while watching Suicide Squad it is readily apparent that there is something amiss from the get go. From the oddball editing choices (the squad gets introduced to us three distinct times), the rampant fluctuation in tone (one minute it is a gritty thriller and the next it is pulpy and fun) and a plot that is somehow even more disposable than the one in BVS (the main villain and their plan makes absolutely no sense) it is clear that there was more than one cook in this kitchen. Editing and tonal issues aside however the real problem with the film is how it never steps up to the plate and owns what it sold itself as.

We have been told numerous times now through the aggressive marketing campaign and trailers that these characters are villains, not heroes with attitude like a Punisher or Deadpool, but honest to goodness bad guys. Looking at the character line up further enforced this idea as characters like Harley Quinn and Killer Croc are well known in the comic book world as being particularly nasty. Where the film fails in this regard is in how it never once has the balls to actually reinforce the fact that these are bad people who do bad things. We know they are in prison and we understand that they have done bad things in the past (despite never actually being shown any of it), but at no point does the film ever properly convey to us that these people are in fact dangerous beyond appearing as beign severely ill tempered.

Captain Boomerang and Katana barely factor into anything that happens.

Yes, we see some of them rough up some prison guards and a couple people get killed here or there but the film sets all these "victims" up as deplorable human beings who had what they got coming to them. Case in point is the backstory we see for Deadshot who is supposed to be the world's most skilled hitman. Usually a hitman is someone who kills ANYONE for money with perhaps a moral code for no women, no children but they generally don't discern one pay day from another based on the target. Instead of using this moment to show Deadshot in a not so glamorous light where he might kill an ordinary citizen which would in turn help strengthen his eventual change of heart at the end of the film, we see him kill a former mob snitch who isn't likely a very nice person to begin with which in turns makes Deadshot more sympathetic.

This is done for all the characters, none of this squad are ever given an edit where we might feel apathy towards them. It's not that all of them need to be horrible people, but the fact that NONE of them are horrible people (at least not anymore) begs the question of why even bother making these characters supervillains? What's the point if all of your supervillains never actually act like supervillains? It's not like they have been rehabilitated or anything; that is what should (or shouldn't) happen at the end where one or more of them have a moment of redemption. None of these characters are supervillains, they are more like anti-heroes, people who do the right thing even though it is against their nature. Heck, the supposed good person Amanda Waller comes off as more morally ambiguous than any of these villains. Now while most of these characters can get a free pass for this deception there is no way in hell anyone can make a version of Harley Quinn who has a redemptive arc but yet here we are...somehow.

Pyro is handled well enough but doesn't leave much of an impression.

Harley Quinn has never been painted as an empathetic individual. We know her fascination with the Joker is what ultimately led to her becoming his partner so to speak. The film actually does a decent job of setting up Harley's backstory as we see her fall under the spell of the most twisted villain in comic book history yet we aren't supposed to feel bad for her. Why? Because she is just as sick and twisted as the Joker even before she goes even more bats**t crazy than she already is. While the Joker is a character who thrives on tearing down the system and mass chaos, Harley doesn't even care about that. She doesn't care about anything other than pleasing the Joker's psychotic tendencies in any way possible. The Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad is a mere shadow of that character as she is immediately and constantly relegated to the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold characterization.

Compounding this is the relationship forged between Harley and Joker whom have always had a destructive passion towards one another that isn't that far removed from that of an abusive husband and a battered wife but in a more dismissive sort of way. Here they are painted as this sort of tragic romance where they long for one another but their inherent psychotic natures prevent them from ever truly expressing that love in a positive manner. While it is an admittedly sweet pairing in a sick and twisted sort of way (picture Sid and Nancy), it just never feels like Harley and Joker. They come off as characters who were inspired by the iconic duo more than actual interpretations of them.

Probably the most divisive thing for fans is what they think of Leto's Joker.

That leads us into the biggest gamble of this particular film, the Joker. If there were one polarizing aspect to all those trailers leading up to the films release it was Jared Leto's Joker. He is the first actor to take on the role since the tragic passing of Heath Ledger but that by no means lets him off the hook when it comes to fan expectations. Appearing more as a demented mob boss than the clown prince of crime, Leto's Joker is a completely different kind of animal than we are used to which is to say anyone who is a fan of the character should tread lightly as any expectations are likely null and void. But what about the performance itself? Well, let's just say that the biggest problem I had with this Joker is that we don't get to see enough of him to actually make a solid opinion one way or the other.

Joker is only in Suicide Squad for between 10 to 15 minutes which for a two hour plus film isn't that much time at all. Apparently the victim of some major editing (a large number of trailer scenes were not in the final cut), Joker doesn't do enough nor is seen enough to allow us to either love or hate him. Instead we are left feeling slightly uneasy dangling on the fence wondering if we had seen him do just a bit more or been more involved in the story would we had liked him or not. Leto's performance, for what he was going for is on point for the most part with the actor truly tapping into a different part of his brain to channel a different kind of psychotic creature but was that the right choice to make? Only time will tell as the eventual extended cut (something all DCEU films seem to be getting) will likely give us a better impression of him. As it stands now though, he was fine for what he was supposed to be (a side note basically) but the film neither lives or dies by his presence.

In a rare daytime moment, we meet our band of bad guys...again.

Lastly there is the true villain of the film which was shrouded in mystery up until just before release which led many to believe that the Joker was the main bad guy. Sadly he isn't, which would have made this a much better film and instead we are stuck with the limp biscuit known as the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Introduced at the beginning as part of the Suicide Squad we quickly learn she is in fact the villain that the squad must take down. So many problems manifest themselves with this twist such as what her motivations are, why she is able to break free of Waller's control over her and the logistics of what she is actually trying to accomplish but none so more than the fact that she just isn't all that interesting. When she was just another member of the squad where she was this Jekyll/Hyde personality with the constant shifting between the archaeologist June Moon and the witch who possessed her she was an intriguing character, but as soon as she became the witch for the remainder of the film all positives about her were quickly washed away with all the subtlety of a wet mop.

That is a whole lot of negativity right? Well you might be surprised to hear that despite all those concerns and criticisms I still had a fun time with the film. The characters may not be what we were expecting or even promised but the actors at least brought the goods. Margot Robbie hit it out of the park as Harley Quinn. Will Smith as Deadshot was as charismatic as usual but surprisingly well adjusted to not being the focal point of the story. Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg was a bit one note but still effective. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller succeeded in being the most bad ass person in the whole movie. Jay Hernandez as Pyro was able to bring sympathy to a character who for the most part was underwhelming at first. Even Jared Leto as the Joker was entertaining for the most part. The rest though, such as Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, Karen Fukuhara as Katana (the best and most wasted character in the film), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc and the dead-before-you-know-it Slipknot played by Adam Beach all fail to make any sort of impact.

The handling of the Enchantress is one of the bigger missteps in a film full of them.

Suicide Squad is getting a lot of hate right now and that is mostly because it failed to deliver what it promised, both in regards to the whole bad guys being the good guys premise and the smoke and mirrors act done with the Joker in all the marketing. But it is safe to say once all the dust settles and we look back at the film for what it actually is versus what we wanted it (or needed it) to be then it may actually play better in hindsight. It will at the very least be looked at as this curious oddity among a glut of me-too superhero films and on that level it isn't a total loss, just a somewhat disappointing one. In the end this is one of those films that you truly need to see for yourself in order to form a proper opinion on since it is playing to so many different audiences at one time you never know if it is leaning more towards what you wanted it to be than perhaps what others wanted it to be.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Both DC and Warner Bros. have become too reactive. They need to stop worrying about what fans and critics say and stick to their guns. Sure they can do a little tinkering here and there as all movies do at some point during production but to go in and fundamentally change a film after it is in the can to try and appease those who did not like how your last movie turned out is the wrong approach to take and leads into what has happened with Suicide Squad. Sadly it seems that Marvel is winning this war as DC continues to struggle to find its identity and no more is that clear as day than watching Suicide Squad.

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