Suicide Squad (2016)

Today is my birthday. My wonderful gal pal thought (correctly) that it’d be a cool thing if part of this particular day was spent trying out the VIP theatre at the nearby Cineplex, in our new hood. And the chosen flick…DC’s newest attempt to win over the fanboys…’Suicide Squad’! In truth, I feel kinda of bad for Marvel’s main competitor right now, as they just can’t seem to catch a break with the Big Screen adaptations of their comics. It seems that since ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘B v S: Dawn of Justice’ didn’t quite meet with the audience’s lofty expectations (despite obvious effort and money evident onscreen), they, and MANY online critics, seemingly smell blood in the water and are nipping at the perceived miscalculations of the DC film universe with a fanatical zeal, like they want to bleed the comic book publishing / studio giant into an early grave. So, while everyone was reeling from the mixed reactions to Zack Snyder’s two solid-but-flawed Superman films, we were also hearing about this new concept that DC was going to throw into the ring, and that was a superhero movie that put ‘bad guys’ into the hero roles and sent them out on a hazardous mission. Now I didn’t know much about ‘Suicide Squad’ prior to this, despite finding one of the early, early issues of the comic tucked away with the old school collection that I still own from way back in the day, when I was packing up my old place a couple weeks ago, but I did like the idea, and I liked the imagery that we were seeing in the well-played marketing campaign. I was also intrigued by the choice of director, David Ayer, writer of ‘Training Day’ and director of ‘Fury’. I find him to be an intriguing guy, as a filmmaker. He has a very, at times almost unpleasant, ‘edge’ to his stories and films that I both respect and loath equally. Just before press for ‘Suicide Squad’ starting hitting the Interwebz, I had seen (and reviewed) his Schwarzenegger ‘crooked cop’ action vehicle ‘Sabotage’ (2014) which, despite some sweet aspects, I found it to be an unnecessarily unpleasant action drama that was just a little too nasty and vile for my overall taste. But I did recognize that with the right material, that ‘edge’ could be an asset to certain story lines…and this was one of them. On top of that aspect, the marketing team behind the trailer campaign deserve an Oscar all on their own for how they played the ‘game’, prior to this release. The trailer materials for this flick, all of them, were fantastic. Totally entertaining in their own right. This only served to further increase my enthusiasm and curiosity. Then…a week before the official release…the preview reviews began trickling out…and, right off the bat (tee hee!), it didn’t sound good. Many reviewers tore into this film mercilessly, like they’d been lying in wait to do exactly that…which they probably were, regardless of how the movie turned out (Haters be hatin’!). But, like the previous two Superman films, there seemed to be two very distinct schools of thought on ‘Suicide Squad’…those who liked / loved it, and those who loathed it venomously. In a weird way, that divisiveness worked in the flick’s favor, where I’m concerned, because I now NEEDED to see this movie in order to make up my own mind. Then it was released, and the next day was my birthday…and we went.
‘Suicide Squad’ starts off with an introduction to sinister federal agent ‘Amanda Waller’ (Viola Davis) as she works the top brass in the US government to convince them of the need of a group of ‘meta humans’ and villains to help combat the next Superman (this is post-‘BvS’), in the event that the next one that turns up isn’t as friendly as Supes was, as a direct result of the events of ‘Batman v Superman’. Through flashbacks, and occasionally amusing onscreen text-form info dumps, we meet the prospective members of “Task Force X’ aka ‘The Suicide Squad’. We get ‘Deadshot’ (Will Smith), a sniper with near supernatural aiming abilities and firearms skills, who also happens to be a doting father separated from his young daughter by his extended prison sentence. There’s fan favorite ‘Harley Quinn’ (a terrific Margot Robbie), the bat-shit crazy main squeeze of ‘The Joker’ (Jared Leto), who used to be his shrink, before he got in her head and fucked her wiring up. We get ‘Diablo’ (Jay Hernandez), an East LA gangbanger who was blessed / cursed with the gift of fire manipulation…who’s also taken an inconveniently-timed vow of pacifism to atone for past sins. ‘Captain Boomerang’ (a surprisingly charismatic Jai Courtenay) is a funny Australian drunkard (is there any other kind?! ;)) who craves freedom, while being deadly with his collection of bladed boomerangs. ‘Killer Croc’ (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a mutated and freaky-looking homey with scales and a taste for human flesh while a Japanese ninja named ‘Katana’ (Karen Fukuhara), who’s blade captures the souls of it’s victims, steps in as leader ‘Rick Flagg’s (Joel Kinnamen) second-in-command. On the sides, we get Scott Eastwood as ‘Edwards’, a hunky squad leader, and fellow Canadian Adam Beach as ‘Slipknot’, a character that you’d better not get too invested in caring about…just saying (Not really a spoiler, but I feel bad for Adam Beach, in how his character is handled and essentially tossed away, to prove a point in the narrative). To round this group out, ‘Flagg’s archaeologist girlfriend ‘June Moone’ (Cara Delevingne), who was recently possessed by an ancient witch named ‘Enchantress’, is brought in to demonstrate how effective such a team could be, to the top brass. However, it seemed the ‘Enchantress’ had some ideas of her own, and struck out to resurrect her god-like brother to wreak havoc on humanity for…some…reason. Into this fray comes ‘The Suicide Squad’, all pushed against their will by the tried and true trope of a tracking device / lethal explosive injection, followed by offers of freedom and threats of prison or death.Talk about ‘mixed signals’! And off we go.
Right away, I have to say that I think the majority of the reviewers out there who are shitting all over this one are seriously overreacting. I went in hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst, especially knowing that there were reshoots and re-edits (obvious from the number of cool shots in the trailers that are NOWHERE to be seen in the actual film…Grrrrr!) that hurriedly went down to lighten the tone, in the wake of some of ‘B v S: Dawn of Justice’s more scathing critiques. I was ready for a pathetic shit show…and I didn’t get it. I actually really dug this flick! Was it perfect? Hell no! Was it as good as I hoped it would be? Admittedly…no. But it was NO WHERE NEAR the disaster many critics are making it out to be. Not even close. Hell, some of the rumored humorous additions, like the funny squad member write-ups we got introducing each character, worked for me, as did the deluge of pop tunes peppered throughout. Sure, the more critical mind could latch on to the inevitable Official Soundtrack sales figures, but it didn’t feel forced for the sake of selling digital downloads. Similar to Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, the use of contemporary, licensed music helped hold down a fun tone; a fun tone in a tonally and literally dark movie. So if DC felt that they HAD to ease off the ‘dark and brooding’ gas pedal a bit…I think they made some serviceable choices.
Other good choices they made were with the cast. EVERYONE was good here, they all did what they had to do with what they had. Will Smith and Margot Robbie got the lion’s share of the screen time, but that’s not a bad thing, as they both fleshed out the characters nicely without obviously hogging the screen time. It was definitely an ensemble piece and The Fresh Prince fit in just fine. There was heart to Smith’s ‘Deadshot’, but we also got the Big Willie Style charisma at work, and gave us a bad guy to root for. Robbie was just awesome in her spot-on portrayal of the insane love interest of Jared Leto’s ‘Joker’ character. Anyone concerned that the Aussie actress wouldn’t ‘bring it’ as ‘Quinn’ can shut the hell up, as her turn will probably prove to be iconic, as The Joker’s nutty muse. Let’s stop here and look him over for a second. One of the HUGE worries among the fanboys was the new, gangsta take on the iconic Batman nemesis, and how pretty boy Jared Leto (‘Fight Club’) would handle it. Everyone knew he had massive shoes to fill, coming into the role after the powerhouse portrayals by Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger. So…how did he do? Not bad. He didn’t knock the fucker out of the park…but he didn’t embarrass himself or the movie either. We don’t get tons of ‘The Joker’ in this one, he’s definitely there in the peripherals of the story, especially where ‘Harley Quinn’ is concerned, but he is not the ‘Big Bad’. He has his own agenda, that flows in and out of the squad’s mission as the story plays out, so we have to glean as much as we can about him as we see him go through the machinations of his plan. I still think they could’ve layed off the tats, the grill (though I get it’s inclusion), and the cheezy bling, but we can’t have just a carbon copy of Jack or Heath’s take on the character. To make it interesting, you have to make it different. And they can’t be accused of not trying that here. Getting sampler-sized scenes of ‘The Joker’ in action did whet my appetite for a solo Batfleck movie, where this version of the classic villain again goes head-to-head with The Dark Knight in a new story. I’m genuinely curioius to see how that could turn out and how much further Leto could take the character. All things being equal…his version could’ve used a little more…something, but I wasn’t put off by the portrayal, like I was afraid I’d be. The rest of the cast put some effort into what they’re doing…and it showed…and I appreciated it.
Something else I appreciated was the visual presentation. I loved how ‘Suicide Squad’ looked! Ayer’s compositions and lighting VERY much reminded me of Executive Producer Zack Snyder’s films prior to him getting caught up with ‘Man of Steel’, where he unfortunately adopted a dull and desaturated look that sucked much of the ‘flair’ out of many of the shots in that movie. If I had to compare the style, the two movies that leap to mind are Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ (2009) and, stangely, Joe Carnahan’s awesome and underrated ‘Smokin Aces’ (2006); two films with nifty use of color and lighting, with a quick but manageable editing style backing them up. There were some scenes that took place at night that I found too dark and lacking in detail…but I chalk that up to the 3D and not enough power behind the projector’s bulb. Speaking of 3D, it was decently used in some parts, but nearly pointless in others. You can take it or leave the 3D.
The Sound Design was rad! If you like punch-you-in-the-face gunfire and explosions, then you’re in for a treat here, as there’s plenty of both to be found throughout the 2 hour 3 minute runtime.
Now pulling up to the issues I had with the flick, I have to say that the ‘Enchantress’ was not the greatest pick when it came to The Bad Guy. Her look was cool ( scary eyebrows aside ) and some of the visuals to demonstrate her magic were intriguing (loved how the possession was shown!), but some of her twitchy, dancer-on-Ecstasy body movements were comical and her big climax was yet another blinding light and anti-gravity blast of energy spearing into the night sky…which we’ve seen MANY times now. C’mon…give us something new, guys!! Branch out!! Please! She was just an excuse to pull the squad together and get them working, regardless of how undeveloped she may have been. There were also some glaring plot-holes that popped up, like the one where the squad sees ‘Harley Quinn’ zipping up in an elevator from the lobby of a deserted office building and, after she destroys two Lovecraftian minions, the elevator opens…and there’s the squad waiting. What the hell?!! Did they fly up? Maybe some group teleportation? There’s no way in Hades that they would’ve gotten up to her in time…but there they were, patiently waiting at the top. To me, that reeked of reshoot and choppy editing, and it distracted me…for a minute. Other little things like that pop up from time to time too. Some of the pacing could’ve been tightened up, but given that it’s rumored that there’s a whole other, darker cut out there, maybe the pacing suffered as a result of the studio tinkering to lighten it up at the last minute.
I’m sure there’s a ton of other shit I could go into with this one, but all in all, I liked ‘Suicide Squad’ more than I anticipated and will gladly watch it again, especially if David Ayer’s director’s cut is ever released. Who knows, the Ultimate Cut of ‘BvS’ did a fair bit to sway many folks onto the Positive side, from the fence they may have been perched on about the disastrous theatrical cut. Who’s to say that DC won’t embrace the idea of mulitple versions of a film being made available, whereas we all know Disney / Marvel would NEVER let it be known that anything but what we get in the theatres is their perfect version of a movie, and don’t ever be fooled into thinking that that the director gets Final Cut at the Mouse House! Notice how we haven’t gotten one Director’s Cut of ANY of the Marvel films? Maybe DC will embrace that…not that it looks like they have a choice, if they intend to win people over, and salvage SOMETHING back from the deluge of (unfair?) negativity they’re having to wade through with these flicks. ‘Suicide Squad’ is NOT perfect…but I liked it, and want to see it again. It looks great, sounds great, has cool characters and a sweet aesthetic, and lays the groundwork for future DC films, for better or worse. Some of the editing is clunky, the pacing is off in places, the villain was underdeveloped, there are plot holes, and we get stuck with another glowing-power-shit-in-the-sky ending…but those complaints, for me, are effectively overshadowed by the aspects that I enjoyed…which was a fair bit of what I saw. This is a solid Summer Popcorn movie that mostly succeeded in what it was trying to accomplish, despite there being some undeniable room for improvement and I can, with a healthy dose of confidence, say that most Comic Book Movie fans will get ‘something’ out of this, and will probably have a pretty Good Time at the Movies with it. If you go into it prepared to be a dick who looks for nothing but it’s failings, sure…you’re going to find them. But if you go in not reading into it too much and just go for the ride the movie wants to take you on…I think you’ll get a kick out of it…and you’ll leave wanting more from DC. At least…that’s how I feel.

*The quick pepperings of ‘Batman’ / ‘Bruce Wayne’ (Ben Affleck) in ‘Suicide Squad’ were solid and acted as a good connection to the blossoming DC Cinematic Universe, that didn’t eat up a bunch of run-time yet contributed to the idea of a ‘bigger picture’ effectively. That being said, there are a couple ‘Justice League’ Easter Eggs in this flick that didn’t actually feel shoe-horned in this time, like they did in ‘Batman v Superman’ (looking at YOU, convenient e-mail / ‘Justice League’ teaser!). DC MAY be starting to figure out how to do this shit properly. Just saying.


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