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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Movie Review: #SuicideSquad

Suicide Squad is two parts Bat-crazy, one part Almost-Got-It.

Review by Matt Cummings

With the failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice luckily in our rear mirror, the DC movie franchise already feels like one at a crossroads. Having recently misused what is arguably the better collection of characters and stories (when compared to Marvel), fans and critics have rightfully doubted whether DC and Warner Brothers have what it takes to give Marvel a genuine contender. And while it's got another forgettable villain and squeezes too many stories into one film, Writer/Director David Ayer's Suicide Squad arrives to boldly state that DC is not dead yet.

Having already locked up a collection of dangerous metahumans including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the shadowy government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) hatches a plan to use them as disposable weapons. The deal: serve on an elite team she's putting together and see your sentence reduced. Adding bombs in their skulls to keep them in line, Waller also hires Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead them, who's also being manipulated by Waller. You see, Flag has entered into a relationship with archaeologist June Moone (Cara Delevingne) aka Enchantress, a horrific witch who can instantaneously travel anywhere using dark magic grown through 6,000 years of immortality. Not only is Waller planning to send the Squad to hotspots all over the world, she is keenly worried about battling the next Superman with metahuman assets. While she assembles the Squad, other forces are also at work to derail them, including none other than The Joker (Jared Leto), whose love for Harley has corrupted her into a violent psychopath. But when Waller's plan backfires and Enchantress goes AWOL in distant Midway City, Waller calls on The Suicide Squad to defeat the witch and save a human asset with knowledge that can help them. That won't be easy, as the Squad has plans of their own to escape and kill as many people in the process. The result will test their humanity and ability to play nice with others, while Flag and his team wonder if The Squad is more dangerous than the creature they've been sent to defeat.

For a film that has to tell at least 9 separate origin stories without turning itself into a mini-series, Suicide Squad does its best to give each one enough time, although that love is not equal. The real stories - Harley, Deadshot, and Flag - form the basis of a potentially strong character film, with each offering their own version of crazy. Perhaps it's Flag who goes through the most change, as he begins to realize that Waller treats her assets more like pawns than soldiers worthy of praise. That breakdown is all the more impressive when you realize who the team has been tasked to rescue and the fallout when they learn of their true mission. The writer Ayer enjoys turning Flag from hero to rebel, giving Kinnaman time to work out his emotions of losing Moone while trying to keep his team focused on their mission. Here, Ayer instills several emotional bullet points to keep these characters from turning on each other and going off the deep end.

Speaking of, audiences can rest assured that Leto's Joker is here to stay, although he's not as diabolical as Heath Ledger's or as unpredictable as Nicholson's version. Leto infuses his own kind of crazy into the role, which clearly looks like an amalgam of several portrayals. And his love for Harley feels real, as if Joker sees in Harley all that could be if things were different. That sort of realization strengthens what feels like an anti-hero version of The Avengers, revealing Diablo, Deadshot, and others in the Squad as sympathetic souls rather than transparent figures at Waller's whim. The Joker is no different: he lives up to audience expectations, although he does it in a different way. I'm hope my enthusiasm for his performance will encourage you to check it out, because while it's not the best Joker we've ever seen, it's still great.

Robbie's Harley is thoroughly enjoyable, serving as sort of a chaotic comedian throughout Suicide Squad. She brings to life the animated version we've come to love while adding her unique sexual stamp to the role. Moreover, you get the sense that she and Joker have true love for one another, although some newbies might claim a lack of backstory exists to truly get behind them. Smith returns to his Independence Day swagger, playing an effective and deadly version of Deadshot; his scenes with daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) reveal a father with enough humanity for the whole team, while realizing his absolute command with a gun. The same goes for Diablo, displaying at once tremendous and deadly power, but also committed to living his life without further violence. Waller has other plans, and soon that conflict gives Diablo some interesting interplay that a deep DC library can finally reveal.

Among the most satisfying portrayals is Davis' Waller: she's as cutthroat as one would have hoped, a badass in her own right, and absolutely in control of the Squad. Davis is one of the best actresses in the business, mostly because of the diversity of tough-woman roles she's played of late. With Davis, we get a total version of Waller, and from the beginning Ayer does a tremendous job of establishing her as someone who's three steps ahead and already has a killsquad in place. Even someone like Courtney - who's not exactly an SJF fave - has great moments of levity, along with his pension for pink unicorns. Yes, I said unicorns. But it's Ayer who's really in control here, getting the best of his actors in both dramatic pieces and action sequences His eye effortlessly blends great CGI horror with practical effects, particularly when the Squad encounters some of Enchantress's minions. He also gives Enchantress a serious amount of visual horror heft, making her the scariest-looking villain in perhaps any comicbook movie we've seen.

In fact, Suicide Squad looks like a grandslam until you get to that villain. After a stunning entrance, Enchantress - and especially her brother - are later minimized, especially when it's time to learn about how her powers have overtaken the host Moone so completely. Her brother's power is totally wasted: at the time of this posting, I still don't know who he was, his history beyond being considered a god, or his intentions on the human race, besides being super tall. I also don't buy Delevingne as Enchantress: she's quite good as the conflicted Moone, but nowhere near as compelling when she's the witch. While we do get a strong sense that Entrantress could be a very dangerous villain if used correctly by WB, she's not used as effectively as she could be which wears down a mostly competent third act. Suicide Squad also feels like WB maimed it for time. While there's so much backstory already from an extended prologue, it seemed like the original version might be a good 15 minutes longer. Flag's relationship with Moone is overly shortened (and looks like it), while Diablo, Katana (a very good but lesser-used Karen Fukahara), and Killer Croc seem to simply appear complete with their own awesome title cards. I suspect there is a Director's Cut that will fill in a lot of those pieces, bur for now you'll get that "I think something was cut here" feeling from more than a couple of scenes. It's one of only a few dropped balls by Ayer in an otherwise very solid film. Had it been slightly longer, we might have had the best film of the summer since Civil War.

Now three films in, DC's long-term plan is undergoing changes right beneath us, some of it revealing the cracks that many witnessed just a few months ago. Stealing many elements from Marvel films - including some pretty good cameos and a great end credits scene - DC is trying to escape the route of origin story/team-up sequence of releases, and Suicide Squad exposes that logic in several ways. I think a separate Batman/Joker film (non-origin), followed by this movie would made Ayer's film a lot stronger, because we simply have too many storylines to keep track. True, we know Joker and Batman, but with a team as large as this, an Affleck pic between this and BvS is going to feel essential to those who might not know some of these character origins. Through their folly, DC has proved that Marvel's plan is superior.

With a rather broad brush, Suicide Squad lets us know that the DC universe is about to get a whole lot bigger. Filled with solid performances, Ayer gives us a team coping with their own demons while facing another in the dangerous Waller and Enchantress. Don't listen to critics who've heaped a ton of negativity here; the film isn't perfect, isn't even the best superhero film of 2016, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and well cast, even if the villain is weak and that cast is simply too large to tell a complete story. Suicide Squad should rescue the worst summer in recent memory, although audiences might emerge wanting more and at the same time less.

Suicide Squad is rated PG - 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language and has a runtime of 130 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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