Suicide Squad (dir. David Ayer)

Posted: August 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Suicide Squad” is not the unmitigated disaster that was “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Let’s get that out of the way right now. “Squad” is more like a film that has a lot of potential, and that potential was unceremoniously smothered to death with a pillow. Casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was a genius move, and she gets the accent down and the basic touches of her character. But the film isn’t really interested in delving into her: the Stockholm Syndrome love affair with the Joker (Jared Leto), the PTSD trauma of that relationship and her childhood, the pain and the crazy. The film kind of wants to squish the character into the main character from the video game “Lollipop Chainsaw”. I mean sure, this version of Harley is sexy in an early 2000s-Scene, Manic Panic addict kind of way, but it’s not the character so much as it is a pin-up version of the character made flesh for people who only know of her from Hot Topic t-shirts. Hell, the movie seems to make her either a go-go dancer or an out and out stripper in one scene. There are also enough shots of her ass to make even Rob Zombie, who fills his movies with shots of his wife’s ass constantly, tell director David Ayer to lay off the ass shots (which are not as close and cut away from quicker than Zombie’s, but still.) Robbie does get some scenes as the pre-Harley doctor, Harleen Quinzel, and those are pretty nice, but all in all what the film gives us is the right actor for the right character with the script and director and costume designer messing that character up.

Let’s talk about the Joker, who appears in maybe 5 or 6 scenes of the film. This is kind of the same case as Robbie. You can tell Leto is having fun, and he has some good touches as the Joker (his laugh is unique to this actor’s portrayal of him), and you can sense a sort of Casanova-esque dangerous sexuality to this Joker that is interesting. But…he’s a gold chain-wearing, grill-sporting, Scarface-like White Gangsta wannabe Joker that feels like a parody pulled out of a Key & Peele sketch making fun of Ayer films like “Harsh Times”. I know Ayer is known for “street” films like “Times” as well as “Training Day” and “End of Watch”, but how on Earth did he think this Eminem Joker was a good idea? This guy is like if Kid Rock fell in an acid bath and his only memories were of 90s Blacksploitation gangsta movies. It’s a shame because, like Harley, this actor could have been a great Joker if it weren’t for the script, the direction, and the costume and art choice. I do like the Joker’s sunken in eyes and enhanced cheekbones which give him the look of Captain Howdy from “The Exorcist” though.

The rest of the characters I have less of an attachment to, so my feelings aren’t as strong. Will Smith’s Deadshot is more or less the main character, and he pretty much works the best of any character in the film. You get his motivations, you get his character, and he’s played about as well as it can be played. We also have movie critic-punching bag Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, who is useless, unfunny, and uninteresting. There’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, who has almost no purpose in the film (his skills come in handy for one and only one scene), has dialogue you can barely understand, and isn’t nearly as big and menacing as he is in the comics. Karen Fukuhara plays Katana, a woman with a sword that captures the souls of anyone killed with the sword. It seems like she might be an interesting character, but we get a brief flashback scene with her (less than one minute) and then she pretty much just slices CGI NPC baddies for the film and that’s it. There’s Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gang member who can harness and create fire, who is given a pathos rich story of having accidentally killed his family and, thus, sworn off using his powers. He’s given almost nothing to do as well, until the 2nd biggest baddie of the film needs to be defeated. This film gives us interesting characters and underwhelmingly uses them, does not do them justice, or has them in the film to serve a single purpose in a single scene. Diablo at least feels like a David Ayer character who just happens to have super powers, and at least it makes sense that he’s covered in tattoos unlike, say, the fucking Joker! Who exactly is the Joker’s tattoo artist? What tattoo artist is crazy enough to tattoo the Joker and expect to not be killed for pricking him the wrong way?

The plot is fairly simple. In the wake of superpowered humans (meta-humans is what the DC films are calling them) the government of the United States wants to be prepared in the event there is one day an evil terrorist superman. So, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose government position and rank are never made clear, has decided to assemble a team of enhanced persons and various crazies to be an army of expendable soldiers capable (?) of fighting off superpowered evil. The fact that the idea to create this army to repel danger is the actual instigator of the danger (Enchantress, played by Cara Delevingne) could have been used as political commentary about how the military can sometimes create more enemies in their quest to vanquish them (drone bombings that kill civilians and create more terrorists even though the target of the drone strike was a terrorist, for example), but the film isn’t interested in that. Hell, this film could have been used for commentary on the prison system, the mental health system, or a plethora of issues involving the military or national defense. Nope. This film can’t be bothered to be about anything.

Faster than you can say “Escape from New York”, the villains have explosives planted in their necks and are told to go along with a mission or their heads will be blown off. Slipknot (Adam Beach) is in the film only to demonstrate this. The mission ends up as such: Enchantress is an evil, ancient witch that can be controlled if someone has her heart. Waller has the heart and plans to control Enchantress to be a soldier and spy for the U.S. (her powers are demonstrated in a scene where she steals secrets from Iran). Well, Enchantress is able to steal her heart back, release her brother (another witch, I guess) and tries to build a weapon (which is kind of a cloud with garbage floating in it) to take over the world. Yawn. There’s some attempted drama added because Enchantress possesses the body of Dr. June Moore, who is loved by Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), a military man charged with watching over the villains and leading the mission.

The film that follows from this plot has the visual darkness and grunginess of Zack Synder some of the time, but in some scenes it includes the neon stylings  of Mr. Joel Schumacher, and that’s one name no one ever wants to see associated with a film that contains Batman (Ben Affleck) again. The scene where Batman chases a car driven by the Joker with Harley in the passenger seat is all Schumacher in visual style, ending with a misogynist laugh of Batman punching Harley in the face to save her from drowning. The action scenes are dull as all hell. The cuts are so quick and the scenes are so dark that there’s no sense of special relations or where characters are moving. The villains are all disposable digital NPCS you don’t care about and aren’t at all menacing, making it just a dull collection of bullets being fired, baseball bats being swung, and boomerangs flying. Yawn. The climatic action scene, with are main characters taking on Enchantress, takes place in a thick cloud of wintergreen, making the scene both ugly and barely visible. I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but when you can barely see a climactic fight scene in a film where all of the action sequences have been lackluster and boring, it doesn’t help your movie. Also, Enchantress seems to have a lot of power (she can teleport anywhere at will, for instance) but the film pretty much just has her writhe around in a bikini surrounded by digital swirling clouds, like a poor man’s Gozer.

The film tries to be Marvel in upping the one liners and comedy beats, but the beats largely aren’t funny. Will Smith does his Will Smith-iest and Robbie is commendable in really committing to Harley, but the team lacks the chemistry and pizzazz of, say, the Guardians of the Galaxy to pull any of this off. It feels like what it is: forced banter. Aside from Deadshot and Harley, the other members barely seem to have any connection to the others. They don’t feel like a group that is bound together (which makes sense earlier in the film, but not in the third act where they all make the choice to fight together) but more like disparate parts that feel ill at ease with each other, because they all belong in different movies, away from each other (Ayer should direct the Diablo movie and only that one).

The film is not aggressively bad, but it is boring at times and really subpar. When you have the Joker, arguably the greatest comic book villain of all time, and Harley Quinn, a character who has never been in a feature film before and is already beloved, it seems like the world is your oyster as far as crafting a film that can really work. “Suicide Squad” feels like you gave someone all of the materials and blueprints to build the Taj Mahal, and they built the Mall of America instead, a bland consumer product. It feels like a very wealthy father gave his son an inheritance worth billions of dollars, and they spent it all on Hot Pockets. “Suicide Squad” is a mediocre film with elements that could have been used for a different, much better film, and while the film itself doesn’t inspire anger, the fact that great elements were wasted on it does. Also, this film has one of the best soundtracks as far as killer songs I have ever heard. I feel like most of the film’s budget went to music licensing rights. Those are wasted too.

“Suicide Squad” in that way is like the actual act of Suicide, a sad waste of great potential. “Suicide Squandered” would have been a better title. C.

P.S. Batman and The Flash make cameos in the film. They add almost nothing of interest to the movie.

 

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