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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: SUICIDE SQUAD, a team-up that's unlikely to save the DC Cinematic Universe

There are few comics that I love more than the Ostrander/Yale/McDonnell Suicide Squad. It has a perfect concept and a perfectly drawn together cast, and under that team's watch, it became one of the seminal series of the 80's for DC Comics. Honestly, it's one of those comic runs that's yet to be equaled and certainly not surpassed, despite the publisher's many attempts at relaunching the title. I promise you, beyond perhaps Michel Fiffe and John Ostrander himself, there are few people who love Task Force X more than I.

So it's with a heavy heart that I have to report Warner Bros' big screen adaptation of this team of misfits is a film so bad, it makes me long for the return of Zack Snyder to shelter us from the oncoming storm that is David Ayer's Four Loko take on the DC Universe.

Suicide Squad, which is set in the days following Superman's death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, centers on a plan by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to pull together a team of incarcerated super-villains with special abilities that could protect American interests by offering them both the carrot (time taken off their prison sentence) and the stick (an explosive device planted in their neck if they don't comply). For anyone who hasn't seen the sheer deluge of trailers - and holy cow, how could you avoid them? - the team she recruits with her right hand man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) includes Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach) and the non-criminal Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Waller pulls the ripcord on this team of baddies after one of her other secret weapons, the ultra-powerful mystic, The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), enacts a plan to destroy the world...for reasons that are absurd, and involves a big circle of trash in the sky, a fitting image for a film so poorly edited and obnoxiously in-your-face, I'm a bit shocked that the studio thought they could hang their hopes on this one to be their Summer savior.

It's not all terrible, really, as it has a first 30 minutes or so that mostly zips along with some exciting visuals and character background, but is continually stopped dead in its tracks whenever its villain rears its head. And as you can imagine, once said villain becomes the centerpiece of the story's concerns, the film goes from a somewhat fun, if occasionally grating experience, to an outright disaster on par with the cringe-worthy Green Lantern, with equally awful CGI. It's also quite ugly visually, with the same sort of muddy grey environs that mark Snyder's two forays into the DCU, but with none of his panache for action to balance it out. I was stunned by just how cheap everything looked, particularly in that maligned second half, which looks every bit of being shot on a sound-stage and is likely the after-effect of being part of the much reported, and very rushed looking, reshoots. In this way, it reminds me a good deal more of last year's Fantastic Four, notably in that compromised second half.

Suicide Squad is a film of fits and starts, and way too many flashbacks that kill all narrative momentum just when its attempting to come together, underscoring just how ramshackle its editing is. Imagine if you will, the team is about to go face the big bad, and then suddenly, for reasons that are only marginally clear, they all opt to go to the bar instead. In a way, I can see how that might work, given that this is a crew of bad guys; but the scene is so gracelessly plunked in the middle of the third act that I thought perhaps I was having a fever dream, a 15 minute interminable fever dream that ALSO finds the time to include a flashback! Or better yet, there's a moment where the film decides to display what I assume is supposed to be a twist of some kind, or at least it felt that way based on how the scene is written, but it simply flashes back to an earlier moment in the movie that was already explicitly shown to the audience! You can't make this stuff up!

There are also a few elements in Ayer's script that come across fairly uncomfortably. There are far too many references to hitting women than are necessary, and of course Harley is on display throughout, with Ayer's camera ogling her body at every instance it can. I know many found Lois' bathtub scene in Batman v. Superman to be problematic, but this is a bit beyond the pale in terms of objectifying content. Then there is Enchantress, who is displayed in what is best described as a "Slave Leia bikini" and the costume you've seen in promo material is actually the more covered up outfit. As she gains power, she somehow loses more clothing.

Between the questionable decisions, and an overstuffed, convoluted structure, is there anything to recommend about Suicide Squad? If so, it begins and ends with Smith, Robbie, and Davis. Smith as Deadshot gets every possible opportunity to display just why he was/is considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. His Deadshot is capable, charming, and is easily the funniest part of the film. It's been reported that some of his dialogue was improvised, and given how much uproariously more hilarious his lines were than some of his more stilted "this is funny, right?" counterparts were, I can believe it. Additionally, Robbie is about as perfect a Harley Quinn as you'll find, with just the right amount of irreverence and loopiness, and utilizing her same New York accent that she employed in The Wolf of Wall Street, but finding just enough Arleen Sorkin there to make it all her own. She's terrific, as is Viola Davis, who, to put it bluntly, IS Amanda Waller, carrying the exact kind of steely-eyed terrifying, take no bullshit demeanor that you'd come to expect from the character. You couldn't do any better than these three standouts, and even Jai Courtney makes for a pretty strong Digger Harkness (words I NEVER thought I'd say), but the plodding and utterly mindless goings on of the plot fail them completely as the running time rolls on.

You'll notice I haven't even made mention of Jared Leto's much discussed grilled and tattooed Joker. I haven't forgotten him, he just barely makes a blip here and probably has about a grand total of 10 minutes of screentime. He's not bad, especially in small doses where his rather over the top shtick would likely begin to grate, but he's also just another distraction that could be plucked from the film entirely and not much would be lost. We'd certainly get less distracting flashbacks that way, but as negatives go on this one, Leto doesn't even crack the top ten (El Diablo and Killer Croc are far more awful, and Croc looks like crap). And surprisingly, the Harley-Joker relationship, though given some confounding backstory for the uninitiated, at least seems somewhat genuine and not so one-sided for once.

There's a part of me that wants to apologize to Zack Snyder for my dismissing of his approach to this world. At least Batman v Superman had SOMETHING on its mind, until it didn't anymore. By contrast, Suicide Squad is basically Marvel lite, but without the fun or compelling characters, or really, much in the way of humor beyond one very noble effort. Really though, all this movie does is make me even more wary about the current DC movieverse approach, and suddenly, I'm a lot more nervous for the fate of Wonder Woman. It's all on your shoulders now, Diana. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you can carry this weight.

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