Thursday, August 18, 2016

Movie Review - Suicide Squad

  Suicide Squad is the latest DC comics inspired movie, featuring supervillains (except for one) previously unseen on the screen as the protagonists instead of superheroes. The film’s opening weekend occurred during my trip to Duluth so I went this past weekend to the local Marshalltown theatre with Kathy and our neighbor Don. The movie was critically panned and even though it led the box office on opening weekend with 133 million dollars it was criticized on its second weekend for only drawing 48 million which is more than a 60% drop-off. With the number of people having home theaters that can rival almost any movie theatre I can’t imagine many people paying $20+ dollars to see a movie a second time when it can be rented for $2 and seen in HD and surround sound at home.

  The Suicide Squad is a group of super-villains on death row that are injected with remote controlled explosives and tasked with eliminating two magical villains bent on destroying the planet. The Squad is controlled by government power broker Amanda Waller who ruthlessly kills the first member that threatens to rebel against her. The Squad is comprised of Deadshot, Harlequin, Diablo, Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang. We are introduced to the Squad by Waller explaining how each was captured (including some guest appearances by Ben Affleck as the Batman) so the origins allow for some action scenes along with the seemingly obligatory slow moving scenes to introduce each character whiling away their life sentences in a max security prison.

  As soon as I saw the movie had the Joker I was looking forward to it more than even Batman vs. Superman. Batman and the Joker are the iconic characters of the DC universe. While the Joker is a proven psychopath each successive reinvention of Batman is darker and brings the Dark Knight closer and closer to using the Jokers methods of fear and intimidation to meet his goals. Batman has been in eight DC movies but the Joker has previously been in only two movies. Jerod Leto’s version of The Joker is more layered than his predecessors because his motivations aren’t just psychopathic mayhem – he is trying to rescue his girlfriend Harley Quinn (Harlequin) from prison and the predicament she has been placed in by being a member of the Squad. This allows The Joker to float in and out of the movie to advance the plot as needed.

  This Joker had cartoonish aspects like a machine gun firing henchman in a panda suit and Joker outfits ranging from a tux to a boy band leather jacket to go along with his trademark green hair. But the Joker is still a psychopath – just a younger hipper one with gold teeth, a body full of Jokerish tattoos, and the means to fund his criminal empire. The scenes where he seduces his insane asylum psychologist Dr. Harley Quinn into embracing his madness and becoming Harlequin was classic Joker and not something the previous Joker incarnations were ever allowed to attempt. The most terrifying Joker stunt was when a scientist refuses his commands only to shown a tablet facetiming his wife held at knifepoint begging her husband to ‘do whatever he says’. I always felt that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was JACK NICHOLSON playing THE JOKER while Heath Ledger’s Joker never had to explain his motivations except through Alfred’s ‘Some men just want to watch the world burn’ comment. Leto’s version is more similar to Ledger’s but with a punk rock sort of twist and a human side that I really liked especially in the small doses he appeared in through the movie.

  There were three main Suicide Squad characters: Harlequin (Margo Robbie), sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), and the military leader of the group Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) . The rest of the Squad had minor roles designed to provide pathos (Diablo as a super powerful flame throwing pacifist, Katana as the mourning widow and Flag’s super heroine accomplice to keep the squad in line), comic relief (Captain Boomerang does little except drinks beer and say silly things in an Australian accent), special effects wizardry (Killer Croc who never seemed very terrifying except when eating prison guards) or a plot device to demonstrate the potency of the bombs injected into each of the Squad to ensure their compliance (Slipknot’s all too brief appearance).

  The Squad’s mission is to hunt down rogue member Enchantress, a millennia old sorceress and Suicide Squad member who happens to inhabit the body of Flag’s girlfriend. Enchantress escapes from the Squad and revives her equally ancient brother Incubus. The pair forces the evacuation of Midway City, turns U.S. soldiers into monstrous minions, and commences to create a machine that will destroy mankind.

  The Squad’s battles to get through the minions, disable the doomsday device, and stop the Enchantress/ Incubus duo was well choreographed, contained great special effects, and had a lot of action. The problem I had was that the magical villains of the piece were far too powerful for these Suicide Squad members to even hope to contain much less defeat. Incubus shoots tendrils out of his arms that behead people and destroy tanks yet Harlequin is able to fight him with a baseball bat and merely gets kicked around instead of disintegrated. Except for Diablo’s flame powers and Killer Croc’s super strength there are no super powers here to speak of since Deadshot and Captain Boomerang are weapon dependent. I guess that is the point of the ‘suicide’ in Suicide Squad but it made no sense to me that this group would even have a chance against super powered magical forces.

  I liked the interactions between the squad members but when the group obtains their freedom after Waller is seemingly killed I didn’t like their sudden turn to becoming sort of noble good guys after a ‘pep talk’ from Flag who had done nothing but threaten the crew with an explosive death for most of the movie. It would have made more sense to have the crew bond and then have one of their group butchered by the Enchantress as their motivation for risking their lives to stop her.

  Articles about the movie claim that is was originally written in a dark tone but was extensively remade to be more clownish just months before its release and it certainly has the feel of a movie that couldn’t decide whether to go dark or be funny. I would have liked to seen the antagonists of the movie be more on the pedestrian side of villainy as that would have played more to the strengths of the Suicide Squad’s lack of a-list super powers. This is an entertaining film but not the epic saga that will set the standard for the DC movie universe. If the Joker wasn’t in this film I would have considered it a jumbled mess of a film and wasted money but those that swear by the Ledger or Nicholson Joker as THE definitive portrayal of the character will likely be very disappointed.

  Despite the movie’s shortcomings, DC has set the table for an X-Men type (Deadpool and Wolverine) spin-off for Deadshot since Will Smith is still sort of a top-tier movie star and Harlequin whose brand of insanity could be great in a lighter movie. The big question to me is will The Joker get his own movie or will he be the Marvel version of Loki that pops in and out of other movies. I liked the Leto version of the Joker as a punk rock crime boss with brains and unlimited resources with a psychopathic side that can called upon as necessary. Hopefully DC will be able to build a franchise around the Clown Prince and not mothball the character for another decade until yet another Batman reboot.