Tuesday, 30 August 2016

NEW RELEASE: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

(Director: David Ayer.  Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis)

When the first trailer for Suicide Squad appeared online at the start of this year it provoked an audible sigh of relief among critics and film fans everywhere.  After the grim, turgid self-seriousness that plagued Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Martha it was a breath of fresh air to discover that Warner Bros were capable of actually having some fun with their D.C. titles.  

It has long been accepted that Batman is a character defined by his antagonists. His popularity as a hero has always been supported by possibly the best rogues gallery in all of comics and especially in superhero movies (Just compare the tragic version of Harvey Dent portrayed by Aaron Eckhart to Tommy Lee Jones' cartoonish Two-Face to see how differently well handled villains can affect a movie's overall success).  The idea of a film which could combine the dark-hearted humour of Deadpool with the shameless silliness of Guardians of the Galaxy while using characters lifted from Gotham City seemed like a perfect storm of everything I love about comics and a welcome change of pace from aggressively dull form of D.C.'s last two outings.  I mean just look at that poster up top.  That looks like the sort of perfect marriage of campy nonsense and violence that should be adorning the walls of college halls of residence the world over.  

Next to Bob Marley, Run Lola Run, Che Guevara and Pink Floyd's 'Butts' poster
Sadly, it wasn't to be.  The editors of the trailers deserves some sort of award for their efforts as they have created a three minute work of art far more entertaining than the movie it was pieced together from.  If the film promised by the trailer was music to our ears then sadly the film which I actually saw in the cinema felt like a terrible cover of that music, probably by Limp Bizkit.
The Clown Prince of unlikable douchebags
Speaking of music, the soundtrack to this film somehow manages to be simultaneously great and terrible.  Taking notes from the stellar soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad packs it's runtime with numerous classic songs from the 70s onward.  But unlike with Guardians, none of them feel like an organic part of the film and instead feel slapped on top in an rushed attempt to change the tone to one more lighthearted and fun than what the images portray (this, like many of the films flaws, clearly feel like last minute re-edits borne of studio interference).  Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' plays as the characters insanity is discussed, the 'guess who's back' intro to Eminem's 'The Real Slim Shady' plays as they are released from their cells and even the ruthless team leader, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is introduced to the Rolling Stones' 'Sympathy For The Devil.'  This would be painfully heavy handed even in a wittier, better paced movie but in one already beset by clunky, exposition heavy dialogue and simplistic themes it's damn near unforgivable.
If they were being honest, they would've played Cee Lo Green's 'Fuck You'
to the audience over the end credits
Despite this, nothing in this film makes any sense.  Even the whole concept for the Suicide Squad itself is pretty ridiculous.  Amanda Waller pitches the concept for the squad on the fact that this is set in the D.C. universe where the existence of Kryptonians (such as Superman) is common knowledge.  To defend against superheroes, the government (or the police or CIA, it's never really clarified) need an army of superheroes themselves.  So far, so logical.  It falls apart when you realise that she plans to save us all from near-indestructable beings with laser eyes and the power of flight by taking them down with a guy who can climb well and a crazy woman with a baseball bat.

Behold! The awesome power of getting drunk and throwing shit.
 At this point in the film literally only one member of the Suicide Squad, Cara Delivigne's 'Enchantress' is shown to have mind-blowing superhuman abilities and upon her release she instantly turns on her handlers and plans to destroy the world becoming the film's main villain. Somehow the exact same people responsible for this utter debacle are given the job of fixing it.  If the human authorities in the D.C. Universe are genuinely this incompetent all the time it's no longer surprising that Zach Snyder's frowny version of Superman hates us so much.
[snort] Could you assholes not just save yourselves for once? Gawd!
Although the character's powers (or lack of) is the least of the problems the script has with them.  A film can get away with a nonsensical set-up if the action which follows is enough good fun (like, say, the first Matrix film) but it becomes more apparent if what follows is completely unsatisfying (like, say, every other Matrix film).  The main selling point of Suicide Squad as a concept is the idea that the main protagonists are a bunch of unrepentant villains forced to do good against their will.  There's something exciting about seeing our usual heroes replaced by less than stellar examples of humanity (hence the popularity of films like Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Moms, Bad Grandpa, Bad Lieutenant and... um... Bad Education?)  The problem with Suicide Squad is that it spends so long trying to convince us that these 'Bad Guys' are likeable enough that we should be siding with them that it forgets to make them actually bad enough to stand out from any other generic heroes.  
These people have each heartlessly murdered more humans than
the entire cast of Suicide Squad combined.
Will Smith's Deadshot spends so much of his screen time pining over his estranged daughter that you almost forget that he's supposed to be a hit man.  He might as well put down the sniper rifle and fully embrace his boring new role as 'Dadman' (or 'Dad-shot' if you will.)  El Diablo is literally repentant and refuses to fight (building up to him eventually having to, surprising no one, and then realising he doesn't have a secondary character trait beyond pacifism).  Rick Flagg and Katana are good guys throughout (not to mention that Katana only gets about 4 lines, none of which are in English) and Enchantress turns full on villain before she gets to interact with any of the rest of the team.  Killer Croc gets barely any lines or anything remotely interesting to do and Slipknot is out of the film so early that they didn't even bother including him when the characters are given their expository intros (and in doing so telegraphed away what could have been the films only shock moment).  This leaves Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang as the only characters who actually fit the brief suggested by the film's plot and unsurprisingly they are the two most entertaining characters in the movie.  That said, despite his early suggestions of a plot to escape (which he doesn't enact or even reveal) Capt. Boomerang ends up having little to no effect on the plot whatsoever.  Jai Courtney gives Boomerang a genuinely fun air of a total scumbag which suggests that (much like Tom Cruise) he's an actor most associated with blank bland heroes who comes to life when allowed to be gloriously unlikable.

Like when he played a heartless vampire, an arrogant misogynistic speaker
a ruthless hitman or a really creepy Scientologist.
Margot Robbie injects the film with some energy as Harley Quinn but her entire character arc feels completely separated from everything else happening on screen.  So this brings us to The Joker.  Much of the early press surrounding Suicide Squad focussed on Jared Leto's preparation for taking on the mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime and especially on his apparent confusing of the difference between method acting and illegal harassment.  (Say what you will about Heath Ledgers commitment to his performance in The Dark Knight but he never felt the need to mail his cum to Christian Bale just to get into character.)  In fact, based upon this, I had assumed going in the the Joker would be the primary antagonist of the movie.  This would actually make more sense plot wise as it would explain why Amanda Waller felt that criminals would be knowledgable allies and why Harley Quinn would be a useful member of the team.  I can't help but feel that this would make a more interesting film than the one we got which had a villain who felt like a cross between the ones in Ghostbusters and The Mummy Returns without any of the goofy charm of either film.

Much like the film itself, after weeks of hype, Leto's performance simply feels underwhelming.  For someone who was acting genuinely crazy off screen, Leto seems quite boringly normal and unthreatening on it.  Sure he's a violent criminal but nothing in the film suggests that he has the kind completely unpredictable genius lunacy which defines the Joker in all his best outings.  In fact if you were to remove the green hair and pale skin there is nothing to suggest that he's anything but a generic short fused gangster from the Joe Pesci school.  If you were to dump him in, say, The Wire, he wouldn't even come close to being the most dangerous character and you'd just find him an annoyance that you'd hope would catch a bullet from Omar and stop bothering the more professional villains.  

'The guy from 30 Seconds to Mars?  Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-it'
Even his laugh feels forced and weak, a sort of rictus 'Ack ack ack' more reminiscent of the aliens in Mars Attacks! than Mark Hamill's famously unsettling cackle.  After Heath Ledger's hobo-suited psychotic who burns his money because he has simple taste in 'gunpowder and gasoline' and who carries nothing in his pockets 'but knives and lint', a flash suited nightclub impresario with blinged up monogrammed guns feels like nothing more than a harmless self-obsessed little boy.  If anything Leto's Joker feels most reminiscent of a sort of toned down, less frightening version of Uday Hussain in The Devil's Double.  If your character, who is defined as being an  inhumanly insane force of nature, comes across instead as a diluted version of a real life monster then this suggests a serious lack of imagination on the part of the writers.

All of this ends up weakening Harley Quinn as a character by proxy.  One of Harley's defining characteristics has always been her unconditional love for The Joker despite his clearly abusive antics.  When the Joker seems like a fascinatingly inexplicable whirlwind of behaviours then we can relate to how that could be strangely seductive, especially to a brilliant psychiatrist such as Dr Harleen Quinzell.  To replace him with a petty, selfish gangster makes her seem less like a tragic figure drawn towards the darkness which is destroying her and more like a naive little girl who has made some really terrible life choices.

Lower back tattoo at 14, pregnant by 16, alcoholic by 18
starring in 'The Canyons' at 30.
Even if you enjoy the way each of the characters are introduced at the start of the film there is barely anything more to enjoy as none of them get any development as the film continues.  Almost all the runtime is split between Harley, Deadshot and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez).  The way the film ignores more than half the team would be forgivable if it found interesting things for the primary three to do. After each of them gets a pre-credit expository intro, they are then shown in prison having their backstory briefed to lead soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), then while on the mission they each have a moment to reflect on their pasts as they continue their mission.  Later on the characters bond in a bar by sharing their backstories with each other and then later are given a dream sequence where they imagine life if their backstories went differently.  That's FIVE different versions of the same story. There is so many repeating flashbacks that you spend the whole film waiting for the forward story to start and then it's over almost instantly.  

'I'm not ever going to burn things again'
[burns some things]
Can we go home now?
Much like with Batman Vs Superman the constant desire to cut between different timelines and fantasies that it's hard to keep track of the actual present day events and, if stripped of all these extraneous cutaways, there isn't actually much of it (and what there is is painfully repetitive).  Suicide Squad meet some monsters.  Suicide Squad kill the monsters.  Wash, rinse, repeat. To put it simply, there are four different scenes of helicopters making an entrance in this film.  Every one of those helicopters crashes.  Not one character is killed when this happens.  Everything that happens seems to happen twice and never for any actual reason we would care about.  The repetitiveness of it all isn't helped by the fact that the characters barely stand out from each other as they all talk in the same pseudo-badass fronting that you'd expect from 12 year olds acting tough, poor quality NPC's in a First Person Shooter game or a research scientist in the universe James Cameron's Avatar is set in.

'Come at me, bruh! Yer ass is grass! etc.'
Speaking of their miraculous crash survival, for a film named Suicide Squad, you never really feel that anyone is ever at much of a risk.  Despite his brutal reputation earned from films like Training Day, End of Watch and Fury, director David Ayer seems surprisingly shy about killing anyone from his central cast.  The inaccurately named Suicide Squad seem to be least expendable team of apparently expendable soldiers since...well... The Expendables.

The greatest threat these characters face is the inevitable onset of dementia
Ultimately Suicide Squad is a massive disappointment.  From a concept which promised so much there is little to take from this film but a couple of briefly enjoyable sequences and some interesting, well cast but utterly wasted characters.  While it's not as overlong, dull or morally questionable as the last two D.C. efforts, the fact that Suicide Squad fails to find more than a spark of inspiration from such a fun bag of tricks suggests a studio that really doesn't understand what people want from their films.  I wish I could look forward to the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League movies but if Warner Bros struggle to make something enjoyable from a film centered on Batman villains then I genuinely worry how they plan to make a film starring Aquaman watchable.

In short I'm somewhat jealous of the confused cinema attendant who put up the below signage. He's clearly living in a more interesting world than the one the rest of us are in.

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