Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (2016)



Even before I developed anything resembling taste when it comes to cinema, I’ve always had a real soft spot for superhero and comic book-related movies. Films that have gotten a bad rap since their release like Constantine, the Tim Story Fantastic Four duology, even pre-Director’s Cut Daredevil; have to admit, I find quite a bit to like about them. That said, I carry the comic book nerd gene for outrage: I still hate Man Of Steel with every fibre of my being, last year’s Fantastic Four movie is bad to the point of bafflement, and lord knows that I’m not looking forward to the latest iteration of Spider-Man on the big screen thanks to the imbeciles that are writing the bloody thing. And even with all that in mind, I still have to stop and say “Would you people get over yourselves already?”. I’ll admit, I was sceptical about this film myself due to factors I’ll get into in the review proper, but this kind of “Oh, they hate what we like, therefore we hate them” keyboard-smashing attitude is the kind of overreaction that I thought we had gotten past for this year after the whole Ghostbusters fiasco. But no, we still feel the need to go on the uber-defensive for films that, even with my differing opinions on them, are mostly pretty divisive to begin with. Seriously, ignore what the aggregators are saying: Batman Vs. Superman’s reception has been about as consistent as Man Of Steel’s, and I’m willing to bet that the rest of the DC cinematic universe will follow a similar path. But, given my own reaction to Gods Of Egypt, there’s still a possibility that I could be a part of this backlash myself… except I hope I can show a tad more decorum than the average Youtube commenter. Anyway, enough waffling on; time to get into the film itself and see whether or not it’s worth its salt. This is Suicide Squad.


The plot: Government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), wanting to protect national interests in the wake of the rising awareness of metahumans, assembles a team of supervillains to act as a mercenary squad. She rounds up Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to go after the ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), whom has gone against Waller’s wishes and begun her own plans for world domination.

The cast here is pretty dang solid, considering we’re dealing with a lot of actors whom have shown that they can easily turn sour under the wrong production. Smith is pure charisma as always with plenty of douchebag charm to spare, a common trait to be found in his co-stars. Robbie, while probably needing some future coaching before trying a New York accent again (it kept dropping out at random points during the film), pretty much nails what fans (including myself) would have expected and deserved for the big screen debut of Harley Quinn. Although, chances are most viewers will be too distracted by what are quite possibly the shortest shorts in the history of anything to even notice the vocal issues. Courtney is the comic relief of the team, but man he plays it well with probably his most enjoyable performance yet. Hernandez just further proves how far he’s come from the days of slumming it for Eli Roth, coming out with probably the most emotionally poignant performance of the lot. Akinnuoye-Agbaje works well as the man of action of the group, selling physical intimidation while still hitting his few quips very nicely. Delevingne is a tad underwhelming, but I’d chalk that more up to how her character is written rather than her performance on its own. For the few times she gets to use it, her double act between Dr. Moone and Enchantress is well done. Kinnaman does a good job as the Xander of the team, Davis embodies cold military efficiency with every movement and word she uses, and Ike Barinholtz as a security officer at the facility is made of asshole. And man, is he fun to watch on screen as always. Oh, and I can easily see why Jared Leto got as pissed as he did about his scenes getting cut because not only is it noticeable that there was meant to be more of him on screen, but also because he seriously nails down the character. It’s a different approach to the crown prince of crime, going for more of a contemporary gangsta with a hard A, while still ringing true as the Joker we know and love.

There are two big issues that I can see developing with how DC is treating its own cinematic universe, the first being that these people can’t get over the urge to rush through everything. In what is ultimately an inevitable comparison, Marvel may be annoying prolific to some but they at least take time out to fully develop what they want to present on screen. Meanwhile, over at DC, they need to overclock themselves in order to catch up to Marvel and their efforts have resulted in a lot of run-through storytelling so far. This, unfortunately, isn’t an exception to that. The pacing is quite haphazard and while I give credit in that the characters are as developed as they are, you can too clearly see where the effort went in and where it didn’t. As soon as Slipknot appeared on screen, you can tell that he isn’t long for this world. The other problem is how the higher-ups seem to be interested in all of one type of story for these characters: Morality plays that are meant to make us question just how ‘good’ and ‘bad’ our heroes and villains are. Don’t get me wrong, I like stories that toy with those lines, but a bit of variety would be nice. Thankfully, this is an issue that appears to have been addressed, because this is a well-appreciated break from the dreary norm set by their takes on Superman. This film got re-edited to be more comedic in light of Deadpool’s success, and while you can definitely see such editing chops in the final product, it did manage to give this film a feeling like these are filmmakers who want an actual universe, not just the same story with different skins thrown on it.

Not that this film is entirely jovial, as it seems that writer/director David Ayer wanted to build on his triumph with Fury a couple years back and tell another war story. I mean, at its core, this story is one that has been used countless times before in action films about the expendable mercenaries who are intentionally left in the dark about what their objectives are. However, in that respect, this film actually does really well with how it portrays modern military attitudes from the inside-out. I mean, when you really look at it, both sides are being led by people who can take an ordinary person off the street and mould them into their own personal weapon for their own personal missions. It’s the same kind of humanist perspective Ayer showed with Fury, complete with showing the real terrors of war by showing who it is really affecting and how. This is helped by the ensemble of characters that make up the titular squad, all of whom have differing personal stakes in this mission. They range from Deadshot’s hope for some semblance of a family life to Harley’s unhealthy relationship with the Joker to El Diablo wanting to atone for his past sins to Killer Croc just wanting to be left alone in the sewers, and all of them work well both in their respective bubbles and when brought together. And there’s people like Captain Boomerang who just don’t care, but quite frankly, that’s about as Aussie as he could have been so bonus points for that one. This is the kind of cast of characters that, removed from their graphic novel origins, are meant to be put together for a story like this. War stories are often at their best when they are shown through the eyes of the soldiers on the front line, and this film does exactly that through the complete gleeful anarchy that they each personify. Even with how predictable some of the plot beats can get, like the aforementioned ticking clock for Slipknot, the characters are that engaging and sympathetic that they make the ride worth sitting through.

And just to further how much this is a traditional war film in garish neon clothing, this has one of the most eclectic soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time, with plenty of traditional rock staples to fill in the gaps. I remember a gag from classic Aussie show The Late Show about how we shouldn’t have wars nowadays because the films about them would be full of crappy pop songs. I bring this up because this kind of highlights something that I genuinely miss about these kinds of films: The soundtrack. The old school Vietnam rescue action films had heaps of great musical moments; chances are most older film fans can’t hear Fortunate Son without thinking of the war scenes from Forrest Gump. What works best about the music as a whole, aside from bringing back a golden standard, is that it operates much like the characters do: It’s loud and kind of obnoxious, but it’s just so damn enjoyable. Apart from the more traditional use of rock and blue rock to set the scene for soldiers on the frontier, we also get some cool uses of more contemporary music: The use of Black Skinhead here isn’t as ingenious as it was when Bad Neighbours 2 used it, but when set against Deadshot doing his thing, it comes pretty damn close. And of course, there’s the album’s worth of original songs made to accompany the film. It will join the soundtrack to We Are Your Friends on my iPod, because it is seriously that good of an album in its own right to warrant that outside of the film. I mean, Heathens alone is proof positive of that.

All in all, while I do see some technical issues in its editing, writing and overall direction, I’m with the fanboys on this one: I really friggin’ liked this flick. The characters were fun, the dialogue is choice, the action scenes are good, the writing merges the sectors of war and comic book films in a rather remarkably smooth fashion and the soundtrack is probably one of the best I’ll hear all year. Agree with me on that point? Disagree? That’s fine but, for the love of all things sacred, show some bloody perspective if you want to enter the conversation. Advocating censorship and shotgun-blasting disdain all over the walls is not the way to handle these things. Enjoy the movie or don’t, but don’t be a dick about it. It’s better than Star Trek Beyond, as this goes beyond just having interesting characters bickering with each other and turns it into legitimate drama that aids the film. However, on the same note concerning drama, it falls short of the outright harrowing experience of Room.

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