Saturday, August 6, 2016

Film review: Suicide Squad rises but misses the mark

Suicide Squad rises but misses the mark
by rick olivares

After Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman Dawn of Justice, so much was riding on Suicide Squad to get some universal love sans the gate receipts. There’s still grim and gritty but with Will Smith on board as the assassin Deadshot and Margot Robbie as the psychotic cheesecake Harley Quinn, there’s some heart and well, quirkiness; a welcome change in the mirthless place that is the DC Entertainment Universe (although this film was another extinction event).

However sadly, Suicide Squad teases promise but still misses the mark. As Smith’s Deadshot says after he is ordered to shoot an escaping Harley Quinn, “I missed.”

Yes, this film, like Dawn of Justice, misses again. Hey, cue in that last hit by British band, Genesis, “I Missed Again”. And that’s shocking considering the critical flack they received for their last two films and the supposed adjustments they made post-BvS. One can only surmise how it must have looked in its original form. 

Let me state for the record that I think it is good that DC is trying to also expand their universe and tie everything in. Furthermore, I think that choosing the Suicide Squad is a gutsy and laudable move. It seems more doable and believable given what they are trying to achieve instead of picking out the Legion of the Super-Heroes, Titans, Outsiders, Doom Patrol, or even the Omega Men that would have further stoked those Guardians of the Galaxy comparisons. 

I love the concept of Suicide Squad, the comic book that was originally a tip of the hat by writer John Ostrander to the film, The Dirty Dozen, a film adaption of an actual American unit of convicted soldiers who are turned loose in a mission during World War II. In fact, I like how the Suicide Squad film even pays homage to Ostrander whose name appears in front of a building in the film. 

So I eagerly awaited the film. 

Essentially, Suicide Squad is about a US intelligence officer named Amanda Waller who puts together Task Force X consisting of super villains incarcerated at the fictional Belle Reve Penitentiary in Louisiana. The are supposed to be the solution to dealing with rogue Supermen when the question is posed, "What if Superman goes bad? And how do we fight all these super-powered meta-humans that have showed up since Superman first appeared?"

When the Enchantress, an ancient witch that inhabits the body of Dr. June Moone, supposedly a member of Task Force X, loses control and begins to wreak havoc — she intends to destroy the world - with her newly-revived brother, Task Force X is called into action to save a person who turns out to be Waller herself, and put down the Enchantress. In order for Task Force X to comply with their mission, they are injected with nanites that could kill them at the flick of a switch. Er, more than stopping the Enchantress, their first mission was to save Waller? Couldn’t she just get out of there by herself? And her offing the FBI guys, she should be thrown into Belle Reve herself.

In the meantime, there’s this sub-plot of the Joker looking to spring his deranged love, Harley Quinn.

Sounds like a plan or a plot, right?

Nope. The best laid plans of director David Ayer and men have fallen apart.

You’d think that going up against a supernatural foe, you’d send people with similar powers. Instead, a squad that relies on blunt force trauma and physical violence is sent to take down this being of power? Okay, they fight humans who have been reanimated into some tar-covered humanoids that reminded me of those never-ending goons who the Power Rangers fought. You’d think a witch would instead conjure some monsters rather than brittle humanoids. And why the heck does the Enchantress need to engage them in sword fighting? If she can teleport to Iran and steal some secrets that the US military has been trying to get their hands on for years, why doesn’t she drop Task Force X inside a volcano? Or teleport them into outer space? 

I can understand the snafu that the Enchantress found a way to rebel. It is a possible occurrence after all. The Enchantress wants to destroy the world? So what’s their point in existing when they are from Earth? All right. Assuming we cannot comprehend their logic, how about that portal of whatever it is they create? Aside from the Ghostbusters feel, what are they summoning if ever? And you’d think rather than bring high-powered assault rifles they’d borrow some Proton Packs from Venkman and company (sorry, I am not into their reboot). How long does it take to conjure that portal to destroy the world? The Enchantress is aware of the presence of the Suicide Squad while her brother can even see Captain Boomerang’s bommerang but not the Special Forces soldiers beneath the sewers?

And after all is said and done, Waller remains in charge of Task Force X? 

Aargghh. Holy loopholes, Batman! 

And here’s one more… Nanites or not, I found it strange that the Special Forces soldiers would lead the recon while Task Force X stayed in the back. Hmmmmm. Even the ancient Persians made sure it was their mercenary allies who were at the forefront of the attack while they brought up the rear. But Ayer is a former US serviceman having spent time in the Navy. Being on the water aside, he should have some passing knowledge about infantry formations.

It may be nitpicking but the reason why super-hero films have been popular is their modern re-telling and putting them in relatable settings and finding ways for people to suspend their disbelief. Man of Steel nearly succeeded except that Lois Lane was like those Chuck Taylors as she was everywhere while Superman snapped the neck of General Zod. BvS… let’s not get into that because it’s almost criminal. 

Suicide Squad, to borrow comic book grading terms, is fine. Just fine. Not good or even within the vicinity of great. It’s just fine. 

I think it’s a slight step up from the dour BvS. Will Smith and Margot Robbie save the film. Smith always brings heart into his roles. I think he does well as a tormented Deadshot with perhaps his appearances in Bad Boys preparing him for this.

Margot Robbie is delicious and tantalizing; a tease. For a while there, I thought that her interplay with Jared Leto’s Joker was going to be super-hero-dom’s version of “Natural Born Killers”. Leto… reeked of menace and danger. But at the end, he isn’t like the late Heath Ledger whose Joker was the god of death. Every second Heath was on screen, you didn’t know what craziness he was going to do as his appetite for destruction was seemingly insatiable. But to be fair, Leto didn’t get the screen time that Ledger or even Jack Nicholson did. So I am looking forward to see the next appearance that puts him on a collision course with Batman if this film’s continuity is followed.

While films like The Avengers or even Captain America: Civil War have shown that it is possible to juggle huge casts, Suicide Squad is unable to balance this cast — and they had the cast. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Diablo, and Slipknot are woefully under-used. Katana? Well, she was one of my favorites in that comic book group, The Outsiders. In this film, she was totally unnecessary. What’s this? Diversity for the heck of it? 

And I wasn’t too impressed with Joel Kinnaman’s Colonel Rick Flagg who seems like a lovesick schoolboy rather than a man who is reputably able to handle every single weapon in the US arsenal — meaning he is experienced and battle-hardened. Instead, he’s a wuss. 

I love how Ben Affleck’s Batman appeared on several occasions. And speaking of those cameo appearances, good to see the Flash make a special although really short appearance. 

Ayer’s films Fury and Street Kings were gritty; the former, sometimes a little overboard in the gore that is no doubt trying to outdo Saving Private Ryan that changed the genre for war films. He wrote Training Day that I liked. How on earth, he concocted Suicide Squad is beyond me. And he says he cut this.

The soundtrack was all right. Good stuff. Just wish it didn’t feel like MTV.

Suicide Squad isn’t the disaster that Dawn of Justice was. It has its moments for sure. There’s potential. But unfortunately, Ayer and company didn’t have the aim of Deadshot.

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