Monday, October 3, 2016

Film Review: Suicide Squad

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I was very late in getting to see this film.  By the time I was able to get to the theater, the reviews for this film had been generally miserable.  This was disconcerting to me because I had been so incredibly psyched to see it.

And for the most part, the critics are wrong.

Suicide Squad is the third film in the DC Extended Universe, following Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  It is an unusual choice to say the least.

The plot revolves around assembling a task force of super villains to go on impossible missions in exchange for reductions on their prison sentences.  Essentially its a comic book movie version of The Dirty Dozen.  The one assembling the squad is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a shadowy government official who coldly calculates the perceived greater good against the lives of others.  She chooses an eclectic group of dangerous killers:  Deadshot (Will Smith), the world's deadliest assassin; Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a former gang-banger pyrokinetic; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a part-man, part reptile hulk; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a thief whose shtick is boomerangs; the Enchantress (Cara Delevinge) an ancient evil force of nature who shares a body with the innocent June Moon; Slipnot (Adam Beech), an expert climber; and last but not least Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the insane paramour of the still-at-large Joker (Jared Leto).  Supervising them are Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen), who is in love with June Moon, and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a masked fighter whose sword captures the souls of those it kills.

Things quickly get out of hand with this group.  The Enchantress is able to escape and wreak havoc in Midway City and the rest of the squad is sent to rescue a high value asset from the chaos.  Each squad member has a bomb implanted in their necks that will explode should they try to escape or disobey.  From the moment the mission gets started, the movie revs up the action, tension, and fun.

It is said that director David Ayer was forced to do a good deal of re-shoots in response to the financial success of Deadpool and the critical attacks on Batman v. Superman.  And there is some disjointedness to the story.  Whereas it should be the simplest and most straightforward plot of any DCEU film, it goes off into digressions and flashbacks throughout the film.

However, despite this Suicide Squad is an incredibly enjoyable film.  Ayer does an excellent job of giving the film its dynamic action.  Thankfully we don't have any of the annoying shakey-cam that is prevalent in so many modern action films.  The violent spectacle is fresh and clear to behold.  And while it is clear that the integration of pop music into the action is there to mimic the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, the score and soundtrack give the fight sequences a very satisfying rhythm.  Ayer also wisely uses the action sequences to highlight the character's personalities.  We get to understand who they are and how they think by the way they attack their enemies: e.g. Deadshot precisely aims every deadly hit in rapid succession, Harley wildly swings her bat at any nearby opponent, and Captain Boomerang tries to hide and let most others do the heavy lifting.

But what makes the movie work more than anything is the chemistry with the members of the squad.  These are not good people, but they are so charismatic that they draw our attention.  And over the course of the film, they develop a rapport that seems genuine and enjoyable to watch as they fight off the threats together.  Credit here should be given to Ayer as writer/director, as well as the cast.  This movie also truly feels like its a part of a large cinematic universe with cameos from other famous characters in the canon.

This movie also has Will Smith at his Will Smithiest.  It felt like he shook off the dust of a number of his more serious performances and let his natural charisma shine.  That isn't to say that his performance isn't good.  In fact, he adds unexpected layers to his contract killer.  Davis is the perfect fit for the Waller character as her tough-as-nails personality is the strong center of this film.  Going into the theater I was very worried about Robbie's Harley, but she captured the broken, manic personality of the cartoon character.  And I cannot believe how much I loved Jai Courtney in this film.  Readers of this blog may remember how I raked him over the coal for his awful performance in Terminator Genisys.  But his Captain Boomerang is made me laugh more than any character in the movie.

Not all of the performances reach this level.  Both  Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Hernandez have their performances obscured by their makeup.  Kinnaman and Fukuhara aren't given much to do with their characters.  And Delevinge is just all wrong for the part she played; she is too young to come across effectively as either the ancient Enchantress, the brilliant June Moon, or the love interested to the older Flag.

A lot has already been written about Leto's Joker and all I have to say is that it isn't a terrible performance, but it doesn't break through the way Heath Ledger's or even Jack Nicholson's did.  And he is really there to service Harley's character arc rather than his own.

And one of the enjoyable things to watch is that the characters do go through a journey.  The tricky part for Ayer is that he wants these characters to grow, which means an increase in virtue.  But he needs them to stay villains for his story to work, so he cannot take them too far.  And if he reverts them even further down into darkness, the audience will disconnect.  So while the characters do not really make the journey to full-fledged heroes, they do make some steps towards virtues like loyalty, responsibility, and personal atonement.  There remains a long way to go before these characters become morally good, but Ayer gives you just enough hope at their future redemption.  As a Catholic I am happy with the general direction the characters are pointed but disappointed that they don't make sufficient progress.  You will have to decide how acceptable or unacceptable this progress is.

The biggest problem I had with the movie was one scene with Waller.  Throughout the film she was portrayed as an amoral pragmatist, like a less sentimental Jack Bower.  But a little more than half-way through the film, she straight up murders 4-5 seemingly innocent people.  This was not the case where it was a kill-or-be-killed situation.  It was a cold-blooded act of evil.  And the other characters don't seem to think this is a big deal.  One even calls the move "gangsta."  This one scene alone, because it portrays no serious moral or character consequences, is disturbing and makes the film less enjoyable.  I can even understand if for some they disengage completely.  At the very least I went from caring about Waller to hoping she would meet justice.


The other big problem the movie has is that it has a pretty terrible villain in the Enchantress with once again a generic "destroy the world" plan with a faceless army.  And the Enchatress' plan apparently involves the need for Delevinge to swing her arms and hips around while casting a spell half-dressed for half the movie.  Speaking of attire, I was not a fan of the immodesty of Harley Quinn's outfit.  When she was first introduced in the cartoons and comics, her most salient feature was her insane personality.  Over the years in the comics, games, and now movies, she has been become more and more a piece of eye candy.  I see nothing wrong with casting attractive people, but Harley is sexualized much more than I would expect in a comic book movie.  Even though there is no nudity and there aren't any sex scenes, it was still just a bit much.

Suicide Squad is not a perfect movie.  But if you are looking for a good, violent, action-spectacle with a lot of chemistry between the actors then this is a movie for you.

4 out of 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment