Theater Thoughts

suicide-squad

Reviewer: John Carpenter

Release date: 8/5/2016
123 Mins/Rated PG-13

Admittedly, I am not well versed in the various backstories and characters in the DC Comics universe. I’m a Marvel guy. Back in the day, this would be a significant line in the sand. Fans must choose one or the other, similar to the way today’s video game fanboys bark about how much better the Xbox or Playstation is when compared to one another.  This doesn’t mean I hate DC Comics or their characters. Like many in my age range, I grew up with Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” and moved into Tim Burton’s “Batman,” loving what both series had to offer.  More recently, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series is a great exercise in taking darker material and making it not only relevant to the modern audience, but downright enjoyable. Hell, I even gave “Man of Steel” plenty of love (Review, HERE) when others hated on Zach Snyder’s destructive superhero movie.

Then something changed.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t me.

I went into “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” with an open mind. Without seeing any of the trailers beforehand, I hadn’t formed an opinion before heading into the screening. I was the perfect demographic. Unfortunately, the movie was a miss. Clunky and lifeless, the theatrical cut almost destroyed these characters appeal. Even though I had successfully avoided all trailers for “Suicide Squad” prior to the screening, the shadow of “Batman v Superman” lingers. Will this movie continue the depressing, downward spiral that preceded this DC Comics movie adaptation? Well, kind of.

Superman is still presumed to be dead. Government officials ask, “What if the next “Superman” isn’t a good guy?” In the yin to what will be the “Justice League” yang, “Suicide Squad” is a collection of high profile, devious superhumans brought together to combat this potential issue. Under the supervision of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government assembles a ragtag group of dangerous killers to execute this plan. Amanda’s top hand man, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) keeps the crazies in line with his military cadence and a ‘bodyguard,’ the magical sword wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara). The leader under the leader is Deadshot (Will Smith). A master of artillery, he never misses a shot and seems to get off on giving Flag a hard time. The rest of the crew seems pretty comfortable with Deadshot in the spotlight. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a protégé and lover of The Joker (Jared Leto) who brings a spark of charming insanity to the table. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) loves on unicorns when he isn’t using deadly, accurate boomerangs to take out opponents. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a crazy killer who resembles a reptile and has a passionate love for the hip hop culture. Rounding out the group is El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former Los Angeles gang member who utilizes fire making abilities to tell stories or eliminate those who threaten him.  While the Squad was originally formed to be proactive, little did they know a powerful enemy known as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) is already out threatening the community with her long lost brother, Incubus (Robin Atkin Downes).

On the plus side, Director David Ayer brings a lot more excitement and energy to the movie than Snyder did with “Batman v Superman” (“BvS”). From the start, “Suicide Squad” feels fun. It is colorful, filled with well-known tunes and has a fair share of comedy. The lifeless, robotic nature of “BvS” is one of my biggest complaints with the movie, so it is nice to see that has been resolved. It makes a huge difference. The characters are likable and are given just enough of a backstory to help the flow. Even deadpan Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) can’t bring this movie down. Adding to the mayhem is the debut of Jared Leto’s Joker. While The Joker is likely around to bring some street cred to most of these lesser known villains, his maniacal nature helps flesh out Harley Quinn’s backstory (which, honestly, deserves much more attention).  Don’t let this strange iteration of Batman’s most iconic adversary be the character that draws you into this movie. He is merely a background character. This movie hangs its hat firmly on the title characters. They have good banter and seem to fall into line fairly easily, but give the impression that they are ALWAYS thinking of a way to escape. When The Squad is onscreen, the movie is usually firing on all cylinders. Usually! The issue is with “Suicide Squad” boils down to two major issues: storytelling and Enchantress. Overall, the plot is fine and easy to follow. The annoying parts fester up when characters are trying to wink at the audience. It’s like Ayer (who also penned the script) feels the need to tell the audience how to connect dots. Sure this is a comic book movie, but with a PG-13 rating, audiences don’t need every little detail filled in. They are usually smart enough to connect basic plotlines. Marvel movies seem to pay homage and connect their universe with ease. It just happens naturally. Sometimes people notice, other times not. The DC Universe seems to be hell-bent on making sure each and every person in the theater knows when they are doing something cool. From the all too fast character cards that introduce the major players to pretty much all of the lines in the post-credits sequence, it feels like the movie is talking down to viewers far too often. Perhaps this is a reaction to “BvS” being such a confusing mess at times, but this side of the coin doesn’t work either. As for Enchantress, she works great upfront. A powerful character with motivation to deceive those who have control of her green glowing heart, Enchantress turns into a sideshow attraction as the movie progresses. How does an evil spirit go from an intimidating presence that could easily hold her own in the horror world to a CGI enhanced goddess with this strange B-movie inspired shimmy/dance move as she talks away in the movie’s anticlimactic final battle?  Fortunately, there is enough goofy fun throughout the rest of the feature to help offset these gripes.

This isn’t to say “Suicide Squad” is a good movie. It really isn’t. It does commit to the lunacy, which helps a ton. Will Smith and Margot Robbie own every scene they are in. Much like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in “BvS,” it almost feels like a disservice to Harley Quinn by pairing her up with a bunch of boys and sexualizing her. Fortunately, Robbie brings enough to the table to allow Quinn to shine while still leaving fans wanting more. Another character who will be under the gun is The Joker. This is a different type of Joker. Wide eyed and with no fear of getting into people’s physical space, Leto brings an exciting take on the character. While Heath Ledger’s Joker is still the benchmark, it will be interesting to see where Leto goes with his vision. All in all, this is a step in the right direction for DC Comics’ movies. They are tying the movies together well and have a wealth of solid material to choose from. It comes down to trusting the material and making sure these movies don’t try and (to steal a line from the movie) cram “ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.” Once the DC Comics cinematic universe finds the happy balance between Nolan’s serious  Batman and the open arms, seemingly effortless fun found in Marvel’s movies, upcoming entries like “Justice League” and “Wonder Woman” may have a shot with DC fans hungry for a bonafide hit.

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