Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad movie review.

Ever so ready to take on Marvel at their own game, Warner Brothers continue to place big hopes on the shoulders of their DC Extended Universe. Since Man of Steel's 2013 bow, WB have been quick to catch up with their rivals, albeit with far less success. The disastrous performance of Batman v Superman certainly signified one thing, that in an attempt to copy Marvel's moves, they forgot to give any sense of coherence to their game plan, or to pay proper respect to their source material.

For these reasons, much hope was placed in their second 2016 feature, Suicide Squad, to turn things around. With consistently good trailers buzzing around, a reportedly more fun tone, and a change of pace from Zack Snyder, it almost seemed like a surefire third time's the charm.

So being that I was quite excited to see it, it pains me to say that the drought continues, as Suicide Squad is not the charm, but the death knell for the DCEU; a seemingly fun and stylish idea that translates to a gaudy and undisciplined end product.

After the death of Superman leaves the world stunned, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes the idea to militarize and rally together a team of meta-human criminals locked in a high-security prison to form a last resort resistance against great threats, with members that include master sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), and crazed former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). The idea feels like a long-shot, but when the spirit of a long dormant enchantress (Cara Delevingne) awakens to eradicate the human race, the team are called in without knowledge of the threat, and sent on a dangerous rescue mission. While this is going on, Quinn's egomaniacal psychopath lover the Joker (Jared Leto) leads a team of relentless hired guns to rescue her from the government's grip.

When original trailers for the movie premiered, it was clear that the original vision for Suicide Squad was going to be much grittier than anything we'd seen from the DCEU up to that point, particularly evident by the decision to enlist David Ayer - of Fury and End of Watch fame - to direct. The result looked more like film noir than superheroics, but following a positively received new trailer featuring Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", and in order to make up for the grim mood of Batman v Superman, the film was recut to more closely resemble the tone represented in those trailers, and to spruce the film up with more laughs. One thought pervading my mind throughout the film is how desperately the studio wants their film to be the next Guardians of the Galaxy, and because of this, you have an all too obvious clash of sides present in every second of Suicide Squad that makes the entire movie suffer as a result.

Almost the moment that the film begins, the scissor slices become all too obvious and frequent, as most of the opening act of the film is taken up by Amanda Waller laying out her plan and filling her higher-ups on her plan in a giant exposition dump. It's here where the film is given the task to awkwardly introduce us to each of the main characters and establish their personalities and backstories, but much like Wonder Woman's e-mail in Batman v Superman, this simply feels like the studio playing teasers to other movies based on DC properties, and it's just one of the many elements that clue you in on how the film was botched in post-production, as these feel like scenes that were hacked apart, or moved around to fit a brand new structure on the spot. But the introductions are vapid still, because despite the movie taking lengthy time to establish the cast, it still carries the stench of expecting you to know who these people are going into the film, yet aside from Harley Quinn, I seriously doubt that anyone outside the immediate comic book circle is going to know who these people are. The foolish retooling also taints motivation and logic around Waller's plan as well, like why is she so adamant to get her plan approved when there has been nothing up to this point to give it any serious consideration? I know Waller has always been a cunning analyst able to manipulate the mind, but it's as if she's deliberately left any and all logic at the door this early on in the movie.

And from that point on, it only gets much worse, showing more and more how apparent it is that this was not Ayer's original noir vision for the film. The film is shot with a very visceral style of filmmaking in mind, oftentimes sharing in the same gargantuan vein of Fury, while also calling back to the Training Day heydays that made Ayer an overnight success. It feels like he desperately wants the movie to be an R, but because of the studio's insistence and interference, it often feels like Ayer is rendered tame and toothless by force, and mandated humorous sprinkles feel like a needless addition. Now, a smart studio film would be more observant of how humor effects the current scene, maybe to lightly ease tension or use jokes for an effective character moment, but instead the film feels like it's aimlessly adding jokes without any regard for natural rhythm, and leads to some terrible pacing problems with jarring tonal switches. Within the span of 30 seconds, we go from apocalyptic zombie witch, to Harley swiping a purse from a department store, to Deadshot feeling remorseful and thinking back on his daughter. Not to say that the film didn't get an honest chuckle out of me now and then, or have a brief moment of enjoyment, but swings like this are simply too much to juggle at once, and because these two sides are clashing with each other without any discipline or level playing ground, the film has no idea what to define itself as, or what kind of audience that it wants to appeal to.

The characters are the ones who are most notably victim to this ill-conceived tinkering, and try as they might, this admittedly talented cast can only do so much in pepping up such mediocre writing. Will Smith feels like a natural leader and voice of reason for this group as Deadshot, but for a character with so much dramatic chops, it simply feels like Will Smith playing a slightly more intense version of any other action hero in his career. Harley Quinn feels like she doesn't hold a candle to her animated counterparts, especially due to the lack of Joker robbing her character of her deeper character traits, but at least Margot Robbie gets some momentary giggles when playing unhinged and schizophrenic. Yet outside of those two, as well as a wooden Joel Kinnamon as their overseeing soldier, none of the other actors or characters are able to feel defined, largely due to the aforementioned fact that the movie expects me to know them walking in. These include Jay Hernandez as underdeveloped pacifist Diablo, Jai Courtney as wacky Australian Boomerang, mindless brute Killer Croc, and stereotypical samurai Katana, whose introduction is so late I almost forgot she was even supposed to be in the movie. Oh, and Slipknot shows up... and is immediately discarded in the very next scene. But the whole time I watch these characters, I find myself wondering "why should I care?" Even after spending two hours with these people, I still feel no closer to knowing them than I did before the movie, and I certainly didn't buy them as a family unit. In fact, before Diablo blatantly tells the audience that this team is like his new family, one would be hard-pressed to think they were supposed to feel like one.

But the characters who get the real short stick are the villains. Throughout the entire marketing campaign, the studio has slyly implied that squad's struggle in the movie is against The Joker and his legion of mercenaries. Unintentional or not, the studio has lied to you in that regard, and the reason why is because Jared Leto is not in this movie for very long, likely another casualty of the film's horrid post-production retooling. Though I was personally thankful he wasn't here for that long, as The Joker is reimagined as a cartoonish pimpin' mafia man, and Leto is unfortunately burdened by the shadow of Heath Ledger's portrayal of the character, even going so far as to imitate his vocalizations. Honestly, for all that the Joker contributes to the film, he may as well be eliminated altogether, but he has nothing on Cara Delevingne's Jekyll and Hyde duel role, June Moore and Enchantress. Outside of it being hilarious that the movie expects me to buy Delevingne as a scientist, the character's transformations and ridiculous motivations and schemes feel convenient and tailored on the spot - stealing her great big plan from Dr. Doom in Fant4stic, complete with an atrocious excuse for a climax. At best, the character merely exists because the film needs a villain, and the terrible ideas on paper are made even worse by Delevingne's inexperience with the acting world. For a role that requires a very intimidating presence, it's all too apparent that she can't play threatening to save her life, especially due to her hilarious body language (almost resembling belly dancing at times), and the voice overs when she's in her Enchantress mode are as obvious as Marni Nixon's dubbing of Audrey Hepburn.

Even stylistically, the film isn't much impressive. Once again, Warner Brothers keeps resorting to the same way of thinking "muted and dim lighting = gritty", leading to the occasional very unpleasant image, though it is nice to see Ayer infuse the film with actual color and personality. It certainly makes up for the lack of personality in the soundtrack, another area that signals the clear desperation to ape Guardians of the Galaxy. But whereas Guardians was very sparing in its soundtrack choices, and used them to accentuate story, Suicide Squad doesn't see it that way, breezing through countless numbers of songs that have been applied to scenes without any real thought put into them, and just feels like Ayer spamming the skip button on his iPod Shuffle. Incidentally, I also saw the film in 3D, and I can't stress to you enough how it adds absolutely nothing to the presentation of the film. You are paying extra money just to keep the camera in focus.

So those were my rambling thoughts on Suicide Squad, and I'm sorry if this review seemed to bounce around a lot, but honestly, I think that best represents my current thoughts on the DCEU so far. Say all you want about Marvel's cinematic universe, and their mandates, and their heavy studio influence, but at least they have a clear game plan. At least they treat their ongoing series with consistency and actual vision, and have a clear respect for their classic characters. Suicide Squad is the best summary of Warner Brothers attempt at the same formula so far, in that they claim to be all for directorial expression, but they're just as intrusive as any other studio executive, losing touch with what made fans of the comics love these characters and stories to begin with, and are cobbling together Frankenstein's monster-like screenplays to find out what sticks. I'm all for an artistic force marching to the beat of their own drum, but this stubbornness is setting a terrible precedent, and has reached the end of its rope. If they can't make DC's rogues gallery banding together engaging, fun, or at the very least coherent, they're in dire need of a wake-up call.

* / *****

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