Monday, August 8, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad (what went right and what went wrong)

If you are in any way attached to the internet (which, if you're reading this, you are), you've probably seen at least some of the hype surrounding the new DC movie Suicide Squad. Since this movie seems to be very polarizing, I figured it would be a good exercise to take a hard critical look at it to see what went wrong and what went right in it. Why? Because there's a lot to be learned from a movie like Suicide Squad, whether you loved it or hated it. Me?  I'm one of those people who fell squarely in the middle and found it flawed, but entertaining. We'll get into the whys of that in a minute. But, for now, I'd like to focus on picking this movie apart from the point of view of the actors, the plot, and the overall production.

Oh... It should be obvious that beyond this point lay spoilers a-plenty.
You've been warned...
Suicide Squad is a movie about a government official who has the bright idea to take super-powered bad guys out of prison and use them as a disposable and deniable task-force against other super-powered baddies. This is accomplished by asking nicely.  No, just kidding... They put a micro-explosive in their heads that, should they disobey, try to escape, or act otherwise true to their nature, will blow their freaking heads off. So far so good, right?  So let's look at the list of participants, shall we?
My high-school reunion photo...
Left to right:  Slipknot, Captain Boomerang, Enchantress, Katana, Rick Flag, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc, and El Diablo. Right away, I can see at least one major plot-hole. Can you?  It's Harley and Boomerang. I mean, okay, I get why everyone else in the group was chosen. Slipknot can climb anything...Which makes his name kind of stupid. Katana wields a soul-snaring sword with deadly ability. Enchantress is a 6000-or-so-year-old entity with magical powers. Deadshot never misses. Killer Croc... well, look at him. And El Diablo is a pyrokinetic. Captain Boomerang and Harley Quinn, on the other hand, have no powers. Boomerang fights with possibly the most inconvenient weapon on the planet and Harley... Is crazy. With a  bat. That's it. So, in a group of super-powered people, why would they choose a crazy person with a bat? It doesn't make much sense, does it?  Look at the photo again, however, and it becomes evident that she only is part of the group to wear tiny shorts and be psycho-sexy. But, for the time being, let's just accept her and move on.

In the opening scene, Amanda Waller (played byViola Davis) gives us a rundown of almost every character in the show.  It takes a good chunk out of the movie and is a reminder that not all of us in the theater are comic book geeks. See, we already know the characters. Non CBGs don't, so the film spoon-feeds the non CBGs the characters.  As if you couldn't already tell they were bad guys.
It then goes into details of how Batman captured most of them, with gratuitous cameos by Ben Affleck and his stunt double. Not that it's a bad thing... it works in this context. Thrown into the whole mix is Jared Leto's Joker, who really has very little to do with the movie. Which brings us mistake numbers two and three:  Telegraphing and Superfluous Characters. 

Remember up there where I said almost all the characters got an introduction?  Well, the first one who didn't was "Slipknot," played by Adam Beach. Everyone else gets a detailed introduction complete with snappy dialogue and capture footage.  Slipknot, however, steps out of a van and all we get is "This is Slipknot... He can climb anything." Right at that point, I knew "This character is unimportant, so he's going to die." And he does.  In fact, he serves only to prove that the explosive charges in our heroes' (villains'?) necks could, in fact, take a head off. The poor guy gets maybe 45 seconds of screen time before BOOM... No more head. This is called telegraphing.  This is where you create a thing so obvious that even someone who is only half paying attention can see it coming. It's lazy writing, and it doesn't work well. Which brings me to...
Superfluous characters.  Despite all the hoopla around Leto playing the Joker, the whole movie could've played without him.  Which made his presence in the film seem forced. Sure, he rescued Harley Quinn, but then she turned around and went right back to the group after they shot her helicopter down. Now, had they saved her rescue for the end and only showed The Joker at that point, it would've been better. In fact, it would've been a great moment.  But as it stood, The Joker didn't need to be there, and his scenes made the movie feel even more disjointed. 

Let's move on to the actors and their performances. We'll forget Slipknot since we really only got to see him look pissed off and then die. 

I know you can't tell, but that's Will Smith under that weird-looking mask. Immediate impressions were that Will Smith didn't work in this role. Not that he didn't give it his all, not that he didn't do well with what he was given, but Smith was miscast in this role. Say what you will, but I just didn't buy him as an unrepentant killer. Look, there's a line in this where he says "Every time I put on this suit, someone dies. I like putting it on." And Smith couldn't pull that line off. He seemed full of regret, hesitant to kill, and even angst-ridden over it. Even when attacked by monsters, he still looked less "cold-blooded assassin" and more "dammit, more people I have to kill." Also, the mask was stupid and pointless. The point of the mask in the comics is that it holds his targeting eyepiece. But Smith wore that without the mask. So what was the point? None. Moving on. 
Captain Boomerang
Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang came off as woefully underutilized, and, worse, as a one-note joke. In fact, he came off as completely unnecessary, so another superfluous character.

Katana, played by Karen Fukuhara, had the opportunity to be a wonderful character, driven by revenge and pain. We, however, were only given a one-dimensional view of her. Moreover, we were told her sword stole the souls of whoever it kills, but we were given no evidence of that. 

While the character of the Enchantress is fascinating in the comics, I question the reasoning of her transformation on the screen. Played by Cara Delevingne, the Enchantress starts off as a cool and genuinely terrifying villain, but then is reduced to parody by means of a wiggly-dance she does while constructing her doomsday machine.  Her costume is designed primarily to show off her body, and apart from that, she does little more than chew as much scenery as she can get. 

Rick Flag
Joel Kinnaman gave us another one-note performance in this film, and I don't blame him in the slightest. It was the writers.  They did it. As the government leash-holder Rick Flag, Kinnaman's job in this was to keep the squad in line. As a military leader, he comes across as incompetent, clueless, and, at many points, lost.
There were very few characters in this movie that I thought were well drawn, and Diablo (played by Jay Hernandez) was one of them. As the fire-throwing man who was wracked by guilt over the accidental killing of his wife and kids, Hernandez did a great job with what he was given.  Unfortunately, the writers had to go over the top by changing his heroes' journey into a farce at the end. When Diablo attacks the main bad guy, Incubus (who is really nothing more than window dressing), he is sacrificing himself to save the team. But instead of letting him have a redemptive death of dignity, the character burns away his own flesh to reveal (I couldn't make this up) a giant Mayan fire monster. Still, Hernandez deserves accolades for his performance.

Killer Croc
I may be in the minority in this, and I frankly don't care.  I loved Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's portrayal of Killer Croc. The guy owned the role and committed entirely to the beastial nature of the human reptile. Of course, we couldn't even see him under the prosthetics, but that didn't stop the character from coming through, nor did it make his one of the best performances in the movie.  I just wish we'd seen more of him.
Harley Quinn
Margot Robbie owned this role.  Hands down, one of the best performances in the movie, despite the character's inexplicable presence or costume choice (hot-pants and a t-shirt). She genuinely came off as damaged, crazy, scary, and everything that Harley Quinn's punk alter-ego should've been. She also managed to pull off the tragic nature of the character, which is difficult to do.

Amanda Waller
I had a real problem with Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis. Here's a character that should, by all rights, be colder than any of them, more frightening than even The Joker, and ruthless, and she came off in the movie as just... Tired. One-note performances seemed very common in this movie, and none of them were more saddening than this one. Waller should strike terror into the hearts of anyone because she doesn't have a problem shooting a room full of interns to keep her secrets. But instead, we got droopy eyes and what I assume was supposed to be a mean look. She just didn't work. 
The Joker
After months of speculation and anticipation over Jarod Leto's Joker, I can honestly tell you that he comes across as a disappointment.  Not a "beautiful disaster" as some would have us believe. And it's not the tattoos or the capped teeth, though they didn't work (I mean really, who needs "damaged" tattooed across the freaking JOKER's forehead?  Like we don't know he's damaged...).  It was Leto's performance. He came across as more slimy than maniacal. More oozy than chaotic. The Joker should be an agent of chaos. He should anything but what Leto made him. In addition, the laugh just didn't work.  It wasn't The Joker. Nothing about Leto's performance worked for the character. Now, another character might've worked with the same performance but a different name, but The Joker, he wasn't.

Whew... That was a lot, wasn't it? 

Movie made me tired...
On the other hand... I really did have a good time while I watched it. Yeah, I know, it sounds like I hated it, but I didn't. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I had a good time watching it, and I know I'm likely going to buy the soundtrack. As summer movies go, it was a great way to spend two hours, and it's what I like to call a "popcorn flick." I mean, I love the premise, a few of the performances were great, and the movie just overall looked impressive.

So what can we learn from Suicide Squad? Well, for starters, if a character's only purpose is to die, your'e being a lazy writer. Figure out another way to make the point. Second, too many characters can muddy up the plot. Third, and possibly most importantly, you need to make choices in your plot that make sense. Even if those choices only make sense to the other characters, they still need to make sense.  Why would you send a psycho with a baseball bat with a group of super-powered individuals?  She'd be worse than useless... She'd be a hinderance. So it makes no sense to put her on the team at all. It's also not a coincidence that the two most likable characters (Harley Quinn and Diablo) were also the ones with the most depth of character. I'm pretty sure Deadshot would've made that list, but Will Smith just couldn't pull off "bad guy." See, at the end of the story, your characters shouldn't be the same as when the story started. They need to grow and evolve as the story goes. That's what makes them interesting. 

So how would I have made the story better?  First, cut Captain Boomerang, Slipknot, and Katana. Their parts could've been absorbed by others pretty easily. Second, cut Incubus as the bad guy and just left Enchantress as the big bad. Third, Different Deadshot. Fourth, give Amanda Waller more range than "I'm pissed off and cold-hearted." And finally, give Harley Quinn a reason to be there, or cut her out entirely (even though I loved Margot Robbie). 

So that's my take.  I give this movie three stars. Not the greatest thing I've ever seen, but also better than a sharp stick in the eye. 

Until Next time