Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Suicide Squad: Review

Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Katana, Col Flagg, Killer Croc and El Diablo: "The Suicide Squad"

(Warning: Spoilers for Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman follow)

I really wanted to like Suicide Squad. I really did. I thought it was a bold choice for DC to go with a villain-centric movie and I hoped it would be a home run. Sadly, it was not.

If you’ve never seen a movie before, you probably would have liked Suicide Squad. There was action, there was rising tension, and so forth, but in such a formulaic way it seemed like the screenplay was copied from a basic textbook on screenwriting. Our heroes are summoned, they resist the call, they face challenges, they even give up and take a break to have a drink and do some soul searching before inspiration strikes and they find the resolve they need to win the final battle.

The plot centers around the threat created when the ancient witch known as The Enchantress summons to Earth her brother, a big, nasty, fire-enshrouded demon named Incubus, who proceeds to wreak havoc on Midway City. The only thing that can stop him? A “Dirty Dozen” of supervillains, injected with remote-controlled nanite bombs in their necks to keep them obedient, who are then sent forth to save the day.

Supposedly, this “Task Force X,” or more colloquially, the Suicide Squad, was assembled in the wake of the death of Superman (which happened at the end of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, for those who missed it). The idea being “what if the next Superman is a bad guy?” This seems a little bit like closing the barn door after the horse has died. Couldn’t they just as easily have said “what if Doomsday (who killed Superman) survived?" or, “hey, there are a lot of super-powered threats out there, what if we had our own team to combat them?”

One of the first recruits to the new team is the aforementioned Enchantress, and the fact that the Suicide Squad’s first mission is to undo a mess that the assembler and big boss of the Squad, Amanda Waller, has created, by recruiting the Enchantress in the first place, sort of undercuts the credibility of the whole idea. In “reality,” Amanda Waller is a bit of a megalomaniac who just likes the idea of having a team of super-powered nasties under her thumb, and it would have been nice if they played up that angle a little more.

Margot Robbie as "Harley Quinn"

All these plot issues might have been forgivable, however, if not for the casting. Now, the first thing that I have to say is that all the actors in Suicide Squad are very talented, and they definitely bring those talents to their roles, but these just don’t FEEL like the DC characters we know and love. Jared Leto’s Joker is more weird and creepy than clever or scary. In fact, it feels like this character is a Joker copycat, a trope that has appeared in the comics from time to time. His moll, Harley Quinn, is played by Margot Robbie, and it feels like a great performance by someone who has never read a comic book before. She slips in and out of Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent just often enough to remind us that she’s putting it on, and her character, while bad ass and hot and crazy and all that, just doesn’t have that Je ne sais quoi of Harley Quinn. Also, we are told that Harley used to be a self-respecting psychiatrist, but was seduced by the Joker into joining the dark side. Here the movie missed a great opportunity to show us some Hannibal Lecter-Clarisse Starling-esque mindfucking that the Joker used to win Harley over, but we get little to none of that. Apologists will say it was beyond the scope of the story but to me it just feels lazy. I could be wrong. David Ayers is a talented writer/director and I have to imagine he was severely hamstrung by studio executives in order to produce such a by-the-numbers script.

The point is, none of these characters feel right, and they should. The first time you saw Robert Downey, Jr. experimenting with pieces of Iron Man armor in his lab, you said “Yes! THAT is Iron Man. That is Tony Stark.” It felt right. Just as it’s easy to believe that Chris Evans is Steve Rogers and even Tom Holland’s brief appearance as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War is totally on point. On the other hand, when I see Ezra Miller as The Flash, in his clunky red armor suit ringed by blue lightning halos like some kind of Millennial Terminator, I want to cringe every time.

DC’s movie casting may be hurt by comparisons to their TV casting, which is phenomenal. Grant Gustin is completely convincing as The Flash, and every character that appears on that show feels like they stepped straight out of the comic book that bears his name. Even Tyler Loechlin, who guest stars as the Last Son of Krypton on CW’s Supergirl, makes a far more convincing Man of Steel than Henry Cavil ever will. I think DC has been very wise to keep their TV and movie universes separate, unlike Marvel, who has pretty much thrown all its eggs in the same basket. It’s working for them, but most of their TV properties are streaming on Netflix, which has a much more cinematic feel to it than network fare.

The final indignity of Suicide Squad is the post-credits sequence, in which Bruce Wayne played by Ben Affleck is acquiring information from Amanda Waller regarding the individuals who will become the Justice League of America. It feels EXACTLY like every Nick Fury/Tony Stark post credit sequence in which the formation of the Avengers is alluded to. Now, I know these companies copy from each other constantly and incessantly and they are both equally guilty, but inviting comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just asking for trouble.

I’ll always be a dedicated DC fan, and I’ll go see all the movies, and I’m very excited about what’s happening on TV with the DC Universe. But Suicide Squad feels like just another attempt by DC to duplicate Marvel’s big screen success, and to me, DC’s just not built that way. That’s not to say that DC can’t kill it with an expanded movie universe, but I feel like a different approach may be called for.

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