#23: Suicide Squad (2016)

Director: David Ayer
Superhero, Action
2h3min; PG-13

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The other night I was talking on the phone to a friend about- what else?- movies. He’s one of two people that I trust to give me a solid review about a film before I go see it and is never over the moon about anything nor a pessimistic iceberg. He saw Suicide Squad a week ago- he rarely catches things in a theater but he went for this one- and liked it. And then we got to comparing the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC (Distinguished Competition) Cinematic Universe or whatever they are calling it and I had to remember that this is only their third film in an ongoing saga. If you think of it that way then you are comparing Man of Steel to Iron Man- both solid flicks- Batman v. Superman to The Incredible Hulk– no contest there really, I’m all for BvS– and now Suicide Squad to Iron Man 2. I enjoyed Suicide Squad far more than watching Mickey Rourke bitch about his bird.

I can’t help but think of Guardians of the Galaxy while watching this film, which follows Amanda Waller’s (Viola Davis playing the meanest woman in superhero film history) efforts to compose a black ops task force of some of the world’s deadliest villains in order to combat meta-human threats post-BvS. That Guardians feeling is brought about by the opening sequence, with Waller meeting with the Secretary of Defense and running through a dossier explaining who all the members of Task Force X- the titular squad- are. Where Guardians took perhaps 1 minute to let you know who everyone is SS takes at least 10 times that but it is exciting. The similarities to Marvel’s film do not end there.

The squad consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Katana and Slipknot. Slipknot (Adam Beach) exists in the film only to prove that the explosive charges implanted in the necks of the squad to make certain they behave are indeed very lethal. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is funny when he takes a liking to Karen Fukuhara’s badass Katana but he really has nothing to do except mouth off. Katana herself is awesome, nearly wordless and wielding a sword containing the soul of her deceased husband. She too has very little to do except protect the life of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman- Gov. Conway in the most recent season of House of Cards), the squad’s leader and chief chaperone.

The music doesn’t stick just as many of the film’s elements don’t.

Kinnaman is a good actor but like Courtney and Fukuhara he doesn’t have much to do except tell people where to go and keep pushing the squad as Waller tells him to. Waller’s greatest skill is finding leverage on people and Flag’s weakness is Dr. June Moon a.k.a. Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). The Enchantress is a millennia-old spirit with demonic magical powers trapped inside Dr. Moon’s body. Delevingne is a gifted actress but besides trying to take over the earth with magical trash powers the Enchantress adds nothing to proceedings and neither does Dr. Moon. Flag is in charge of keeping both sides of her personality in check and his failure to do so presents the squad with its mission. The romantic subplot between the two is uninspiring especially when compared with the other romance in the film.

Where Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker wanted to poison Gotham there wasn’t a concrete reason for it and Heath Ledger’s legendary take on the character was a self-described agent of chaos because that’s who he was and he enjoyed it. While seriously out there and only in the film for 10 minutes or so Leto’s vision of the Clown Prince of Crime is effective because it is the first time we have seen a cinematic Joker who quite possibly is in love. This Joker is truly insane, more the ultimate crime boss who has no problem putting a bullet in thugs who even glance at his girl Harley, bearing a smoker’s voice and a drooling, drugged out face that suggests he spends too much time in his own head. All of that aside watching this Joker appear out of nowhere guns blazing is so thrilling, making for one of the film’s standout scenes and giving me hope that Leto’s version will be a little more reigned in and coherent in time for Ben Affleck’s Batman film, assuming that he is in it.

Margot Robbie steals the whole film as the Joker’s significant other Harley Quinn. She is as off the rails as he is, just as lethal and very quick to call out the rest of the squad for being cowards- on multiple occasions she refers to one or more of the group as pussies. Throughout the film she never seems to not be having fun and is the brightest source of audience laughter in an otherwise near humorless picture. Suicide Squad maintains the too-seriousness of the DCCU as begun with Man of Steel. One aspect of the character I had never considered is simply breathtaking, contained in a dream sequence in which Harley considers what life would be like if she and Mr. J were normal people. It is one of the film’s strongest elements, the others being Amanda Waller and Harley’s friendship with Deadshot.

As mentioned before Viola Davis is a complete ice witch in this film, far more evil as Amanda Waller than Enchantress at every point. Waller is a bit like Batman in that she is a ruthless strategist with contingency plans for her contingency plans. The only one who knows the whole plan is her and even her No. 2 Rick Flag is taken aback by her cruelty and shocking ferocity via pistol in one scene. “I didn’t believe the stories about you,” he says in an early meeting. “Nobody does,” she says.

Margot Robbie steals the whole film as Harley Quinn.

It’s shitty to say but I don’t think that I have enjoyed watching Will Smith on the big screen since… maybe I, Robot? Until now. I forgot that it was Smith playing Floyd Lawton a.k.a. the gunslinging assassin Deadshot. Smith has a pulse in this film and it’s so thrillingly unexpected. He’s not phoning it in. There is a scene in which Deadshot encounters the Dark Knight himself and it tells you all you need to know about the character: he is extremely good at what he does but he is very conflicted about the life he leads as he tries to do right by his 11-year old daughter. As he heads into what seems to be a suicide mission the hint of light in that hell is Harley Quinn and it’s a joy to watch Robbie and Smith, previously co-starring on last year’s Focus, banter back and forth. I wonder how they would act around one another if the Joker wasn’t a factor.

Suicide Squad boasts the most expensive soundtrack in years although unlike Guardians of the Galaxy‘s ’60s/’70s focused nostalgia trip through space, SS‘s musical choices are all over the map. There is “Bohemian Rhapsody” which could be heard in one of the trailers but also “Spirit in the Sky” and “Seven Nation Army”. A scene in which Deadshot shows off his shooting accuracy is underscored by Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”. Why this was chosen I will never know. The lyrical content doesn’t match what the hell is going on at that point in time + the song’s bass-booming ferocity distracts from the rather cool feel of the scene + are they trying to make a connection in terms of Will Smith being black and having a shaved head? Regardless of what they were trying to do the song doesn’t stick just as many of the film’s elements don’t.

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