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Sunday, August 7, 2016

DAMN Good Movies -- SUICIDE SQUAD


You guessed it, I'm back once again with another movie take, this time on the movie Suicide Squad, based on the DC Comics antihero superteam.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...welcome to Belle Reve.

Although Warner Bros. started developing Suicide Squad in 2009, the project never really took off until David Ayer signed on to write and direct the film in 2014.  The third installment of the DC Extended Universe had a lot riding on it, after Zack Snyder's poorly-received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justiceand as the first DCEU film starring characters other than DC's Big Two.  

The movie opens in the aftermath of Superman's (temporary) death at the end of Batman v Superman, with Amanda Waller assembling her team of "bad people to do something good." We get a lengthy series of introductions to the main supervillains comprising the team, with each member getting a Tarantinoesque rundown of their resume and their specific theme song -- The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" for Belle Reve Penitentiary, Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" for Harley Quinn, AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" for Captain Boomerang, and so on.  Unfortunately, as fun as these intros are, they run on a bit long and you find yourself yelling "Get on with it!" inside your brain.

The expendable villains are placed under the command of Colonel Rick Flag and implanted with a microbomb inside their necks on the likelihood of anyone turning on Flag during the mission or trying to escape.  As for the mission itself, the team is sent to retrieve someone important from Midway City because another of Waller's recruits -- Dr. June Moone, an archaeologist now inhabited by the spirit of a witch-goddess known as the Enchantress -- has taken over the city with help from a bunch of monster minions and the Enchantress' brother Incubus (actually Nightshade's brother from the comics).  Oh, and just to complicate things, Dr. Moone is Rick Flag's girlfriend.

Just before heading out, Katana joins the Squad as Flag's bodyguard, while The Joker finds out just what kind of a mess Harley is in and promises to make things even more FUBAR at some point later in the film.  As they arrive in Midway City, the Enchantress takes out their helicopter, forcing a crash landing and turning the movie into Escape from New York with supervillains.  The Squad proceeds on foot toward their target's located position, giving Ayer the opportunity to adapt the great sequence from Suicide Squad (vol.1) #9 where Captain Boomerang convinces disposable Squad member Slipknot that the microbombs are just for show and they can easily escape, just so Boomerang can find out if the microbomb in his neck is actually legit.  Sure enough, Slipknot makes his move, but instead of losing just an arm in the comics, here he loses his entire head.

After fending off some of the Enchantress' monster minions, the Squad locates their target, who turns out to be -- What a twist! -- Amanda Waller.  Everyone heads to the roof of the John F. Ostrander Federal Building, a nice nod to the former writer of the first Suicide Squad comic series, but of course things go FUBAR (as promised) when the Joker and his hired goons show up in the hijacked helicopter.  Harley is thrilled to be reunited with the Joker, only to lose him when Waller's men shoot down their helicopter, leaving her with the Squad once again.

As the film enters the Third Act, it ends up shifting from Escape from New York into the climactic confrontation with that nimble little minx Gozer from Ghostbusters.  The Squad battles the Enchantress, but even though they aren't asked if they're a god, they still get their collective asses kicked.  Harley pretends to flip over to Team Enchantress, just long enough to remove the Enchantress' heart and toss it over to RIck Flag so he can smoosh it on the floor.  

June is freed from the Enchantress, while the surviving Squad members are returned to Belle Reve with ten years reduced from their sentences.  Deadshot gets some special daddy privileges, Harley gets a cappuchino machine, Killer Croc gets a pimped out sewer crib, and Captain Boomerang naturally gets no respect and is thrown into solitary confinement.  Ah, but just when you think it's over, the Joker and his hired goons show up at Belle Reve looking for Harley, teasing a potential sequel with even more great classic rock that doesn't make it onto the movie's official soundtrack.

So yeah, some things worked here, some things didn't, but there was still some great characters to enjoy, especially if you're a DC Comics fan.  Here are some of the things that stood out:

AMANDA WALLER -- The role of The Wall is key to a successful Suicide Squad film, so I was so glad that Viola Davis was cast.  The scene where Waller coldly guns down her own Ostrander Building support staff to cover up her involvement was so true to the character, although I would've liked to see her getting up in more people's grills as only The Wall can.

DEADSHOT/FLOYD LAWTON -- Yet again, Will Smith is really great at playing Will Smith as someone else.  He's not Deadshot, though -- not even close -- lacking the character's emotional detachment and his complete lack of caring if he lies or dies.  The decision to play up Deadshot's relationship with his daughter here was a poor one, making a dangerous assassin for hire sympathetic when he really shouldn't be.  Not in the first film, anyway.

HARLEY QUINN/DR. HARLEEN QUINZEL -- Thankfully, unlike Smith, Margot Robbie completely embraced her character.  Even with the ugly and totally unnecessary tattoos, Robbie grinned and flirted her way though the movie, totally winning this longtime Harley Quinn fan over in the process.  We even got to see Harley's origin, albeit an abbreviated one, that blended the original version established in The Batman Adventures: Mad Love with the current New 52 one from Suicide Squad (vol.4) #6 and 7.  There was also a very welcome easter egg with Robbie in Harley's traditional harlequin jester costume, so here's hoping we get to see more of it in a Harley Quinn spinoff movie.

RICK FLAG -- Joel Kinnaman landed the role that was originally Tom Hardy's and almost Jake Gyllenhaal's.  I liked Kinnaman in the 2014 RoboCop reboot, so I felt confident he would do well as Flag and I wasn't disappointed.  Flag is essentially the team's straight man, reacting to the craziness around him, but ultimately falls into the no-nonsense leader role when he's not asked to be upset about his girlfriend.

ENCHANTRESS/JUNE MOONE -- And speaking of said girlfriend, Cara Delevingne doesn't quite work as a believable archaeologist at just 23 years old, 13 years younger than Kinnaman.  Oh, she does a nice job as Gozer The Enchantress, but is essentially a waifish supermodel with serious eyebrows that's caked with dirt for a good chunk of the film.  

CAPTAIN BOOMERANG -- Jai Courtney is one of those actors with an extremely punchable, smarmy face, which finally works to his advantage here after his horrific outing as John McClane, Jr. in A Good Day to Die Hard.  Just as he does in the Ostrander comics, Boomerang makes wonderful comic relief as an obnoxious lout, and Courtney plays that up well, but he isn't given nearly enough to do.  And he isn't nearly enough of a true coward.

KATANA /TATSU YAMASHIRO -- As a big Katana fan, I was excited that Karen Fukuhara was playing the character in this movie.  She does okay, but is also horribly underwritten, with a lot of the character's potential completely ignored.  It also doesn't help that the few times Katana is actually given lines, they're in Japanese, which only distances her from the other characters.

EL DIABLO/CHATO SANTANA -- Jay Hernandez plays the modern version of El Diablo from the comics, and is one of the few Squad members to get any actual character development.  Initially resistant to using his pyrokinetic powers, El Diablo comes into his own for the big climactic battle and pays the ultimate price for his past sins.

KILLER CROC/WAYLON JONES -- After being wasted as Kurse in Thor: The Dark World, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gets a little more to do here as Killer Croc, although he's completely unrecognizable under tons of prosthetic makeup.  Killer Croc could've been a fun strongman similar to Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy, but apart from a couple of laughs, he's also terribly underwritten.

THE JOKER -- Jared Leto is the latest actor to take on the classic role of The Joker, and to his credit, he tries hard to make it his own.  Leto's Joker is basically a twisted crimelord, also covered in pointless tattoos along with a ridiculous mouth grill that already looks dated. There's an interesting twist on his relationship with Harley, however, with the Joker seemingly in actual love with Harley instead of cruelly abusing her and taking advantage of obsession with him.  I can't see Leto's Joker as the central villain in a Batfleck film, but here in small doses, he works much better.

SLIPKNOT/CHRISTOPHER WEISS -- As soon as Adam Beach's character was announced, I hoped we would seem Captain Boomerang manipulate him as described above and I wasn't disappointed.  Slipknot is arguably the most expendable Suicide Squad member ever, so if you were let down that they didn't do much with his character, you really shouldn't be.

BATMAN CAMEO -- Ben Affleck continues to be a major linchpin of the DC Extended Universe as Batman, and I enjoyed him a lot more here than I did as Grumpy Frank Miller Batman in Batman v Superman.  The flashback with Batman chasing the Joker and Harley through the streets of Gotham was a fun ride, and the mid-credits bonus scene where Bruce Wayne agrees to provide cover for Amanda Waller in exchange for A.R.G.U.S.' files on metahumans was welcome universe-building.

THE FLASH CAMEO -- The blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by Ezra Miller as The Flash continues to make me worried about Justice League and the solo Flash film.  As we see a flashback of The Flash confronting Captain Boomerang, Miller delivers one line and it's instantly forgettable because all you can do is roll your eyes at the Flash's clunky armored costume. 

All in all, Suicide Squad is a small step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe, but not nearly as big as it needed to be after Batman v Superman.  No, the movie isn't as bad as critics made it out to be on Rotten Tomatoes (27%?  Really?), and yeah, it's not as good as some diehard comics fans want it to be.  It really should've been DC's version of Guardians of the Galaxy, with snappier dialogue and a non-stop rollercoaster feeling that leaves you exhausted, but in a good way.  With Suicide Squad having a huge opening weekend, chances are good for the sequel, but here's hoping someone besides Ayer gets to write the script.  Is Geoff Johns too busy at the moment? 

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)

3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
4. The Avengers (2012)
5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. Man of Steel (2013)
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
9. Spider-Man (2002)

10. Iron Man (2008)
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
12. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
13. Watchmen (2009)
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
15. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
16. X-Men: First Class (2011)
17. Suicide Squad (2016)
18. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
19. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
20. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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