Saturday 6 August 2016

Suicide Squad

Deuce Ex Position

Suicide Squad
2016 USA Directed by David Ayer
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Yeah, there’ll be some minor, suicidal spoilers in this one. Read at your own peril.

Okay, so this film is getting a lot of hype right now and, in terms of box office success, it’s making a big killing. I have to say that, while I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing this movie, I didn’t have a bad time with it. It’s not a terrible movie but it is a movie which does have a lot of problems. I can totally understand the critical dubbing it’s getting but that doesn’t mean to say you’re not going to like it. Let me explain what I’m talking about here but first, a little background as to where this review is coming from.

This is not the version of DC’s Suicide Squad which started appearing in 1959, in issues of The Brave And The Bold and Action Comics, although some of the members were in place even back then. This version, adapted for the movie, seems to be based on the fifth incarnation of the comic book which started maybe five years ago (which I think may be when Harley Quinn was first in it... I think). Now I don’t know much about any of the characters in this movie, apart from The Joker, it has to be said. Some of them I know purely from playing the Batman Lego games on my old Playstation 2 and iPhone. The others I know nothing about and certainly Harley Quinn was a character invented much later than the comics I was reading, for the Batman animated adventures... so I’m not even sure if she’s properly become canon in the non-kiddie versions of the comic books or not. I’m guessing she must have transitioned into the more adult DC titles after a while or we wouldn’t be seeing her here. So, yeah, the only character I know something about, in terms of the protagonist/antagonist supervillain elements of this piece, at any rate, is The Joker so... that’s my only credentials for the credibility, or not, of this review. Sorry about that. But I can still review it in terms of being a movie... I just can’t comment too much on the adaptation elements. So, yeah, take it or leave it, I guess.

Suicide Squad is definitely a movie which can’t help but show you its very obvious influences. Now, I’ve never even got around to seeing The Dirty Dozen but I know for sure that what we have here is a DC version of that movie but, that’s okay because I believe one of the incarnations of the comic book was too, so... yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem. Its other main influence seems to be John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York in terms of the way the action is contained within a few, abandoned city blocks with various antagonist forces trying to stop Suicide Squad from reaching their destination. Now this really is quite blatant and its interesting that the writers have chosen to push the analogy further by actually using Carpenter’s carrot/stick approach to getting an anti-hero to do your dirty work. That is to say that each member of the Squad who starts the film off in captivity is injected with an exploding neck bomb which can be triggered to take their head off at the whim of their boss. I’m surprised the writers went this far, to be honest, and I can only hope it was done in the spirit of homage, rather than anything else.

Okay, so positive points about the movie are that it looks quite good, in the odd moments the camerawork settles down and you can gather your eyes together for longer than a second. It’s also got a terrific cast including the main lead, as far as I’m concerned in terms of amount of screen time and presence, Will Smith as Deadshot. The lead female is definitely Harley Quinn, portrayed really interestingly by Margot Robbie. And we have Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Jay Hernandez and Karen Fukuhara. And they’re all pretty  good. Fukuhara plays a character called Katana and she has an groovy sword which is like a distant cousin to the sword Michael Moorcock created for his Elric Of Melnibone character, which was called Stormbringer. Stormbringer was made out of black, other-worldy material and had runic symbols carved into it, if memory serves. It often had a mind of its own and when it bit into its enemies, sometimes without the intention of the person wielding it, it sucked the living soul from its victim and the albino Elric was fed the energy from that soul through the hilt of the weapon, allowing him to stay strong when his normally pallid state would not allow him to conquer his enemies so easily. Katana’s sword also steals the souls of her victims but then it traps them within the weapon itself... which allows her to talk to her dead husband whose life was taken with her sword. So there’s some interesting stuff going on in the background of this movie. 

There’s also a fair bit of action throughout the film and, for the most part, it doesn’t really drag too much and it at least keeps moving forward to a specific goal. There’s not much plot but that’s okay too... not all movies need that much of one to do what they do. This is sadly deficient compared to, say, any of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe movies at the moment but... yeah, that’s okay too. Not every movie has to have the kind of gravitas and interesting plot twists of that kind of writing and, while this certainly doesn’t, it doesn’t really harm the movie, I think.

There are, however, a few things that do harm the movie, or at least give it some problems to try and overcome or, in this case, run through while the writers think nobody is looking,

Okay, so we have Jared Leto as The Joker, Now I don’t know anything about this guy except that he was exceptional in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. Here he’s dong his own thing with The Joker, just as he should do and, though it’s fine that he’s doing it his own way here... I just didn’t warm to this interpretation as I did to the great performance turned in by Heath Ledger in the role or, even, the pretty good versions portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero. This version seems to have less weight about him but, I don’t know, maybe that’s the point. I can’t fault him for his performance on any level and, if reports from the set are to be believed, he certainly gave it his all. I just didn’t like it too much although, saying that, I think the character as performed by Leto could have some potential if the writing was a little warmer and he was given a little more three dimensionality. I don’t think his performance particularly hurts the movie though. Especially since he’s hardly in it. Just a few short scenes scattered throughout the picture where he never really interacts with any of the main protagonists, except for Harley Quinn, at all... other than to shoot at them form afar in one scene.

What does hurt the movie is the amount of exposition needed to flesh out each and every character in the story. It’s surely pretty obvious to most people that DC are trying to cash in on the box office success of multiple hero fests that Marvel have so well established over the last decade in films like Avengers - Age of Ultron (reviewed here) and Captain America - Civil War (reviewed here). The problem is that Marvel took a long time to establish those characters in their own films first, for the most part, and it was a well thought through concept. In ‘DCland’ it’s a ‘quick, cut to the chase’ approach and it really shows. It was quite evident in their previous movie, Batman Vs Superman - Dawn Of Justice (reviewed here), with its bizarre ‘meta-humans on a computer screen’ sequence and it’s even more of a disaster here where, because they have a whole bunch of new characters put together, there’s probably more exposition and back story in the movie than actual plot and, although they’ve tried hard to shoe horn in the vast amount of explanations they need to get through here, it’s a bit of a mess of ‘flashback hell’ to be honest.

Another thing is that there’s a very strong, almost surrealistic, supernatural element to the whole antagonist angle in this film and... I’m just not so sure it sat well with the majority of the other elements here. When Marvel adapted Thor and his world of Gods as characters, they were careful to present it as an ‘alternative science’ approach to make it fit in better with the rest of the dramatis personae and they’ve taken this long to go ‘full supernatural’ with the introduction of a Doctor Strange movie later this year. Here it’s all very much something that all the other characters take in their stride and... I guess you have to ask yourself why? Sure, they’ve all seen Superman in action and this film is very much a third part of the Man Of Steel series, linking into the ending of the last movie in particular... but it’s still very much a stretch to credibility when you see some of the things happening here.

About that... this film also features cameos by two of the super heroes seen in Batman Vs Superman. I won’t spoil one cameo because it takes you completely by surprise, comes fairly early and it’s over almost before it’s started... but anybody who’s seen the trailers for this film will also know that Ben Affleck reprises his Batman/Bruce Wayne role from the last movie (forewarned is forearmed though... there’s a lot of material in the trailers which didn’t make it into the final cut of the cinema release). He does this four times, in fact... three times in his Batman costume, scattered through the movie, and a fourth as... well, just make sure you stay around for the mid end-credits sequence to see another reference to the forthcoming Justice League movie.

Another big problem is the use of music in some scenes. Steven Price’s score is not at fault. It’s a good selection of appropriate music which serves to boost the tone of the movie... although he does use a melody very reminiscent of something John Barry used in scenes of the Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (reviewed here) quite often and it kept popping me out of the movie with visions of the Swiss Alps, to be honest. However, its the song placement which becomes a problem in this one. It starts off pretty well with some well mixed in tracks that serve as a kind of audio shorthand for some of those horrendously prolific exposition scenes I was talking about. I was kinda applauding the choices and the way they were being used until... at one point during the briefing scene, it’s mixed in way too loud over important dialogue and you can barely hear what the actors are saying to each other. This is pretty terrible and I had to rely on my knowledge of the trailer, where the same dialogue is unencumbered by too prominently mixed music, to remember just what was being said in this scene. So... yeah, that’s just awful and unforgivable. Maybe they can remix it for the home video version. The song placement just doesn't work from this point on and, when even more songs come in later, you just know this was a movie that was all about the ‘songtrack’ deal at the cost of serving the art effectively. So really not very happy about that.

Also, the writing is very sloppy. At one point the Squad’s incentive for doing what they are doing is destroyed, a dramatic moment so obviously played as a card in the hand of their employers and, furthermore, Harley Quinn’s own neck device is also disarmed by The Joker. What then would propel them, her especially, to return to prison at the end because a duplicate controller is pulled from a convenient pocket. Did everybody just forget what’s happened? This is just plain crazy.

The films biggest sin, though, is the entire predictability of everything you are about to see. The destruction of the neck bomb controller, characters X and Y not being dead after all, character Z having no back story so you know he’s gong to die real quick as an example to the Suicide Squad of what will happen if they disobey orders etc. It’s all written extremely badly and you will always see it coming. There are absolutely no surprises in this movie at all, except... the brief appearance by one of the superhero characters I mentioned earlier. So that’s a real problem.

You know what though? For all its challenges, Suicide Squad is quite a fun film. I’m almost regretting seeing it on a big screen because, for me, it felt like one of those early to mid 1980s straight to VHS releases which you would hire from the local ‘off licence’ and watch with your mates. It works in its own way and maybe doesn’t feel like its something they could have got away with as a cinema release but certainly could glean a small following of people who could watch it in the same way they might enjoy a Chuck Norris movie or a Cannon Films production. Not the best movie in existence but something which might appeal to an element of your own personality and fit right into your way of seeing the world. It’s not something I would go out of my way to recommend, for sure, but it’s certainly not something I would tell people to avoid, either. It’s probably good for a Saturday night out... or in... and if you go in not expecting too much, as I did, then you shouldn’t be too disappointed with it.  After all... why be so serious?

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