Friday, August 5, 2016

'Suicide Squad' review

24 hours later and I still don't know where to begin.

The DC Cinematic Extended Universe hasn't gotten off to the best start. Man of Steel was a resounding letdown in terms of critical reception and box office rewards, standing at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes while grossing a merely decent $668 million. I thought the film was a huge miss, highlighted by bland exposition and a laughably over-the-top final act. Director Zack Snyder and the head honchos at Warner Bros. noticed the problems, and took them into account as they prepared for their follow-up act. But as Marvel Studios continued to prove their total domination in the superhero genre, WB and DC were forced to speed up the process. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first film to bring together the iconic heroes, was sent into production with Snyder at the helm, and was established as the movie that would provide the groundwork for future DC films (Justice League, Wonder Woman, and so on). Well, it's safe to say that things that quite go as planned for DC. The film was absolutely slammed by critics, who noted the dour tone, confusing and messy plot, and general lack of fun. And despite a record-breaking weekend, the box office for Dawn of Justice dropped like a rock, ending up with just $872 million worldwide.

I enjoyed Batman v Superman much more than most (even for some of the reasons listed as complaints), but after watching the film, it was clear that change was coming to the DCEU. Thankfully, there was a glimmering light at the end of the tunnel- David Ayer's Suicide Squad, a supervillain team-up flick similar to Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. After a disturbing, moody Comic-Con trailer last July, DC ramped up the fun factor in the subsequent previews. With action-packed teasers set to "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Ballroom Blitz," Suicide Squad jumped to the top of everyone's most anticipated list. And as general audience members began to become more excited, hardcore DC fans and critics began to wonder- could this be the one? Could a bunch of B-list characters and the Joker save the DCEU and get us back on track? Even as rumors of reshoots and tonal issues swirled around, excitement for Suicide Squad remained high. At the start of the season, I was simply dying to see it, counting it as my most anticipated movie of the summer.

And now, I'm angry. Actually, you could say I'm furious. Now, before anybody says this, I saw the reviews. I knew that it was sitting at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. I knew that some had said that it was worse than Green Lantern and Fantastic Four. But I told myself that it couldn't possibly be that bad. After all- those trailers! They were fantastic. It looked like the savior of the summer movie season. As I watched Suicide Squad last night, a feeling sank to the pit of my stomach. As the movie went on, I started to almost feel sick out of a sense of sheer disbelief. "It's really this bad," I said to myself, numb from a feeling of total shock. It gives me no pleasure to report this whatsoever, but Suicide Squad is an absolute mess, a whole bunch of nothing. It is the most disappointed I've been with a movie in a long, long time.

Before I take a deep-dive into everything wrong with this crushing letdown of a movie, let's go through the plot, shall we? The basic idea behind Suicide Squad is that in the event of a malevolent metahuman attack (a fancy DC term for superhero), we need a group of some of the "worst of the worst" to protect us. It's an idea that originates with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a manipulative government agent who believes that Task Force X is one of the only ways to protect us from the uncontrollable. In the event of World War III, we might need some bad guys. For this task force, Waller recruits a wide range of super villains. To kick things off, we meet Deadshot (Will Smith), a cold-blooded, sociopathic assassin with a heart of gold and a soft spot for his daughter. There's also Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a psychiatrist turned crazy person who's also madly in love with the Joker (Jared Leto).

They're incarcerated in Belle Reve prison, alongside Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). To complete her miniature army, Waller also brings in Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Slipknot (Adam Beach), while simultaneously assigning Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to manage the team. As a giant new threat emerges in Midway City, Flag and Waller must get these bad guys to fight for a good cause. In exchange, they'll receive time reduced from their sentence. But if they try to escape, they'll be blown up with a little microchip that the government injected into their head. Despite their own qualms, the Suicide Squad assembles to take down a target that could threaten the fate of humanity.

There's a lot chatter around Hollywood right now about the competing cuts of Suicide Squad, contrasting the fun, poppy version that Warner had with David Ayer's brooding, dark vision. And as of right now, it's too early to know if those reports have any credibility. Nonetheless, Suicide Squad certainly feels like it was edited by someone who has no idea how movies are supposed to flow. It's not a Fantastic Four situation either, where the first half of the movie moves beautifully and the second half falls off a cliff. No, pretty much this entire film is horrifically paced. The pacing is frenetic and fast, never giving the audience a chance to emotionally attach themselves to any characters. The editing is so clunky and choppy that nothing holds any sense of dramatic interest, and half the time, the scenes feel ridiculously out of place.

It probably didn't help matters that Suicide Squad has more characters than I can count on my fingers. Now, there's only about three that I would actually classify as real, flesh-and-blood people, but that doesn't matter- the rest of them are still there, taking up space on the screen. None of the actors are particularly bad in their roles, but some of these characters just have no right to be in an already over-crowded film. Everybody seems to love Will Smith as Deadshot, so it feels weird for me to report that I never bought him in the role for a second. Smith has charisma for days, and I'm sorry, he's just not believable as a sociopath. Margot Robbie is obviously the standout as Harley Quinn, and I thought that El Diablo was actually quite engaging at times.

Frankly, I was kinda amazed by how much I disliked Viola Davis' Amanda Waller, and if that was the goal, then consider it mission accomplished. In a film dominated by supervillains, she's the worst of all. As for the remainder of the squad, well, I kinda feel bad for them. Killer Croc, Boomerang, and Slipknot are never really given any motivation or backstory at all, defined instead by little tokens that they carry around or merely their abilities. Kinnaman's Rick Flag is wasted on a ham-fisted love story, while Scott Eastwood and Ike Barinholtz could probably both win awards for most under-utilized actor in a movie. Remember when everybody thought Eastwood would be some sort of integral part of this film? Good times. Meanwhile, the much-hyped return of the Joker, this time played by Jared Leto, lands with a resounding thud. Leto's concept of the character is strange, and he's totally shoe-horned into this film. As for Cara Delevingne's portrayal of Enchantress.....well, I'll just let you see the movie for yourself (although I certainly advise against that).

As much as people have centered the discussion around the tonal confusion of the film, there are base-level problems in Suicide Squad that couldn't be fixed be any cut, no matter how dark or how colorful. This is just a bad story, and bad stories never work. It's as simple as that. The action scenes are some of the most amazingly dull setpieces I've seen in a superhero movie in years, and considering the film's imaginative aesthetic, that is absurdly disappointing. In addition to that, the reason for the Squad to unite couldn't have been more underdevloped, and it's something that suffocates the entire movie. Those issues are intensified by the real villains of the story, who are both hilariously awful- one does some kind of weird voodoo dance thing during the climax while the other practically wears a shirt that says "Straight Outta Gods of Egypt." The villains have nearly no motivation and we know nothing about them whatsoever. And speaking of character motivation, only one character in this movie has an actual arc. Nobody else does. Deadshot, Harley, Croc, Joker- they're the same at the end of the movie as they are at the start. In a movie centered around unlikable anti-heroes, that just doesn't work in the slightest.

Batman v Superman got a lot of criticism earlier in the year, and some of it is definitely fair. It is a messy film, one overrun by its ambition and its convoluted plot. But it was striving for something. For all of his flaws, Zack Snyder is an incredible visual stylist and an occasionally fascinating philosopher, and his take on two iconic heroes was compelling because it felt like a movie that was grounded in the dark places of the real world. Suicide Squad has none of that. It is neither entertaining nor thought-provoking, lacking any sense of ambition or any real idea of what it should be about. People might be able to claim that superhero movies are pure popcorn entertainment, but the best ones are about something, whether it's 9/11 paranoia or a team of misfits coming together. Suicide Squad is an empty void. In fact, I would say that it barely classifies as a movie. There is only a semblance of a story, and despite the tonal and visual flair, it feels like an extended version of a boring trailer.

Suicide Squad is a maddeningly awful film. I still want to punch a wall when I think about it. I don't get angry about films too often. I've been disappointed before and I'll be disappointed again. This one felt different. Suicide Squad was purely infuriating. Not only that, it felt like the movie betrayed me. Going back a while, I remember when the first pictures came out, and I thought that they were completely laughable. Stupid, grungy, and over-crowded. But over the course of the best marketing campaign in history (and I'm pretty sure this counts as an accurate statement), Suicide Squad convinced me that it could be something incredible. And then it stabbed me and every other fan who waited with breathless anticipation in the back with an asinine, idiotic ride into profound nothingness.

I still have hope for future DC films. But man, this one hurts.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.5/10)

Image Credits: YouTube, Indiewire, Coming Soon, Joblo  

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