Tag: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad – Review

squad

This is the film I was most excited to see this summer. When it comes to comic book universes, the DC world and its characters have had my heart since I was eight years old. The stakes were high: some of these characters were being brought to live-action life for the first time, while others, like the Joker, were about to be reinvented for an entire generation of movie-goers. And after Batman v. Superman was torn apart by critics and became, among superhero fans, possibly the most divisive comic book movie of all time (even though I personally loved that film), the DC cinematic universe really needed a win. And though I wanted Suicide Squad to be an incontestable masterpiece, I have to settle for a stylish, messy film with streaks and flecks of brilliance.

Early on in its production, set leaks and updates seemed poised to make sure that we felt like we had already seen the entire film before it came out. And then, suddenly, we knew next to nothing about the plot of the movie. A series of trailers showed a misfit band of bad guys brought together to do… something, and we had no idea what the movie was going to be about, or even who the villain would be. Unfortunately, what was being so carefully concealed for a while there is a pretty flimsy story. Our team of bad guys take on an evil whose goal is… practically the same as the main villain from the first Avengers film: shine a pillar of light into the sky and bring an army of faceless evil into the world, only with more of a Gozer the Traveler flair.

Against this dark force stand our anti-heroes, a team of special individuals who are supposedly being brought together in case the U.S. government needs someone who can stand up against a metahuman as powerful as Superman. This rationale becomes laughable when we actually see what most of the squad is capable of. No, a guy with perfect aim and a mentally damaged woman could not stand up to the likes of General Zod. But if we can get past the eye-rolling and buy into that conceit, the characters are colorful and certainly grab hold of your attention early on.

deadshot

The heart of the film is shared between four characters: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, and Rick Flagg. Most of the other members of the Squad end up background characters. Nobody is coming out of this movie saying, “Wow, wasn’t Captain Boomerang awesome?!” He’s there. He has his moments. And that’s about all that we can say about Killer Croc, too. Or Katana, a character I love from the comics who does not get much to do here except stand around looking dangerous. Which she does with aplomb. Will Smith’s Deadshot aims to become one of the few emotional tethers between the audience and the film. An assassin with the heart of a family man, his relationship with his young daughter is one of the few human connections the audience is invited to feel between its characters. Yeah, it feels a little like you’re being manipulated at times, especially watching the flashback scene in which Deadshot is caught, but it is as human as the film gets. Smith’s charm goes a long way toward making the film feel fun, which it sometimes struggles to do. This is not Guardians of the Galaxy, even though it hits some of the same storytelling beats. El Diablo is one of the characters who stood out unexpectedly. His character arc is the most dramatic in the film, and his attempt at giving up a life of crime makes him one of the most heroic members on the team. Rick Flagg is the good guy soldier type tasked with making sure our anti-heroes stay together and do their job. He also has a personal stake in the team and their mission. He works as a kind of moral center to the team, but he himself is, unfortunately, not as interesting as all of the characters that surround him. But we need him to play straight man to everyone else’s antics.

Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is just about perfect. Whenever she is on screen there is never any doubt as to who is the most in-control person in the room. DC fans who might have been disappointed in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor might find what they were looking for in Waller. She’s smart, cool, has her claws in the government, knows all about metahumans, and has a mean streak at her core that never ceases to catch people off guard. My only gripe is that she is underused in the film’s second half.

harley

Harley Quinn seems to have overtaken Wonder Woman as the premiere female character of the DC comics universe. She’s beloved by fans, endlessly marketable, and psychologically complex enough to inspire arguments. Margot Robbie does a good job with the character, but suffers from a script that does not show off nearly enough of what Harley Quinn could be. She tends to be the group’s Smurfette, and though they obviously want her to be the team wild card, she is never let off her leash enough to really cut loose. In short she is underused, even though she is one of the main characters and gets plenty of screen time. Her main purpose in the film, other than serving as fanservice, seems to be a reason to draw the Joker into the plot. Their strange, alien “romance” is one of the highlights of the film, even though it leaves me hoping that the DC cinematic universe follows what the comics are currently doing with the character and sees her step out from the Joker’s shadow and become her own lead. I’m fine with them starting the character off in her Mad Love, Joker’s Sweetheart phase, but Harley has grown beyond that on the page, and her on-screen incarnation should do the same.

joker

Jared Leto’s Joker is a visual feast, but is never allowed to be a character in the movie. He only has one Point of View scene in the entire movie, and it lasts about two seconds. It’s an important two seconds, and vital for understanding the twisted Joker/Harley romance, but it’s not enough to give the character any kind of depth. Heath Ledger’s Joker was a revelation, a complicated villain with philosophical reasoning behind his wickedness. Leto’s Joker feels like a step backward, a garish gangster with only the most basic selfish motivations for anything he does. Now, none of this has anything to do with Leto as an actor. He’s actually great in the role. He just wasn’t given a script worthy of the character. If you are looking for a scene as delicious as the Dark Knight’s police station interrogation or hospital scenes, you are going to be sorely disappointed. The only saving grace here is that this was never the Joker’s movie, and so much of the character remains a mystery that the next time the DC cinematic universe decides to use him (perhaps in an Affleck-directed solo Batman film?), they really could take the character anywhere they wanted to go. And I would be there to see it. I remain intrigued. But for now, Suicide Squad serves only to whet the appetite of Joker fans, not to give them anything they can sink their teeth into.

enchantress

The characters are hit-and-miss, the plot is a mess, and the action sequences are far too often pitting our misfits against what amount to DC’s version of Rita Repulsa’s putties. I sat in the theater watching the Squad’s first encounter with the forces of evil, irritated and painfully aware of how little investment I had in the fight. I’ve grown tired of faceless hordes of chitauri, dark elves, and Ultron clones for comic book heroes to slaughter. I want fights that matter. Thankfully Suicide Squad does have a couple of those, but you have to wait a long time for them, and almost every fight leading up to the “Boss” fight comes in a single flavor. Much as it was in Guardians of the Galaxy, the eventual bond of friendship that forms between the team feels forced. And because half the team here have been relegated to background characters, and many of them are supposed to be remorseless killers, it feels even more forced. When the characters finally sit around and have a conversation with each other toward the end of the film and start to become a “family” of sorts, it just doesn’t feel earned.

And yet, for all its flaws, Suicide Squad does some things right. David Ayer’s film looks gorgeous from start to finish. The costumes and make-up are fantastic. The Joker’s new look has been controversial, to say the least, but for this film it works. El Diablo’s skeletal tattoos, the Enchantress’s mystical regalia, Deadshot’s gear: all of it looks really cool and fits the larger aesthetic of the film. The visual effects for the Enchantress, in particular, are spooky and memorable, and when the team surveys the physical damage their mysterious adversary causes to both people and the cityscape, it’s chilling in a Lovecraftian way. Harley’s origin flashback, the film’s supernatural sequences, and many of the Joker scenes all look darkly beautiful on screen. (There is even a sequence bringing to life one of Alex Ross’s famous paintings, which is sure to delight comic book fans.) They may not be critical darlings, but so far DC has yet to release a film in its cinematic universe that doesn’t have a unique visual stamp on it. This film universe looks nothing like MARVEL or the X-Men’s world, and I’m hoping this is a trend that continues with next year’s Wonder Woman.

Suicide Squad is style over substance, but when the characters do shine, they make a case for each of them getting to headline their own film. There is absolutely no reason not to give Harley Quinn and Deadshot their own movies right now, and make Waller the puppetmaster of the entire DC cinematic universe. I was engaged with all of the character-heavy moments, from their introductions and flashbacks to their dreams and fantasies, but felt my attention wavering during the action sequences until the end. With three movies out now, the DCCU should be taking flight, but instead it still seems to be finding its feet. I’m not concerned, especially since Geoff Johns has been given keys to the kingdom over at Warner Bros. If we can get some better writing to go with the unique visual direction and characters we’ve been getting in their films so far, the films of the DCCU could end up something special.

Batman v. Superman is Awesome – the Critics are Wrong

Batman v. Superman poster

So the movie is out, reviews are in, and most critics agree that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bad movie. As of this writing it is currently holding a 30% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it a “dour disappointment” and claiming that the creators of the film “managed to drain all the fun out of these characters and their world.”

Can it really be that bad?

No, it’s actually quite good, a visually stunning spectacle that delivers on its promise to bring together two of the most popular superheroes in the world for a fight that may decide the future of humanity. Zack Snyder remains a fantastic visual director, and Hans Zimmer’s score is electric. Ben Affleck does not disappoint as the Batman, there are Easter eggs aplenty to excite the comic book fans in the crowd, and the action sequences are wonderfully crafted.

So what went wrong? Why do so many critics say that this isn’t a movie worth seeing?

By now MARVEL Studios has trained the moviegoing audience to expect certain things from a superhero movie. (I say this as a fan of the MARVEL cinematic universe who just finished watching the second season of Daredevil and loved it.) MARVEL’s films tend to keep to a familiar formula and tone, and after a dozen of them we think we know what a superhero movie is supposed to be. (Even a genuinely lackluster MCU film like Thor: the Dark World ranks more than 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Most of the critics of Batman v. Superman are panning it for not being fun. And by “fun” they mean funny and lighthearted the way that MARVEL’s films are. To them, a serious superhero film is a contradiction.

Not that the film doesn’t suffer from being a little too dark and brooding. It does, but not as much as the critics would have you believe. The reason for this is probably that DC has learned over the years that their greatest critical and financial successes have come from telling darker stories (Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, their animated films, the Arkham video games…). Meanwhile, their attempts at lighter fare (such as the awful Green Lantern film) have not been as well loved, to put it mildly. The Dark Knight raked in over a billion dollars and they thought they knew what the audience wanted from their movies. It’s a misunderstanding that has haunted the current film version of Superman, who is consistently glum. Indeed, Superman is the one character that Snyder does not get at all.

Despite that, Batman v. Superman is a triumph of comic book inspired cinematic storytelling. To paraphrase another DC film, it may not be the movie we deserve, but it’s the one we need. MARVEL’s formula is beginning to show its cracks. As much as I enjoy them, I’m starting to walk out of the theater after seeing one with the feeling that I’ve seen that movie before. They are still fun, but they no longer feel special. Age of Ultron was a better film than the first Avengers movie, but it didn’t really give the audience anything they hadn’t seen before. The comic book movie craze is showing no signs of slowing down, but I find myself wanting something different. And Dawn of Justice delivers. It may not be a perfect film, but for every moment that falls short, another soars.

Batman v. Superman takes its heroes seriously. We get to see what it looks like when the gods come down from Heaven and make Earth their battleground. And even though this take on the popular characters is going to polarize fans, I give DC credit for daring to do something different with their familiar heroes. This Superman is not universally beloved by the world. He’s practically worshipped by some, and outright despised by others, and all his efforts to do good seem only to open the door to more tragedy. This Batman is not the bloodless ninja warrior from Nolan’s films. He’s grown old and bitter, even cruel. He’s so cynical that he’s not capable of seeing the goodness in someone like Superman. This Lex Luthor… is something we really haven’t seen before.

I love the character of Lex Luthor, and every on-screen portrayal of him has brought something new to the role. Gene Hackman gave us a charming but silly criminal mastermind. John Shea’s take on the character was a white collar criminal and romantic rival to Clark Kent. Kevin Spacey’s Lex was a darkly jealous supervillain. Michael Rosenbaum gave us the definitive Lex Luthor by portraying a noble young man who slowly lost his soul in exchange for power. We’ve seen the character from quite a few angles over the years, but Jesse Eisenberg’s plays the character with a manic intensity we haven’t seen before. His playful menace is hypnotic, and while fans seem divided over his performance, I was enthralled.

Even though the movie hums with new ideas, the hearts of these characters are still very much familiar territory. Even in a world that does not accept him as their friend, Superman is an awe-inspiring force of goodness with a very human core of love. Even though he’s let his life and home fall into complete disrepair, Batman is still out there saving the innocent and fighting the never ending battle. Even though he comes off as something of a goofball, Lex Luthor is still a genius who wields science as a weapon like one who would take on God himself.

I am excited to see where Zack Snyder and company take these characters in the upcoming Justice League film. Especially Superman. After that ending, there is a world of potential. For a hero like him, the sky is no limit.

 

Stray thoughts:

They sure took the criticisms of Man of Steel‘s wanton destruction to heart, didn’t they? Unfortunately I think they went too far. There were no less than three different instances of assuring the audience that areas where the film’s final villain was rampaging were depopulated, which made the whole affair feel a little too safe. You shouldn’t tell viewers, “Don’t worry, there’s no one around for the monster to hurt.”

Seeing Wonder Woman in action was a pleasure, and makes me excited to see what she does with her own movie next year. It’s taken a long time for comic books’ premiere heroine to get her own film, but if what we see here is any indication, the wait might just have been worth it.

Snyder’s Ultimate Edition director’s cut is supposed to be half an hour longer. I’m still not convinced a film with Superman in it needs an R-rated release, but I’m eager to see the definitive version of this movie.

The glimpse we see of the other Justice League characters was kind of cheap, but at least it didn’t distract from the main event of the film. I was wondering how they were going to fit Aquaman into this movie. Wonder Woman’s role felt natural, even if a bit tacked on, but any more would have been too much.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a super-power in itself. I love his twisted, broken Lex Luthor theme.

Now that I’ve seen the DCCU’s Batman, I’m twice as excited for Suicide Squad.