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Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad



Suicide Squad is like the Cold Stone Creamery of comic book movies. A dozen ingredients mushed together frozen on a slab. Maybe eating the entire thing isn't the best thing for you, but you like the fillings and it tastes really good for a while, so you keep eating until the end. Then what? I dunno. My tummy feels weird. Written and directed with balls-slapped-to-the-wall gusto by David Ayers, who is clearly indulging his youthful love of comic books, Suicide Squad is the dirty, scarred side of the DC Cinematic Universe coin. Shining a light on some of the most dangerous (and frankly, some of the most obscure) super villains in the DC Comics pantheon, Suicide Squad's primary mission is to elicit sympathy for the devils (with on the nose musical choices), which Ayers accomplishes for some of the Squad. Bawdier, rowdier, and more perverse than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad is pure, distilled comic book villain chaos on the screen. Alternately erratic, ambitious, scattershot, harebrained, baffling, and proudly in-your-face to a fault, Suicide Squad is also fitfully fun and occasionally even admirable.

"What if Superman ripped the roof off the White House and kidnapped the President? Who could have stopped him?" is the treatise behind the formation of Task Force X, the brainchild of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a devious, ruthless patriot. (Superman is, of course, currently deceased as a result of Batman v Superman, but Waller fears the next Superman may not be as noble, though they sure didn't like him much when he was alive.) Waller's idea: recruit the myriad metahuman super villains already incarcerated in a Louisiana black site prison called Belle Reve and force these very bad people to do some good. Or die trying, via explosive nanites injected into their necks. Waller's plan has little logical merit (though some of the Belle Reve inmates are super powered metahumans, how would they realistically fare against someone as powerful as the Man of Steel?) but through blackmail, fear-mongering and intimidation, Waller gets the green light from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for her Suicide Squad.

The unwilling recruits to the Suicide Squad are the worst of the worst and the craziest of the crazy: Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin and the world's deadliest marksman who was personally apprehended by the Batman (Ben Affleck, making several welcome appearances in and out of the Batsuit); Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker's sexpot girlfriend and a gleeful maniac who's also in Belle Reve courtesy of Batman; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), literally a crocodile man who was captured by -- you guessed it -- Batman; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie nutjob who somehow is serving three consecutive life sentences for stealing some diamonds and getting caught by Batman the Flash (Ezra Miller); and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a flame throwing gang banger who accidentally roasted his family and is trying to reform. There's also Slipknot (Adam Beach), "a guy who can climb anything." He gets dispatched almost immediately as a way for the movie to demonstrate how the nanite bombs would kill the Suicide Squaders if they rebel. Slipknot, we hardly knew ye (and didn't really want to). 

Keeping tabs on the Suicide Squad in the field is Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), "the best special forces soldier in America" who gives lousy rah rah motivational speeches. Keeping tabs on Rick Flag is Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a masked Japanese lady who wields and talks to a magical samurai sword that traps the souls of its victims and houses the soul of her late husband. Are we done? No. Because speaking of magic, there's also June Moone (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist whose body is possessed by an ancient and powerful witch called the Enchantress. Scott Eastwood is there too, as one of Flag's soldiers, and for some reason his name is GQ. Meanwhile, occasionally inserting his madness into the movie's overall madness is the Joker (Jared Leto), an unwelcome distraction who's hellbent on rescuing Harley so she can be reunited with her 'puddin' Mistah J. Following the daunting, legendary cinematic footsteps of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, Leto preens as a pimped out, bling-wearing, tattooed, repulsive and grotesque Joker that it's probably safe to say will go down as no one's favorite incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime. 

In a movie chock full of bad people, the Big Bad turns out to be the Enchantress, who decides she wants to destroy the world. She and her demonic, CGI brother take control of Midway City, turning ordinary citizens into minions who look like human blackberries, and creates a machine that shoots electricity into the sky for three days. (This went on for three days yet Batman, Wonder Woman or the Flash didn't make a move to intervene? Wonder Woman would have been the best bet to go up against the Enchantress.) Finally, the Suicide Squad is dispatched to Midway City. To take out the Enchantress? No. To rescue a MacGuffin, which turns out to be Amanda Waller herself. Meanwhile, Waller is in possession of her own MacGuffin, the heart of the Enchantress, which she needs to assert her full power. The Suicide Squad do a lot of standing around, walking around, and fighting blackberry minions, in that order, but when Waller is shot down and captured by the Enchantress, the Suicide Squad decides to get drunk in a bar together, commiserating about the unfairness of their lives and bonding in the movie's best scene. Ultimately, the Suicide Squad decide to save the world and defeat the Enchantress. How do they take down an all-powerful sorceress? With guns and bombs, natch. 

The main issue plaguing Suicide Squad is tone, best exemplified by Delevingne's performance as the Enchantress. When first introduced, under the thrall of Waller, poor tortured June Moone is a sympathetic victim of demonic possession. When we first see Moone transformed into the Enchantress, she's dangerously compelling, rather unlike any character we've seen in a comic book movie before. But by the time the Suicide Squad faces the Enchantress, Delevingne loses sight of the top as she careens headlong over it, becoming a posturing and gyrating cartoon. It's as if director Ayers was demonically possessed by Joel Schumacher. Throughout Suicide Squad, the multitude of characters aching for screen time compete in a muddy tug of war with the demands of the plot. The movie must stop every so often to re-calibrate, with the characters constantly reminding each other or the movie reminding the audience what's happening, what's already happened, and why. 

However, for all of the Suicide Squad's meanderings that occasionally leads to arbitrary, awkwardly-staged violence, Ayers does pull off a neat trick: Suicide Squad is actually about a series of love stories. The Joker's deplorable romance with Harley Quinn is front and center, delving into the origin of how they met at Arkham Asylum -- she was his psychiatrist who fell in love with him -- and how he abused her until she went insane. Rick Flag is also a man in love with June Moone. Rescuing her from the Enchantress turns out to be his primary mission. Best of all is Deadshot's back story; the most infamous assassin in the world has an 11 year old daughter who is the apple of his eye. All Deadshot wants is his daughter's safety and approval. The unbridled inanity and absurdity of Suicide Squad is ultimately redeemed by terrific performances from Smith, anchoring the picture with his movie star charisma, Robbie, magnetically suggesting layers of pathos beneath Harley Quinn's brazen sexuality, Davis, able to seem more dangerous and frightening than the monsters and killers she coerces, and Hernandez, a cauldron of guilt seeking redemption. There's a beating heart within Suicide Squad, and it's not all black.