Suicide Squad Won’t Make You Want To Kill Yourself

Much like Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad is a remake of beloved film designed to retroactively ruin your childhood. So this movie has been getting lousy reviews, but I don’t think this movie deserves them. It’s perfectly adequate! I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise. After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (not just Ice was snubbed when it came to extraneous Justice League cameos), WB could certainly use a DC movie that doesn’t make you want to kill yourself.

On the way to the theater, I had a Make Way For Ducklings moment with Canada geese. A huge flock of them stopped traffic in both directions for 5 minutes. A driver ahead of me had to get out & shoo the last third of them across. This is a personal anecdote that happened to me!

I achieved the rank of Guest Star Matt on my latest collaboreview (not all my portmanteaus can be winners) with The Wages of Cinema. After you put that in your ears, read my SPOILER-laden analysis below! I promise not to detonate the micro-bomb in your neck if you do!

Margot Robbie of Throwback America is the second live action Harley Quinn after Mia Sara in the terribad Birds of Prey TV show. She seems too young to have been a clinical psychiatrist, but she does embody the role with gusto. This Harley is more flirtatious than usual, which is off-putting since a core feature from the comics & cartoons is that she’s infatuated with only the Joker. (Her sapphic relationship with Poison Ivy is much healthier. Pairing Harley & Deadshot in the New 52 is yucky.) It’s very stupid that Rick Flag lets her have a phone that the she flagrantly displays she’s getting texts from the Joker on. Much like her replacing both Punch & Jewelee in the New 52 Suicide Squad, she really doesn’t bring anything to the team except star power. So it’s fitting that despite all these flaws, Robbie is still able to carry the film.

I just do not like the designs for Harley & the Joker in this. The classic Harley Quinn costume is so wonderful whereas this looks like the platonic ideal of unnecessarily sexualized. (Or would that be Enchantress as the most Frank Miller thing he’s never drawn?) She only wears the iconic Harley outfit for one brief moment. All their tattoos look like somebody scribbled banal word associations on them. The Joker actually looks fine without them, so it’s a bummer they tried so hard to make them look edgy with so much distracting ink. There’s an actual DC supervillain named Tattooed Man with tattoo superpowers so why not feature him instead? He could certainly use the exposure more.

Whereas Margot Robbie puts in a charismatic performance despite her wardrobe, Jared Leto’s Joker is terrible. The cinematic Jokers grow increasingly banal. Leto’s is just a regular shooty-stabby gangster who happens to be cosplaying the Joker. His actions are devoid of the lunacy that makes the Joker such a standout villain. Leto just growls his dialogue, which makes him superfluous in a movie with Killer Croc. Worst of all, he’s just not funny! He lacks Mark Hamill’s winning charm, so Dr. Harleen Quinzel falling madly in love with him is the least plausible thing in a movie where a dude suddenly transforms into a giant Aztec Ghost Rider. The Joker spends much of the movie trying to get Harley back, but the irony of him taking her for granted previously is missing. Their relationship is one-note, a thoroughly unpleasant one at that.  The most Joker thing about him is his henchmen’s attire (since this costume didn’t make the theatrical cut). Thankfully he’s not in the movie very long, but it still doesn’t feel like it was worth making the cast put up with Leto’s dickery. Gotham City deserves a better class of criminal than him!

El Diablo is also festooned in ink, but that’s acceptable since he doesn’t have decades of superior iconography. As  character just invented for the New 52, I was surprised how much effort was put into him. Jay Hernandez makes this reformed pacifist squaddie sympathetic. Whereas Bruce Banner worries about hurting people as the Hulk but never really does because Marvel insists he’s a superhero, el Diablo is remorseful for actually having killed his family. (His wife probably should’ve taken that full face skull tattoo as red flag for marriage material.) The animators give his pyrokinesis plenty of personality too.

Amanda Waller’s bad management is her own worst enemy. First she thinks she can control a mega-powerful witch just by literally stealing her heart without putting a bomb in her host as a contingency. Then she sends her ahead of Task Force X Suicide Squad to deal with a magic menace in Midway City, who it turns out Enchantress unleashed in the first place. Worse, she was overseeing the operation from Midway City but didn’t evacuate so she makes the squad prioritize picking her up. She also randomly kills a bunch of employees as soon as her escort arrives. Adaptations tend to make Waller look bad at her job, but it’s a disservice to her competent comics character. Suicide Squad need not blunder just to make Justice League look good. Although she’s not as stout as The Wall ought to be, Viola Davis has the proper intensity.

Cara Delevingne’s stupendous eyebrows do all the teleporting swashbuckling that the X-Men movies won’t let Nightcrawler do. It’s a little too darkly lit & underwhelming for a climactic battle, but my side-eye to Fox still stands. Furthermore she brings a spooky & commanding presence to an underwritten part. She gives great Zuul. Enchantress & her nameless yet cool-looking brother want to kill all the humans for worshiping machines instead of them so she builds a magical vortex of trash she calls a “machine.” Technically it could be a machine; it’s just an awkwardly ironic appellation from someone whose motivation is Luddite.  Although her initial scuzzy & skimpy look leaves something to be desired, Enchantress does upgrade to a much better Evil-Lynn meets Lo-Pan outfit upon betraying her incompetent human watchdogs.

I wasn’t sure how Will Smith would be as Deadshot. I didn’t want him to just do his comical leading man routine, but I also didn’t want him to completely turn off his charisma as he did in After Earth. Luckily he finds the right middle ground betwixt the extremes. He still has some quips about someone called Phil Jackson, but they’re tempered with enough pathos & anger that you still believe he’s a career criminal. His costume is a recognizable take on his comics attire. Unlike the TV versions, his expensive movie star face even wears a mask a few times!

I’d not heard many good things about the acting of  Jai Courtney (also of Throwback America), but he actually has personality as Captain Boomerang! He’s the biggest dishonorable lowlife of the bunch & I love it! He’s the most consistent comic relief since he’s not bogged down with family drama or a bad romance. His fight with the Flash is the most believable yet.

It’s hilarious how the movie didn’t even pretend that Slipknot wouldn’t be killed first. Besides the fact that he’s the most obscure villain in this movie with the thrilling ability to climb, he’s the only character that doesn’t get an introductory vignette. Bonus points for Captain Boomerang egging him on to his boneheaded demise.

Killer Croc isn’t typically a squaddie, but he fit in well here. Putting Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in prosthetics over CGI was the right choice. He’s just the right amount of monstrous. It’s kind of a bummer he spends so much time in a hoodie instead of showing off the effects team’s artistry. The Beast make-up for Nicholas Hoult is even more embarrassing in comparison.  He doesn’t do that much in the movie, but I’m just glad he’s there. Give this cannibal meatier roles for him to sink his fangs into in future DC movies!

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Katana is just kind of tagging along here. They don’t really need her, but she comes as a package deal with her magic Soultaker sword. Karen Fukuhara does solid work in her movie debut.

Colonel Rick Flag sucks. He’s the most boring squaddie in the comics by virtue of not being a supervillain, & they still don’t find a way to may him interesting here. Not only does this stiff not get along with his task force, he’s only working for Waller due to blackmail. Sadly the movie gave him a happy ending rather than having the decency to put him out of our misery.

Flag insists that a SEAL team would be a better idea than Task Force X, but Waller overrules him. So if she’s so gung-ho about her team, why is a team of military cannon fodder deployed alongside the Adventure Squad  Suicide Squad? It lessens the immediate danger to the protagonists by only having names redshirts be sacrificed to Jaggaroth-headed zombie minions.

As someone who gobbled up Guardians of the Galaxy & Deadpool, this movie isn’t as intense or charming as I expected. With all the reports of extreme method acting on set, it’s kind of tame.  The advertising for this movie has been filled with so much colorful fun, but that mostly manifests in animated intros for the characters that were tacked on late in editing. The scuttlebutt is WB panicked after BVSDOJ’s thudding & changed the tone of writer-director David Ayer’s movie. If there were reshoots (which have been denied), however, they don’t stick out like sore thumbs. Even if WB got the editors to emphasize the comedy, that’s preferable to ending up with another thoroughly sullen DC movie. I just wish they would’ve pushed it even further into outrageous dark comedy territory like Preacher.

Compared to the convoluted much ado about nothing of the year’s other DC movie, this plot is streamlined. It’s also on the basic side. With Midway City evacuated, the supervillain squad never has to figure out what to do with civilians they aren’t victimizing. Amanda Waller being the VIP they have to rescue falls flat & really only exists for Enchantress’s benefit. (Of course since Enchantress can teleport, Waller could’ve stayed in Belle Reve or Washington, D.C.) Although he’s overexposed, it would’ve been more tense if they’d been sent to retrieve Bruce Wayne while he had to pretend not to be Batman around a gang of villains that’d love to see him dead. The Belle Reve crew isn’t given an opportunity to get down & dirty to show the mission isn’t suitable for regular superheroes. The ethics of killing bystanders turned into thralls by Enchantress is glossed over, but it still wouldn’t have  made an impact considering Superman’s & Batman’s kill counts. It’s Waller who gets the most rithless moment.

In addition to its much brisker pacing, this is an improvement over Zack Snyder’s DC movies because the supervillains are allowed to express a range of emotions. There’s even intentional humor! It’s strange that DC doesn’t understand that superheroes aren’t inspiring when you only focus on the maudlin burden of responsibility. (I could write a whole article about how Catwoman’s & Harley Quinn’s blithe independence as outlaws made them more appealing than Wonder Woman, who became boxed into serving as a role model for all women.) Even though these rogues are forced into heroism, they’re still not as relentlessly glum as Superman & Batman. Or course the dichotomy between heroes & villains would’ve played even better if the superheroes weren’t dour murderers to begin with. I do give David Ayer props for making the team compelling without taking the easy way out of making them gold-hearted souls that were wrongly imprisoned. If you’re not a fan of DC’s shared cinematic movies or morally reprehensible protagonists in general, however, this film won’t win you over.

In a throwback to its JLU Bat-embargo, WB compelled (Green) Arrow to abort its Suicide Squad plans. That’s why Deadshot & Amanda Waller were offed. Captain Boomerang only managed to be in two episodes while Harley just got a cameo. Since Bronze Tiger isn’t in this movie, however, it doesn’t explain the ignominy of killing him off in a tie-in comic instead of the show itself. Katana’s lucky she was able to disappear without being murdered. So you can add Suicide Squad to the list of reasons (Green) Arrow took a quality nosedive after season two. If we can have a different Flash on TV & in the movies simultaneously, I don’t see why we couldn’t have two Suicide Squads on different media platforms as well. There’s even an explicit Multiverse explanation now!

While it’d be easy to write this off as a poor man’s GOTG, Suicide Squad as The Dirty Dozen for supervillains dates back to the 1987. Marvel’s iteration of the GOTG comprised of obscure ex-cons came about twenty years later. (It was around the same time that Marvel transformed Thunderbolts into an even more on the nose Suicide Squad knock-off.) So DC could’ve beat Marvel to the cinematic punch earlier if it hadn’t bet on Green Lantern instead.

One aspect that differentiates this from Marvel Studios is how upfront it is with its diverse comic book elements. No matter how scientifically implausible something is in a Marvel movie, they keep trying to excuse it with sciencey goobledygook. Even the Infinity Gems Stones are regarded as non-magical despite acting entirely magical. Rather than just introduce magic in Thor (its fourth movie), they’ve promised they’re finally ready for magic ten movies later in Doctor Strange. Meanwhile DC just casually dropped magic into its third movie on the heels of Wonder Woman in the previous one. It just trusts its audiences to roll with the fantastic without needing to pause for halfhearted context. Separate movies for aliens, metahumans, superscience, & sorcery aren’t necessary. After suffering through Nolan’s trilogy of Bat-movies that grounded all the wonder & escapism out of DC, it’s nice to have it back in spades.

Suicide Squad isn’t as funny as Deadpool, doesn’t have the spectacle of Iron Man v. Captain America: Dawn of Vengeance, & lacks a truly endearing duo like TMNT2’s Rocksteady & Bebop. It’s still far less inept & pointless than X-Men: Apocalypse. It’s a decent movie,which is a success in itself that’s too often overlooked. People only care about films they perceive to be on opposite ends of the quality spectrum. When a movie (especially one with such a seemingly troubled production) manages not to be a train wreck, it still deserves a cookie even if it’s not a work of absolute genius. So I come in praise of mediocrity. This represents a definite step-up for the current crop of DC movies. Hopefully WB will learn the right lessons from this movie so its next will improve exponentially.  In the meantime I’ll have sweet dreams of a Suicide Squad sequel that fully taps the property’s potential.

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