Sunday, August 7, 2016

So what's wrong with Suicide Squad?

what's wrong with suicide squad?

With the newest entry into the DC movie universe languishing at a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and with your humble correspondent having seen the movie Friday night, allow me to add my two cents to what's gone wrong here.

Be forewarned: Spoiler alert!

Primarily, in my humble opinion, it starts with the trailers. You've seen them, right? Of course you have. The Bohemian Rhapsody video followed by a later version set to Ballroom Blitz, they were amazing.

When the idea of a Suicide Squad was first being floated, it wasn't received with much enthusiasm. A "team" movie made up up characters that the average movie fan knows nothing about? Say what you will about MARVEL's stuff, but even non comic book movie goers have heard of IronMan, Captain America, the Hulk, etc. But Deadshot? The Enchantress? El Diablo? Harley Quinn is probably the only one you might get a look of acknowledgement about from a casual movie goer.

So I imagine the studio, and perhaps producer Zack Snyder and writer/director David Ayer, decided to mimic the Deadpool gameplan and created an attention-getting trailer for their project. Mission accomplished. The Bohemian Rhapsody trailer was awesome. It was everywhere and got people really excited about this movie.

Problem is, the movie isn't anything like the trailer. Either trailer. And not just by a little bit. I'm no expert on this, but I would wager that this has been the biggest bait-and-switch in cinematic history. Let's take a look at what we think from the trailers . . .

Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller, who looks to be some sort of government advisor, pitching a team of, as she puts it really bad people who may be able to do some good. Problem? This implied vision of Waller is 180° off. I was going to use the word "sociopath" to describe Waller, but that's not strong enough. She's psychotic. Pure evil. Someone who will kill (personally, btw) a room full of FBI agents simply to cover her tracks. At various points in the movie she has nearly an insane gleam in her eye at the acts of carnage she is either unleashing or willing to unleash.

Rick Flag? Played by Joel Kinnamen, is supposedly the greatest special forces soldier in the country's history. He seems cool in a sort of hard-assed way, right? Nah. He's a dick. Half blackmailed into leading the Squad. He hates them, doesn't trust them and would happily waste the lot of them and continue the mission with his squad of Delta soldiers.

Oh yeah, the Suicide Squad goes on the mission backed by a squad of special forces soldiers. Didn't notice that in the trailer, did ya? Me neither. The Squad's supposed to be so awesome they need armed accompaniment? I thought that was what Deadshot was for.

On that thought, let's take a look at the team's makeup -- Deadshot, an assassin who never misses. That's handy. Harley Quinn, deadly as the Joker and twice as crazy. Okay. El Diablo, a human flamethrower. Also handy. The Enchantress, a 6000 year old demon witch with teleportation powers. Uhhh, okay. Boomerang, an uncouth Aussie brawler type. Uhh. Killer Croc, a crocodile/man thing. Perhaps. You see where I'm going here? They're not exactly The Avengers. And I know they're supposed to be anti-heroes and disposable, but even Flag points out he could put together a team of kick-ass special ops guys that would be better and more trust worthy than this lot.

Back to the trailers, you saw them, right? Think you know who the primary antagonist is in this movie? You're wrong. I certainly was. Because the ultimate baddy in this flick is completely out of left field. I've read various movie reviews and some (I'm looking right at you Armond White of National Review) spend a lot of time sh*tting on MARVEL properties. But, once again, in something like Avengers: Age of Ultron I not only know who the bad guy is, I understand his motivations, what his ultimate goal is, and understand how he hopes to achieve it. And not only that, taking a cue from classic monster stories, I have a bit of sympathy for the monster as I'm able to recognize part of the monster's pain in my own existence.

Not in Suicide Squad. The baddy is so unformed, so ambiguous as to be a cypher. And his minions? What exactly are they? We see how they're created, but what . . .? It's just hard to understand them. And the doomsday device the Squad hopes to stop? It is referred to as a machine. But unless you're going to dig way down into Websters to get a bland, generic definition -- a device to perform a function . . . I don't understand what it's doing or how.

From a purely literary construction standpoint -- there's no character growth or arc here. While the team eventually develops a bit of camaraderie, no one really changes. The one character who actually seems to make some moral/emotional growth . . . dies.

Oh yeah, some of the characters die. Which isn't always unexpected. Quicksilver was killed in the last Avengers movie, but still. And there's one character who seemed to have been brought in, like a security officer in the old Star Trek tv series -- just there to get killed off to prove a point about something.

And people we thought were killed in the movie make miraculous returns to life. One so absurd that even Will Smith's Deadshot wonders how the f*ck [this character] is still alive.

One other small misstep. Rent-a-lesbian Cara Delevingne's character The Enchantress. We get three different versions in the movie. In human form, we have June Moone a sort of mousy archeologist type. In demon form we get the smoky dark Enchantress, perpetually surrounded by a swirly dusty cloud. Something tells me that the producers or even writer/director Ayer got wondering whether burying a supermodel type under 10 pounds of makeup and a couple of gigs of cgi was a mistake. We get a more humanized version of The Enchantress in later stages of the movie, and it's a miss. Delevingne just isn't much of an actress and she just doesn't pull it off well. Pity.

It really isn't a bad movie. But I don't think it's an amazing enough movie to overcome the disappointment viewers have at not seeing the flick they were promised in the trailers. And at 2hr 10min, that's a long sit in the theater to stew in your frustration.

There is some fun stuff I liked. We get a look at the Smith in the full Deadshot outfit, complete with white mask & targeting eyepiece. In the Harley Quinn intro we get a brief glimpse of Quinn in the iconic red & black jester outfit. Incidentally, I have that Christmas ornament (have I ever mentioned how awesome my Christmas tree is? It rocks!) There's a scene where the team is being attacked by evil minions and as Deadshot mows them down, one by one the Delta guys stop shooting and watch, just amazed at Deadshot's ability. Also Smith teaching his young tween-ish daughter about geometry and she keeps referencing sniper techniques to try and apply the theory of angles and vectors in a real life situation.

We also get some BatFleck appearances in the various character intros. It sort of cracks me up that pundits and reviewers were predicting that Affleck's portrayal of the aged Batman would be a liability in the Superman v Batman movie and instead it worked out exactly opposite. Now we've got Affleck totally redeemed in the comic book to movie genre with two movies out in release and his part in the upcoming Justice League flick already in promotional trailers.

Bottom line is that this is a dark, somber sort of movie. It's not like the trailers at all. The rollicking Deadpool-like atmosphere simply isn't there. The stuff you laughed at in the trailers is spaced so far apart and often arrives in moments where audience chuckles feel almost forced. In fact, there's one fun scene in the trailers that doesn't even appear in the theatrical release.

I don't buy into the theory of a fanboy war between DC and MARVEL, with MARVEL fanboys spamming review sites to drive down the Rotten Tomatoes score. Movie goers were promised one thing and were delivered something else. It's basic commerce. You can't do that. And when the delivered commodity isn't superior or equivalent to what was promised, you get a lot of disgruntled customers. And in this age of instant transmission of our most mundane thoughts, that can be devastating.



One more thing I wanted to address -- Jared Leto's portrayal of The Joker.

I grow weary of people hurling themselves prostrate upon the floor, rending their garments and wailing about the transcendent nature of Heath Ledger's Joker. It was a wonderful job by Ledger, playing something so out of character. And that particular incarnation created by Chris Nolan and Ledger fit perfectly with the more real-world atmosphere Nolan was trying to bring to Batman.

But in my mind it wasn't any better than Jack Nicholson's Joker or the wonderful and under-appreciated version by Cesar Romero in the 60s television series. Each is artistic in its own portrayal.

The version is this movie is just as interesting. Taking the Nolan/Ledger path, he's anchored more in real life, with tattoos and a grill and his own style of speech and a wonderfully dangerous sounding laugh that never really gets heard in the movie (another thing from the trailers that never made it onto the big screen). Most of his dialogue comes from the Harley Quinn character intro and frankly seems to be a way to establish this Joker for future movie appearances.

Like Ledger, Leto went way outside his normal range of character portrayal to find his version of the Joker, and I think he did just as well. Problem is, this movie didn't feature the Joker and Leto didn't die afterward to add unearned gravitas to the role.

For what was there -- I liked Leto's version of the Joker. And if they haven't totally shot themselves in the foot with this movie, I'll look forward to seeing him reprise it, hopefully in more depth, in another movie.

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