Review: SUICIDE SQUAD, Not So Painless

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
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Review: SUICIDE SQUAD, Not So Painless

Warner Brothers has aggressively set out to course-correct its still-fledgling DC Comics Cinematic Universe with Suicide Squad - a villain-fueled movie that wants you to believe it's off the hook, man!

It's no lie that director David Ayer's (Fury, the tank movie) packed-to-the-hilt comic book adaptation about incarcerated super villains being manipulated into working together for the great good is an easy improvement over the previous DC film, March's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That movie is a misfire so dark, so boorish that it makes this film's murky palate seem downright lively. For a while.

From the first moments of the green and pink tinted industrial steel Warner Brothers logo, Suicide Squad serves up a punchy, extended meet n' greet with its stable of oh-so-rascally comic book villain protagonists. The movie may be as duplicitous as its own anti-heroes, in that it doesn't actually have an original bone in its body. Taking creative cues from all over the map, the film manages to get by in hiding this fact under an abrasively hip lair of of gaudy color, wild freeze-frame graphics, and amoral (so we're told) anti heroes. Again, for a while.

Unable to maintain its supercharged barrage of fury (not the tank movie), sound and yet more would-be fury (still not the tank movie), Suicide Squad is a movie almost as full of piss and vinegar as it is full of crap. Ayer has a desire to achieve maximum charisma with these characters; this is aided tremendously by having scored an excellent cast.

Suicide Squad's first half hour is the movie at its best, frenetically copping Scott Pilgrim as we meet character after character, learn their world, and what's what in that world. And there are a lot of characters.

Viola Davis is the perfect Amanda Waller, a U.S. intelligence officer who would require the describer of “no-nonsense” to be multiplied by six. Waller pitches the Pentagon top brass on her plan to collectively force super-powered baddies into her service with the reasoning of “What will we do if the next Superman isn't so benevolent?” (What super hero universe is she living in??)

She gets her way, and the Suicide Squad is formed: Will Smith is the mercenary killer Deadshot, a single father who really misses his cute little daughter. Jai Courtney is Captain Boomerang, a not-so-well-armed villain who previously got rounded up by The Flash. Adewake Akinnuoye-Agbaje is Killer Croc, a sewer dwelling reptilian man who looks really cool but doesn't ever do anything. Jay Hernandez is the tattooed and self-tortured Diablo, a fire-controlling softie who likes to cry over a little flaming pole-dancer that he repeatedly whips up in his hand. Weird…

And of course, there's Harley Quinn, played by the currently omni-present and talented Margot Robbie. Once a criminal psychiatrist who lost her heart and then her mind to the worst inmate at Arkham Asylum, The Joker. In multiple flashbacks we see the ways he's coerced and abused her with his messed-up attraction. She, of course, can't resist, and is always waiting for him in “someday my prince will come” fashion.

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Theirs is a joke-tastic love, brimming with co-dependent romance and twisted affection. While this incarnation of Harley Quinn and "Mistah J" are true to what's always been implied about their sick relationship from its beginning with Batman: The Animated Series, it is nonetheless disconcerting to note the number of cosplay girls taking up her character.

Will guys fall in line similarly with Jared Leto's slick, lusty Joker? In any case, not far beneath her sassy "girls kick ass" veneer, this Harley is nothing short of a contemporary feminist's nightmare. Her traditional domestic fantasy of her life with this Joker flies in the face of his own likely monogamy. Then again, her many charms do keep him coming back...

Anyhow, the team gets pressed into service when an all-powerful evil entity known as the Enchantress breaks free of Waller's control. Miss the old school lady Zuel in this summer's Ghostbusters? You're in luck, she's here to fight the Suicide Squad, in an updated Power Rangers-worthy guise! The final showdown of the film consists of one teammate after another taking turns striking at her while she stands there shooting off lightning and proclaiming how boringly powerful she is.

Holding the leash of the Squad in the field is military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Coincidentally, Flag loves the girl that the Enchantress has possessed (Cara Delevingne). He's brought the humorless mystical swords-woman Katana along (Karen Fukuhara), bearing a great likeness to her comic book inspiration.

But sadly, as solid as the cast is, the initial rock n' roll enthusiasm Ayer set out to “wow” with stems from a place of male adolescent tall-can energy drinks and Axe Body Spray. (Tough guys! Cool gear! Hot girls! Loud music!) And like those energy drinks and body sprays, it all wears off after a while. The film can only posture, primp, pose, and pop off lousy one liners for so long before going limp.

Worse still, the screenplay really doesn't know what to do with its movie full of bad guys. So, it makes them into good guys. (Snore.) There are a lot of interesting characters and seemingly interesting characters running around, and even a few nifty cameos. But most viewers would be hard pressed to name any who experience an arc beyond "fall in line with the team/"family".

Visually, it appears that the producers shifted expenses in the lighting department into securing music royalties. The sheer number of classic rock needle drops is staggering - the hits DO keep on coming. But simply being able to write a big fat check for all your favorite tunes and actually needing them are two different things.

Opening one's movie about psychologically unhinged villains with The Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" is as brazen as it is tired. And “Sympathy for the Devil” is in no way a song that should be considered tired. Its use in a film must be earned. For a moment, Suicide Squad seems as though it might be earning it.

But no. It becomes quickly apparent that the external needle-drops in Suicide Squad are not of of the fun (and motivated) Guardians of the Galaxy mold, but of the early Zack Snyder mold (think of his sparky song picks for Dawn of the Dead), but worse. The sheer power of the songs themselves makes Ayer's willy-nilly appropriations all the more frustrating, casting major, personal hits of the past in the most literal of ways:

Fade up to a secret facility in New Orleans. Cue "House of the Rising Sun". There is... A house... In New Orleans...

Later in the run time, cut to Amanda Waller's armed assembly of the villains on a tarmac. Cue "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes.

Instance after instance of this, we have meaningful pop culture being reduced and wasted in the service of a wannabe punk film that can't be bothered to source any newer, non-established music. Or at least deeper cuts. One wonders if David Ayer has heard any new music since 2003.

While watching Suicide Squad, one may sit back and imagine a near-future full of more DC Comics-based properties that play just like this. “Yeah, okay. At least it's not horrifically unwatchable and offensively dull.” But once this glo-stick viagra milk shake has run its course, the realization sets in: It's a total con. And not even a very good one.

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David AyerDC ComicsJared LetoMargot RobbieSuicide SquadWill Smith

More about Suicide Squad

ManateeAdvocateAugust 4, 2016 2:55 PM

ouch

Ard VijnAugust 4, 2016 3:02 PM

I'm still kinda curious, also because I want to gauge Cara Delevingne's screen presence. She's playing Laureline in Besson's VALERIAN film, and that's the fictional character I fell the hardest in love with in, like, ever!

omnisemantic1August 4, 2016 3:17 PM

Ah, super-hero movies... I will never understand what is supposed to be a good one and what is supposed to be a bad one for people who claim to care about the genre. To me Dawn of Justice was much more interesting than either of the Captain America, or the Thor movies. However I loved the first Avengers, cause I laughed my ass off. Meanwhile, all the Spiderman movies are completely useless, as are all the new X-Men ones (First Class was OK, but Apocalypse was borderline unwatchable), though I really enjoy what Fassbender and McAvoy are doing with those characters... Everyone says Deadpool is great, but to me as an action-comedy it's almost pathetic when compared to something like The Nice Guys...
Anyway, fun review :D

omnisemantic1August 4, 2016 3:17 PM

Leeloo 2.0? Leeloo 2.0!

KurtAugust 4, 2016 3:49 PM

Kudos on the M*A*S*H joke there, Jim.

curtvileAugust 4, 2016 7:44 PM

Having previewed the movie day ago here in Finland I do get some points the reviewer Jim Tudor makes, I just disagree.

True there are things going everywhere and having seen original ghostbusters and (sadly) latest TMNT could not care less about debris tornados in the sky.
Now granted having read Suicide Squad since 1986 I come from totally another direction and to me only thing off in it was not music, that actaully hit not just actions, but characters and themes head on.
The issue is this was not rated hard R/NC-17.
Not for swearing and sex or mere gore but because Suicide Squad deals in real politik and adult stuff, systemic oppression, racism, terrorism, mental illness.

It is not Superman. It actually is closer to Mad Max Fury Road or Tarantino's Kill Bill. And like Mad Max Fury Road Suicide Squad has flaws in script while having a heart for it´s characters. Some will see them as heroes, not as broken ruins of people.
Suicide Squad is the best Dirty Dozen movie big studios can make in 2016 and it will hopefully, along with Deadpool show how comicbook adaptations and tentpole superhero movies dont have to be all alike.

They should be different. Wonder Woman should be along Captain America first avenger it is ideals and humanity. Suicide Squad should be about bad people who have made wrong choices oppressed and coerced by rotten and amoral US Government to commit covert atrocities.

Much in the same vain as I do enjoy James Stewart both in It's a wonderful Life and Vertigo or can, mood depending, watch The Grand Budapest Hotel or Il Grande silencio.
There should be more and this is bit like Mad Max Fury Road, it has it's failings but compared to most stuff out there?

Dave BaxterAugust 5, 2016 5:02 PM

I think the distinction may lie in your own wording there: you're looking for superhero movies that are "interesting", which probably, if you weren't already exhausted from the 80's and 90's and post-Morrison/Millar mainstream comics, then a movie like BvS might definitely fit that bill more than any of the Marvel movies, which are about as straight forward and "uninteresting" a take on established characters as it's possible to undertake. But what most people are looking for - or at least comparing the DC movies to since the Marvel movies already exist - is effective character building with affecting storytelling. I don't think anyone would mind a brooding deconstruction if the writing within was whipsmart and seemingly justified. The argument against the DC movies is generally that they're neither of these, which makes their potentially "interesting" qualities just gloss on a turd.

Clever Username of Some SortAugust 6, 2016 4:17 PM

Ah, I see. Dull turds, better than glossy turds. Got it.

Personally, I'll just flush 'em all.

Dave BaxterAugust 6, 2016 4:36 PM

No, not "better than". "The same as". And yes, flushing all turds is the point.

Clever Username of Some SortAugust 6, 2016 6:17 PM

Yes, well I consider all but two of the Marvel movies to be the dull turds. I know what the words "effective" and "affecting" mean, and they don't apply to hit-your-mark-say-something-snarky movies. The current movie audience is simply enamored with the Marvel characters for the moment, the way they were enamored with Superman in the mid-'70s and Batman at the end of the '80s. (Those movies, just by the way, are better by far than most of what Marvel has done.) This will all pass.

You really think there is much "rewatch" quality to any of these films being made today? Particularly the formulaic ones? You think the interconnected gimmick will work for the next generation? They'll sit and watch a serialized "franchise" so they know which character is which?

I just don't believe it.

Dave BaxterAugust 7, 2016 1:03 AM

It's fine to not personally find much to enjoy in the Marvel movies - the company in on record as making these films with a "house style" which is going to wear thin for everyone eventually, and for some it may never have clicked in the first place. But the Marvel movies have been exemplars of how to establish characters, expand their stories, mix them in various ways and all the while expand the cinematic universe as a whole in ways that are largely consistent and classically dramatic. No one has ever done this in a series of feature films before. And occasionally a few of them even shine (the two Marvel films that I feel deserve the most credit for being something more than expected are the original Thor and Iron Man 3). I also personally agree that the Burton Batmans and Reeves Supermans are more satisfying than modern Marvel films, but I still also unquestionably argue that the Marvel films are more rewarding than most of the Nolan Batmans, Man of Steel, or BvS.

As for whether the "interconnected gimmick" will work for the next generation, it depends if Marvel somehow remains the only group to successfully pull it off. If so, that may make their interconnected universe a curiosity worth revisiting. Even now, I know a large number of people who very actively rewatch the Marvel films. I don't pretend to share their joy of rewatching them but none of us get to individually define whether something has rewatch value for an entire culture. As of right now, the culture seems to be of the mind that they do.

Clever Username of Some SortAugust 7, 2016 6:46 PM

What? "No one has ever done this in a series of films before." Universal Studios monster movies, Hammer films, Toho's Godzilla, the multiple Bond and Tarzan films all discredit your point. Hell, Fritz Lang's "Mabuse" films prove you don't know what you're talking about. And those are a hundred years old.

So, you can keep talking about culture with assumed authority. Excuse me, though, for checking out.

Dave BaxterAugust 7, 2016 7:46 PM

None of your examples often if ever continued a narrative thread - let alone the concept of adhering to all established narrative threads - between films. Crossovers are not the same as what we now, thanks to Marvel, refer to as "cinematic universes". But please feel free to check out anyway, Mr. Clever.

Clever Username of Some SortAugust 7, 2016 10:04 PM

All of those examples provide as much of a "narrative thread" as your Marvel "cinematic universe" nonsense: that is, the relationships of characters continuing from one film to another. But, I get it. You've drunk the Marvel marketing Kool-Aid, and you want to think you're special. Carry on.

Dave BaxterAugust 8, 2016 12:20 PM

Yeah, no, they really don't, certainly not simply because you say so. The Mabuse films are simply a franchise with sequels, they don't spin out into dozens of additional character-lead films. The Godzilla films (of which I own every single one, from Gojira to the end of the 70's films, to the 1984 relaunch to Vs. Destroyah, to the 2000 relaunch to Final Wars) has almost no crossover in characters or story. The spin-offs (the Mothra or Gamera movies, for example) only loosely adhere to the characters as established in the Godzilla films. Franchises, sequels, crossovers, and spin-offs are what we've experienced in feature films pre-Marvel. Marvel is something unique to date in the history of film, you apparently cannot STAND this idea so much you have to sling feces against strangers online, but it is what it is. No one has to love them, or even admire them, but there's no objective argument against the fact that they are the first to execute this strategy across so many films and lead characters. The narratives between films are consistent. That's not claiming they're brilliant, but that consistent part is the thing that makes them unique.

But sure, if I'm not foaming at the mouth raging against how stupid Marvel movies are and unworthy of even vaguely positive observations I must be a zombie fanboy or whatever. I'm just soooo brainwashed and wannabe special because I don't feel like whinging incessantly against commercial things. Come back with anything resembling a coherent argument and maybe you'll get somewhere.

Clever Username of Some SortAugust 8, 2016 2:31 PM

"But sure, if I'm not foaming at the moth raging against how stupid Marvel movies are and unworthy of even vaguely positive observations I must be a zombie fanboy or whatever. I'm just soooo brainwashed and wannabe special because I don't like whinging incessantly against commercial things."

So you do get it then?

Dave BaxterAugust 8, 2016 3:10 PM

Oh, i get what you're selling, I'm just not buying.