Thursday, August 25, 2016
I finally went and saw SUICIDE SQUAD. Is this the true breakout DC movie everyone has been waiting for? It's making a lot of money at the box office, true, but I think that is more due to the fact that there isn't much else out right now. It's an okay film, not as bad as some people say and not as good as some people say. But before you read my opinions, please realize that this movie isn't made for boring 40-something white guys like me.
SUICIDE SQUAD is a PG-13 movie that tries to have a R-rated attitude. The "heroes" of the film are all comic book villains who are thieves and killers, and they all have an excess of extreme attitude. How much attitude? There were times when I felt that I was watching a movie produced by the editors of MAXIM magazine. SUICIDE SQUAD writer-director David Ayer would probably take that as a compliment.
One big problem with all the assorted bad-assery is that the main villain, the Enchantress, winds up being rather dull in comparison. She also reminded me very much of Apocalypse in the latest X-MEN film. Frankly, all these comic book/geek movie villains are starting to resemble one another--as my good friend Joshua Kennedy pointed out to me, how many times have we seen a super-villain surrounded by streaming tendrils of powerful energy? We see it in SUICIDE SQUAD too.
I have to say, though, that the Enchantress is really just an excuse to get all the anti-heroes together. We get an entire roster of minor DC comic characters--Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, Katana, etc. They all get a (thankfully) brief backstory, and they all get a chance to shine. The one character that has attracted the most attention is of course Harley Quinn, portrayed by Margot Robbie. I'm not joking when I say that Harley Quinn is one of the most important fictional characters of the last 25 years. Harley was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm for the iconic BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES as basically just a member of the Joker's gang, but she wound up being a major part of the DC Comics universe, due in large part to Arleen Sorkin's wonderful vocal performance. If you've been to any comics/entertainment convention in the last ten years, you know how much impact Harley Quinn has had on geek culture.
The news that the ultra-hot Margot Robbie was going to play Harley in SUICIDE SQUAD certainly caused a lot of fanboys to drop their laptops. Robbie as Harley is about what you would expect, especially if you've seen a number of SUICIDE SQUAD trailers (just about all her best moments are shown in those). We get a glimpse of Harley's "origin", and a small window into her relationship with the Joker. We even get a quick look at Harley's "classic" costume, and she does get to say "Mr. J" and "Puddin". The Harley Quinn/Joker pairing is a fascinating one, and probably deserving of its own film. In SUICIDE SQUAD--at least from my perspective--Harley chooses to be with the Joker, thus sidestepping the movie from confronting the more disturbing elements of the Harley/Joker coupling.
And Jared Leto as the Joker? Well, yeah, he's over the top--how can you play the Joker and not be over the top? This Joker, with his tattoos, silver-capped teeth, and clubbing lifestyle, seems to be the gangbanger version of the Clown Prince of Crime, a version I'm not all that impressed with. The fact is that Leto's Joker isn't in the movie all that much.
The real stars of SUICIDE SQUAD are not Harley Quinn and the Joker--they are Deadshot and Amanda Waller. I'd never thought I'd say this, but Will Smith gives the most impressive performance in the film. The Fresh Prince brings back his 1990s action-movie swagger, but at the same time he's still able to bring a realistic, human dimension to someone that is a hired killer. Viola Davis makes Amanda Waller more of a bad-ass than all the members of the Squad put together. As the National Security official who creates the Squad, Davis' Waller makes Donald Rumsfeld look like a low-key pacifist. For those who think the character of Waller is nothing more than a rip-off of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. please remember that Amanda Waller has held a huge role in the DC Comics universe for a long time (Angela Bassett even played Waller in the lamented GREEN LANTERN movie). I assume that Davis is going to appear in other DC movies in the future.
The reason that I'm spending so much time on the characters of SUICIDE SQUAD is that they are more important that the actual movie. As a film SUICIDE SQUAD is rather derivative. It has a lot in common with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY--the classic rock music on the soundtrack, the goofy humor, and the many bizarre characters. It also shares a lot of elements with the AVENGERS and X-MEN movies, and it has the "those who are protecting us from harm are worse than those who are supposedly harming us" sub-plot. It even has the obligatory "all the main characters determinedly walking in unison" shot, except this time it is not in slow motion. As I've said, it's an okay film--but it's really a set-up for a DC Cinematic Universe than a standout picture.