Sunday, August 7, 2016

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is currently sitting at 26%, which is one point below Batman v Superman. Just like with BvS, I walked into the theater will extremely low expectations. But unlike BvS, Suicide Squad exceeded those expectations. This movie has issues - I understand why critics panned the hell out of it - but speaking as a fan of superheroes, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

My impression is that most critics go into a movie wanting a coherent story where every character and element serves some purpose, be it thematic, plot, or tonal. Suicide Squad doesn't do that. It doesn't even come close to doing that: the story line makes very little sense, half the characters are superfluous, and massive subplots could be culled without negatively impacting the film.

Like Iron Man 2, Suicide Squad is more about world-building than storytelling. Katana's a good example: her role in this makes absolutely no sense from a traditional filmmaking perspective. She gets only superficial development, she undergoes no real character arc, and serves no purpose beyond looking badass and cutting down some monsters. But she's a pretty well-executed take on Katana, and now she exists in the DCEU.

Keep in mind, I love Iron Man 2. I love comic book universes, and I'm always up for seeing them brought to life on the screen. I can appreciate carefully balanced, minimalist story telling, but I don't need it. If a movie's goal is to build a cool universe at the expense of story and character, I'm game.

And unlike Batman v Superman, this delivers a universe that feels like the comics it's based on. Not every character is perfect, but they get enough right to make up for their shortcomings.

Let's get a little more granular. By my count, the movie knocked two major characters out of the park: Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller. Robbie's take on Quinn was good enough to make me overlook the fact she only wore the iconic jester suit for a few seconds. I love that suit, and I barely missed it, because the character's personality and humor were perfect. Margot Robbie's been pursuing a Quinn-centered film built around some of the DCU's female superheroes: this makes one of hell of a case that movie should exist.

Likewise, Viola Davis wouldn't have been my first pick for Waller, who's meant to be a much heavier woman. But, once again, the personality is perfect: Davis channels the Wall's strength, confidence, and ruthlessness. She was fantastic in this.

Will Smith's Deadshot is a little more complicated. I liked the character on screen well enough, but it wasn't Floyd Lawton. The abilities were there, but they wanted someone more redeemable than the character from the comics. In the scheme of things, I can live with that - does anyone really care that they remade Deadshot?

While we're on the subject of characters who were done well, let's take a moment and breathe a sigh of relief at the Batman scenes. In about a minute of screen time, Batman displayed far more compassion than we saw in all of Batman v Superman. This time, they got him right.

On the other end of the spectrum, you've got the Joker. I think most of us cringed when we saw the first images of Leto's Joker, but we hoped for the best. Hell, the early images of Ledger's Joker didn't fill us with confidence, either: we had to see him in action to appreciate what they were going for.

But Leto is no Heath Ledger. There were a few interesting choices around him (I love that the Terrible Trio had a cameo as some of his henchmen), but overall he was just uninspired and dull. It didn't help that the character was constrained by the movie's rating to the point of incoherence. There's a scene early on supposedly establishing how terrifying and brutal he is that ends without establishing anything other than the fact the movie was badly edited. But even setting that aside, the character spent every second on screen looking angry. The Joker is supposed to be scary because of his sense of humor. Take that away, and you've missed the joke entirely.

The Joker's presence is also extremely problematic thematically. It's hard not to interpret the movie's ending as affirming the love he shares with Harley Quinn. Given that their relationship started with him manipulating then literally torturing her, that's a big issue. Fans of the comics and the 90's animated series will know this is anything but true love, but that really should have been made clearer in the movie itself.

If you overlook that and the fractured plot, bizarre editing, messy plotting, and the host of other issues, it's actually a fun bit of comic book mayhem. It's decades late, but we finally get the DCU on screen in a meaningful way, and - for me, at least - that was enough.

Well, that and Harley Quinn. I can't stress enough how good Robbie is in this. She may be dressed like the New 52 version, but she's channeling the character right out of the Batman animated series.

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