Film Review: SUICIDE SQUAD
Starring Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Will Smith, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Jared Leto, Scott Eastwood, Ike Barinholtz, Adam Beach
Directed by David Ayer
Written by David Ayer
Based on characters from DC Comics
Produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle
Music by Steven Price
Cinematography by Roman Vasyanov
Edited by John Gilroy and Michael Tronick
Forget the nattering negative naysayer nincompoops who don’t get it, who apparently have misplaced their sense of fun and sense of humor, who can’t handle rough-edged, darker superhero and comic book stories and movies, and who are just plain, flat-out wrong– because Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment and DC Comic’s edgy, nervy, quirky and highly-original “Suicide Squad” is actually an above-average movie, a recommended movie, and a wholly fun, funny, inventive and highly-entertaining summer popcorn movie that should be seen in the theaters and is indeed recommended to be seen this weekend.
There are, for some reason, some wayward, misplaced, mysterious and ridiculous negative reviews from some oddball film critics towards “Suicide Squad”—but, in reality, the film is really quite good—and original, unique and different on every level, from its very-true-to-form overall comic book production; its assured, fast-paced, well-edited and oddball (in the best of ways—oddball in that the film is unique and inventive throughout) direction; its high-level acting from an ensemble cast working on just about every level of available superhero, comic book, science-fiction and even horror and supernatural inspiration; a story that is original and interesting because it is based on original and interesting characters and an interesting basic premise that anchors the film; and a stellar production design that takes a literally and literary darker approach to the genre, with most scenes appropriately—and beautifully, in a dark way—lit in dark, day-glo, black-light-inspired, comic-book-inspired and darkly-drawn pastels, scenes, streets, rooms and sets, and a story and characters that are just as equally darkly lit, drawn and written. In short, “Suicide Squad” is not a bad film; in fact, it is an above-average film. For the record.
The best plan of action going forward in regards to “Suicide Squad” is to simply ignore these lost, forlorn naysayers and make plans to go out and see the film this weekend, the weekend of August 5, 6 and 7, 2016. “Suicide Squad” is scheduled to be released nationwide today, Friday, August 5, 2016. Just simply ignore those ridiculous negative reviews.
Besides succeeding where every film needs to succeed—as noted, in terms of production, direction, story, acting and production design—“Suicide Squad” also succeeds on an important level that is always needed in the comic book and superhero genres—the film is original, adult-oriented and contains subplots that are grounded in real life actions, emotions and feelings, thus giving the film a more emotional depth. “Squad” is original because of its darker, edgier, more-adult, more-mature—and even more intelligent—approach to comic book and superhero films, storytelling and characterization. The comic book/super hero films that “Squad” most resembles—again, in a good way—is the equally darker, more-mature “Deadpool” from earlier in 2016, and Christopher Nolan’s equally dark, mature and intelligent “The Dark Knight.” Like those films, “Squad” gleefully, wonderfully, joyfully does not shy away from the more mature, introspective and emotionally-deeper aspects of comic book/superhero storytelling that is usually oddly hidden and kept low-key in a weird, geeky passive-aggressive manner in many other, less mature films: real-world aspects of real life such as heartache, retribution, depression, craziness and mental illness; deep-rooted love; serious relationships such as the true, tender and moving love between a father and a daughter (one of many subplots that help lift up “Squad’s” storytelling); the true loss in life of closely-held loved ones (relating to another very serious and moving subplot in “Squad,” which won’t be revealed here); questions of valor and honor and courage and dedication to a cause; and, simply, the very adult emotions relating to realizing that one has seriously, tragically erred in life and then dealing with the dour, doom-and-gloom, life-altering consequences that result from those very serious criminal errors.
All of this is presented, analyzed and explored throughout “Squad,” and these very real emotions lend a deeper aspect of introspection to the film. It is again a mystery why and how any film reviewer could miss this, could not understand this, could not grasp this, and could not see and understand this in terms of how these characterizations, storytelling plotlines, subplots, human emotions and feelings help lift the film from the usual and the ordinary and the unoriginal. When a major comic book hero is wracked with emotion because he is separated from his young daughter, and he only lives and looks to the future because of his daughter—how can that be bad? When another comic book hero refuses to use his metahuman—or enhanced-ability—superhero superpowers because he has hurt people in the past and he has vowed to never hurt anyone again in the future—how can that be bad? When a comic book hero is in love with the human side of his metahuman girlfriend, and knows that he must eventually chose between the human side and the metahuman side in the name of what is right and honorable—how can that be bad? And, still, when two other comic book hero risk their very lives and all that have criminally worked for in the name of love, even if its insanely, bizarrely, completely psycho love—how can that be bad?
The answer to all of the above, again, is that it’s not bad at all—it’s quality, insightful, intelligent, smart and deeper storytelling, writing, story development, character development, characterization and plotting. All of which, it should be noted, are storytelling and characterization aspects that the snootier and snobbier film reviewers continually say is needed in comic book, superhero, fantasy and science-fiction films on a more regular basis. What they are missing is that as the genre has developed in recent years, as Marvel and DC Comics and other entities even have increased their approach to the genre with A-list—meaning, talented—producers, directors, writers and actors, the genres have steadily, interestingly, impressively gotten much better.
“Suicide Squad” is another positive entry in a great positive streak of quality, intelligent, fun, funny and entertaining comic book and superhero movies that have lit up the movie screens in recent years: Nolan’s Batman trilogy, “Batman Begins” (2005); “The Dark Night” (2008); “The Dark Knight Rises” (201); “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014); “Ant-Man” (2015); “X-Men” (2000); “Iron Man” (2008); “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014); “The Avengers” (2012); “Superman Returns” (2006); and, in just 2016—this year—the quality “Deadpool,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “The BFG,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Star Trek Beyond.”
That collection of films is a pretty strong argument for the validation and acceptance of these various genres. And it’s not going to go away—the production and release schedule for literally dozens of films in these genres is already set and should continue at full force for at least the next five years. The reason this is notable is that these films have become juggernauts not just at the box office, but in the popular culture and public consciousness zeitgeist, which even the snottiest film critic literally cannot ignore. And, as noted, the films, in general, are actually getting better, overall, and, at times, as noted, a bit more dark, mature and deeper on an emotional level.
So this is where “Squad” fits into the Marvel and DC Comics cinematic universes, as the companies have taken to calling their series of films—-the film takes a different, differing, alternative approach to the genres, resulting in an at-time hilarious, at-time goofy, at-time chaotic (in a good way) and at-times daring and risky film. Sex, drinking, lust, incarceration, double-dealing, a full-on embrace of criminality, psychotic tendencies, regret, depression, introspection and insurrection and rebellion envelop, mask and engulf “Suicide Squad’s” ragtag band of lead characters, and that is, for once, a good thing, and the characters—and the actors—embrace the darkness, wallow in the darkness, and appear to enjoy existing deep in these dark corners, crawlspaces, attics and basements of life, enjoyably bickering, rebelling, fighting, plotting, acting up, sulking and being morose. And all of this presents a different and welcome approach for a comic book and superhero film.
In “Suicide Squad,” a secret-government-agency powerful, ruthless and fear-inducing official, Amanda Waller (a fascinating, powerful performance from Viola Davis, who, playing a scary government human official, steals many scenes from the superhero types)—who is definitely one rough-and-tough, frightening official who no one dares to mess with—is tasked with forming a new crew of soldiers to fight alien and terrorist threats in the wake of Superman’s disappearance from the crimefighting scene (see: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” for that backstory). Taking the biggest chance and risk she could take, Waller decides to recruit the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad—a motley crew of degenerate, crazy, unstable, psycho criminals holed up in the government’s scariest black budget prison, some godforsaken hellhole penitentiary buried deep on some island in some horrid no-man’s-land. Yes, of course, it’s part Robert Aldrich’s classic “The Dirty Dozen” (1967); part John Carpenter’s classic “Escape From New York” (1981)—right down to a blatantly, obviously-stolen plot aspect that Carpenter should get royalty payments for; Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables” (2010); part “The Magnificent Seven” (it’s a reach, but it’s there); and, on some levels, part “Zombieland” in terms of its approach, direction and humor.
If you’re going to crib, borrow and steal from some classic movies—in an obvious, homage-like manner—then the filmmakers chose some great films as their inspiration. Most notably, “Suicide” borrows willfully and obviously from “Dozen,” “Escape” and “Expendables,” with great results.
The prisoners Waller recruits are, at best, a nightmare collage of bizarrely psychotic and completely untrustworthy gangsters—but, as noted, every one of them is fascinating, interesting and, from a filmic perspective, well-written, well-thought-out, well-outlined, well-acted and watchable: A ruthless—except when it comes to his young daughter—hitman known as Deadshot (Will Smith, strong and confident and in control here, and he is on a hot streak after his Academy Award-worthy turn in 2015’s “Concussion”); Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who, in a very interesting, well-written turn, is a character who was once a highly-educated, highly-respected professor and researcher who was deviously and horribly brainwashed, seduced and, ultimately, completed psychologically and mentally changed by the insane Joker (Jared Leto) and is now so bat-quano crazy, no one, even Waller and the often-insightful Deadshot, can predict what she will do, what she is thinking, or even where she is at any given moment, and, on top of that, she also happens to be a bit of a sexy, sex-crazed, loose-cannon nymphomaniac whose beauty and sexiness captivates and frightens every male who comes in contact with her; Captain Boomerang, a human, not metahuman, assassin whose main quality is his utter violent and unpredictable nature, which is continually scary; El Diablo, a metahuman who can, again, scarily, summon fire in an instance and who could, if he wanted, incarcerate any and all near him, which makes him somewhat invincible—and also continually scary; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a very metahuman hybrid being that is part human and part, well, crocodile (the make-up for Killer Croc is impressive and well-done—obviously, a make-up creation that took many hours to achieve on-screen), and a somewhat softer, sympathetic soul that will remind fans of The Hulk (an obvious influence) and other similar troubled hybrid beings from “Guardians;” June Moone, also the Enchantress (a captivating, beautiful and sexy Cara Delevingne), who happens to be one of the more original characters, a cursed, part-human, part-powerful-witch whose spooky, scary supernatural power lies in her heart, which Waller actually keeps in a nuclear-football-style sealed case as attempted leverage against the being; Slipknot (Adam Beach), a disposable prisoner with stealth and fighting capabilities; and the mostly-quiet, mostly wordless, but beautiful, tough and sword-talented warrior fighter Katana (an also beautiful and sexy Karen Fukuhara), who is hired to mainly keep the prisoners in check, help manage them and keep them disciplined.
Overseeing these crazy prisoners is All-American tough-guy macho-hero human and straight-arrow military commander Rick Flag, played with requisite understated machoness, toughness and even understanding and heart by Joel Kinnaman, who plays his role so well he often steals scenes from the prisoners, which isn’t easy. Kinnaman plays Flag with equal parts touch-guy military testosterone; smart and powerful commander; and understanding regular guy, regular Joe gruffness. It’s the type of comic book role that could lapse into caricature with a lesser actor, but Kinnaman pulls it off with dignity, humor, and sympathy for his charges, even if he despises their past criminal actions.
But no one steals the show more than the amazingly hilarious, sexy, crazy and unpredictable Margot Robbie as the unstable and unnerving Harley Quinn, who surely has to be one of the more bizarre superhero characters out there—and that’s saying something, for the character as presented in the comics, and for Quinn’s eclectic, eccentric performance in the film. Quinn, the character, is not metahuman, is not particularly intelligent, is reckless in thought and action to the point of immaturity and danger for her cohorts, does not possess much athletic prowess except, apparently, for an ability to whack people with a baseball bat, and is, as noted, all-out crazy, unpredictable, unstable, risky, shaky and untrustworthy. And she is absolutely beautiful and radiant, lighting up the screen with simply a walk, a wink, a sexy smile or a sexy (most of the character’s moves are sexy) tilt of her blond, blue and green-haired head. All of which makes Harley Quinn continually watchable and interesting from a filmic perspective. Viewers—male or female—just like every man who comes in contact with Quinn in the film—will be totally bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Quinn. And Robbie has an acting field day with the role, ably using her attractive looks, her lithe body, her charms and her—again—sexy expressions to absolute conviction. It’s a performance that steals the film and will remind viewers of Heath Ledger’s classic turn as the Joker in Nolan’s “The Dark Night.”
Jared Leto as the Joker in “Suicide” does not disappoint, but, really, the character in “Suicide” is only shown here and there, and is not a major character, which, really, the filmmakers should have been more honest and up-front about during all of the unrelenting pre-release promotion, publicity, advertising, marketing and hype. The Joker in “Suicide” is really somewhat of a supporting role—it’s entertaining, scary and fun, just like every other character—but the Joker is not the main, central, driving force in “Suicide” that Ledger’s Joker was in “Dark Knight.” That’s not a disadvantage; that’s just noting the reality of the character in the film. Leto lets loose his inner craziness in an adequate fashion, and his make-up—the required white make-up, drawn-on smile, odd capped teeth and gangster-like slicked-back hair—complements Leto’s solid crazy, unnerving, unsettling performance. Leto channels parts of Ledger’s Joker, parts of the more crazy aspects of the other prisoners in the film, and parts of every crazed comic book gangster through comic book and film history.
Meanwhile, the suicide squad, as the group of prisoner soldiers is nicknamed by Deadshot, are released from prison under the guidance of Waller and Flag, and are assigned to first free a top-level official and then fight a horrid, terrifying supernatural pair of underworld creatures—including an enhanced Enchantress and the powerful Incubus, a seemingly unstoppable enemy composed of fire—who are intent, yes, in a cliched manner, on destroying the human world and creating a new world of underworld supernatural beings. It’s up to the Suicide Squad to rescue the government official and destroy the Enchantress and Incubus.
Along the way, the members of the suicide squad question their past deeds, their imprisonment, their quest for retribution and forgiveness, get to live a little, and they even learn a lot about working for good rather than bad. They also kick some royal hind quarters in their fight against Enchantress and Incubus.
There is the appropriate and needed array of fistfights, gunfights, explosions, special effects, visual effects, make-up effects and even sword and hand-to-hand fights, but they are presented in an entertaining manner. The concluding fight could also be considered cliched, but it’s forgiven for the original and fun build-up and lead-up that makes the film entertaining. The special, visual, computer and make-up effects are exemplary, and the presentation of the underworld Enchantress and Incubus as they prepare to take over the world is visually impressive. As always, the work of hundreds of special, visual, computer and make-up artists in the film is to be commended.
In the third act, Waller and Flag and the prisoners come together as a team to defeat their enemies, and the squad learns that there’s more to life than just corruption, deception and deceitfulness. However, it’s a long road back to total retribution, and their fates remain in doubt after the final battle—there’s no completely-satisfying, goodie-goodie happy ending to the film, and there’s some question about the entire ethical and moral foundation of the entire Suicide Squad operation—but that unsettled ending and shaky moral ground just simply fits in perfectly with the story’s and the film’s equally-shaky, edgy, alternative approach, presentation and overview. And, again, that just makes everything feel fresh, inventive, different and original.
“Suicide Squad,” unlike some other superhero, comic book and fantasy stories, cries out for another story and film that further explores the crazy psyches of these prisoners, and the basic thought of these shaky, risky, unpredictable operatives being commissioned for another operation is enticing, promising and exciting. Hopefully, enough filmgoers, fans and supporters of “Suicide Squad” come on out and enjoy and like the film, and a welcome sequel can be put in production for future release. That should scare the daylights out of some film critics as much as the thought of Harley Quinn and the Joker out on the loose, plotting further chaos, mayhem, death and destruction.