Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Dirty Half Dozen

Suicide Squad
Movie Review by Kerey McKenna

With Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers may have finally figured out how to make their insistence on gritty and dark tones (of both subject matter and visual palette) work in the DC comic book universe: focus on the bad guys. While not a great movie, it’s a lot better than the last installment of the series, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and may signal an important course correction for the DC cinematic world. So it’s worth a look.

The set up for Suicide Squad is fairly straightforward: US counterterrorism/ intelligence bureaucrat Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) believes that the government can no longer depend on vigilantes like Batman or good Samaritans like Superman to save the day (or for that matter conduct traditional espionage or military actions). So taking a page from The Dirty Dozen, Waller recruits imprisoned super-criminals to form a new black ops team, “Task Force X.” For every mission they complete, the convicts of Task Force X receive time off their sentences and the chance to get out of their supermax cells and into the open air to deal death and mayhem. But given the dangers of their work, and the penalty for escape attempts, the convicts quickly dub the team “Suicide Squad”:

  • Deadshot (Will Smith): An assassin with unerring aim, be it with his arsenal of custom weapons and targeting gizmos or his naked eye and a standard handgun, he never misses.
  • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): Formerly psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel of Arkham Asylum, she fell in love with one of her patients….Batman arch-nemesis the Joker. Leaving respectability and sanity behind, she becomes the Clown Prince of Crime’s gun moll until she is captured by Batman.
  • Enchantress/Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne): And speaking of good girls gone bad, we have Enchantress. After unsealing an ancient evil from a South American crypt, mousy archeologist Dr. Moone is now sharing a body with an ancient witch.
  • El Diablo (Jay Hernandez): An L.A. gang banger who has a literal fiery Latin temper. Unfortunately he is trying to put a life of violence behind him and declares himself a conscientious objector to the Suicide Squad’s violent methods.
  • Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): An Australian thief with a signature weapon. Three guesses what it is.
  • Killer Croc (Adewale Akinuoye-Agbaje): a half man/half crocodile mutant with the strength and underwater aptitude (and table manners) of his reptilian namesake.
  • Slipknot (Adam Beech): An escape artist/thief.

    They work under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a black ops soldier charged with keeping them on task and summarily executing any member that tries to escape. Flag is assisted by Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Like Captain Boomerang no points for guessing her weapon of choice. And while the Joker (Jared Leto) isn’t actually a member of the Squad, he makes his premiere in this new DC shared cinematic universe, his twisted intellect intent on finding Harley Quinn and springing her from jail.

    Was Suicide Squad a grand slam out of the park like Fox’s surprise hit Deadpool earlier this year? No. But it was a solid base hit that promises Warner Brothers isn’t completely mismanaging the translation of another set of comic book characters to the big screen. It’s a decent shoot-em up that also happens to do some world building for DC as they try to catch up with Marvel. And it succeeds at getting the Joker—and the DC universe—out of the shadow cast by Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and the late Heath Ledger. The movie also delivers by bringing long-time fan favorite Harley Quinn to the screen. Better pop culture commentators than I have written much on what it means that one of DC’s most iconic women is a psychopath suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome, but for now it’s enough to say, she may be crazy but she is never boring. Also, speaking of unpredictability, Will Smith’s performance, seemingly peppered with improv, certainly helps punch up a very dour script and bring some much needed heart to the film.

    However due to some pacing issues early in the film and how the movie just can’t seem to shake the cynicism of the DC cinematic universe, my recommendation comes with a lot of reservations. If you want to see a fun movie with a group of lovable comic book rogues coming together to do the right thing, accompanied by a pop music sound track…go re-watch Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. If you want to see DC villains pull off a heist…look up Batman: Assault on Arkham, a direct to video animated film about the Suicide Squad, made two years ago with a bunch of the same characters; unlike the live action division, DC’s animation studios is unembarrassed to make films about comic book characters. BUT—if your comic book hero heist movie absolutely has to have Will Smith in it, then Suicide Squad is the movie for you.

    Kerey McKenna is a contributing reviewer to Nerds who Read and SMOF for the annual Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. Learn more at www.watchcityfestival.com.

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