Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Suicide Squad

"Puddin', He's Ruining Date Night!!"

It's hard to say why Suicide Squad leaves such a bad taste in the brain. It is, at least, coherent in the story-telling (the insistence of graphics in the first half-hour is another story*) and is easily followed even if its attention wanders like a five year old on sugar. Based on a second-tier DC comic featuring a "Dirty Dozen" team of "super-villains,"** organized by one of DC's ever-increasing number of government agencies (does DC stand for "DemoCrat?), they take on super-human threats that the "nice" super-teams don't touch...or find out about.

It takes place in the continuity of the DC Movie Universe after the apparent death of Superman (in Batman v Superman: Damn of Justice) when a government operative named Amanda Waller (played by a non-nonsense Viola Davis, who seizes the screen every time she walks in a room) devises a plan that keeps stock of "meta-humans" and coerces them to do her or the government's bidding. Amanda's showed up in other DC properties (like the CW's "Arrow" and "Smallville") and her mantra is "What if the next Superman becomes a terrorist?" There's only so much kryptonite to go around, so she recruits criminals with "special skills" who might be able to take on such a threat. But her idea of doing that is using folks like Deadshot (who shoots good), Harley Quinn (who uses a baseball bat), Slipknot (good with knots...???), Killer Croc, a human alligator and...Captain Boomerang.
These guys will take down a Superman? Not bloody likely.
But, let that pass. She does recruit a remorseful ganger named El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who has considerably more fire-power (literally) and The Enchantress (Cara Delavingne), an archaeologist named June Moone (go ahead and laugh, Marvel-zombies, then tell me how great a name Victor von Doom is) who is possessed by the spirit of a centuries old witch and becomes Waller's go-to prestidigitator. She uses her best commando, Lt. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, looking perpetually miserable), to keep her manageable, but Moon and Flag fall in love and in the time that Dick York can blurt "Sa-a-am!" things get a little out of hand.
Moone's witch-renter gets a little cranky and takes over command from her host, resurrects her warlock-brother using a stray passer-by, and the two start construction on a thing that makes a big light in the sky, to what end the movie never makes clear other than to employ some special effects houses and direct opponents to their exact position. Not sure why superhero villains like to do this, but they sure seem to do it a lot in the movies. Waller coordinates her select villains, puts a remote mini-bomb into their necks to keep them grudgingly compliant (but no less belligerent) and sends them on their surly way.
The mission is to harness Enchantress and put a stop to the big swirling bright thing pointing into the sky. None of these villains has any great skills that might hinder anything supernatural (bullets, boomerangs, baseball bats?) so the only thing they're good for is to slice through the hordes of humans the Enchantress has turned into walking pudding-pops that seem to have the same ability to attract direct hits that Imperial Stormtroopers do and, from the looks of things, also have a very low threshold of death. Convenient.
Each of the Squad finds a reason (aside from the pains in their necks) to voluntarily put themselves in harms' way, usually tied to their origin stories. Deadshot's is a flashback to when he was captured by Batman (Ben Affleck, now that he's committed) entirely due to the intervention of his beloved 11 year old daughter. Harley's is tied to her work at Arkham Asylum as a psychiatrist and coming under the thrall of The Joker (Jared Leto, good enough but he'll never become a Hallmark Christmas Ornament) Captain Boomerang gets caught by The Flash (Ezra Miller in costumed cameo) during a botched robbery that turns back on him. El Diablo's flash-fires back to his gang-banger days and the death of his family. Everybody else has to wait for the sequel for theirs, I guess.
Except for Slipknot (Adam Beach...and he's a favorite of mine, too!)
Now, director David Ayer can be a very effective director with a knack for the off-putting as is displayed in his controversial police-cam masquerading as a movie End of Watch and the Brad Pitt WWII tank-drama Fury. Both movies have things that were actually arresting, like Fury's field-jousting with tanks and EOW's in-your-face pacing with a perpetual overlay of dread. Ayer is good at portraying sacrifice and selflessness in the midst of looming destruction, which would make you think that something like Suicide Squad would be right in his wheelhouse.

There is some of that; fleeting moments of "why am I doing this, again? Oh yeah, I know." But they flit by and, given the rest of the movie, they're out of place. They're also out of "pace." You can tell when something is VERY IMPORTANT when Ayer tosses in the slow-motion for far too long and for far too much emphasis. You almost want to wave him along, especially when the rest of the movie—except for a couple of thudding laugh-lines—moves along rather zippily.
Sometimes too much so. I've mentioned the graphics sequences that pop up and disappear before you can register what they're saying. Those sequences are so out of whack from the rest of the movie, you get the impression they came from another filmmaker. One hears rumors. One is that there were two competing edits of the movie—one that was supervised by Ayer and another that was supervised by the trailer-house that made the admittedly excellent trailers for the film. 
Bad idea. Ayer is a storyteller. Trailer-editors are marketers. The jobs are completely different. As good as those trailers are (and I've included them below) they aren't a story. They're a collage, a highlights real. It doesn't have to make sense, merely make money. Trailers are sizzle. Movies are a meal. At least they're supposed to be. It's wrong to sell the sizzle and offer a plate of steaming tofu. You're defeating the purpose of the trailer in the first place. It's false advertising. More importantly, if you're splicing together a film from those different sources with their different agendas, you're not making a movie, you're constructing a Frankenstein monster out of disparate parts.
While I'm on the subject, as good as those trailers are, they're an even better example of TMI. This is getting to be a disastrous trend. That first trailer played at Comic-Con for an audience of comics and movie-geeks and was designed to quell the masses, to douse the torches, and dull the pitchforks of their rebellious target-group (that's an exercise in futility—read the comments and you'll find bubble-people who don't like anything that's not originating from their heads).  Reassure them that the Joker is "edgy" (the way you like him), Harley Quinn is "hot" (the kind boys like—not precisely how she is in the comics or the animated series she sprang from), or that even Captain Boomerang doesn't look silly. The schizy target audience wants the comic book characters taken oh-so-seriously, but with a lot of humor. How bi-polar is that? 
But, to appease the fickle and volatile target audience, you run the risk of squeezing every last drop of surprise or discovery out of a movie. You don't start a poker hand showing all your cards on the table.*** And if it happens, you'd better be damned sure the rest of the movie holds up and surpasses its hype. And Suicide Squad does not.
It is designed to an inch of its life. The casting is very well done; even Will Smith manages to make Deadshot seem like a distillation of every Will Smith character from his last ten movies (a combination of hard wise-ass and sentimental softie). But all of those Frankenstein body-parts does not add up to a satisfying movie or movie experience. For whatever reason, and there are many, not just with the movie but its selling and franchise-hyping, they contribute to making the movie an indifferent exercise on first—and more importantly, last—viewing.

My, my. Quite a long review for a movie I had a dull reaction to. But, the many issues it raises in "the culture" padded the thing out. I'll just let Leto's Joker sum it up succinctly:

* It's cute when Tarantino does it, it's entertaining in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but in Suicide Squad, it is irritating and even obfuscating—it tells you less than if they had no graphics at all, if such a thing is possible. They throw so much crap at the screen and in such flashing illegible fonts that you just kind of give-up trying to follow and dismiss it with "it's not important..." Maybe they're trying to encourage multiple viewings by leaving viewers in the dust, but I won't be seeing this twice—what's the point?—and only a devotee would buy the DVD to slow down the retinal-image-defying graphics to be able to see them. Frankly, I'd rather not spend MORE time watching this, even if it DOES reveal that one of the weapons that Deadshot is an expert with is a potato-gun.  That sort of registered as it flashed by. Useful. And telling.

** The cast in the comics has changed over the years—they do specialize in suicide missions—but the movie features Batman villains Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Killer Croc (not only does he have the best toys, he has the best villains, for example....), Captain Boomerang (who battles the super-speeding Flash with...boomerangs), El Diablo (from "All-Star Westerns", originally), Slipknot (from "Firestorm"), Enchantress (from "Strange Adventures" and the "Superman" titles) and the non-villainous Katana (from "Batman and The Outsiders"). At least they didn't include Bronze Tiger.

*** There's another aspect to this: the video fan-press has created a cottage industry of hyper-ventilating fan-people who parse each single image of a trailer in an attempt to "divine" every last tidbit of information that can be gleaned from it, like pigs snuffling for truffles. There are videos of up to 30 to 40 minutes analyzing a 3 minute trailer, with as much misinformation and unsupported speculation as fact. That's nuts, and that kind of spoon-feeding can't come to any good for an audience-member wanting to be satisfied...or entertained.

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