SUICIDE SQUAD movie review

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Credit where credit is due: Suicide Squad had hands down the best marketing campaign of the summer.

The marketing team over at Warner Bros. did an excellent job of whetting appetites with a constant stream of hype. Every week we were treated to a new mashup of footage highlighting the film’s flashy, chaotic vibe and colorful characters, set to a growing collection of wild pop songs. It no doubt helped earn the film its massive opening weekend.

It should soften the blow then to know that Suicide Squad the film is more marketing than movie (“twisted and evil …”).

Director/writer David Ayer’s take on DC’s supervillain team of expendables is uncomfortably similar to its trailers in that it also often acts as a handful of disjointed scenes stitched together, hinting at meaning and connectivity.

It’s flashy and chaotic without the substance to back it up, characters are introduced more often then they are developed and sweet Reekris the onslaught of obvious pop songs …

And like a product of good marketing, Suicide Squad has one bright spot in its tangled, neon web in that you want to see these characters again, albeit in a better movie. A much better movie.

The DC Extended Universe’s third feature is written with all the wit of a middle school bro party and the plotting of a script put together at breakneck speed (six weeks, reportedly).

Whatever gets it out there in time for the release date.

There are plenty of opportunities to go for the harder edge that the material screams out for, but the film is a complete casualty of the studio’s shell shock from the criticism Batman v Superman got for being “too dark.”

The violence is plentiful but bloodless and material deemed too thematically dark seems to have been skipped completely. Yet somehow the filmmakers kept a handful of scenes of women being brutalized and played them up for laughs in an offhanded way. Very cute.

Whatever lets the kids see the movie (and possibly get the message that it’s funny when women get hit).

Ayer has Steven Price at his beck and call to make the music of Suicide Squad. The “won an Oscar for Gravity” Steven Price. Instead, he’s pushed aside (while delivering a mostly routine score) in favor of a horde of no less than 20 on-the-nose pop songs, sometimes one after the other, in the beginning half. At best, it’s excessive; at worst, it keeps the movie nice and fragmented, never finding a good rhythm.

Whatever sells more albums.

Characters saunter about with street-wise ‘tude and are given ham-fisted badass moments but rarely say or do anything that resonates outside of their overdone costumes.

Whatever floods the Halloween market.

The script may fail them time and time again but the cast is the most redeemable part of the movie.

Will Smith as Deadshot is serviceable. You expect him to shoot people and crack wise; he shoots people and cracks wise. Viola Davis stays true to the ruthlessness of Amanda Waller.  Jay Hernandez has a borderline good arc as the repentant pyro Diablo. Jai Courtney is amusing as Boomerang and Lost’s Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje looks terrific as a practical Killer Croc.

The shining star of the film is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. There are several questionable aspects in how the character is approached storywise but Robbie’s take is rock solid, expressing the humor and unpredictability HQ is known for in a fresh way for her big screen debut.

I also hear The Joker is in the film. I’ll let you know if I remember seeing him because, despite a committed and unhinged performance from Jared Leto, The Joker is given so little to do he may as well be any random eccentric gang member. He serves no purpose in this film and is in it so briefly there’s no point where it’s established what exactly this new Joker is.

And this is a far too common problem with most of the film’s characters. It’s cool to see Killer Croc, Boomerang and Katana on the big screen but we gloss right over their backstories and reasons they are on the team for the sake of action.

Rick Flagg is at his most interesting when he’s interacting with the team and not when we’re focusing on his tacked-on love story with the Enchantress, one of the most cliche and undefined villains in a genre where the bar is already set low for weak villains.

In a movie full of bad guys, it feels like the story probably would have gone smoother without the main antagonist there at all.

The botching of the villains is disappointing if not a bit expected. The mishandling of the Harley/Joker romance is what’s borderline insulting. Ayer and his team do a great disservice to the characters by cutting out every bit of material between the two that might be seen as abusive.

Here, it’s all smiles and roses and consensual acid baths.

It’s a choice that’s more agreeable on paper but it takes away The Joker’s menace and makes Harley less complicated and more dependent. The core of that relationship hinges on Harley being stuck with The Joker, in spite of how awfully he treats her, because she’s wild about him. To ignore that middle part is to ignore a terrific opportunity for Harley to empower herself by getting away from her tormentor and being her own person.

Whatever offends the least and sells more.

Shoutsma Says:

As someone who has gone to bat several times for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, even I find no real way to defend Suicide Squad. Its dialogue is awful, it underutilizes its characters, its music choices reek of desperation and it has no flow or excitement left after seemingly being edited by a garbage disposal.

It’s a testament to the actors that you still want to see them revisit these characters. Knock on wood, it will be in a film that’s more interested in telling a satisfying story than selling us stuff. One that won’t be the most disappointing film of the season.

3/10

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BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE movie review

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — the jumping point for DC’s shared film universe — was mired in negativity from day one. From casting backlash to flat-out hatred for the director, “fans” and film writers never held back in sharing their gripes towards with film before its release, creating an atmosphere of vitriol and frustration from the start.

The critical lashing the film took, in addition to its swift drop in the box office roster, can certainly be attributed to some concentrated disdain beforehand, but what about the film on its own (he says after spending two paragraphs talking about peripheral aspects of the movie instead of the movie itself)?

In an effort to break away from the same approach Marvel took in adapting its shared universe, DC and Zack Snyder chose to forgo a handful of set-up films and instead get to the juicy part where the universe’s heroes meet and worlds expand.

The result is a film that both revels in the glory of seeing these classic heroes on screen together, and suffers from one of the headliners being shortchanged in a film that works better as world expansion than as a concise, even story.

It’s not rare for an action blockbuster to end up running well over two hours, but when your writer hands in a script that’s equivalent to a four-hour cut, it might be time to pump the brakes. Batman v Superman is jam-packed with material — not all of which jives — and ends up being a movie that’s more a sum of its parts.

While the visuals, score, mature themes, new characters and a certain gonzo performance all should be praised, the lynchpin of the movie is absolutely Ben Affleck’s Batman. Brutal, imposing and complex, Batfleck is the most rock steady aspect of the film. Owing much of the interpretation to The Dark Knight Returns, Batman v Superman delivers what may be the definitive live action Batman/Bruce Wayne performance — an aspect that gives not only hope, but excitement at the thought of his continued presence in this universe.

And the other guy? After this film he might be in need of a course correction. Superman’s depiction in Man of Steel was refreshing: a conflicted savior figure trying to find his place in this world. Here, he’s just kind of … there, while everyone reacts to his presence. This really is more of a Batman movie than anything.

While there’s certainly a notable event that happens to the character here, Batman v Superman feels like a missed opportunity for Superman to evolve into a richer character, whereas he instead seems intent here to out-gloom Batman.

Speaking of gloom, let’s talk tone. Batman v Superman is dark. Like “why are children in this theater?” dark. Manslaughter, destruction, suicide bombs, philosophical discussions on religion and power — it’s heavy stuff.

That’s legitimately a great thing.

Superhero movies are allowed to explore more weighty concepts and should be encouraged to do so. That doesn’t make the movie “no fun,” unless you’ve been conditioned by a constant stream of comic book movies that abandon dramatic heft.

What’s understandably more divisive is the handling of the material. Snyder is not one for subtlety and Batman v Superman approaches the story with aggressive bravado. But the movie’s immense scope and serious attitude aren’t unwarranted. These are two of our most iconic figures in culture meeting on screen; this is like a modern-day opera with all the high emotions and sound and fury that can be mustered.

What can actually be integrated in the universe’s approach going forward is the concept of “dark, not mean.” Snyder seems to revel a little too much in pushing heroes towards non-heroic acts (not to mention just general cruelty) in a way that doesn’t seem genuine to the world.

We see the characters here at low points — Batman growing more vicious in his crusade from loss and Superman embattled on all sides for trying to do what he feels is the right thing — but don’t get the sense that they’ve entirely set themselves on a more righteous track by the end.

Woman Woman, meanwhile, doesn’t need any adjustment because everything is great with her. The set-up for a solo film looks promising, even if her introduction is all part of the studio’s grand universe-building plan.

A little less clear is how Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor will factor moving forward, as the actor’s fresh take on the character was an odd, sometimes annoying, sometimes endearing change of pace from the darkness of the rest of the movie.

While the concept of moving forward in a franchise shouldn’t be the main thing to talk about for a film itself, that’s kind of the point with Batman v Superman.

Essentially a set-up for bigger things to come, Batman v Superman squanders some of its potential as a great stand-alone film but makes up for it with strong internal elements that are at least thought-provoking, and at most engaging that should continue to pay off.

After all, it’s a franchise world and we’re just living in it.

7/10