Tuesday, August 9, 2016

BAD GUYS, UNFORGIVABLY WORSE MOVIE: a review of "Suicide Squad"

Based upon characters and situations created for DC Comics
Written and Directed by David Ayer
1/2 * (one half of one star)

Dear readers, I will do my very best to make this short and sweet, so I do not have to waste much more time and effort thinking about this movie.

For all of the criticisms launched against Director Zack Snyder's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice" earlier this year, and indeed deservedly so, I still stand by my original review which stated that while it is an ambitious, often visually stunning film it also possesses deeply serious flaws that keeps the film from being overly successful. But, that being said and for all of its problems, it is by no means a disaster. On the contrary, the disaster in question would undoubtedly be the next installment in the expanding DC Comics film universe, Writer/Director David Ayer's utterly horrendous "Suicide Squad."

Oddly enough, the longer "Suicide Squad" bludgeoned itself onwards, I found myself thinking of the now immortal words of the fictional Faber College Dean Wormer (John Vernon) in John Landis' "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978) in the sequence when he confronts several members of Delta House after the Bacchanalian meltdown of the iconic Toga Party and the infamous road trip where a pit stop at a Black roadhouse bar destroys the car of poor Flounder's (Stephen Furst) older brother. Face to face with the Deltas in his office, Wormer reads Flounder's miserable Freshman year grade point average and dryly proclaims, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son." I thought of the phrase often as I watched "Suicide Squad," and eventually paraphrasing it to help describe it to myself and now to you: "Big, loud and dumb is no way to make a movie, son."

But, laboriously big, punishingly loud and inexcusably dumb it is making "Suicide Squad" a complete failure, a worthless pile of mega-excess and without question the very worst film that I have seen so far this year. In the cinematic superhero competition between movies set within either the Marvel or DC film universes, Marvel has DC beat hands down as the DC movies have struggled to not only catch up to Marvel's creative high bar, they have struggled even more painfully to try and determine just what is needed to make a good movie...period. Trust me, I know the deep interest is there but do not waste your valuable time and hard earned money over something of this nature. Yet, if you do not heed my words, this will be one splitting headache that you will indeed regret the next day.

"Suicide Squad" opens shortly after the tragic concluding events of "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice," ruthless intelligence operative Amanda Waller (a strong Viola Davis--essentially the only saving grace of the film) hatches an insidious plot should another super being make its way to Earth and is found to not be as benevolent as Superman. Her plot is to formulate a team of imprisoned evil doers to perform high risk missions for the United States government--the worst of the worst brought together to ultimately do some good and if they fail, then they are the perfect scapegoats.

The team includes the ace hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), pyromaniac El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the mutant cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), master assassin Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the deranged Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), paramour of The Joker (Jared Leto)
and is led by the command of Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his assistant/bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara). 

When Flagg's true love, the archaeologist  Dr. June Moone, long possessed the the spirit of a witch-goddess known as the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) is fully transformed into a sorceress and is unleashed, armed with plans of creating an army of minions to assist her in the destruction of all humankind in revenge for her original imprisonment inside of an ancient artifact, it is up to the newly formed Suicide Squad to stop her once and for all.

And that is all there is for a storyline, essentially another variation of Director Robert Aldrich's "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), which is just fine but it is just unfathomable to me that the the one-sheet poster for "Suicide Squad" made for a better movie than the actual movie upon the silver screen!!

What could have existed as a kaleidoscopic, funhouse mirror version of the DC universe, David Ayer wrestled any sense of ambition, artistry, excitement and most of all, any sense of flat out fun "Suicide Squad" could have been. This has been a severe problem with all of the DC post Christopher Nolan superhero films, the tendency to just bathe the movies in a prefabricated darkness and forgo any sense of entertainment value, making every experience a weighty, overlong ponderous affair that just isn't any fun whatsoever.

Yes, Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (2008) in particular truly set a gold standard and raised the bar to heights that are difficult for anyone, including Nolan himself, to reach. But even in that film, one that was especially grim, there was still that je ne sais quoi that kept you completely enraptured with the storytelling and furthermore, even returning for repeat viewings. Yet with Snyder's "Man Of Steel" (2013), and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice," not only is he playing catch up with Marvel, his weak storytelling and tendency for relentless, endless cataclysm all but derail his sense of obvious ambition.

At least there is ambition. David Ayer, however, gives us a movie that is all but brain dead and with a collective of supervillains that really aren't villainous at all. They're just oh so misunderstood, and therefore it is a film that is afraid to go precisely where it needs to go conceptually. If we are gathering a movie's worth of villains, then give us the villains!! But, with "Suicide Squad," we have characters that really aren't far removed from the cataclysm loving "heroes" from Snyder's films, and all with the same bargain basement psychological underpinnings.

All of the Squad's backstories, all painfully underwritten despite the ample screen time, don't exist to inform the audience of how evil these characters are but to basically ensure that these anti-heroes aren't really "bad," per se. They're all just outcasts. Gentle psychopaths, if you will, all in need of a good stiff drink and a pseudo therapy session...as well as an exceedingly better movie to run around in, especially Will Smith's Deadshot, who is easily reduced to being a bullet/trigger happy assassin who loves his daughter just as much as Batman and Superman love they mamas!!!!! In fact, the only real villain in the film is Viola Davis' character, which she plays with a cold, steel confidence that makes me wish the film was all about her...but then again, she doesn't get to wear a snazzy costume.

What we are left with is a film that is over-stuffed with characters who barely register a blip and that includes Jared Leto's The Joker, a crucial mistake Ayer makes as we never really have a good impression of the character let alone Leto's take of him as his screen time is so scant and scattershot. Ayer's vision is truly of a disservice to Leto, because it certainly made me feel as if Ayer was afraid of inevitable comparisons between Leto and the late Heath Ledger's extraordinary take of the same character. If he doesn't have faith in his own material and actors, then why should we?

To that end, the film's "love stories," such as they are between Rick Flagg and Dr. June Moone and most especially, The Joker and Harley Quinn are devoid of any sense of emotion and definitely any sense of delirium or madness. In many respects, there is a movie to be made with The Joker and Harley Quinn, their romance and its origin, which "Suicide Squad" massively truncates in a backstory/flashback, which gives the audience absolutely no impression of who Harley Quinn was before her transformation, all of the necessary material needed to inform the character and the audience of her newly unhinged state of mind and devotion to being The Joker's Queen. Margot Robbie is clearly having a blast but it is ultimately all for naught as any and all manner of that pesky character development was also clearly left upon the cutting room floor.

Aside from the clear lack of fun, character development and any storytelling prowess, David Ayer's "Suicide Squad" is a film about villains and anti-heroes that knows and offers NOTHING about its own subject matter, which is also unfathomable to me especially as audiences have grown to become quite riveted to, entertained by and savvy about all manner of those aforementioned villains and anti-heroes, especially on television from programs like "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad," and films that range from John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (1981), Simon West's "Con Air" (1997), Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" (2010) and essentially every movie in Quentin Tarantino's filmography. Yes, "Suicide Squad" is a cartoon but in all intents and purposes, so was Tarantino's "Kill Bill" (2003/2004), Tarantino understood that the best cartoons and comics possessed excellent storytelling and characters, whereas David Ayer's "Suicide Squad" eschewed any trace of those elements in favor of an endlessly bombastic, ear shattering experience where nothing happens and feels like a video game you are forced to watch but are unable to play.

Destruction, gunfire, and explosions are rampant as the squad races to take down the hip swiveling Enchantress, the weakest villain I have seen in recent memory and who really serves no purpose than to re-create Zuul's vortex from "Ghostbusters" (1984)--man, even movie villains have succumbed to reboots and remakes--and create interchangeable whack-a-mole henchmen for the Suicide Squad to annihilate for two full hours. THIS is the entire movie and I am sorry, THIS DOES NOT MAKE A MOVIE!!!! Honestly!!! I realize that hips don't lie, but I am not lying to when I express to you that this really is the entire film and do you really feel the need to spend any time watching something so devoid of anything that would be worth your time?

It is obvious that David Ayer's "Suicide Squad" is designed to be DC's answer to Marvel's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014) from Writer/Director James Gunn as it is a film that is also being presented as the supposed anarchistic underbelly of the conflicted yet virtuous heroes that populate the majority of the films. While I still contend that "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was over-rated, played everything too safe and was not nearly as clever as it thought it was (and also possessed a terribly weak villain), it is an infinitely better film than any one moment on display within "Suicide Squad."

As I always say, I see these things so you don't have to. I have taken one for the team and I would never intentionally lead you into cinematic danger. But, heed my warnings when I give them for if you head out to this one after reading this posting, you are on your own self-devised suicide mission.

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