Thursday, August 4, 2016

I saw Suicide Squad...

Writer/director David Ayer's “Suicide Squad” is a comic-book refashioning of “The Dirty Dozen”, as is its animated companion piece, “Assault on Arkham” and its competing series, Marvel’s “Sinister Six”, which would have beat “Squad” to theaters if not for “Amazing Spider-man 2’”s embarrassing dissension. "Squad'"s leads, of course, are bad buys, with the hope that somewhere down the misguided line, they’ll do some good, but this gimmick also proposes a head-scratching dilemma: When dealing with villains this iconic, do we really want them to change? Depending on how one perceives it, the result can be either a blessing or a curse.

The story begins in "Batman v Superman's" melancholic wake, with concerns for safety erupting in Kal-El's absence. As a result, government employees Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman, who plays significantly in the film's long haul) dispatch a makeshift (and villain-based) squad to snuff out problems that others are unable or unwilling to tackle. In this instance, we have a demonic plague (triggered ironically by one of the recruits) that's turning a city's inhabitants into "Attack of the Mushroom People" type creatures. The squad, in a nod to Snake Plissken, is forced to quell the infectious spread (of course, with promises offered).

The characters (mostly Batman and/or Green Arrow linked) consist of the sexy yet insane Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie); the sensitive assassin-supreme Deadshot/Floyd Lawton (Will Smith); the pugnacious Captain Boomerang/Digger Harkness (Jai Courtney); the fiery El Diablo/Chato Santana (Jay Hernandez); the hulking Killer Croc/Waylon Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); the stealthy Slipknot (Adam Beach); the mysterious Katana (Karen Fukuhara);the mystical Enchantress/June Moone (Cara Delevingne); and of course, our always jubilant Joker (Jared Leto), a crime boss in this instance, who interferes with the mission in hopes of regaining his beloved Harley. (Ike Barinholtz is also on hand as memorable, wise-cracking prison guard.)

Throughout the adventure, there's ample action; a heavy layering of comic-book violence; hit tunes; snappy dialogue; and fascinating characterizations. (The first portion, a flashback lead-in, is reminiscent of "Deadpool'"s early phases in its manic, if not disorienting pace.) Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Erza Miller) make significant appearances, tying the excitement not only to "Batman v Superman", but the upcoming "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League". 

Performance-wise, everyone excels (and this is the film's indisputable strength), with attention devoted mostly to Leto, Robbie and Smith, who by their characters' designs and generous screen time, can’t help but steal most scenes. Smith, in this regard, is traditionally cordial, despite his character's austere past. In Leto’s case, we’re given the expected, prevailing creepiness: in essence, an extension of what Heath Ledger commenced, with some of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill and Cesar Romero thrown in. In Robbie’s instance, it’s a non-stop combination of kooky sensuality and limb-twisting theatrics: her presence potentially iconic on a number of levels.

The film's weird, magnetic nature sets it high on the comic-book adaptation stack, but it also differentiates the film from others of its kind, including “Deadpool”, which still plays up the hero-at-large angle. “Squad” doesn’t have much of a traditional, moral base, therefore. How could it? This relegates the film to a questionable category. Yes, we end up rooting for the principals, but only within its monsters-attack context. We could never hope to elevate these folks above Batman, Flash, Superman and the like, and it's therefore impossible to latch unconditionally onto the group’s nature or cause, especially at those times when they reference their dismal deeds. In truth, these expendables operate for no other reason than to defeat a greater evil, which under any other circumstances, some might very well have joined. 

As a “Clockwork Orange”-meets-“Escape from New York” hybrid, "Squad" succeeds, but as much as it’s an official part of the DC theatrical Multiverse, it’s also a big-time odd-man-out. Don’t get me wrong, I damn well enjoyed the movie, but I’d have preferred these characters making appearances initially in solo Batman films, where good is good and bad is bad. 

On the other hand, we're introduced to individuals, who regardless of their immense flaws, work toward (albeit inadvertently) rehabilitation, with most risking their lives to achieve that goal. That element alone, I suppose, makes "Squad" worthy of appreciation and beyond what some might argue, the film still stands as a morality tale, even if an unorthodox one. 

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