Sunday, 7 August 2016

Film Review - 'Suicide Squad'





With the disappointing of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still lingering in the minds of many, it seems only natural that even the most ardent of fans would approach the release of Suicide Squad with some degree of trepidation. The publicity for the film has been fantastic, of course – showing us something which seemed genuinely entertaining. But, even with that, it has felt as though cautious optimism was the best that some could manage.

Now that Suicide Squad has been released, though, it seems that the audience's doubts may have been warranted, after all. It would have to be a fairly significant understatement to say that the critics haven't been very kind in their reviews – with some seeming to take a very genuine delight in tearing the film apart (although, that's not really anything new for some critics).

So, going in to my own viewing of Suicide Squad with these thoughts in the back of my mind, I was prepared to be very disappointed. By the end of the film, though, I was left wondering if we had all really watched the same film.

Don't get me wrong, Suicide Squad is a bit of a mess – and, many of the criticisms that have been levelled at it are entirely justified. But, and this is the important bit as far as I'm concerned, the film still manages to succeed in spite of its issues – and, it still manages to be genuinely entertaining.

The film's plot, such as it is, centres around Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), and her efforts to form a team of 'gifted individuals' who can take on the sorts of unnatural threats that have become more common since Superman came into the spot-light. Of course, ordinary super-heroes aren't quite up to the sorts of tasks that Amanda Waller has in mind – so, instead, 'Task Force X' is set to be made up of some of the most notorious super-villains currently serving time.

Before the team can even be officially formed, though, things get out of hand when the most powerful potential team-member, a supernatural entity that had possessed the body of a young archeologist and who called itself the 'Enchantress' (Cara Delevingne), is able to slip free of Amanda Waller's control and, with the aid of her brother (another powerful entity), immediately sets out to enact her own world-threatening plans. In response, the rest of the potential members of 'Task Force X' are hastily gathered – and, placed under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), are immediately sent on a desperate, and potentially suicidal, mission.

The thing that, almost immediately, struck me as odd about Suicide Squad is that it is a film that feels messy and disjointed in almost the exact same way that Batman v Superman had. Much like with the previous film, Suicide Squad often had the feeling of being a series of separate scenes and sequences, of varying quality, which just don't seem to fit together very well. Some of the most entertaining moments from the various trailers, for example, often feel awkward and out-of-place when they occur within the film, itself – which left me with the odd impression (whether correct or not) of these moments having been specifically created for these trailers, and then being awkwardly inserted into the film itself, afterwards.

On a similar note, the film also displays an occasionally frustrating tendency to gloss over various points of plotting and characterisation – introducing them in an almost flippant manner. There are moments when this works to the film's advantage, of course – with the entertaining little vignettes which give something of a short-hand introduction to various cast-members possibly serving as one of the film's clearest high-lights.

When the focus is on these, more mundane, elements of plot and character, the film's flippant approach actually feels very appropriate. The introductions that we are given to Rick Flag and Amanda Waller manage to tell us everything that we need to know about them – one is a loyal soldier potentially in over his head, and the other is frighteningly callous. The same can also be said of some of the key members of the squad – with Deadshot (Will Smith), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) all being introduced in a succinct and creative manner – with Harley Quinn's segment also giving us our first proper look at Jared Leto's take on the Joker. Even Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who might not seem so 'mundane' by comparison, is served well by his own brief introductory sequence. You could argue that this entire sequence of introductions went on for too long, sure – but, as individual moments within the film, they were entertaining.

Amusingly enough, though, Slipknot (Adam Beach) wasn't actually given any sort of introduction, despite being promoted as an equal member of the squad. Although, as it turned out, that was actually entirely fitting – since he was really only there to serve as the punch-line to an early moment of, rather morbid, black comedy. I can only hope that Adam Beach enjoyed his brief time on-set, at least.

Of course, the true reason why each of these characters is so well-served by their brief introductory sequences is that, for the most part, they just aren't very complicated. Deadshot is a hit man, Captain Boomerang is a criminal, Rick Flag is a soldier – even Amanda Waller and Harley Quinn, whose role can't really be defined in a single word, are still fairly straight-forward as characters. So, in the case of each of these characters, the short-hand introductions we are given actually work quite well. Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for the film's more outlandish elements.

With characters like El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), for example, this same level of brevity actually proves to be detrimental.

Katana is a genuinely interesting character, with a very complicated history (one that includes a dead husband and child, and a sword capable of stealing the souls of those it is used on). I have no idea if there are any long-term plans to use Katana in future films, of course – but, here, having her entire back-story be revealed to the audience through one brief flash-back scene, and a couple of lines of awkwardly written exposition, just felt incredibly messy. It left me feeling as though it would have been better to simply keep her as a figure of mystery – and, perhaps, to save the details of her back-story for whatever hypothetical future film might choose to make use of her (assuming, of course, that this hypothetical future film would have done a better job with it then Suicide Squad did).

On a similar note, the true nature of El Diablo's pyrokinetic abilities seem to become a fairly significant plot-point in the film's final moments – or, at least, I think that was the case. Unfortunately, the fact that the film doesn't really devote any time to exploring the possible origin of El Diablo's strange abilities meant that the role he played in the film's final confrontation left me entirely baffled. Was his transformation meant to suggest some sort of connection with the Enchantress and her brother (whose name, apparently, is Incubus – though, I'm fairly certain that this was never mentioned in the film)? Or, was it just intended to be an evolution of his own, entirely unrelated, powers? Did he start speaking the same language has the Enchantress and her brother (as I thought he might have)? Or, was he just speaking Spanish?

Even after watching the film, I don't actually know the answer to any of these questions – and, it has become a fairly significant source of frustration, for me. Though, at least in El Diablo's case, the tragic details of his personal history actually are explored in enough detail to allow the audience to form an emotional connection – so, he has that over Katana.

Unfortunately, it is the Enchantress, herself, who suffers the most from this vague and muddled approach – with the audience receiving very little in the way of insight into who, and what, she actually is. There are elements of a genuinely fascinating villain there, of course (and, Cara Delevingne has some genuinely great moments as she works to bring this very inhuman character to life) – but, once again, it all feels frustratingly muddled.

With the film clearly suffering from some fairly serious plotting issues, it might be fair to wonder how I could possible have justified opening this review with the declaration that Suicide Squad actually wasn't a complete failure. Well, that would be entirely a result of the quality of the performances given by the film's cast. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the clear stand-outs, here – with each of them seeming to share an equal part in making the film as much fun as it is.

It would be entirely fair to point out that Will Smith is, essentially, just playing Deadshot as another variation of the same sort of character he has often played in the past (basically, as 'Will Smith') – but, his performance always provides a good reminder of why he became so famous for that sort of thing, in the first place. Margot Robbie, on the other hand, commits herself entirely to the formidable task of bringing an incredibly popular cartoon/comic-book character to life – and, she does a fantastic job. Her take on Harley Quinn is just the right mix of crazy, dangerous, yet still oddly adorable – which is, of course, just as Harley Quinn should be.

The rest of the cast make the most of the material available to them – though, unfortunately, the results prove to be somewhat mixed. Jai Courtney is able to make Captain Boomerang into a great source of humour in the film – but, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be room for much else, beyond that. We certainly aren't given any real idea of the sort of person 'Digger' Harkness truly is, beyond his love of boomerangs and pink unicorns. Katana doesn't truly feel like a character, at all, despite Karen Fukuhara's best efforts – beyond one emotional since (which, thanks to the way that her back-story was introduced, seemed to come out of nowhere), she's really just a stern fixture of the film's action sequences. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje looks great in the 'Killer Croc' make-up, and he has a couple of great moments of both action and humour – but, once again, there isn't much room for him to be much more than a back-ground character.

Viola Davis and Jared Leto both have significantly more material to work with, in their respective roles – with each sharing a somewhat antagonist role, alongside the film's true villain. With her cold-blooded and ruthless devotion to achieving her goals, Amanda Waller may actually be the most genuinely intimidating character in the entire film – and, Viola Davis does a fantastic job of bringing her to life. Jared Leto, meanwhile, has already achieved some notoriety in the role of the Joker, thanks to the series of strange stories that have emerged from his time on-set. Given everything that we have heard, it's actually a little disappointing to see how little of his take on the Joker actually made it into the film – but, despite that, he still makes for an entertaining presence in the film. That being said, though, the tattoos are still ridiculous – although, to be fair, one of a grinning mouth on the back of the Joker's hand is put to interesting use in a couple of scenes.

In the end, it is the film's cast that make Suicide Squad truly memorable – that, and the great moments of action, humour, and genuine emotion that they are able to portray throughout the film. Much like with Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad is a film made up of parts that don't quite seem to mesh into a satisfying whole. But, in the case of Suicide Squad, the film just seems to have more to work with. It's still a muddled mess, sure – but, at least it's entertaining.

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