James Gunn has always been a delightfully rambunctious, perennially irreverent filmmaker whether he’s exploring the realm of sentient alien slugs, sad-sack superhero wannabes or comic book property, which he gets to do once again in The Suicide Squad, one of his very best films yet. He feels more at home in the world of DC than he does in Marvel and it’s not just the larger playground that a hard-R rating gifts him, although that is a *huge* factor given his stylistic tendencies as an artist and his roots in horror, which are on gooey display here as well. The DC stable, particularly villains, just has this dark, perverse edge to it that Marvel can’t match and in creating a maniacal palooza of second tier baddies in a subversive, heavily violent extravaganza he has found a groove and achieved an aesthetic that for the entire two plus hour runtime I wasn’t bored by once. Some of our familiar favourites from the other Suicide Squad naturally return including Harley (Margot Robbie, resplendent in the role of her career), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) as well as welcome new additions like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Gunn totem Michael Rooker looking like he walked in from a Rob Zombie flick) the scene stealing Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), impossibly adorable King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) and of course Viola Davis as their game warden Amanda Waller, the cunt to end all cunts. Their missions here include the overthrow of a South American country, constant bickering, shocking team casualties, betrayals, clever skewering of American patriotism, a giant alien starfish, bountiful loads of gratuitous and blessedly gory violence and a clever balancing act between lighthearted, frothy banter and a darker undercurrent of thematic heft that sneaks in the back door and lands with an effective, grounded touch. Obvious comparisons will be made to the 2016 Suicide Squad and I’d like to sideswipe that other than to say I love both films, they’re both very different and the 2016 is what it is, it has its reputation. I do believe this to be the stronger film but I think they both have their place on my shelf, they are M&M’s and Skittles, Pepsi and Coke, or Warheads and Airheads to reference a junk food as obscure as the characters on display here. Gunn has made a rollicking, badass, bizarre yet strangely accessible piece of pop art nutso comic book madness here with many standout moments including an emotional monologue by Ratcatcher (she’s the soul of the film), some stunning technicolor gore effects that call to mind Lovecraft and Carpenter, an Easter egg hunt of many hidden film and literary references, a ballsy, nihilism laced opening sequence wherein some of the characters brutally live up to the title of the film, one instance of Waller *finally* getting a modicum of what she deserves, some painfully on the nose political satire and, in my favourite sequence the film has to offer, a brilliantly placed and paced opportunity for Robbie’s ever awesome Harley to work through the trauma of her past and absolutely TAKE DOWN toxic relationships like the badass boss bitch we all know she is. A wonderful, weird, wild and fantastic film.
My first thought after seeing Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey? There hasn’t been a more bloody, crazy or inventive action sequence set to ‘Black Betty’ since Ryan Reynolds used Home Depot tools to obliterate bad guys in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. After 2016’s Suicide Squad felt like it had that ‘almost’ factor that was viciously pruned by that pesky PG-13 rating it’s so refreshing and fun to see R rated DC comic book shenanigans launch across the screen.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is by now not only an iconic character but a force of nature in itself and a stampeding cultural talisman that could go in the collective time capsule to burst out like a confetti adorned jack in the box for future generations. After being dumped by The Joker, she sets out into Gotham City’s underworld to make a name for herself and blow up all kinds of shit along the way. Eventually her path crosses with that of east end crime boss Roman ‘Black Mask’ Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and sadistic mass murderer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who have their sights set on a diamond birthed from mob royalty that a sassy little pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) has gotten her hands on. Cue the involvement of hardcore GCPD Detective Renee Montoya, smoky voiced songstress Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and crossbow slangin’ vigilante Helena ‘Huntress’ Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
This works well mostly thanks to costume designer Erin Benach, the fight and stunt choreography, eclectic soundtrack, bubblegum gothic production design and a few key performances, namely McGregor and naturally Robbie. It isn’t the most, shall we say, densely plotted outing, but it doesn’t really need to be and the fun is in watching these badass chicks from various backgrounds and emotional states take down one of the sickest, most despicable villains in DC cinema lore. I’m used to a graver Sionis in the comics but McGregor turns this guy into a deadpan, nasty, angry pile of spoiled brat sadism and flamboyant, violent behaviour whether he’s brutally humiliating a poor female patron at his gaudy nightclub, peeling the faces of his victims like banana skins or prancing around in all manner or fancy suits like a loony toon. Robbie gets to go full tilt bonkers as Quinn and once again the R rated material just helps this vision along so nicely, I really hope we’re passed this tiresome thing of limiting comic book films to PG-13 and capping off the chaos just short of actual gritty, crowd pleasing mayhem. Snyder almost managed it in his director’s cut of Batman Vs. Superman, David Ayer came so close before being shit down hard and robbed of final cut on Suicide Squad (which I still love no matter what) but Yan has somehow gotten the green light here and makes the most of it. There are a ton of beautifully designed, bone n’ blood filled fight sequences including Harley’s epic one woman siege on a GCPD precinct complete with glitter guns and mass bodily harm inflicted by the beloved hammer, a rip snortin’ motorbike roller derby rolls royce chase and a crazy awesome climax set in Gotham’s super spooky Amusement Mile that looks like Coney Island’s worst nightmare. Interestingly the one performance that’s most down to earth is Bell as Canary, who is still a badass but feels the most human, the most weary and irked in the presence of evil, she really grounds the whole thing just the right amount it needs, which isn’t much but a welcome touch. I’m pumped to see what comes next for Robbie’s Harley and this deliriously colourful, creatively inspired vision of Gotham and its worst.
Margot Robbie is a star. A bona fide star. She’s worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Coming off her best year yet; her first entrance into the new decade is reprising her role of Harley Quinn in BIRDS OF PREY with the wickedly fun subtitle: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. It is a sort of her standalone follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD and in actuality, the movie the precursor wanted to be.
Robbie, who is obviously a lot of fun and owns and commands the film, is supported by a rich cast of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, and a remarkable turn from Ewan McGregor as perhaps one of the most perverse villains ever. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film is incredibly paced that is very, very self-aware of what it is, and the genre that it is working within. The film doesn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome; with a narrative that is just bonkers.
Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (with a subtle and respective nod to Jared Leto), and then half of Gotham is after her. Along with her struggle to stay alive and work through heartbreak, she inadvertently assembles a team of hard women to take down a mean man, the gloriously flamboyantly gay, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis the Black Mask.
McGregor is marvelous in this film. He’s very hammy, with costumes that are gleefully gaudy; yet have an air of class and old money to them, yet completely psychotic with fierce paranoia that spins him into this perverse and sadistic delight. This picture is a perfect showcase of casting, and casting directors, enhancing the film to the heights of being so unique, that it would be hard to imagine other actors in the principal roles. McGregor as the big bad in a DC film, at the pinnacle of Robbie’s star power seems like a cinephile’s dream.
Chris Messina finally gets his moment in the sun as Victor Zsasz who gets turned into McGregor’s foppish boy toy and makes every scene he is in creepier and better. Messina has always put in solid dramatic and comedic work, but in this film, he really gets to cut loose, and have a lot of fun in the role. Rosie Perez is great, doing what she does best in an intentionally stereotypical role, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one mean motor scooter; she’s terrific. And of course, Robbie is the star that perfectly slides back into the Harley Quinn role, and adds more depth and debauchery to her seminal character.
The film cascades into a girl power film, it’s empowering while bending pretty transgressive with its hard R rating, keeping the film from becoming overly preachy or woke. It pulls off what it is trying to say rather well, with an end result of a film that is very self-aware, dirty, violent, and a lot of fun. Warner Brothers most certainly have turned the beat around regarding their most coveted franchise property with DC films.
We’re back with a regular episode. This time we talk about David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD and touch upon BATMAN v SUPERMAN, and the future of the DC Universe.
Suicide Squad has left me so torn. On the one hand I just want to belligerantly profess my love for certain key aspects which I have salivated for for a long time now, to blindly just say ‘nope. Fuck it, it’s great’, like that one stupid kid in class who just won’t back down from an argument he is clearly losing. On the other hand I do have to come to terms with the very real, very problematic aspects to the whole thing, weigh it out rationally (not something I’m great at) and make heavy mention of what didn’t work (not something I enjoy doing). I also have a massive bias towards DC as well, particularly all things Batman and foes, so that needed to be taken into account too.
Let’s get what didn’t work out of the way: everyone is hearing that the film is a mess, and I can indeed say that yes, it’s one huge jumbled mess, like twenty unmade beds tossed into a washing machine together. It’s heavily edited in places that could have used fluidity, and flatlines in other spots where a bit of frenzy would have worked better. It’s scant on character, frankly because there are too many, packed with a soundtrack that has it bursting at the hastily sewn seams, drastically and obviously cut in specific places that are noticeable holes in which you could drive the Batmobile through, and burdened with a lazily assembled antagonist who doesn’t deserve the heroes they rumble with. That’s just off the top of my head.
Now, what worked: There’s a silver lining to the inane madness of the film, because in it’s confusing symphony of random candy coated antics it almost finds a trace of a beat, a rhythm that’s almost decimated by the chorus. I’m not excusing the hackjob of editing or cuts, merely saying that with all taken into account, it kind of takes on a life of it’s own that while completely tone deaf, is never boring. Let’s talk about Harley Quinn and The Joker. When the Blu Ray comes out with all them deleted scenes, I’m going to make a personal fan edit that sheds the spotlight on all the nastier stuff we missed in the theatrical version. The stuff we do get to see with Harley is pure magic, and Robbie owns the film. Maddeningly sexy, sketchy, dangerous, cute, and gloriously insane, she nails it to the wall in terms of what makes the character so special. Jared Leto as The Joker is…. different. While I didn’t like the laugh (he sounded like a geriatric hyena), I really took a shine to the direction they went with the clown this time around. A pasty ghoul who is sick with weirdo ‘love’ for Harley, this is a Joker who is way more in tune with the comics version than Ledger was. There were a few off key mannerisms and questionable little things, but for the most part I’d say he rocked it, and I’m stoked to see him square off with Batman in a standalone flick.
So, the rest of the squad. They’re a random bunch of nut bars who are hastily and over enthusiastically hurrah-ed onto stage by stone cold suit Amanda Waller (a terrifying Viola Davis), who is far more villainous than any of them. Davis is the consummate amoral politician, fuelled by gnawing xenophobia and given the power to push her unholy agenda to scary heights. Will Smith is a hoot as Deadshot, he just needed a little less mirth and a tad more menace in the mix. A joke or three sits well with me, but I don’t like wading through quip stew with thoughts of serious threat on the other side, only to find a backbone replaced by pining for his young daughter. Nothing wrong with pathos, but remember guys, Deadshot is a villain, and too much mush takes away from the street cred. Killer Croc is great when he’s around, which isn’t much until the climax where he gets a nice action bit, but still overall underused. I’ve been an avid non fan of Jai Courtney thus far, he’s just reeked of blandness. Well crikey, the guy does a nice job here of being the rambunctious bad boy of the pack, even if the reason for his inclusion in the squad doesn’t extend much farther than ‘he robbed every bank in australia’. Like… what? Joel Kinnaman holds his own as special ops asset Rick Flagg, and Cara Delevingne much less so as the gyrating, Grudge inspired Enchantress. She’s just not a powerful villain in any way, but damn if she didn’t turn heads in that little outfit. Cara actually fared way better as Dr. June Moon in what little time we spent with her, of which I would have loved to see more. Jay Hernandez is on fire (sorry) as Diablo, a flammable ex gang banger who grew a conscience to go with his pyrotechnic prowess. As far as Slipknot (Adam Beach) goes, there was literally no reason, no reason at all for him to be in the film. Introduced as ‘the man who can climb anything’, he climbs like… one wall that anyone with his tools could scale….and then dies. Poor Adam. Karen Fukuhara is cool as Katana, but we’ve seen the hot Asian samurai shtick done to death, so it’s nothing altogether new.
No, the film rests on Joker, Harley and to a lesser extant, Batman. Old Bats is in it for two crucial scenes, one of which had me give out a roaring cheer, as it’s the type of thing I signed up for when I shelled out 22 goddamn dollars to see this in VIP mode. I kept wishing the whole time that I could make my own edit with all of David Ayer’s footage, because there’s so much gold found onscreen, and I know there’s more to be mined on the floors of his editing room, left there by the prudish anxieties of studio heads that just don’t. Ever. Learn. I want to see Batman and his villains thunder out in this blooming DC franchise, and while the rest of the more obscure faces in the squad are fun, I was in it for the core villains. All the stuff with Joker and Harley is inspired, and the car chase where the Batmobile tears after Joker’s purple Hotwheels Lamborghini is pretty much the best part of the whole film. I want more Batman and Co., for shit sake. In any case, there’s a lot of fun to be had, an endless grab bag of stylistic tricks, fonts, gimmicks, colors, sounds and chaotic hullabaloo running around. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. Tough shit. It’s certainly not a terrible movie, and I feel many critics resorted to the oft employed ‘knee jerk’ reaction instead of internalizing it all before brandishing pen and keyboard. Critics are a spastic lot of baboons who have have a tendancy, especially these days, to jump the gun and hurl verbal feces at stuff before it’s had a chance to sink in. I’ll concede that there are huge issues, but huge amounts of fun can be found too. Or not. It’s up to you. I certainly had some fraction of a blast watching it, and the only way I can describe the thing as an whole is the Looney Toons having a food fight with a bunch of fluorescent Lucky Charms. If that abstract picture chimes with you, chances are you’ll at least get some kind of kick from the this baby, and probably be just as perplexed by certain areas as I was. Good luck.
“Will you live for me?”
SUICIDE SQUAD is a complete mess, yet it is a total glory. I know, relax. Hear me out. Since the resurrection of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, there has been a forceful push to ground a superhero film in reality. Sometimes it works, other times is does not. SUICIDE SQUAD removes itself from that universe and takes place within movie world.
There’s a lot that is blatantly strange and oddly incoherent about the film. Whether it was from studio tinkering (panic) or that everyone was on acid while making the film. None of that matters. The film has a great soundtrack and devilishly fun performances from the entire cast.
The film isn’t bright and glossy with a drumbeat joke every five minutes, it’s sloppy and dirty with perverse humor that will curl even the most uptight hipster’s mustache, while he’s passive aggressively using the Oxford comma to demean this film.
Will Smith’s overly stereotypical ghetto jive, the over objectifying of Margot Robbie’s butt, the uppity bitch mode of Viola Davis, and Jared Leto’s insane transformation into a Joker that’s feverishly in love, are a step away from the safe mediocrity we’ve seen in recent tent-pole films.
Director David Ayer has received so much critical flack for this film, it isn’t even funny. This wasn’t a film made for critics, nor was it seeking the approval of top ten lists. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s gratuitous, and it’s everything that the new DC Universe should aim for going forward. Let other studios play it safe with their glossy sheen, DC; keep forming a lewd and egregious world for the rest of us.
Don’t worry, the following review is a spoiler free zone.
Appalling. Bad. Very, very bad. Trash. Garbage. Stupid. Incoherent. Incomprehensible. Dumb. Boring. Awful. Mediocre. Disaster. Rotten. I don’t agree with words such as these being used in reviews for Suicide Squad to describe the movie as whole. I’m not being blindly dismissive like some social media users out there who are mad that this highly anticipated movie isn’t getting a great critical reception. I just don’t agree, I had a different experience, and this review will reflect that experience.
Suicide Squad has a pretty straightforward plot: government spook Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X, a motley crue of super-villains plucked from prison, and let loose in a city under attack by a malevolent meta-human. Kill the bad guy, save the city, and get some time off your prison sentences, that’s honestly as deep as it goes. But that’s not a detrimental aspect of the movie. In many comic book movies, the plot takes a back-seat to the action, humour, and character development, and Suicide Squad embraces that trope with wide open arms. With these team oriented comic book movies, it’s kind of expected that the story takes a back-seat to the character interactions and action, and if you need proof of that look no further than The Avengers movies. You don’t need an over complicated plot with far too many sub-plots for this kind of movie (I’m looking at you Batman V Superman). Simplicity is key, so by the time the plot gets thrown out of the window late in the second act you really won’t mind because director David Ayer makes up for it with great character moments, irreverent Deadpool style humour, and a wallop of fun action. Think of this movie as the DC equivalent of The Expendables, with way more humour but no gore, and you’ll be fine.
Speaking of character moments, many of the best belong to Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), all of whom are given just enough screen time (or more than enough) to make us care about the characters as they contend with their dire mission. I was initially worrisome about the casting of Smith as Deadshot, I thought he might end up becoming overbearing and even over the top, but he proved me wrong with a subtle and believable performance, his best since the Pursuit Of Happyness. Joel Kinnaman matches Smith’s performance, bringing a naturalistic touch to what could have been a stereotypical stubborn leader role. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is exactly like the Harley I grew up watching in the animated series that her creator Paul Dini wrote (minus the jester costume), and a total scene stealer. More on her later. El Diablo, the “fire guy” as Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) tauntingly dubs him, has the biggest emotional journey of any of the Squad members, though not as much screen time as the trio of aforementioned characters.
Captain Boomerang gets a solid amount of time to do his thing, which is make plenty of jokes and jabs, and kick a few asses along the way, but he isn’t given quite enough to do, which is a shame because he’s quite a lot of fun. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Karen Fukuhara as Katana, Cara Delevigne as June Moon & Enchantress, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, don’t get much to do, and neither does the sacrificial lamb Slipknot (Adam Beach), who follows in the footsteps of other villains in Suicide Squad comic and cartoons whose sole purpose is to prove that the bad guys aren’t playing around. Davis, a blank slate lacking charisma and passion behind her delivery of lines, doesn’t do much more than manipulate a few minds and give orders, and Delevigne’s characters aren’t fleshed out enough for us to care all that much about her. Killer Croc and Katana have minor moments of asskicking, and Croc gets a couple of funny lines, but neither of them are all that relevant to the plot, and easily could have been removed from the movie altogether without hurting the final product. However brief they may be, the two much hyped cameos, which includes Batman himself (Ben Affleck), fit naturally into the movie, and lack the feeling of being shoehorned into the movie for the sake of having them there.
Now back to Harley. Margot Robbie, equipped with a believable Bronx accent, and a fresh take on the New 52 Suicide Squad comic iteration of Harley, brings life and a lot of love for the character to a performance many were worried would fall flat. She looks, sounds, and behaves exactly like the Harley Quinn fans know and fondly love, and it’s a joy to see her steal scene after scene. She’s also fortunate enough to have some of the funniest lines in the movie, which Robbie delivers with a glint of pure enjoyment in her eyes.
In my eyes, the performance I was most drawn to belongs to Jared Leto as the Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker. Seemingly drawing from previous Jokers such as Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger, as well as the vast number of animated incarnations, Leto gives us a fresh take on the iconic villain that doesn’t feel like any Joker that came before it. I’d equate the performance to that of taking all the best elements of the aforementioned Jokers, and building from the ground up a composite of what that may look like. He’s not better, or worse than Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn as The Joker, he’s just different in his own unique fashion. I do think he’s better than the Jokers pre-Ledger though. Leto is gleefully over the top, cackling and growling like a tiger waiting to tear the face off his next unsuspecting victim, but not too over the top. This Joker’s as unpredictable, crafty, and brutal as ever before, but not overbearingly so. Sadly, Joker’s vastly underused, with much of his screen time left on the cutting room floor. I’d love to see more of this new Joker. The relationship between he and Harley, while volatile and unhealthy, is perfectly reflective of the one seen in the pages and frames of various DC comics and cartoons, and seeing it come to life was also a rather joyous experience.
Throughout the second and third acts of the movie, the editing seems to be a bit on the choppy side, more predominantly in the third act than the second act by a mile. It became pretty clear to me that the push for a two hour crowd pleasing comic book movie got in the way of giving the sidelined characters more depth and more impactful screen presences. Somehow, despite the clunky nature of the editing (which isn’t very distracting, thankfully), these scenes that are affected by it still work fairly well until the editing seems to get back on track and working just fine.
Beyond the quibbles I have with the editing, the story, the character development, and the casting of Amanda Waller, I still enjoyed this movie a lot, in some ways more than I thought I would, and in a couple of ways, less. I do not feel that this is a bad movie by any means, I think it’s actually damn good, but it’s not quite as great as it could have been, though I wasn’t always wanting or expecting it to be great anyways. If anything, all I ever wanted was yet another fun comic book movie I could lose myself in while watching these badass villains kick all kinds of ass six ways to Sunday. David Ayer gave me that in spades.
Now where’s the sequel?