Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: "Suicide Squad"

If “Batman v Superman” was a hot mess, then its DC Comics companion, “Suicide Squad” is an even hotter mess -- but also a more enjoyable one.

It’s essentially a “Dirty Dozen” spin on the superhero genre, taking a disparate gaggle of bad guys out of the clink and throwing them into a squad of supposed do-gooders. They fight with each other and rebel against their overlords, and eventually get around to doing some good.

The movie takes waaaaay too long during the “putting together the team” portion of the movie, but it pays off with a second half that is virtually non-stop action and CGI-heavy mayhem. Our gang of misfits actually transforms from sneering baddies into those in whose hands the fate of the very world rests.

(Have you noticed that all superhero movies lately are about the end of the world? That ol’ Earth sure is a vulnerable planetoid.)

The best bet writer/director David Ayer (“End of Watch”) makes is not trying to spread around the screen time and backstory evenly. It’s a first-among-equals approach, with Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn as the main characters. Everyone else is essentially an add-on.

Deadshot is a merciless assassin who never misses with a firearm, but has a soft spot in the shape of his beloved 11-year-old daughter. He’s a “serial killer who takes credit cards,” so if fighting for the U.S. government is the price he has to pay to be reunited with her, then so be it. Viola Davis is commanding and ice-blooded as Amanda Walker, the intelligence chief running the show.

I should mention all the squad members have an explosive device implanted in their spine, and if they disobey the hardcase leader of their unit, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), they get blown up.

Harley Quinn is written as a scene-stealer, and Robbie milks it for everything she’s got. Harley is a former psychiatrist who got turned bad by her jailbird boyfriend (more on him in a minute), and is now a flirty, sexy, homicidal maniac. Her superhero costume consists of barely-there shorts, cutoff shirt, smeared makeup and fishnets. Her favorite M.O. is to bash people in the face with a baseball bat.

It’s a crazy, off-kilter character, a woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon and a tool. She’s somewhere between a feminist nightmare and empowerment icon.

Her guy is the Joker, played in this iteration by Jared Leto, utterly horrifying in bright green hair, facial tattoos and apparently stainless steel teeth. If Harley’s unhinged, he’s the claw hammer that pulled her screws loose. Jack Nicholson’s J-man was murderously theatrical and Heath Ledger’s was crazily calculating; Leto’s is just crazy for the sake of crazy.

For a while we think the movie’s building Joker up as the main villain. But it turns out he’s basically just a street gangster, not a world-beater.

The rest of the team, in quick order, is: Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie blade master who’s got a lot of ‘tude; El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a South-Central gangbanger who can produce ferocious flames from his hands, but has made a vow of pacifism after personal loss; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Abgaje), a misanthropic lizard dude with super strength and reptilian skin; Slipknot (Adam Beach), a Native American warrior and mystery man; and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a Japanese swordswoman whose blade steals the souls of her enemies.

Certainly the most visually interesting is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a dark sorceress who has actually possessed the body of a goody-goody archaeologist. She becomes a ghost-like apparition, seemingly made out of smoke and ash, with baleful eyes glowing out at us.

(At one point Delevingne breaks out into an odd, snake-y, vaguely Egyptian dance move. I kept wondering, “Is this supposed to be… scary? Because it’s actually kinda making me laugh.)

No one is going to confuse “Suicide Squad” with great moviemaking. It’s carelessly plotted and has too many hanger-on characters. But I can genuinely say I was entertained during long stretches, especially in the second hour.

Look at it this way: if the first DC Comics movie wasn’t any good, and this one is half a good movie, maybe the next one can get all the way to super.

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