Wednesday, August 24, 2016
As the follow-up to “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Fury” director David Ayer’s DC Comics extravaganza “The Suicide Squad” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a gritty, slam-bang, straight-faced, but formulaic action thriller with some surprises. Although far from realistic in an any conventional sense, Ayer’s ensemble epic casts a dark shadow over everything that it depicts, and its unsavory psychotic felons tangle with powerful mystical entities from an ancient era. Indeed, the chief villain is almost seven thousand years old and she relies on magical incantations. Clearly, the ostensible difference between DC Comics movies and Disney’s Marvel movies is night and day, with DC preferring the dark, while Marvel basks in the daylight. Unlike The House of Mouse’s Marvel costume-clad, crime fighters, “Squad” doesn’t sugarcoat either its costume-clad convicts or their sinister shenanigans. Interestingly enough, Twentieth Century Fox’s three Marvel franchises (“X-Men,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Deadpool”) land somewhere between DC and Disney. Whereas the “Captain America: Civil War” characters survived miraculously to fight another day, some “Suicide Squad” characters die. Meanwhile, the guys and gal that constitute “The Suicide Six”—even by PG-13 standards—are not role models. Most of the “Suicide Squad” characters are as repugnant as they are formidable, and I don’t mean just the heinous criminals that the Government has recruited for Task Force X to perform their unscrupulous chores. The trigger-happy dame, Amanda Waller, who assembles these dastards, ranks as pretty despicable herself. In one scene, she murders in cold blood several subordinates because they weren’t cleared to handle the information that they were ordered to handle. Unless you’re a literate DC Comics bibliophile, you may not be familiar with the Suicide Squad; they bear some resemblance to Marvel Comics’ Avengers, but altogether lack their charisma. At the same time, Amanda Waller emerges as a version of Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. because she is far less honorable than Fury when it comes to dealing with her underlings. Historically, the first “Suicide Squad” bore little resemblance to the cinematic “Suicide Squad.” Captain Rick Flag and his girlfriend Karin Grace, Dr. Hugh Evans, and Jess Bright battled monsters back in 1959 in DC Comics’ “The Brave and The Bold.” They were all humans and flew jet-bombers. In 1987, DC Comics’ Legends Crossover graphic series introduced the new “Suicide Squad” that consisted of an assemblage of super-convicts, such as Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and Enchantress, similar to those in Ayer’s film.
As “Suicide Squad” unfolds, Superman is still dead and gone. Street vendors sell ‘Remember’ T-shirts commemorating the last son of Krypton. Although Clark Kent’s alter-ego doesn’t show up for this clash of the titans, anybody with half-a-brain should know that Superman will eventually make an encore appearance. Indeed, Warner Brothers and DC Comics have plans in the pipeline for a “Man of Steel” sequel. Nevertheless, Superman is nowhere to be seen here, and an unscrupulous, top-level government official, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis of “The Help”), fears that the next extraterrestrials may not be as benevolent as the Man of Steel. Consequently, she mobilizes a gang of costume-clad, super-convicts that she classifies as “the worst of the worst.” When she presents Task Force X, the National Security Council initially wants nothing to do with it. The Pentagon thinks that Waller’s idea is foolhardy. In short order, Waller changes their minds. She dispatches one of her motley crew, the witch-goddess Enchantress, aka June Moon (Cara Delevingne of “Paper Towns”), and Enchantress swipes a top-secret document from the Weapons Ministry Vault in Tehran that the Pentagon has been desperately trying to obtain by any means possible. An ex-Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie of “Focus”); a cream of the crop, crack-shot assassin Deadshot (Will Smith of “Concussion”); a guilt-stricken pyromaniac gang-banger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez of “Hostel”); a sociopathic Australian bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney of “Terminator Genysis”); a mutant half-man, half-crocodile cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of “Pompeii”); and a specialized assassin Slipknot (Adam Beach of “Cowboys & Aliens”) comprise Waller’s group. Rounding out this diversified outfit of unsavory savages is an implacable female ninja, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), armed with a bizarre samurai sword which traps the souls of all who die by its blade. Actually, she serves to protect the group’s commander, Special Forces Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman of “Robocop”), who has a genius for strategic planning. Oddly enough, Flag is involved romantically with June Moon, an archeologist who blundered into the wrong cave and encountered the spirit of the Enchantress. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad who bide their time in a miserable Louisiana dungeon isolated in a swamp, June and the creepy Enchantress share the same body. Think of the Enchantress and June Moon split-personality as a variation on Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Whenever Waller requires June to summon the Enchantress, this treacherous 7,000-year old sorceress exerts control over June’s body. Meantime, an elite team of Seals, led by Captain G.Q. Edwards (Scott Eastwood of “Fury”), are around to mop up what the Suicide Squad doesn’t wipe out. Most of G.Q.’s soldiers turn out to be expendables as “The Suicide Squad” boasts a high body count.
“The Suicide Squad’’ differs from “Batman Vs Superman.” Although Batman appears momentarily in two scenes while Bruce Wayne puts in a cameo appearance, the costume-clad convicts dominate events in “The Suicide Squad.” They carry or conceal standard-issue weapons, and their outfits aren’t as colorful as either Batman or Superman. Basically, they are like an infantry squad that infiltrates enemy territory. Ayers uses short but exciting scenes with appropriate golden oldies hits to introduce the eponymous convicts. Deadshot lives up to his name. In one scene, he demonstrates his extremely accurate marksmanship by pouring scores of bullets into the same holes that he made with his first bullets. Colonel Flag is visibly impressed. El Diablo comes the closest to being a superhero because he can transform himself into an incendiary human torch on impulse. Harley Quinn is a total fruit loop but she is about as dangerous a lady as you can imagine and uses her beauty to beguile men. The one man that she beguiles the most is the Joker and he struggles to keep a tight rein on her. Enchantress starts out as a team player but she defects and makes a strong adversary. She can conjure up things out of thin air and she can vanish in the blink of an eye and reappear where you least expect her. At one point, she summons the spirit of her long-lost brother to help her subjugate mankind. Second, “The Suicide Squad” resembles a zombie combat movie. Our anti-heroic team marches through the apocalyptic wreckage of Midway City as if they were soldiers entering a recently bombed city. The Witch-Goddess Enchantress possesses the power to turn Flag’s own men against him. She kills Flag’s soldiers and reconstitutes them as her hooligans. In this sense, Enchantress’ army behaves like the zombies from “The Walking Dead,” and they whittle down our heroes. If a witch-goddess with an army of zombies weren’t enough with which to contend, our heroes clash with the Joker (Jared Leto of “The Dallas Buyers Club”) who pops up as a largely peripheral villain to rescue his sweetheart Harley Quinn.
Essentially, “The Suicide Squad” pays tribute to two cult films. First, director Robert Aldrich’s World War II classic “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) concerned the U.S. Army recruiting commandos from a death row military prison for a mission behind enemy lines. No, Aldrich’s film was the first one to use the idea that a government would give felons a chance to redeem themselves. Movies like this go back as far as the Errol Flynn pirate caper “The Sea Hawk” (1940). “Second, John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” (1981) clearly inspired director David Ayers. In “Escape from New York,” the authorities, led by Haulk (Lee Van Cleef of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”), cut a deal with the deadliest man alive, Snake Plissken (Kirk Russell), to rescue the President of the United States from evil criminals after Air Force One crashed on an island prison, in exchange for commuting his death sentence. Just to make sure that Snake didn’t renege on the deal, Haulk injected an explosive pellet into his neck designed to blow Snake’s head off if he didn’t accomplish his mission. As you can see, “The Suicide Squad” borrowed from the best. Actually, there isn’t a bad performance in this offbeat film. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jay Hernandez, Viola Davis, and Jared Leto take top acting honors. Clocking in at two hours and three minutes, “The Suicide Squad” doesn’t provide enough detail about some characters, like Katana, but director David Ayes doesn’t squander a second as he parades the convicts to the brink of extinction.