film

Review: Suicide Squad or “DC’s Modern day B-movie”

At the time of writing this article everyone that wants to see Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer, either has or has made up their mind not to based on word-of-mouth and critical review. Because of this I will be spoiling several key points, you’ve been warned.

This latest movie marks another incredibly divisive entry into the DCEU after this year’s punchy slogfest that was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Darkness. My main issue with that film was that it seemed that the people behind-the-scenes didn’t really get the true nature of their two main characters. There was no hope in Superman whatsoever and Batman murdered everyone (I suspect a hidden skull shirt underneath that fresh new batsuit). This next iteration of page to screen comic movie in Suicide Squad actually does improve on that issue, but proves to muddy the waters on almost everything else. There is fun to be had in it though and I’d say it’s a more enjoyable experience than Batman V Superman, but it really, truly is a mess of a movie with clear studio intervention.

In the DCEU the wake of Superman’s presence is felt throughout all of its corners, most especially in paranoid shadowy agents like Amanda Waller. She urges the government to consider a drastic plan that involves utilizing captured villains to form a team to take on the greater threats that face humanity in this new world of Superheroes, because what if the next Superman decides to rip off the roof of the White House? (I assure you this squad couldn’t stop him if he wanted to do just that though) Thus begins the story, or rather the first half of the movie, which is purely flashbacks and introductions to the squad set to cheeky top ten pop songs or hits in lieu of a soundtrack to match the emotion of the movie, which drastically fluctuates across the runtime.

Deadshot

Will Smith’s presence in this movie is what makes it watchable. His skill in emoting, and making the deadly assassin worth rooting for, is the emotional hook of the story and really the only good motivation across the board for the team, besides not wanting to die. Deadshot’s through line comes in the form of him attempting to provide for his daughter. Plus he’s one of the few characters to get a scene with Batman involved. Truthfully this is one of the best performances from Smith in years, personally I just wish it had been in a better movie.

Harley Quinn

Margot Robbie is the other standout among the squad. Not only is her performance spot on with the nature of the character she injects moments of humanity into this classic case of stockholm syndrome that makes you believe there is more to the queen of crime without you just waiting around for Mista J to appear.

Captain Boomerang

Jai Courtney, and I really thought I wouldn’t be able to say this after “A Good Day to Die Hard”, is actually pretty damn entertaining here. Granted Captain Boomerang doesn’t do much in the film but his greaseball criminal antics make him worth watching, and yes, he even throws his boomerang once.

Diablo

Billed as the conscience of the squad, portrayed by Jay Hernandez, Diablo is one of the characters that was weakened by the size of the cast and the choppy mess of editing and direction. His backstory, once revealed, is dark and ripe for character work but its almost cast aside as soon as it is mentioned almost as if the producers read it and said “Oooo.. that’s too dark, we just had Batman V Superman shrouded in darkness we can’t have that again, cut that up and put some pop songs in there, lighten it up a bit Geez.” His death in the third act is set up for an emotional pull but the film hasn’t gotten us aquainted with Diablo all that much for the moment to mean anything and it isn’t lingered on or even acknowledged afterward.

Killer Croc

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Croc was also fairly underused in the film. He’s almost mute the entire runtime save for several attempts at humor and for one specifically underwater portion of the mission near the end which was clearly tailor written for Killer Croc to have a reason to swim. It too is quickly passed by, only briefly mentioned “Oh yeah, Killer Croc, he can swim, lets have him swim.” Now if he had been as monstrous as he has been depicted in comics and animated Batman cartoons before he could have been a real powerhouse monster, but that must not have been in the budget. He has essentially no backstory either.

Slipknot

Guess who’s only in the movie for about twenty seconds and dumped at the viewers feet near the beginning of their mission? His only reason to exist in the movie is to confirm that Amanda Waller’s explosive threat is legitimate.

Katana

At about halfway through the movie Katana, Karen Fukuhara, is introduced as an associate of Rick Flagg, the defacto leader of the group. She, apparently, uses a sword that encapsulates the souls of those killed by it. The soul of her dead husband is also in that sword. Honestly throw the rest of this garbage out the window and give me that movie, that has a hook I’m actually interested in. We get nothing else from her except cool sword action when the inevitable faceless army comes into play.

Rick Flagg

Joel Kinnaman’s Army grunt Flagg is serviceable as the character that has to wrangle this rag tag team. He’s only truly there because of his love interest, June Moon. This is a manipulation by Waller as she plays her chess pieces to try and make this erratic group work. He has some shoddy lines here and there, but some actual emotional work in the third act.

The Enchantress/June Moon

Here’s one of the biggest problems with this movie. The Enchantress, Cara Delevingne, is one of the weakest villains in years. Her motivation is.. world domination? Almost everything about this character is a joke. She’s over sexualized. She basically just belly dances for the last half of her performance. She also ruins Amanda Waller’s plans easily right from the beginning thus setting up the squad’s very existence as the threat that has to be abolished. Her plan was to revive her brother kept by Waller, I suppose they were some sort of magical gods from an ancient Mayan-like society? After she frees him they have a small back and forth where she explains to him that Humans worship machines now, and that she will build a powerful machine to… rule with? Thus giving her the opportunity to have a giant beam of light reach up into the sky like we’ve seen a thousand times before, and to create a massive faceless army for Deadhot to shoot at and Harley Quinn to bash their noggins in with her baseball bat. What is the purpose of such a machine that has no moving parts, is powered by belly dance inspiring magic, and takes an incredibly long time to create with no visualization of progress being made on said “Machine”. Magic, I guess…

Amanda Waller

The real villain of the movie is portrayed quite well here by Viola Davis. I say real villain because while that might not have been the intention of the screenwriters, or the director, Amanda Waller plagues the villains..err heroes(?) far more than anything the Enchantress accomplishes. Amanda Waller is a cold and calculating agent of A.R.G.U.S., they’re like S.H.I.E.L.D. but with less cool spy stuff and more shady goverment dealings.

The Joker

You might be wondering why I mentioned the clown prince of crime last. That’s because he’s barely even in this movie at all. Jared Leto handily gives us a Joker with traits cherry picked from the late Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Cesar Romero respectively, something new that feels familiar. Not bad, but certainly not the best Joker to grace the screen yet. Of course there was (supposedly) a large portion of Jared Leto’s performance that was cut from the film, and until we get more of him it’s really unfair to judge him until we see how he squares off against Ben Affleck’s Batman.

In the end we have a movie with some middling success, a few visually interesting action sequences, but nothing to make you really feel anything for any of these characters. It’s a classic example of throwing everything at a wall just to see what sticks. There is a battle waging across the film’s runtime for what tonal shift the filmmakers want the audience to feel, but they never decide between the two being both bright, and dark. There is a constant feeling that there is a good movie, maybe even two, hidden somewhere in this version we got. I highly suspect we will see another ‘ultimate edition’ of Suicide Squad to spring forth just as one did for Bats and Supes. But whereas that movie was already too long and initially a mess as well I’d actually be interested in an ultimate edition of this film, if only to sate my curiosities on Jared Leto’s Joker if his performance truly was that limited here.

Oh and as mentioned there were several Batman cameos that were fairly entertaining, seeing Batman punch Harley Quinn in the face underwater was truly pleasing. The Flash also showed up for the first well executed Superhero quip in the DCEU, so that’s saying something. At the risk of any kind of comments section retorts, I have to say, at least we have Marvel Studios, those guys know how to tell superhero stories, DC might yet make the best version of what they can do and surprise us all, but until then they are the definitive second fiddle to the house of ideas.

Final Score: 2/5

 

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film

Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople or “New Zealand’s best Manhunt/Odd-couple Comedy set in Middle Earth yet”

 

Taika Waititi is quickly becoming one of my favorite people in cinema. With last year’s gut busting and hilarious vampire comedy entry ‘What we do in the shadows’ showing a unique style of humor and wit I am pleased to say that his following film only expands that ability and originality. ‘Hunt for The Wilderpeople’ is a larger film than the mostly self contained Vampire slapstick, but that’s in the very nature of the story at hand, a young boy and his new foster parent bonding together through a footchase in “the bush” from New Zealand’s brass.

The story begins with the introduction of Ricky Baker, portrayed here with comedic skill and heart by Julian Dennison, a young city boy raised on rap and foster care as he arrives to his latest home in the countryside of New Zealand. Rima Te Wiata and Sam Neill (“Alan!”) portray Ricky’s new foster parents as Aunt Bella and Uncle Hec respectively. They’re met by Ricky’s handlers, the child care services officers Paula and Andy portrayed by Rachel House & Oscar Kightley. Between the five of them this is the core of the cast with others popping in and out of the story to compliment it as it careens along, like ‘Psycho Sam’ for example, but more about him later.┬áRicky quickly decides the country life is not for him and attempts to run away, resulting in several poor attempts at the arduous journey back to civilization. However as soon he begins to get acquainted with his new surroundings and family an event takes place that forces Ricky and Uncle Hec to head into “the bush”on the run from Paula, Andy, and other police forces as a manunt through the wilderness ensues.

What stood out to me the most in this film was its unwavering ability to mix violence, death, saddness and grief into a story that is mostly giggle inducing and silly in its own awkward, yet assuredly confident, way. This is most certainly one of the most original films I have seen in awhile, ‘Swiss Army Man’ notwithstanding. Everything from the pace to the score is an oddly beautiful creative decision. The story is chunked into ten chapters and an epilouge which helps to keep everything light and quick when dealing with the heavy material in small moments, this keeps the mood upbeat and from getting too downtrodden. The humor here is impeccable and the cinematography is leaps and bounds above what was on display in ‘What we do in the shadows’, but the real prize here is the character work that is done. All the actors did a fine job but the bulk of the accolades go to Sam Neill’s Uncle Hec and Julian Dennison’s Ricky Baker. I dare you to not adore Ricky’s childlike horror when he witnesses Aunt Bella kill a wild pig with her bare hands as he’s constantly trying to maintain his ganster bravado. Or to get the “Ricky Baker” birthday jingle out of your head while Uncle Hec deadpans apathy as Aunt Bella cheerily taps out the tune on a tiny plastic piano.

This film has a whimsical sense of humor and enough charm to melt any adventure loving cinephile’s heart. If you can find a showing of the film anywhere I strongly suggest giving it a watch, although I saw it at a film festival so showings may be hard to come by, but it is more than worth your time and money. Pyscho Sam, “a bushman.. man, or a bush?” alone is worth the price of admission just for his small yet memorable role of a crazy woodsman hiding from the government.

Final Score: 5/5