Review of “Suicide Squad”

Concerned the growing population of metahumans could become a threat to national security, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) suggests creating a team of supervillains called Task Force X. They would be sent out on the most dangerous assignments and, if things went bad, be disavowed by the government. Initially reluctant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is convinced when archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) releases the ancient witch that inhabits her called Enchantress and steals top secret documents from Iran in an instant. The team is comprised of the residents of the highest security prisons because they are the worst of the worst: The assassin known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy yet deadly Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), jewel thief and all around bad guy Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic street gang killer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), assassin and expert at climbing anything Slipknot (Adam Beach). The person put in charge of Task Force X is Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). By his side is a Japanese assassin known as Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Wielding a sword that traps the souls of its victims, Katana will act as Flagg’s bodyguard. Also for security, each criminal member of the squad is implanted with a micro explosive in their necks. Should they turn against the team or try to escape, their head will be blown off. If dealing with all the crazies in Task Force X isn’t enough to give Flagg nightmares, Harley Quinn’s psychotic supervillain boyfriend the Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for a way to get her back by his side. When Midway City is under attack from a super powered foe, Task Force X is deployed to retrieve a powerful person from a high rise building. Will the team of bad guys be able to stick together long enough to complete their mission? Will they all be decapitated by the explosives in their necks? Will Harley Quinn ever see the pale face and green hair of her puddin’ ever again?

“Suicide Squad” has been ripped to shreds by the real critics. It has been called dull, slipshod, overblown, overstuffed and just plain bad. One reviewer even referred to DC as the Donald Trump of blockbusters. That is harsh! Here’s the thing…I apparently didn’t see the same movie as the majority of critics as I found “Suicide Squad” to be a great deal of fun with a plot that, while at times overly convoluted and under explained, moves at a pleasant pace and filled with several characters that are appealing in various ways. In short, I really liked “Suicide Squad.”

“Short” is the word for this review as I don’t want to give anything away. There are plot points that have been kept under pretty tight wraps that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet. Let me say this much: The film has some problems in the way the story is laid out. Events near the middle don’t make a great deal of sense and there are some issues of timing, as in when some orders are given and how they relate to the big bad of the story. Maybe they were trying to keep the running time down to something reasonable at just over two hours but a bit more explanation would have helped make the story more coherent.

This will be a bit of a spoiler but I also had an issue with which members of the team don’t make it to the end of the film. One of the squad became a personal favorite as the movie progressed. He starts out as a fairly well rounded character with a backstory revealed late in the film. His worth to the team is questioned and he displays what he can do, gaining the team’s admiration. He is also pivotal to the conclusion and he gets killed. Meanwhile, another member of the team is pretty much useless and his actions lead to a second member getting the explosive in his neck set off. He doesn’t do much and is largely comic relief (and precious little of that). Perhaps one of those that don’t make it was selected to provide as much emotional punch as possible while the other is just to let the audience know there are high stakes for not following the rules. Whatever the reason, I would have liked to have seen one of these two lost squad members make it to the next film, if there is one.

While the team is led by Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the Queen of “Suicide Squad.” Her performance mixes the crazy, silly and dangerous in roughly equal amounts. Harley is a sexpot that will kill you for ogling her despite her dressing in short-shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt. She is as deadly with her hands as with a gun or her trusty baseball bat. Always looking for a way to reconnect with the Joker, Harley is truly the wild card of Task Force X. Robbie seems to be having far more fun in her role than anyone else. While Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent is at best fleeting, Robbie still manages to embody the best and worst aspects of the Joker’s former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The rest of the cast isn’t given much of an opportunity to shine the way Robbie is. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc gets a few good lines and a chance to be heroic while Will Smith plays more of a father-figure to both the team and the young daughter he hopes to see once again. Cara Delevingne plays her dual role as Dr. June Moone/Enchantress in two modes: Frightened and horror movie kitsch. Neither is terribly entertaining. The rest of the cast is fine. Jared Leto’s Joker is teased in the trailers as a major character but in fact is more of a bit part. His actions are pivotal to some parts of the plot but otherwise he’s just a flashy cameo.

A few words about the Joker: After Heath Ledger’s performance as the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight,” taking on the role of Joker for the next actor was going to be a thankless job that could only be compared unfavorably to what came before. While Leto certainly puts his own spin on the villain it can only pale in comparison to Ledger’s masterful, grounded yet clearly damaged Joker. Perhaps if he is the main villain in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie we’ll get a better chance to judge is green-haired lunatic. As it stands right now, the jury is still out as to whether Leto is a worthy successor.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for disturbing behavior, action throughout, language, sequences of violence and suggestive content. All of the suggestive content involves Harley and that is all pretty mild. There are various acts of violence committed against humans and non-humans. We see one member of the squad get his head blown off by the explosive implanted in the neck. It isn’t terribly graphic but you know what happens. A couple of helicopters and fighter jets get taken down by various means. Foul language is fairly common but is no worse than the word s**t.

Perhaps I’m judging “Suicide Squad” against the last entry into the DCEU, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I found that film to be plodding, dull and devoid of joy. By comparison, “Suicide Squad” is like a springtime meadow full of brightly colored flowers and playful puppies. It moves at a brisk pace and is a great deal of fun. It even has a couple of good guy cameos just to let us know the two films are connected. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to find the flaws as devastating as the real critics. See it yourself and make up your own mind but, despite the problems, I liked it.

“Suicide Squad” gets four stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Florence Foster Jenkins—

Pete’s Dragon—

Sausage Party—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys”

Summer is the season of school being out, vacations, spending time at the pool or lake or ocean or whatever body of water you might be near and braindead movies meant to pass a few hours between warm weather activities. Few films this season will probably be as braindead as “Magic Mike XXL” and “Terminator: Genisys.” I saw them both and could feel the death of grey matter as they both progressed. One was responsible for more synapse-cide than the other.

Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) has left the male stripper life behind and is now building and selling custom furniture. He gets a call from former fellow stripper Tarzan (Kevin Nash) telling him their old boss and MC Dallas (played in the first film by Matthew McConaughey but only mentioned in this film) has died. Mike travels to a motel where a wake is supposed to be held but finds Tarzan and the rest of his old crew of Ken (Matt Bomer), Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tobias (Gabriel Iglesias) partying around the pool. Tarzan admits he lied and Dallas isn’t dead but left them on their own to go start another club overseas. The gang is headed up the coast to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention for one last ride before they all hang up their G-strings and try for some kind of normal lives. They ask Mike if he wants to go but he says no as he has a life, business and responsibilities there. That night, he hears a song he used to dance to and does an impromptu routine in his work space. The next day, he meets with the guys and agrees to go on one last ride. An accident disables their ride and puts Tobias in the hospital with a head injury, standing them until their converted food truck van is repaired. Mike decides to approach his old boss Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith) who runs a private club for women in a house where male strippers are scattered around performing shows. While unable to convince Rome to be their fill-in MC, she does give them access to a car and has Andre (Donald Glover), one of her performers, give them a ride. Things are looking bleak as the troop heads to their last convention with no MC and not much of a plan.

“Magic Mike XXL” looks like a movie that didn’t have a completed script when it went into production. The story is very fragmented and jumps around like a child playing hopscotch. The only cohesive section of the film is the road trip until Tobias gets hurt; then, the section with every fortuitous turn imaginable begins. People who won’t help suddenly appear to do exactly what the boys need. There’s no slot during the convention for them to perform but that suddenly opens up. All their plans, thrown together in what appears to be a matter of hours story-wise, work out perfectly leading to a triumphant conclusion. It appears the only thing you need to live a charmed life is washboard abs and bulging pecs. Anything resembling everyday life is left behind once Mike decides to rejoin his buddies in Stipper-ville. “Magic Mike XXL” is a silly fantasy about shallow people living lives filled with as much instant gratification and recreational drugs as they can find. Of course, we discover they are all much deeper than we suspect and all they really want is just an average life with someone to love…except the New Age healer/actor/singer who realizes his dreams of stardom are likely never to be fulfilled but tells Mike, “I’m still pretty.” There were times in this film that I wanted to smack ever character on screen for being so petty.

About the only saving grace of the film is a scene involving Andie MacDowell as a divorced, modern southern belle hosting some friends at her home when Mike and the guys show up. It turns into a session of discovery and revelation that, while ridiculous, was interesting to watch. It seems like the only scene in the film that actually had a little thought applied to it. It also is one of those aforementioned fortuitous turns helping the boys get to Myrtle Beach. The film is also saved (somewhat) by the charisma of Channing Tatum. Tatum plays characters in most of his films that seem like decent people. Tatum comes off in interviews like an average guy that just happens to make movies. It’s his appeal as an everyman that keeps “Magic Mike XXL” from being an insufferable experience.

“Magic Mike XXL” is rated R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some nudity and drug use. Most of the dance scenes involve simulated sex acts. The only nudity I remember is Joe Manganiello’s bare backside early in the film. There are also some exposed cheeks when the boys are wearing their stripper gear. The guys are shown smoking weed and taking capsules that are referred to as Molly. Foul language is common.

While this film certainly isn’t aimed at me, “Magic Mike XXL” still manages a few laughs with the antics of the male strippers and a cameo by Michael Strahan as one of Rome’s dancers. While the humor and the charisma of Channing Tatum provide some bright spots, “Magic Mike XXL” feels like it was made from an unfinished script that left me feeling at times confused and then finally uninterested.

“Magic Mike XXL” gets a fully clothed three stars out of five.

John Connor (Jason Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) along with the rest of their troops are on the verge of destroying Skynet and ending the extinction of the human race. One team is hitting a facility where Skynet is based by Connor and Reese lead a team against a facility that contains the time machine used to send Terminators to the past. Skynet is disabled and all the robots shut down; but the time machine has been used to send a T-800 model back to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke). Kyle Reese volunteers to go back and protect Sarah. John knows if he doesn’t he’ll never be born. Kyle begins the process of time travel but sees John being attacked by someone in the crowd. Kyle shows up in 1984 and is almost instantly attacked by a liquid metal T-1000 model (Lee Byung-hun). Hiding in a clothing store, Kyle is saved by Sarah Connor driving an armored truck. In the back is an aged looking T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle tries to shoot him but the old T-800 knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, Sarah tells Kyle that the Terminator she calls “Pops” has raised her since she was nine. He’s there to protect her. Kyle is suspicious and doesn’t trust Pops. Things have changed from the history Kyle was told by John. Kyle also has memories of being a child and telling himself that Genisys is Skynet. Nothing is making sense.

I don’t want to give away any more than that brief synopsis as I often get yelled at for telling too much. Besides, the whole story of “Terminator: Genisys” is far more complicated as time is twisted into knots and histories and futures are as fluid as water. Nothing you know about the “Terminator” universe stays completely unchanged from film to film so this shouldn’t be a big surprise. That the timeline can be manipulated and changed was one of the most appealing aspects of the film. It also means there can be endless sequels since the past can be manipulated like soft clay and molded into whatever the next writer wants.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star of the film even though his is more of a supporting character. Pops is given the job of putting the science of the film into words. It seems like a risky idea considering Schwarzenegger’s thick accent. Still, he manages to deliver explanations for the various timelines that at least sound like they have a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger also provides much of the film’s humor. His scary dead-eyed smile is usually delivered at the perfectly inappropriate time and his lack of emotion and understanding of emotional expressions means lines that aren’t funny take on a humorous context.

Most of the film’s action is created through CGI. While many scenes look pretty good, including the film’s climax, some look bland, particularly a helicopter chase amongst the skyscrapers of San Francisco. There are shots that look flat and unfinished like the nighttime setting would hide the flaws. It doesn’t. This is a brief scene compared to others but it stuck out. One highlight of the CGI is the fight between old and young Schwarzenegger. An Australian bodybuilder with matching physical measurements to 1984 Arnold was used as a body double then had Schwarzenegger’s young face digitally stitched to his head. It works surprisingly well and looks almost completely natural. Oddly enough, the digital Arnold face actually has a brief flash of too much emotion.

I believe the studio made a tactical error in releasing a major plot twist in one of the film’s trailers. It caused a bit of a stink on the Internet but I didn’t think that much of it at the time. Having now seen the film it was a much larger mistake than I originally thought. This kind of surprise (which I won’t tell if you don’t already know) is the kind of major story event that can raise the audience excitement for a film and give it enormous word-of-mouth buzz. Since it was revealed in the trailer, the reveal is ho hum. According to press reports, director Alan Taylor didn’t know about the spoiler being in the trailer and is quoted as saying he wouldn’t have revealed it before the film came out. Since the film is underperforming at the box office in its opening days, this may actually be costing the studio some money. It also doesn’t help that “Inside Out” and “Jurassic World” are still performing strongly this late in their runs; but people talking about that surprise might have driven a few more patrons the film’s way. The trailer reveal seems at best short sighted and at worst incompetent.

“Terminator: Genisys” is rated PG-13 for gunplay throughout, brief strong language, intense sci-fi violence and partial nudity. Guns of various types are fired throughout the film, most frequently at non-human characters. Those humans that are shot show very little blood. The fights between the various types of Terminators involve lots of bodies getting thrown around and through walls and ceilings. The flesh gets beaten, burned and ripped off the T-800 models in various ways. The nudity consists of those people who travel in time as they must do so naked. The most we see is bare male backsides. Foul language is intermittent.

If you don’t think too hard about the twisty timelines (or know anything about actual physics and the improbability of time travel), “Terminator: Genisys” is a fun action flick with plenty of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the first film in the series. Seeing Arnold in his various forms saying his most famous “Terminator” lines in completely different contexts brings a smile to those of us who have aged along with the T-800. Resetting the timeline also opens the door for more films with two already planned and getting 2017 and 2018 release dates. It would appear Arnold is telling us, “I’ll be back.”

“Terminator: Genisys” gets five stars.

Horror, sci-fi, a sex romp and little yellow helpers are all on tap at theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following.

The Gallows—

Minions—

The Overnight—

Self/Less—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.