Review of “The Suicide Squad”

Sometimes bad guys are bad for good reasons. They may have had horrible upbringings and know of no other way to live. They may be forced by circumstances to protect someone they love by carrying out the orders of someone threatening to hurt or kill family members. The bad they are doing may lead to a greater good only they can see. Then there are people that are just bad and what they do is bad. It may be for personal gain. It may be to exert power and control over others. It may be for the sheer joy of causing pain and suffering. Whatever the reason, people who do bad can choose to do good. Or, as in the case of “The Suicide Squad,” they are forced to do good with small bombs planted in their necks that will blow their heads off if they don’t follow orders.

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of supervillains to carry out a mission for the US Government. If they succeed, each member will get 10 years off their sentence. If they try to run away, a micro bomb implanted in each villains’ neck will explode, killing them instantly. The group is heading to the island nation of Corto Maltese where the ruling family has been overthrown and killed in a military junta. The new military government is antagonistic toward the US, so Waller is tasked with sending her team to destroy a Nazi Germany-built tower called Jötunheim where experiments are being carried out on a possible alien life form. Leading the team is Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). With him is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Savant (Michael Rooker) TDK (Nathan Fillion), Javelin (Flula Borg), Weasel (Sean Gunn) and Mongal (Mayling Ng). They attack one beach location while Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Cleo Cazo), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and Nanaue, aka King Shark (motion capture by Steve Agee, voiced by Sylvester Stallone) hit another. Eventually, the remainders of the two teams come together to face a threat like no other…from what’s in the tower and amongst themselves.

James Gunn is a unique film maker. He can produce giant blockbusters that have the look and feel of subversive underground cinema. He makes choices that go against the grain of standard moviemaking and those films frequently make money. He took a second-tier group of comic book characters and squeezed them into the overall narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His two “Guardians of the Galaxy” films are unlike anything in the MCU with his choice of music, influx of humor and willingness to insert a dose of heart and emotion into what could have been a couple of standard outer space comic book shoot-‘em-ups. He has now crossed the street to work on DC’s “The Suicide Squad” and brought his unique touches, and a few of his favorite actors, with him. The result is a gory, violent, fun spectacle.

One of the posters says to not get too attached to any of the characters, and that proves to be correct. Early on, several members of the team die in violent and gory ways. A couple of those I was hoping to see more of and learn more about. However, my disappointment quickly faded as the story progresses and the remaining team members get down to business. This movie takes all your ideas about superhero films and chucks them into the woodchipper. It then makes you stand in front of the woodchipper and be bathed in the remains of your expectations. After that, the movie dares you to complain about the mess or cry over your situation. It would appear I’m in an abusive relationship with “The Suicide Squad,” but what other kind could there be when I’m faced with rooting for a group of villains led by a man that put Superman in the hospital after shooting him with a Kryptonite bullet and an anthropomorphic weasel that killed a couple dozen children. Despite the psychological implications of hoping this team of villains succeeds, it’s hard not to find lots to like about most of them.

The performances are amazing in “The Suicide Squad” with the stand outs being John Cena as Peacemaker and Cleo Cazo as Ratcatcher 2. Cena makes his sociopathic character almost sympathetic at times. Peacemaker has a singular, but twisted, focus on the objectives of the mission. He says anything that comes into his head, will kill anyone that gets in his way, and doesn’t mind showing off his many unique kill styles trying to impress Elba’s Bloodsport. Cena is funny. He’s more than willing to use his impressive body to get a laugh, appearing in one scene in a pair of jockey shorts and nothing else. His response to their mission, codenamed Operation Starfish, is to ask if it has anything to do with buttholes and tells Bloodsport he’d eat a beach covered in penises if it meant the successful completion of his mission. Cena is building an impressive early resume of films as he kicks off his movie career following a successful stint in pro wrestling. John Cena is following closely in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Cleo Cazo is the sympathetic heart of “The Suicide Squad.” Cazo’s Ratcatcher 2 comes from a difficult childhood with a drug abusing father (Taika Waititi). Her father developed the technology to control rats and taught her how to use it. After he died, she used the tech to control rodents and help her rob a bank. After she was caught, she was sent to Belle Reve penitentiary and was recruited by Waller. Ratchcatcher 2 isn’t a bad person. She’s sweet and kind, loves her rats and forms an attachment to everyone on the team, especially Bloodsport. She convinces King Shark everyone on the team is his friend, so he won’t eat them. Her decency and kindness belie a strength and fierce loyalty the group needs when they least expect it. Cazo exudes warmth and joy in the role. I hope we get to see this character again if there are future films featuring Task Force X, assuming she lives to the end of this one.

“The Suicide Squad” is rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. There aren’t enough pixels in the world for me to list all the gory, graphic violence in this film. Arms, legs and heads are cut off, shot off and blown off. King Shark rips one guy in two, eats another whole and chomps on the head of a third. There are bloody shootings, stabbings and more. Harley uses a metal javelin as a pole vault, planting in one guy’s foot. In other words, there’s a great deal of bloody violence. There is brief nudity of men and women. Foul language is common.

I was one of the very few people that will admit to liking 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” While it was far from perfect, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the team, the humor and the constantly shifting loyalties of Harley Quinn. I would have liked to seen director David Ayer’s original edit of his film, as he has posted on Twitter, it is a much better version than what we got. It looks like that film was doomed by studio interference with the director’s vision, despite it making a huge amount of money. I don’t think James Gunn allows much BS from the studio on his films. He’s been quoted as saying, if he chose to kill off Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the bosses at WB would have let him do it. I would prefer the suits in the suites didn’t get their manicured fingers into the making of movies as most of them haven’t done it. The few that have may posses a unique knowledge of film making, but don’t have the same vision as those producing new releases. Let film makers succeed and fail on their own terms. It certainly appears Gunn has succeeded in her version of “The Suicide Squad”.

“The Suicide Squad” gets five gore- and blood-soaked stars out of five.

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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.

Review of “Run All Night”

No matter how good your relationship is with your parents, at some point most people have had a rough patch dealing with the authority figures in your life. Whether it was the length of your hair, your choice of friends, a perceived lack of initiative or ignoring your studies, all of us have had arguments with a mom or dad. My father thought I was lazy and he was right. I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons and eating a giant bowl of cereal over going out to play or help with the household repairs he always seemed to be doing. While we never had an actual argument our relationship was a bit standoffish until I got my first job while in high school. I believe it was then my father saw I wasn’t lazy, just interested in different things. The fathers and sons featured in this week’s movie “Run All Night” are at different points in their relationships; but ultimately it comes down to the love and protective spirit one man has for his son that leads to a great deal of death.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) used to be a feared hit man for mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now the man who used to be called Gravedigger is seen as a washed up old drunk who is only kept around because of his long-time ties to Maguire. Maguire’s son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is looking to expand his role in the family business by working out a deal with the Albanian mob to move heroin into the country. Shawn Maguire turns down the deal but Danny has already accepted money from the Albanians and they want it back. Mike Conlon (Joel Kinnaman) is Jimmy’s estranged son. He knows what his dad did for a living and wants nothing to do with him. Mike has a wife and two little girls with a baby boy on the way. To make ends meet, Mike drives for a limo service and tonight his passengers are the Albanian mobsters who are headed to Danny’s house to get their money. Mike is waiting outside in the limo when he hears shots and sees Danny shoot one of the Albanians in the head. The second one is dead inside Danny’s house. Danny, who knows Mike, yanks him out of the car at gunpoint and plans on killing him but after a brief struggle Mike gets away, leaving his wallet behind in the process. Danny calls his father and explains what happened who then calls Jimmy. Jimmy heads to Mike’s house and tries to talk to him about what to do next by Mike doesn’t want to hear it and tells Jimmy to leave. Meanwhile, Danny sneaks into Mike’s house just as Jimmy leaves. Danny has the gun pointed at Mike but Jimmy, who saw Danny’s car parked outside, shoots and kills him. Jimmy calls Shawn and tells him what happened. Shawn tells Jimmy they are both going to die for killing his son. Jimmy knows Shawn is paying off several cops so they can’t call the police for help. Jimmy convinces Mike to trust him for once in his life to keep him alive and try to fix the situation. Shawn is only out for revenge and brings in high-tech hit man Andrew Price (Common) at double his rate to take out Jimmy and Mike.

Once again, Liam Neeson is playing a man with a certain set of skills in “Run All Night” only this one is more used up than his “Taken” character. Unable to sleep due to the memories of all the people he’s killed, Conlon is a man haunted by all of his past, including leaving Mike and his mother many years earlier. While he did it to protect them, Conlon wishes he could have it all to do over again so maybe he could get it closer to right. Since no one gets a second chance, Jimmy must make the best of the situation. Neeson is spot on in “Run All Night.” His pain and remorse added to what is probably a fair amount of self-pity leads Jimmy to look for relief in a bottle. Neeson knows about pain and loss with the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. Some of that grief must color his acting in more serious roles. Neeson’s world weary face is more than capable of conveying a sense of hopelessness and defeat. It is also able to turn on a dime to show determination and a fair amount of menace. Neeson has cornered the market in the genre of films featuring a middle-aged man still being able to kick ass and take names. While a few others have done it before (Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis to name two) none has done it better than or as believably as Neeson.

Ed Harris has the kind of intense gaze that would curdle milk. He puts it to good use in “Run All Night.” His Shawn Maguire tells the Albanians that he is a legitimate businessman who has left his gangster days behind. Considering all the armed men around him and his son in a back room counting up thousands of dollars of cash, his statement would appear to be a bit of an exaggeration. Harris is a great actor and is able to easily pull off his somewhat dual role as both a ruthless criminal and a caring friend to Jimmy and father to Danny. Jimmy and Shawn grew up together running the streets of their neighborhood and are as close as brothers. Even though Jimmy isn’t of much use to Shawn, he keeps him around and throws some money his way out of a sense of loyalty and family. Nothing can break that bond except the death of Shawn’s son. It is this event that turns both men into enemies and brings out their dangerous killer instincts. Harris is like a pressure cooker: While he appears calm on the outside, inside there is turmoil, heat and death waiting to burst forth. Harris plays the part to perfection and is able to deliver menace, hate and fear in his performance.

Joel Kinnaman is somewhat disappointing as Mike. His performance is rather one-note. Mike is constantly angry at his father even as he’s risking his life to save him. Kinnaman, who is so good in the former AMC show “The Killing” as a police detective, appears to have his hands tied as far as his performance. Kinnaman plays Mike like a spoiled brat who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. While I certainly understand the initial anger at his father, Mike should have come around to at least a begrudging respect for his old man. Unfortunately, every discussion they have about the past is filled with Mike’s anger over Jimmy not being there and his disgust at the things Jimmy has done. Again, some of this is understandable to a point; however, Kinnaman keeps the anger turned up to 11 for far too long. Of course, this is more of a complaint about the script than the actor; but I still thought Kinnaman was probably the weakest character.

A character I’d like to have seen more of is Det. John Harding played by Vincent D’Onofrio. D’Onofrio, who is always interesting to watch, is underutilized in the film. While the movie isn’t about him, Det. Harding does play a pivotal role and is something of an ally to Jimmy despite being on the opposite side of the law. D’Onofrio is an actor that makes you pay attention to his character. His intensity and focus draws in the audience and we hang on his every word. D’Onofrio will play King Pin on the Netflix and Marvel “Daredevil” series. Aside from the stunts, he will probably be the most interesting aspect of that show.

There are a few stylistic things about the movie that both struck my eye and struck a nerve. First, as the film moves from one scene to the next, we are given a graphic depiction of the change of location with Google Earth-like zoom outs and zoom ins of buildings. If you have vertigo or are easily made motion sick, this might trigger an episode. While the first few times were interesting, it quickly began to felt like a visual gimmick that had overstayed its welcome. Also, the movie has a strange fascination with elevated trains. Several scenes start and end on the mass transit system. We also get scene transitions that show the trains moving through the city. Again, this is alright a time or two but after that it seems like the New York transit authority must have paid the movie makers to show off the trains as much as possible. It struck me as a bit odd.

Also troubling is the level of coincidence required to start the plot in motion. The Albanians have to rent a limo that is driven by Jimmy’s son. These same Albanians are doing business with Shawn’s son. Given the number of car services in New York City, the possibility of Mike getting the job seems like a statistical stretch. I’m willing to accept lots of things in movies but this seemed like a step too far.

Of course, a movie like “Run All Night” lives and dies by the action scenes. The movie does a great job of building up tension during a scene like a car chase in downtown New York. There is also the cat and mouse aspect of the police and Common’s hit man searching an apartment building for Jimmy and Mike. “Run All Night” is full of scenes like this and that makes it a very good action movie.

“Run All Night” is rated R for Strong Violence, Language Including Sexual References, and Some Drug Use. There are numerous beatings, shootings, strangulations and stabbings in the film. Nearly all are shown clearly. There are at least two scenes showing a powder being cut with a razorblade and then snorted. The only sexual material is a couple of scenes where a character describes what he would do to another’s wife. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Liam Neeson could be accused of making the same movie over and over again; however, there are enough differences between the “Taken” films and “Run All Night” to make that latter film unique. It takes a good look at the sacrifices fathers are willing to make for their children. It also shows how the past can come back to life in an instant to make the present difficult to navigate. While it doesn’t invent a new type of movie, “Run All Night” is able to do most of the things it attempts well and creates a world of interesting characters doing interesting things.

“Run All Night” gets four stars out of five.

As always, new films open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them and you can check out their trailers below:

Divergent Series: Insurgent—

The Gunman—

What We Do In The Shadows—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.