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Suicide Squad (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne

Written & Directed By: David Ayer

The Shot

Everything that the recent run of DC Comics movies has gotten wrong, Suicide Squad gets right, and the result is one of my two favorite movies of the summer.  It’s weird, it’s wild, it’s wacky, and it’s wonderful.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


They say it’s bad for you, but it’s oh so good.

Pairs Well With...


This one comes courtesy of Peter, bartender at District in the Sheraton Grand Phoenix, who created this mixological wonder as a just-for-Phoneix-Comicon Thursday night drink special.  Start with a gigantic heap of grape cotton candy placed in a martini glass.  Then pour over a mix of Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka, Triple Sec, and lime juice, and watch the tower of sugar melt into a delicious riff on a Cosmopolitan.  Great theatre, delicious results

“You’re my friend, too.”

I was very, very nervous when I heard that “Suicide Squad” was being adapted into a movie.

See, “Suicide Squad” is my favorite comic book series, and Harley Quinn is my favorite comic book character.  Considering the fact that DC Comics films have been consistently awful in the post-Nolan era, I had every reason to believe that The Powers That Be would completely mess up a title that I personally hold dear.  Seeing an oversized character roster coupled with some questionable casting choices (Will Smith? Really?) did little to assuage my misgivings.

Queue  Summer’s Most Pleasant Surprise.

Suicide Squad isn’t a perfect movie, and it does take some liberties with a character or two, but when all is said and done, it’s fun and it works.  Everything that the recent run of DC Comics movies has gotten wrong, Suicide Squad gets right, and the result is one of my two favorite movies of the summer.

One might expect a title built around a cadre of supervillains with a penchant for violence to continue the recent comic book movie trend of nihilistic, grimdark, mistrustful, and generally depressing storylines grounded just a wee bit too much in reality, but Suicide Squad does no such thing.  Instead, it plays exactly like a six-issue arc of the comic book from which it is derived: a gonzo escapist funhouse ride that’s way smarter than one might initially imagine even as it takes a lot of improbable left turns.  It’s weird, it’s wild, it’s wacky, and it’s wonderful.    

The story fits in to the in-progress DC movie universe arc without either inheriting its sins or requiring any prior familiarity beyond the general pop cultural competence of understanding who Batman and The Joker are.  The premise is cool, and the writer/director David Ayer has fun with it.  The characters who matter get the individual attention they deserve without taking away from the strength of the ensemble, which turns out to be far less unwieldy than one might originally imagine (as I did).  Indeed, more than anything, it’s the characters and their interactions with each other that make Suicide Squad such a joy to watch.

Sure, they’re villains (and most of them make a fair effort to remind the audience of that), and sure, they’re generally selfish individuals with personal agendas to fulfill, but at the end of the day, they work together and they get along.  You know: the antithesis to all of this nihilistic “vs” crap that comic book movies having been shoving down our collective throats for the past few years.  It’s refreshing, and more than that, it makes Suicide Squad a whole lot more fun to watch.

And oh yes, there’s Margot Robbie (unjustly third-billed despite the fact that she’s playing the one character everyone’s really showing up to see) as Harley Quinn.

Ask someone who doesn’t really read comic books, and Harley Quinn is The Joker’s crazy girlfriend.  But for those with a deeper appreciation for the character, she is so much more complex than that – by far – and Robbie’s nuanced performance gives even the uninitiated audience a glimpse of that if they choose to look.  Sure, she’s off the wall, but even though it would have been very, very easy to play Harley Quinn as just plain batshit insane and call it a day, Robbie doesn’t do that.  Instead, she’s faithful to the complexities of the character, and as such, she’s built the foundations for a role that’s surely destined to be one of deep ongoing importance to the DC movie universe.

And then there’s Will Smith, who plays a character who may be called “Deadshot” but who is in fact “Standard Will Smith Template #1.”  If you love the “Suicide Squad” comic and Deadshot is your jam, then you will be sorely disappointed, because between the screenplay and Will Smith being Will Smith (and the costume department putting the eyepiece on the wrong side), your Deadshot is nowhere to be seen save in the form of Rick Flag whenever it’s time for him to act like the boss.  From a purity perspective, this is a casting disaster, but from an enjoyability perspective… even as a dedicated “Suicide Squad” comic book fan, I can dig it.  I dig it because frankly, Will Smith is more fun than Deadshot, and in the context of this particular ensemble, “Standard Will Smith Template #1” happens to work really damn well.  And let’s face it: Deadshot is not a multigenerational cultural icon like Batman or Superman are; rewriting him isn’t nearly the same level of cardinal sin that rewriting them was.

Speaking of cultural icons… prior to the release of Suicide Squad, people were all in a tizzy over Jared Leto being cast as a Millennial Punk reinterpretation of The Clown Prince of Crime, but the fact is that he’s just a peripheral side plot here (no doubt setting up for something bigger in a future Batman flick, of course, but really more worthy of an “also” credit at the end of this ensemble instead of the puffery of second billing).  As such, his standalone effect on Suicide Squad is minimal, though if I must pass judgment here, I’ll say that he’s not bad.  Not great, either – and The Joker rewrite does threaten to go too far depending on how DC chooses to carry it – but certainly not bad.

But maybe you don’t care about all of this comic book esoteria.  Maybe you’re just out looking for a fun summer action movie.  Well, friends, as suggested earlier, this Squad’s for you.

The action sequences are a blast, from the gunplay to the pyrotechnics to the baseball bats to the sharp objects a-go-go.  The characters are cool, funny, and fun.  The situations they’re thrown into are a good mix of exciting, hilarious, intense, and utterly gonzo.  The pacing is spot-on, and the story works for what it is.  And yes, all of it looks pretty, especially (though certainly not exclusively) in Imax.

Simply put, Suicide Squad is a great summer escape.  If you’re not into the comic book, then that’s all it ever needed to be, and you’re good to go regardless.  But if you are into the comic book and Deadshot’s not your  main man, then Suicide Squad is a double win, because not only is it a really fun movie that does its best to single handedly save the DC movie universe, but it also stays mostly faithful to its origins while doing it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2016

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

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