Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Suicide Squad was the most anticipated superhero movie of the year.

The film had a massive opening weekend, earning $135.1 million domestically (North America). This was the largest August opening weekend ever, topping Guardians of the Galaxy ($94.3 million) in 2014. This was the largest August opening day ever at $65.2 million, and the largest August Thursday preview ever at $20.5 million. It was the 24th largest opening weekened of all time internationally, topping Deadpool ($264.7 million in 2016).

But.

Suicide Squad had a 41 percent Friday-to-Saturday drop its opening weekend, indicating horrific word of mouth. Its second weekend, it dropped a whopping 67 percent from its premiere week.

What's wrong with Suicide Squad? One friend of mine complained that the story was too complex. Frankly, I found the story pretty straightforward and linear. So what's the problem?

  1. Plot hole #1: The film's major plot hole is Enchantress. Amanda Waller controls Enchantress because she has the witch's heart. Enchantress gets around this by releasing her brother, Incubus, who gives Enchantress some of his power so that she can survive the destruction of her heart. Why does Enchantress wait until now to do this??? At any time in the past, oh, I dunno, five or six months, she could have freed Incubus, survived the destruction of her heart, and taken over the world. Why now???? Why didn't Enchantress free her brother the moment after she possessed Dr. Moon? This is never answered in the film, and needed to be made rock solid crystal clear before this film worked.
  2. Plot hole #2: Amanda Waller knows that Enchantress is, potentially, the most powerful metahuman on the planet. If Enchantress gets loose, the world ends. So when Waller is told that Enchantress has bolted, what does she doe? She stabs the heart a couple times. She does not destroy it -- which might, potentially, have killed Enchantress before Enchantress had an opportunity to do whatever damage she intended to do. (Only the audience knows that Enchantress has found a way around the destruction of her heart. Waller does not know that.) Why doesn't Waller completely destroy the heart?????
  3. Plot hole #3: The team is told that their mission is not to fight the "terrorist attack" going on inside Midway City (Hawkman's home, by the way). They are told that their mission is to "extract a human target alive and unharmed". The team does so, and Waller is kidnapped anyway when Incubus brings down her helicopter. At this point, Deadshot rearms by entering Waller's downed 'copter, finds a binder full of top secret information, and learns that Enchantress is the cause of what's going on -- not a terrorist group. This turns the team against Col. Rick Flagg. NONE of this makes sense. From the get-go, when the team is approaching Midway City, it's very clear that the massive, lightning-filled cloud of smoke and debris swirling over Grand Central Station is not the work of al-Qaeda. When the group tackles the blob-head drones sent by Enchantress and Incubus, it seems patently obvious that this is no terrorist attack. So why are the villains so upset? Are they upset because they've been sent against a monster much more powerful than the one they were told about (e.g., mere terrorists)? Wasn't that BLATANTLY obvious when their helicopter was crashed by slithering tentacles, or they confronted the blob-heads? Even Killer Croc should have figured it out by now! So why all the upset?
  4. Plot hole #4: After getting upset by realizing they are going up against Enchantress rather than Boko Haram, the team decides to call it quits. It's suicide (they say) to go up against Enchantress. So Flagg may as well kill 'em all now... Flagg's response to this is what, exactly? To remind them that their mission was to retrieve the target, alive and unharmed? To remind them that they've yet to complete their mission? Nope. His response is to break down weeping over Junie Moon, and give up. What the fuck is wrong here????
  5. Plot hole #5: After the team decides to give up, Flagg should have killed all of them (except Harley, whose neck-bomb has been rendered inoperative by Joker), and the backup team should have been sent in. What back-up team??????? That's right: Waller had no back-up team. Suicide Squad was her front-line of defense against a metahuman. Which seems incredibly stupid, because aside from Diablo this is a group of non-superpowered villains. Not one of them has a chance of taking down Enchantress. EVERY half-assed military unit has reserves, but not Waller. This is ludicrous.
  6. Plot hole #6: After the team heads for the bar, Harley convinces them that they should still go after Enchantress. Sure, she says, we have no powers and we're total fuck-ups. But let's embrace our inner fucked-up-ness and do this thing! THAT is her answer. And it convinces the gang to go after Enchantress. That's ludicrous.
  7. Plot hole #7: Joker shows up in a helicopter to free Harley. WHY doesn't Incubus destroy this helicopter long before??????? Incubus took down two other helicopters after they barely entered the city. But he allows this one in????????
  8. Plot hole #8: Waller is trapped in her skyscraper bunker with the heart of Enchantress. Why doesn't Enchantress or Incubus get to her???? Okay, so getting into Waller's bunker would be hard. But Enchantress now has a massive lightning bolt which she can use to blast it open. Maybe Enchantress cannot just destroy Waller's bunker (and Waller with it) with energy blasts, because that would potentially also destroy what remains of Enchantress's heart. But at least Enchantress or Incubus could have opened the door, and allowed the blob-heads access. Or Enchantress -- which later displays an ability to move at super-speed and teleport -- could have simply teleported into the bunker and snapped Waller's neck.
  9. Plot hole #9: Flagg is allegedly completely under Waller's control because Flagg is desperately in love with Dr. Moon. Indeed, Flagg's love is so powerful that he's willing to kill members of the Suicide Squad in order to protect her. (He demonstrates this by killing Slipknot.) Yet, when the team decides to give up on rescuing Waller and Moon, what does Flagg do? He gives up too. He doesn't exhibit the obssessive love he's supposed to. He quits.
  10. Joker's appearances in this film are meaningless: Fans of Suicide Squad were led to believe that The Joker played a major role in the film. In fact, that's not true at all. Joker's apperances are fairly meaningless time-wasters. His appearance in silhouette (while he warps Dr. Harleen Quinzell's mind) is important, as it tells the back-story of how he Harley fell prey to evil. But otherwise, what role does he play? Yes, Joker kidnaps Dr. Van Chris, which allows Joker to deactivate Harley's neck-bomb and liberate Harley. But this in no way affects Waller's subsequent kidnapping: Incubus took down Joker's helicopter, and Waller's. There is no way Waller could have escaped via helicopter. And then Harley rejoins the Suicide Squad moments later. The rest of Joker's scenes consiste of him luxuriating among a cacophany of weapons, attending to his criminal empire, asking Harley to fall into a vat of chemicals much as he himself did, and freeing Harley from Belle Rieve Prison at the end of the film. None of these are important to Harley's character development, and none of them are important to the plot.
  11. Characterization in the film is almost meaningless: There are a shitload of characters in this movie: Amanda Waller, Col. Rick Flagg, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Enchantress, Incubus, Katana, Slipknot, Joker, Lt. Griggs (the guy who tortures the villains at Belle Rieve), and Lt. Edwards (who sets off the bomb beneath Incubus). You can dismiss three of these (Joker, Slipknot, and Edwards) because they are either one-dimensional or have no real presence in the film. That leaves us with ELEVEN major characters to flesh out. While Waller, Deadshot, Harley, El Diablo, and Enchantress pretty much get good coverage, that leaves us with blanks for Boomerang, Killer Croc, Incubus, and Katana. Nevertheless, all four have major screen time. Boomerang is given a lot of dialogue, but his personality and motivations are never demonstated at all. Killer Croc is supposed to be a cannibalistic killing machine who hates all human beings, but is nothing more than a harumphing, growling non-presence in this film. Incubus is a deus ex machina, whose backstory and presence is barely explained. And Katana is given such short shrift, I'm embarassed by it.
  12. Incubus's role in the film is meaningless: Ideally, Incubus would be as powerful as Enchantress in this film. The fact that she has to draw on his power in order to survive the damage done to her heart is made clear. But what's not clear is why this limits Incubus to being Plastic Man. In a puzzling line, Enchantress says that Incubus needs to "feed on humanity" in order to regain his strength. (This implies that Enchantress has, in fact, been feeding on human lives for quite some time since her release.) If so, why does Incubus have so much power to spare for Enchantress? Perhaps her line is to help establish that Incubus won't have enough power to do much in the film except issue tendrils of tar at people. If so, then this needed to be made MUCH more clear.
  13. The death of Slipknot is dumb: Now, I understand that there's a need to establish, early on, that the neck-bombs work, and that Flagg won't hestitate to use them. Subsequently, Slipknot is introduced along with Katana as the team enters Midway City. The rule of thumb in motion pictures is "do not introduce characters if you don't have to." Audiences pay attention during films, and will pay attention to a character in the anticipation that the character will appear later on. Only under limited circumstances would the audience not do this, such as when a character is clearly unable to participate in the action (e.g., is the President of the United States) or there is some signal in the film that the character is there to serve a limited purpose. The fact that neither Slipknot nor Katana is introduced provides a mixed signal to the audience. It does so first by making the audience want to pay attention to both characters. After all, this is Suicide Squad, and villains and heroes are part of it. For the film to then kill Slipknot violates the filmmakers' unspoken agreement with the audience. It does so second by making the audience want to dismiss Katana, which the filmmakers then proceed to keep around for the rest of the film -- once more violating the unspoken agreement with the audience. There had to be a better way to establish Flag's willingess to kill members of the team. (For example, the team could have been shown video of Flagg killing Slipknot.)
  14. Katana's role is pathetically undeveloped: Along with Col. Flagg, Katana is the only other superhero to join the Suicide Squad. Why she does so is never explained. Her origin, her character, her motivation, her goals: None of these are ever stated in the film. The film practically borders on racism in the way it depicts Katana as an "inscrutable Asian mystic".
  15. The visions of each villain's ideal world is dumb: The problem here is that we've seen this before, and it never works. Each villain is shown a vision of his or her perfect world, and they naturally snap out of it. Moreover, not all visions are shown, as Katana, Killer Croc, and Boomerang don't seem to have them. The visions also don't seem rooted in each character's reality, either. Why is it Deadshot's paradise to kill Batman? Has he shown such hatred of Batman? No. Why isn't his vision of being with his daughter? Deadshot clearly enjoys killing, so why doesn't his vision encompass that? Why is Harley, who is insane, have a vision of normalcy? Why isn't her vision more closely aligned with her insanity and her desire to have Joker love her completely and fully? Finally, these visions STOP THE FILM COLD just as it needed to ratchet up into high gear and get fast and furious for the finale.

There are a lot more problems in this picture, including poor makeup for Killer Croc, Will Smith's "Fresh Prince" delivery, the extremely poor use of images for 3D visuals, Jared Leto's less-than-inspired Joker, very sloppy editing, the miscasting of Will Smith, the over-long fight scene with the blob-heads, the pointless stunt-casting of Common and Scott Eastwood and Adam Beach, and the repetitive use of visuals to see Enchantress bolt. Again.

Did I like things about it? Sure. I loved the way Waller introduces the villains at the beginning, and how this is intercut with her eating. I very much liked Margot Robey's portrayal of Harley Quinn. The visuals they used for Enchantress were superb, especially those as she's manufacturing and operating her infernal machine. Joel Kinnamon is, hands down, the very best thing about this film. He carries it all the way through, and is -- easily -- the star of the picture. I loved the characterization of Amanda Waller, and loved loved loved Viola Davis in the role. She gave her all!

The movie's enjoyable on a superficial level, and it certainly is not the worst superhero movie of all time. It's not even close to the Hulk films (which are very bad) or the Punisher films (unwatchable). The complete lack of characterization leaves the audience with no impression. Because there's no characterization, there are no great lines or moments for these villains. This is a film which should have had extemely sharp and cruel wit, but had nothing at all. This is a film in which brutality should have been widely depicted, but which was light on the violence. This is a film which has some very, very severe pacing problems. This is a film which has a major subplot that has nothing to do with the rest of the picture.

It could have been so much better. It should have been so much better...







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