Wednesday, August 10, 2016

This Is Not a Review of Suicide Squad

As long time readers of I’m So Glad My Suffering Amuses You (pushing the boundaries of sociopathic behavior since 2013) know about me, I am at heart a DC Comics guy. But its been hard being a DC guy, especially when it concerns DC forays into movies. I gotta call it as I see it: Marvel’s slate of movies have been far superior to DC’s. 

Meanwhile, DC movies, under the ham-fisted guidance of Zack Snyder, have been a dreary mess to slog through. This past spring’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice epitomized everything wrong with trying to shove DC heroes into a cinematic universe that Marvel by contrast took time to build. BVS was dark, oppressive, totally lacking in any internal logic and placed longtime super hero icons in questionable characterizations.

Well, at least we had Suicide Squad to look forward to.

From the trailers, we had a movie that seemed light on its feet, a total balls to the wall gonzo fest of dark humor and bloody action using characters that the average moviegoer may not be that familiar with. Well, except for one guy, the killer clown with the bone chilling laugh. Still, the brakes were off, anything could happen and it was going to be wild.

Then the reviews started coming in. And those reviews were not kind at all.

One of the better reviews I saw was “Suicide Squad is bad. It’s not Batman V. Superman bad. But still, it’s bad.”   So in that regard, we should be grateful to BVS for setting a standard so low, we can measure other films as being not quite that bad.

From what I’ve read, the culprits for the less than stellar reviews appears to be behind the scenes meddling by Warner executives. Director David Ayers delivered the movie he was hired to deliver but then Warner Brothers decided they wanted a different movie. Apparently positive reactions to a humorous Suicide Squad trailer combined with negative reactions to the decidedly grim BVS spooked Warners into having the movie re-edited and new scenes shot. If there has ever been a situation where a completed movie got cut up and put back together again after the fact that resulted in a better movie, I’m not aware of it. 

Nonetheless, there had to be something in Suicide Squad that people wanted to see. It set a box office record for an August release with a $135 million opening. There were some guesses that the movie might break $150 million but the bad reviews apparently put a drag on Sunday’s box office. But people wanted to see Will Smith crack wise as the super assassin Deadshot. And there was a lot of buzz around Margot Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn, the unhinged former moll for the Joker. From what I’m hearing out of the din of negative reviews, Smith and Robbie are two consistent bright spots in this movie.

Me, I still kinda want to see this but stuff got in the way this weekend and next weekend is not looking so good either. This might have to be a "wait for it on Netflix" kind of thing. 

One defender of the Suicide Squad the movie was John Ostrander, writer of the seminal 1980's Suicide Squad comic book on which much of this movie is based. But even Ostrander's praise for the movie was dulled by a blunt assessment of its shortcomings in story and structure. Essentially, if you want to see DC Comics bad guys blow crap up, you will enjoy this movie. Otherwise...

Speaking of Ostrander's Suicide Squad, I followed that series back in the day. It was a strange and different beast from everything else in the DC line up. Morality was not quite as clear cut as it was in Superman or Justice League. The squad had its bad guys doing relatively good things for a bad reason but there were also flawed heroes, forced to do bad things for a "good" cause. 

Promotional art for Suicide Squad by Luke McDonnell & Karl Kesel

Nobody fit easily into any preconceived modes of behavior. John Ostrander with his wife and writing partner Kim Yale produced a series that took on good vs. evil and blurred the lines like no one else in a mainstream comic book.

The standout in this run of Suicide Squad was Deadshot. A one off villain from the golden age of Batman comics, Deadshot was revived in the 1970's by Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers with a design and attitude that made him unique among Batman's foes. 

From Deadshot's first (and for 20+ years only) appearance.
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Ayres Schwartz & Sheldon Moldoff 

From the cover of Deadshot's return in the 1970's. Art by Marshal Rogers and Terry Austin.

More art by Rogers and Austin. Script by Steve Englehart

But not much had been done with him since that makeover until he wound up as a member of the Suicide Squad. It was in Suicide Squad that Deadshot became a player in the DC Universe and an interesting enough character to lure no less an actor than Will Smith to play him in the movie. Deadshot, aka Floyd Lawton, was a nihilist in the extreme but still forced to occasionally against his better judgment give a damn about something.

Batman & Deadshot meet up in the pages of Suicide Squad.
Art by Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis. Script by John Ostrander.

Reading those classic stories in that run of Suicide Squad, it's easy to see how seductive this kind of storytelling would be to adapt to a movie. But what seduces you in the evening isn't always what you wake up with in the morning. And from all accounts, Suicide Squad the movie does not live up to is comic book roots. Maybe I will feel differently if I ever actually see the thing. But if I do, I'm not going to have a lot of company.

Box office aside, Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman represents 2 swings and a miss. So what does the future hold for DC’s foray into building a cinematic universe? The trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League have left me feeling a bit more hopeful but I’ve had those hopes dashed before. All I know is I’m looking forward to Marvel’s next movies. My anticipation for DC’s movies is very much leavened with a big dose of dread.

Thanks for dropping by. There's a new post on some damn thing or another coming up tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another. 

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