“suicide squad” is this year’s “guardians”…

…In that, when I first heard of Suicide Squad, I had no interest in seeing a film about a rag-tag group of D-list comic book characters–just as I had with Guardians of the Galaxy.  But once I saw the trailers, I took a chance, went to see it, and–just like with GotG–loved every minute of it.

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Forget what the critics say: Suicide Squad is flashy, sexy, and–above all–fun.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Some folks won’t appreciate the booty shorts Margot Robbie wears as Harley Quinn, nor her use of a slur that references female genitalia.

Hard-core fanboys will take issues with the liberties taken with the characters, notably, Captain Boomerang’s outfit, and that Deadshot (Will Smith) is African-American in the film (I preferred Marvel Comics over DC, so I came into the movie with no preconceptions).

As for the rest of us, you might find the story a bit predictable, some of the characterization is lacking (Slipknot is a mere object lesson),  and the actions scenes can be confusing (why are the villains’ mutated minions largely immune to gunfire, but can be killed fairly easily with a baseball bat?).  Fortunately, Squad doesn’t take itself too seriously, and its hits far outnumber its misses.

The premise is that in the aftermath of Batman v Superman, the government assembles a task force of exceptional–and expendable–villains to carry out high-risk missions.  Its first pits it against supernatural forces that, of course (this is a comic-book movie after all), threaten the world.

In the midst of the chaos, the Joker (Jared Leto) attempts to free his lover Harley Quinn, who–like the others in the Squad–received microbombs in their necks that the government can use to instantly execute them if they disobey or try to escape.

So having said all that, here’s what I liked about Suicide Squad:

It has great performances by most of the lead actors.  While Will Smith does not disappear into his role like he did in Concussion, nevertheless, he eventually reveals that Deadshot is a hit-man with a soft heart for the few people he cares about.  Viola Davis is chilling as the amoral Amanda Waller, the government puppet-master who assembles and directs the Squad.  Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is solid as the soldier riding herd on these misfits, and Jay Hernandez’s Diablo is a refreshing take on a supervillain.

True, not everyone shines.  Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (the excellent Mr. Eko in Lost) are not given much to do or room to grow as Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc, respectively.  Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress is more effective when she stands around looking creepy, than when she actually says or does anything.  Karen Fukuhara’s Katana does her best with the little she’s asked for.  But two performances simply rock Suicide Squad.

The Joker is off the chain.  Realizing that no one will ever equal the late Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, Jared Leto has gone in a different–and superb–direction.  You knew that there was a human being under Ledger’s makeup, but Leto’s Joker is more like a reptilian alien.

When he comes on the screen, you have no idea what he’ll do next, and you get the sense that no one else knew, either.  Whatever it is, you can be sure it will be sinister.  His only constant is his seeming devotion to Harley–or it is merely that he wants back a toy that’s been taken from him?

Harley Quinn steals the show.  Meanwhile, Margot Robbie’s Harley is the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend From Hell.  Impossibly beautiful, impossibly nuts, Harley is at once dangerous and vulnerable, villain and victim, and Robbie effortlessly runs through her Harley’s emotions. She’s the best character in the movie.

It looks great.  But you don’t come to a superhero flick for Oscar-worthy acting: you want some SACK! BAM! POW! and stuff blowing up.  Suicide Squad does not disappoint.  The visuals and set pieces are terrific and believable: not for an instant did I think to myself that I was looking at CGI, as I have with other films (I’m talking about you, Hunger Games–Mockingjay Part 1).  The costumes are also way-cool.

It sounds great.  The soundtrack drops snippets of classical music, old-school rock, and the latest beats, and it’s sweet ear candy.  “Heathens”–played over the end credits–is my new favorite song.

It’s funny.  Batman v Superman was a downer, but Suicide Squad wisely keeps things light.  There are plenty of great lines, and as you might expect, most of them come from Harley Quinn (“Stupid Bats!” she exclaims, as the Caped Crusader tries to apprehend her and the Joker, “you’re ruining date night!”).

Alas, the bit where Harley served drinks was cut from the theater version

It has moments of poignancy.  They may be bad guys, but the Squad are people, too. Smith’s scenes with Deadshot’s daughter are affecting, as is the reason for Diablo’s refusal to use his fiery powers.  Indeed, the bar scene, where the villains bare their souls for each other, adds some gravitas.

It has cameos by DC superheroes.  You might have seen from the previews that the Batman is in Suicide Squad, but there’s more of him than you might think. Another fan favorite appears in the beginning, and stick around for the mid-credits scene for glimpses of others.

I give Suicide Squad 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  As Harley says, “What a ride!”

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Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy.  His latest work-in-progress is In Lonely Lands, a modern-fantasy/horror novel, to be published in early 2017.

Kenton is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief.  He also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction. 

 

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