SUICIDE WATCH

EVEN A STRONG PERFORMNCE BY WILL SMITH CAN’T SAVE THE UNINSPIRING MESS THAT IS SUICIDE SQUAD

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, David Harbour, Jai Courtney, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevigne Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman

Rated: PG

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 3 Mins.

To say that DC and Warner Bros. have a lot riding on Suicide Squad would be a gross understatement. Not only do they need the villain mash-up to bring in a king’s ransom at the box office, but they also need it to repair the damage done to their brand by the poor fan and critical response to last March’s Batman Vs. Superman. And while Suicide Squad will probably make a lot of money (during its first weekend, at least), it will most likely be a mixed bag as far as restoring the faith of a disillusioned and disappointed fan base.

Under the manipulative eye of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the United States government has assembled a covert team of incarcerated super criminals to face meta-human threats above the pay grade of the conventional military. Lead by Waller’s hand picked special forces operative Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), criminals Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtenay), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and others are recruited with one simple understanding; success is rewarded with reduced sentences while failure or disobedience results in death.

The team is thrown into action after one of its potential members (the Enchantress, played by Cara Delevigne) escapes Waller’s clutches and takes an entire city hostage. Enchantress has grander designs and the entire planet soon finds itself in her vengeful crosshairs. Just to complicate things for the newly formed Suicide Squad further, the Joker is coming for his beloved Harley Quinn. And not even an extra-dimensional sorceress and her army of demons will stand in his way.

I wanted to enjoy this movie. I really, really did. I needed it to cleanse the sour taste BvS left on my pallet months ago. But this was easily one of the most boring action movies I’ve ever seen.

While most of the promotion for the film focused on Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot as an anti-hero in villain’s clothing was the strongest performance in the film (giving Smith his own stand alone movie might not be the worst idea in the world). Ben Affleck makes a few cameos as Batman that are effectively used to set up origin stories and seeing Smith and Affleck’s Dark Knight share a scene will give you geek shivers. Viola Davis does severe justice to Waller, a no-nonsense, ball-busting force of authority that never backs down. Leto’s Joker is entertaining but isn’t the acting tour de force that we’ve been sold and lacks the depth that Ledger brought to the character years ago.

But for every strong performance, there’s a turn that misses the mark. While Robbie has her moments as Harley Quinn, she has just as many moments where she seems lost or the film doesn’t know what to do with her. Squad goes out of its way to identify her as its comedic conscience early, and while a fair chunk of her jokes land, just as many don’t. Kinnaman is tragically miscast as Flagg because as hard as he tries, he just can’t match Smith’s screen presence or natural charisma. His inability to hold his own against Smith undermines the tension the movie tries so hard to establish between the two characters.

Suicide Squad’s pacing is as chaotic as it is inconsistent, a result of extensive reshoots and unprecedented editing (half the scenes and zippy one liners from the first trailer didn’t even make it into the final film). The plot synopsis at the top of this review is pretty much the entire story and the movie almost trips over itself trying to get the plot out of the way as soon (and as simple) as possible. Like everything else, the movie invests little effort in developing or establishing the villain. Technically Enchantress and her plan threaten the entire world, yet the stakes don’t feel that high. Despite the global threat, Suicide Squad unfolds on a much smaller scale than Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier. Squad would have worked far better if the threat had been smaller or more contained.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the action. Or more accurately, the lack of action. For a super hero action movie, there isn’t a lot of it. Most of what it does have is predictable, stale and boring. There are a few beats during the climax that are almost captivating, but otherwise nothing in this movie is going to push your pulse any faster. There are a few chuckles but no moments of genuine humour, despite a number of serious attempts. Suicide Squad is a joyless exercise in how not to make a successful super hero movie and it lacks anything resembling intensity. When its at its very best its still only mediocre and never memorable.

How much of this is director David Ayer’s fault and how much is the result of reshoots ordered and shoehorned in following the embarrassing reaction to BvS earlier in the year remains to be seen. We may not know until the DVD release, but there were two very different visions of this movie; Ayers’ darker tone and the studio’s lighter one. Having the two of them forced together obscures the best part of both while letting their worst parts shine through.

It looks like the task of salvaging DC’s movie universe falls on the shoulders of Wonder Woman, which is already generating serious buzz a year before its release. Can the Amazon Princess succeed where Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman and now Suicide Squad have failed? After this summer Warner Bros better have its fingers-and everything else-crossed that she can.

Shayne Kempton

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SOME WILD FUN

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN PLAYS IT SAFE AND CHOOSES MEDIOCRITY OVER BOLDNESS, BUT IT’S STILL A MILDLY ENTERTAINING (IF UNREMARKABLE) ACTION MOVIE

Director: David Yates

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou and Samuel L. Jackson,

Rated: PG

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 1 Hr, 49 Mins

Sometimes you get a movie that is so bad it’s bearable. Other times you get one that’s so tongue in cheek that it’s almost good. And sometimes you get a movie that despite taking itself seriously, seems to settle for mediocrity instead of swinging for the fences. The Legend of Tarzan falls into the last category.

Video: Warner Bros. Pictures

The man once called Tarzan is now Jonathan Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard), a civilized Englishman who has taken his place as the Lord of Greystoke, heir to his family’s title and fortune. Eight years removed from the jungles of the Congo, he and Jane (Margot Robbie) make their home in a palatial London mansion, complete with servants and attendants. While his exploits as Tarzan are the stuff of serial novels, his celebrity makes him uncomfortable and he shuns it as often as he can. But he soon receives an invitation to return to the Congo from Leon Brom (Christoph Waltz), the envoy who has been running the near bankrupt Belgian colony. The British government, eager to enter into a partnership with Belgium, urges the former King of the Jungle to accept the offer, and after some soul searching (and a shouting match with Jane, who jumps at the chance to return to the jungle where she and Tarzan met) and a conversation with concerned America envoy William “George” Washington (Samuel L. Jackson), Tarzan reluctantly returns to the wilds of Africa.

But once there he discovers that his invitation was a cover for an agreement between Brom and tribal chief Mbongo (Djimon Honshou) to deliver Tarzan to the vengeful chief’s clutches in return for unimaginable riches and the means to turn the entire Congo into a slave colony. Brom kills indiscriminately, takes Jane and many of their friends prisoner and Tarzan soon finds himself racing against time to save his wife and loved ones while preventing the Congo from becoming a nightmarish slave nation.

Fist off, Tarzan is not exactly a good movie. Nor is it a tongue in cheek self parody the way Huntsman: The Winter War was (deliberate or not). Tarzan does take itself seriously (sometimes to its own detriment) and tries really hard to be a grown up movie. And in fairness, if you turn your head just so and squint your eyes just enough, you can catch glimpses of its potential. While this movie may be a groaner where you spend a lot of time rolling your eyes you might not be able to help smiling at the same time.

Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is Robbie as Jane. Hardly a damsel in distress, this Jane is defiant and independent. It’s unfortunate that she is still relegated to a supporting player who, despite not being your stereotypical female action lead, still needs rescuing. Considering the strength of Robbie’s spirited performance, it’s a shame director David Yates and the film’s producers didn’t boldly seize the opportunity to make her the lead (now that would have been a real re-imagining) and you can almost see Harley Quinn, the female anti-hero she will be playing in next month’s Suicide Squad, bubbling just beneath the surface. Jackson is effective as the comic relief and the every man that grounds the action next to Tarzan’s seeming superhuman heroics and Skarsgard is better than expected as Clayton/Tarzan, bringing more depth to the role then just long hair and a set of abs.

Waltz does his job as the cold hearted and ruthless Brom, a man who balances human suffering against profit on a spreadsheet. He follows no fanatical ideology, just his single-minded pursuit of wealth and national pride, no matter the human toll, and is a perfect embodiment of unchecked colonial greed and the unimaginable misery that resulted from empire building. Hollywood seems to have run out of ways to use Waltz though. As his debut in Inglorious Basterds proved, he can play a wicked villain, insidious, charming and thoroughly ruthless. Yet his last few roles seem uninterested in exploring his acting mettle. He gets the job done here, but Brom could have been a much deeper, much more malevolent presence. But Yates seems content to settle for barely despicable from one of the most versatile and underrated character actors in Hollywood right now instead of outright chilling villainy. It’s another choice that Tarzan makes that keeps it from exceeding mild mediocrity.

And while the story is pretty straight forward (hoping to minimize mistakes), it isn’t without its potholes. When Tarzan returns to the jungle after an eight-year absence, wandering the streets of London for the better part of a decade, he resumes his vine swinging, tree jumping and cliff diving antics without hesitation or regret. He’s beyond an Olympic level athlete and his physical prowess returns to him without missing a heartbeat. Apparently eight years in cold, rainy London didn’t leave the slightest bit of rust. He encounters animals that are not only are still alive but have powerful memories of him. And seriously, how do people raised in the jungle by apes who then spend their adult lives in Britain, the world capital of bad oral hygiene, have perfect teeth? Even the natives and gorillas have immaculate chompers. Apparently there’s good work to be had or dentists in the jungle.

Tarzan has plenty of warts and it plays it safe, ignoring it’ own possibility in favour of being a mildly amusing little action film. It spends most of its time just trying to stay out of its own way and explore it’s own potential. In fact The Legend of Tarzan is the movie that 2013’s The Lone Ranger could have been; a decent action movie that respects its iconic hero. Tarzan may not be good, but it isn’t horrible and it’s definitely worth checking out on half price Tuesday.

Shayne Kempton