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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The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director:  M. Night Shyamalan

Starring:  Will Smith, Jaiden Smith

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Rated:  PG

Length: 100 minutes

Somewhere in the far-flung future, Ranger Col. Cypher Reige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (played by Smith’s real life son, Jaiden), struggle to survive on a hostile, alien planet.  The only survivors after their military transport crashed after encountering a freak asteroid storm, their hopeS for survival rest in Kitai successfully retrieving an emergency beacon to may day for help, guided from the wreckage by his crippled father.  Between Kitai and the life saving beacon is over a hundred kilometres of deadly wilderness, filled with giant, alien predators, poisonous parasites, and, just for fun, a living nightmare engineered for the sole purpose of hunting and killing human beings.  The planet the two desperate souls find themselves trying to survive?  Earth.

From director M. Night Shyamalan (yes, that M. Night Shyamalan), After Earth is another big budget science fiction tale that tells a story of humanity after they’ve abandoned their home planet.  This particular yarn takes place a thousand years after the human race has migrated from a failing planet, seeking refuge on a distant world named Nova Prime.  Once there though, they discover they aren’t the only ones interested in this new world, and an alien race unleashes the Ursa, a race of genetically engineered monsters who hunt humans by scenting the pheromones released when they’re afraid (as well as other fluids you’d lose control of when being chased by a hungry reptile-bug the size of a semi-truck, I’m guessing).  The Rangers, an elite military unit who lead the migration from Earth, discover a tactic called Ghosting, where they can arrest the biological process of fear, thereby becoming invisible to the nightmarish Ursa.  One ghosting Ranger of particular legend is Cypher Reige.

The movie opens with Cypher’s son, Kitai, failing to advance from Cadet to Ranger despite outstanding physical prowess and excellent classroom test scores.  This news comes the day Col. Cypher is returning home, presumably from some military campaign, and we quickly learn that the good colonel’s relationship with his son is strained and the only way he can relate to his troubled offspring is the same way he relates to the troops under his command.  As the movie progresses, we learn there’s a lot more baggage weighing the two down since Kitai’s older sister  Senshi was killed by an Ursa while protecting Kitai.  In an attempt to try to improve their already shaky relationship, Cypher takes Kitai on a training mission (with a captive Ursa as part of the cargo) until they run smack dab into a nasty asteroid storm with their name on it.  And the only place they can find to set down is the quarantined planet Earth, where as Cypher tells his terrified son, everything has evolved to kill humans.  And remember that pesky Ursa?  Well, it turns out it survived the crash as well.

After Earth boasts excellent special effects and a lot of time and energy went into imagining how human culture might have evolved a thousand years in the future on another planet.  Actors even deliver their dialogue in unique accents.  The Smiths deliver what’s required of them with convincing sincerity, and you have to think that they’re able to tap into their real life relationship to help project their on-screen one, both the tenderness and the tension.  And while Aidan is still living in his father’s shadow performance wise, you can see that he has a lot of the same potential.  Even the little humour between the two seems more genuine.

The problem with After Earth isn’t that it’s a bad movie-it isn’t-its just that isn’t memorable.  It isn’t the first movie to deal with humanity after Earth has been abandoned.  It isn’t even the first one this year (Tom Cruise’s Oblivion flirted with that concept more than a little), so we’ve seen this story before, but After Earth doesn’t put too much of a fresh twist on it.  And I would have liked to see a little more back story on Humanity’s flight to Nova Prime.  Did we flee Mother Earth because her resources were exhausted and she was left a black, desolate wasteland as one early scene implies?  If so, Mother Nature made a pretty sweet comeback in a thousand years, refilling her oceans and repopulating the planet with giant trees, eagles and leeches with poisonous bites (I’m pretty sure that took millions of years before the human race destroyed everything).  And if that’s the case, what do we make of Cypher’s warning to Kitai, that everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans?  If Mother Nature did turn on people (and honestly, who could blame her at this point), I wouldn’t have minded seeing a little flashback into that.  And what of these mysterious aliens that bread the Ursa to exterminate humanity?  Don’t they deserve more than just two sentences during a monologue in the entire movie?

I’m a big fan of Shyamalan’s early work.  I consider The Sixth Sense one of the best crafted pieces of entertainment in the modern blockbuster age.  I liked Unbreakable and I enjoyed Signs despite the religious overtones.  The Village ranks as my second favourite Shyamalan movie (behind only Sense) and I even liked Lady in the Water, despite the butt kicking it took from the media (despite my affection for it, I completely understood and appreciated the criticism it took).  Up until 2008’s The Happening, I considered Shaymalan one of Hollywood’s finest storytellers, and I could forgive his obsession with plot twists reserved for the end of his movies, but Happening was an unmitigated disaster and I don’t even want to talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender (and my contempt for Airbender pales in comparison to fans of the original cartoon series, they wanted Shaymalan’s head-the movie was so poorly received and failed so miserably at the box office that Disney quickly scrapped plans to launch a new film franchise).  So I was pleased to see that while After Earth isn’t up to par with Shaymalan’s work before Lady, it’s definitely superior to Happening and Airbender (though those two pieces of cinematic excrement don’t exactly set the bar high).  My biggest complaint about After Earth is that it didn’t make much of an effort to explore the scope of its own potential.  There was probably a lot of interesting things hiding in that unexplored space.  But After Earth is still mildly entertaining and will probably appeal to die-hard science fiction fans (although they’ll also most likely be its biggest critics).  But despite it’s shortcomings, the one thing of hope I took away was that it might be the first step to redemption for someone who I used to consider a master storyteller before he fell from grace.

Shayne Kempton

NOT EXACTLY OUT OF THIS WORLD