To say I have been harsh to the DC Cinematic Universe would be like saying summers in Arizona are a touch warm. Now, I can lay down geek cred pretty well with my comic collection – which does include one of the earlier runs with the Suicide Squad with friggin Catman (yes..Cat) as the lead with Deadshot also on the team. I grew up without Harley Quinn until the amazing and legendary Batman the Animated series invented her (all praise to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini). I’ve watched how the character has evolved and changed over time, some good, some bad – recently very good. So on the eve of her 25th birthday as a character (September next year) she gets her first cinematic appearance alongside a bunch of bad guys not a lot of folks have heard of outside of the comic scene or DCAU scene. DCAU gave us Assault on Arkham, a Suicide Squad story, two years ago and I keep a digital copy on most of my devices because it is one of the best of the DCAU. That said….
Should she and the others be thrown in a hole and then forget the hole or do we need more?
Let’s talk first about an uncredited writer, John Ostrander (who has a lovely tribute in the movie) who created the Suicide Squad back in 1987, and also created “Oracle” from the ashes of Barbara Gordon. Just a small thanks to him for creating the idea of villains working for good and being one of the team who also gave us Amanda Waller (with John Byrne and Len Wein). Thank you Mr Ostrander. The movie itself was written and directed by David Ayer, who also directed the disturbing war movie Fury, as well as End of Watch; and was the writer of the original The Fast and the Furious. He does great street level films and gritty films, and I could even say I would want to see what he would do with an Escape From New York or Dirty Dozen remake if someone were to deign to do such a thing. Here’s why…
This is what a director should do!
His blocking was spot on most of the time. There is an entire scene in the movie with very little dialogue but the body language and looks of those involved tell you everything you need to know about whats going on. Is the writing and direction perfect? No. I blame Zack “I suck the colour out of everything” Snyder for some of it. Some does go to Ayer, but overall this was a very well written and directed movie. It’s critical to consider that unlike the Snyder films thus far, all of the characters here we get to focus on feel like characters. I don’t just mean they are accurate to their comic characters, which they are, but they are dimensional entities of their own. They have motivations which they hold true to and you understand and care about. They aren’t painted with a thin veneer of character and we’re supposed to believe it. They are something you buy.
That gets some credit to the actors themselves. Will Smith was the classic charismatic Will Smith again. I had doubts after his last round of movies of him playing the Clark Gable inspired Floyd Lawton. These doubts were put to rest quickly and held through the movie. He was Deadshot. Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Legend of Tarzan) was a version of Harley Quinn that was an amalgam of several of her more recent incarnations and even outshined Smith in the charisma department. This explains why I liked her so much in Tarzan. She was given the opportunity to show a few facets of Harley people don’t consider and it made me happy to see. Hell she made me happy. Her and Smith had excellent chemistry which was needed for two of the most likeable villains DC has ever written. Ayer brought that to the fore and you like the villains. You enjoy them…you know you shouldn’t root for them, but you do anyway. That’s the very definition of charisma. I can’t believe I am writing this, but even Jai Courtney (Divergent, Good Day to Die Hard, Terminator Genisys) delivered. I wonder if it is because he got to speak in his natural Australian accent as the rogue Captain Boomerang. I still think Hollywood should stop trying to make him happen, but he was really good and earned more than a few laughs. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Mr. Eko on Lost) gives us a wonderful Killer Croc, Cara Delevigne (Pan, Anna Karenina) is an amazing and mesmerizing Enchantress, and Joel Kinnaman (Robocop, The Killing) does pretty good as the all american normal guy – Rick Flag.
Smith and Robbie shine, but Jay Hernandez (Max, Nashville, Quarantine) takes someone I’d have trouble classifying even as high as a C lister and makes him understandable, relatable, and kinda awesome. It is the definition of standout performance. Karen Fukuhara is, in her first cinematic role, is absolutely imposing as Katana. Despite being 5’2″ she has a presence on screen and is the bad ass she should be. Oh yeah…so now we have someone else who could have played Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. No I am not letting it go. Viola Davis is the Amanda Waller we have all been waiting for. I saw the movie with three friends who friggin adore ‘The Wall’ in both comic and DCAU formats and boy does Davis deliver. When Harley asks if she’s the devil in the trailer, those who knew of Waller before were going “well…” and thats what we get. Amanda Waller is a character who if the Devil showed up she would look him dead in the eye and go “You’re Late” or “Are you finally ready to deal?” without batting an eyelash. That is the Waller we got and Davis is on point.
So what about Leto? I know some of you are waiting for it. This was the Clown Prince of Crime. This was a Joker we had never seen on the big screen,…or any for that matter. My friends and I shivered in one scene going “make him stop”. His costume choices were all from various art and comics over the years. Am I still upset that they lied and said “this isn’t the look” …when it damn well was. Yes. Did it grow on me in the movie? Mostly. I get the no teeth thing the number of times he has crossed The Bat. The ink …eh a bit overdone, but whatever, its aesthetics. Not mine, but it doesn’t detract too badly. Something one of my friends noted was how he interacted with Harley is actually what we should be seeing. It ain’t healthy folks, that might be a bit spoilerish from me – but Joker/Harley *is not healthy*. The movie only begins to hint at it and we are A-OK with that. In short (too late) he was fine.
From a technical perspective, some effects work. Some don’t. Enchantress looks and sounds amazing. It’s also the first introduction of magic and they did it well. The Killer Croc make up was absolutely incredible (thanks KNB/Greg Nicotero) and further proof why you need to go practical more Hollywood. Musically, this is the soundtrack I’ve been missing. I grew up in the 80’s with awesome movie soundtracks and I was thinking the other day how those are missing. Not anymore. It’s all it should be and a bag of chips. The editing….
I can count roughly…15-20 minutes of movie that is missing. I can see the lines of the reshoots. I can see where scenes were cut short, I can see where scenes are even missing. An important lesson Hollywood. Do not focus on scenes in trailers and your production stills if they don’t make it into the movie. Roughly a quarter of material from the trailers is not to be seen. While the editing isn’t as criminally bad as Ghostbusters…it is pretty bad.
This is the movie I have been dreading and hoping for all summer. The wait is over and I already want a sequel. I really enjoyed the hell out of this. Please for the love of all you hold dear Geoff Johns and the rest of the producers at Warner Bros. learn the *right* lessons from this. This is how you make a superhero (villain?) movie. You gave me a good antagonist, good protagonists, people I cared about and oh yeah real characters. It wasn’t as dark and gloomy as the last two movies and if the reshoots were to thank for that – GOOD! They were worth it. Do not ever give us another BvS when you have this as an option. I am so bloody thankful that they moved away from the grey scale they were teasing us with initially. I don’t think it was planned. I think it was reaction to BvS and it was a good reaction to have.
This felt more to me of the quality of the DC Animated Universe than it did the Cinematic…and it shows as people are you know…enjoying it!
Should you see it?
Like action? Yes. Like comic book movies? Yes. Like a violence? Yes. Like Harley, Deadshot, Waller, Croc, Diablo, Katana, Enchantress? Then Yes. Yes you should see this. They earned the PG-13 Rating and it felt like the PG-13 that I grew up with versus the overly sanitized PG-13s we’ve had of late. Remember when Red Dawn and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created PG-13…yeah this is right there with them. Thankfully.
Will you buy it?
I am irritated I can’t pre order it. I just checked…
Give us Pamela Isley in the next film so we can see Harley move onto a nice far more stable sociopath.
I am probably seeing it again this weekend, or next week…or something. I am still undecided on Pete’s Dragon so may see this again. I didn’t realize how much I needed this in my life until now.