Film and drama

Screen Themes: Suicide Squad vs The Losers

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It’s time for some big-screen mayhem as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a couple of left-of-centre comic book flicks, the critically savaged Suicide Squad and the little seen but star-studded The Losers.

Suicide Squad (2016) directed by David Ayers

Based on the late-80’s comic book run written by John Ostrander, Suicide Squad tells the story of a bunch of super-criminals given the chance to do some good in exchange for time off their sentences.

Featuring amoral hitman Deadshot, upright soldier Rick Flagg, opportunistic scumbag Captain Boomerang and spooky-ooky witch The Enchantress, Suicide Squad differed from comics like Justice League in the fact that main characters can (and regularly did) get killed.

The puppet-master of the Squad was government operative Amanda Waller, keeping her team in check with remote-control bombs in their necks.

Directed by action movie polarizer David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch, writer of Training Day) Suicide Squad the movie takes inspiration from the comic book, but throws in a couple of new characters for spice.

By far the best of these is psychotic former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) girlfriend of Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker. Already touted for a solo movie, Harley is the life and soul of Suicide Squad, and the movie slows significantly when Robbie is not on screen.

This is not to say that Harley is the only good thing about the movie, as at least half of the Suicide Squad are undeniably cool. Toning down his usual fast-talking schtick, Will Smith brings a weary gravitas to Deadshot, playing well within the ensemble rather than trying to own the film.

Australian Jai Courtney is fantastic as the bottom-feeding Boomerang, which is particularly notable as I have never before seen a Jai Courtney performance that I enjoyed.

As one of the only super-powered members of the Squad, Jay Hernandez brings a bruised nobility to Diablo, while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has fun with his role of Killer Croc.

Last but not least, Viola Davis is great as Amanda Waller, proving more than once that she is the true villain of the piece.

On the downside, Joel Kinnaman is bland as Rick Flagg, Cara Delevingne looks lost as The Enchantress and Karen Fukuhara doesn’t have much to do as Katana, while Adam Beach’s Slipknot should be happy he was included on the posters.

Last but not last, Jared Leto’s Joker is unhinged, magnetic and almost criminally underused, reportedly due to negative feedback around his abusive relationship with Harley Quinn.

Nowhere near as bad as many reviewers would have you believe, Suicide Squad remains a tale of missed opportunities. There is no doubt that the M/PG13 rating hurts the action scenes, as it seems somewhat ridiculous that a movie called Suicide Squad doesn’t include any blood.

It will be interesting to see if DC follows the Batman vs Superman approach of releasing an R-Rated DVD cut of the film, which has the potential to fix some (but not all) of the problems.  

The Losers (2010) directed by Sylvain White

There is a good chance that you have never heard of The Losers. Released the same year as the subversive Kick-Ass, the disappointing Iron Man 2 and the frankly awful Jonah Hex, 2010 was not a good year for comic book movies.

Despite the bad year, it is somewhat of a mystery why The Losers performed so poorly at the box office, making a shade over $29 million worldwide on an estimated production budget of $25 million.

You can’t really blame the cast, which featured a who’s who of geek-credible actors, including Chris Evans (Captain America/Human Torch), Idris Elba (Luther/Heimdall), Zoe Saldana (Uhura/Gamora) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian/Negan). Even the occasionally patchy Jason Patric is good as the villain, chewing scenery like he hasn’t eaten for a week.

Written by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, the story (such as it is) involves betrayal, revenge and lots of explosions. It’s a bit like a PG rated version of The Expendables, except Idris Elba is infinitely easier to understand than Sylvester Stallone.

Unfortunately, many of the film’s problems stem from the PG rating, as the absolute lack of blood removes any feeling of peril from the frequent gun battles.

Sitting in the big chair for only the second time, French director Sylvain White was an odd fit for comic book movies, having only directed teen dance flick Stomp The Yard before taking on The Losers.

Unfortunately, it seems The Losers pretty much killed his movie directing career, as he has since moved on to directing formulaic TV series like Hawaii Five-0 and Major Crimes.    

Far from the worst comic book movie ever made (take your pick from Dragonball/Judge Dredd/Catwoman/Ghost Rider/Spawn) The Losers is also less than essential, part of the DC universe but unconnected to any of characters or stories from the current era.

While it’s interesting to see Stringer Bell teaming up with Batman’s dad, you probably only need to see this movie if you’re an obsessive comic book fanboy. Like me.

The Verdict

While based on solid source material, neither of these movies has a great story, which a frequent criticism levelled at comic book movies.

In the case of Suicide Squad, part of the blame for this must lie with studio Warner Brothers, who freaked out following negative reactions to Batman vs Superman and went back to shoot more upbeat material.

Unfortunately, this studio-mandated “lighter tone” is entirely at odds with both the comic book and Ayer’s purported original vision. Could audiences have handled a Harley-abusing Joker or a full-on racist Captain Boomerang? 

Probably not to the tune of an international box office approaching $600 million, but the critics might have been happier…

So what went wrong with The Losers?  Who knows … The name probably didn’t help.

Like what you read? John Turnbull''s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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