THE SUICIDE SQUAD. It has been five years (sigh) since the misbegotten and now confusingly titled Suicide Squad bowed. At the time, I was hellbent on enjoying the thing, intermittently awestruck as I had been by the work of writer/director David Ayer. Good times meet sad ends, though, and as I lengthily enumerated in this publication, there was a great deal more sadness than good in that horror show. Half a decade on, as the DC Universe still struggles to find its footing and fights the unwinnable fight against the MCU (that WalMart of moviedom), somebody has decided the good bad guys deserve another shot at success. From a distance, the wisdom seems questionable at best.
I do not believe original ideas are so scarce or so risky that franchising is the only path to creative, cultural and commercial success. But it is, increasingly, the American way to be distrustful of anything that has not been vetted, sanitized and thrust forward by major corporate interests. So maybe the best we can hope for is the occasional reboot/rehash/Mulligan/sequel/whatever one wants to call it that accidentally gets it right. Which is not to suggest hard work and tremendous creative heavy lifting aren't required; of course, they are. But sometimes it's difficult not to think that within these baroque franchise frameworks, work of substance or vision must be snuck past the arbiters of "what the people want." (Read: "They'll get what we give 'em.")
Viewed in that light, The Suicide Squad seems almost like a happy accident. Despite its many, many narrative and dramatic shortcomings, the Ayer version did mind-boggling business — reason enough for the DC powers that be to keep it alive. It was a dubious decision heartily bolstered by the signing of one James Gunn to write and direct. Gunn, we'll remember, was unceremoniously jettisoned from the Marvel universe for insensitive tweets from bygone days. The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy sprang to his defense and we'll see where that saga ends. In the meantime DC, the Bad News Bears of this multi-billion-dollar comic book adaptation rivalry, picked him up, dusted him off and brought him on to helm this, a sort of sequel to the dour, aspirant, commercial "success" of five years ago.
And good on them for it. Gunn is one of the few anointed for ascendance who always seemed relatively at ease with the huge canvas of both comic book properties and the astronomical production budgets they entail. Even when burdened by the artificiality of special effects and the overblown scope of these movies, he hews to the fundamentals. He celebrates his heroes even as he denigrates them, balancing childlike exuberance and reverence for works of imagination with a scrappy indie kid's willingness to bring the audience down into the mud with him. This is exactly what we need: an antidote to the false, elevated importance of the billionaires and demigods who have become the standard-bearers of these adaptations. One of the joys of comic books lies in their universality and relatability — the notion that superheroes can be people, too. It's a little trite and regressive, perhaps, but maybe some of these characters could use a little more anti- than super- in their heroism.
Gunn starts us off with a little bait and switch — and maybe a little shade throwing — introducing us to a team of characters with whom (spoiler) we won't be spending all that much time. Then it's on to the meat of the thing with Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Peacemaker (John Cena) and a few other charming, damaged oddballs dispatched by deliciously sadistic Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to the island nation of Corto Maltese, where a bloody coup is in progress and the mind-terrorist Thinker (Peter Capaldi) has been cultivating an intergalactic bio-horror.
It gets big and gory and foul-mouthed and has more than a little to say about American imperialism. It does this with style and humor and its own firmly established perspective, and, accomplishing more than almost all of the movies of its ilk. R. 132M. BROADWAY, HBO MAX, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
VAL is a small, unassuming quasi-autobiography of one of my favorite actors. Watching Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991), Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993) and Chris Shiherlis in Heat (1995) were, without hyperbole, some of the most formative moments of my young life. Later I would discover the joys of Top Secret (1984) and Real Genius (1985); we all know the more famous ones.
It is not uncommon for actors to be criticized, perhaps not unfairly, as empty vessels for whom the pursuit of character is actually a ruse to conceal their own vacuousness. There are those, though, who treat acting as an artform; observers and interpreters of human nature and the drama daily unfolding all around us.
I'm probably just an apologist but this documentary, edited from Kilmer's personal archive of thousands of hours of video footage, reveals the man as more the latter than the former, but also as a wounded, struggling, loving son, husband, father and collaborator. R. 109M. AMAZON.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
ANNETTE. An intense romance between a comedian (Adam Driver) and an opera singer (Marion Cotillard) takes a turn for the strange when their daughter is born. R. 140M. AMAZON, MINOR.
BLACK WIDOW. Zip up your jumpsuit for prequel action with Marvel's spy heroine. Starring Scarlet Johansson. PG13. 133M. DISNEY PLUS.
DON'T BREATHE 2. Listen, I've been trying not to breathe out there for a year and a half. But sure, let's see if the ripped old guy who hears everything and kills everybody can still scare me. R. 98M BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FREE GUY. Ryan Reynolds plays a man who realizes he's an extra in somebody else's chaotic, violent video game. Lol, same. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE GREEN KNIGHT. Dev Patel sends you back to the Norton Anthology as Sir Gawain, who goes shot-for-shot with a mysterious, supernatural knight. R. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
JUNGLE CRUISE. Dwayne Johnson captains the Disneyland ride turned well-oiled action comedy with Emily Blunt. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MILL CREEK.
OLD. M. Night Shyamalan thriller about a family visiting a beach that's rapidly aging them and holy Coppertone, I need more sunscreen right now. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY.
RESPECT. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
STILLWATER. An Oklahoma roughneck (Matt Damon) tries to save his daughter (Abigail Breslin) from a French prison. R. 140M. MINOR.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.