Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad

Rating

Director

David Ayer

Screenplay

David Ayer

Length

123 min.

Starring

Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agabje, Cara Delevigne, Jared Leto, Karen Fukuhara, Jim Parrack, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language

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Soundtrack

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Review

Aiming to set the superhero genre on its ear, Suicide Squad focuses on a ragtag group of villains conscripted to fight against dire threats that conventional methods cannot touch. Warner Bros. hopes to parlay the popular DC comic books into box office gold, but can they do it while righting the ship that began to founder with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice?

The history of comic book films at the cinema is a varied tale, often filled with hubris bringing down giants. Whether it’s the Superman III / Superman IV collapse of the mid-1980s or the Batman Forever / Batman & Robin disasters of the mid-1990s, it might seem like the studios, Warner Bros. in particular, don’t know how to build a successful franchise around their characters.

That all changed with Disney/Marvel’s launch of the Avengers initiative, a series of stand-alone films building up to a massive team effort. While their results have been mixed, the gamble was a huge success, one that is now being attempted at Warner Bros. with its prominent set of properties associated with DC comics.

Suicide Squad is the third film in the new DC Extended Universe and it seems like Warner Bros. doesn’t quite know where its end goal is, considering how many problems each of the films haS had. Squad, while an entertaining event picture, suffers from editorial misconduct, cobbling together loose ends to fashion a film that feels like a better cut resides on the floor of the editing bay.

Loosely tied into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice through cameos from two of that film’s characters (one of whom was a cameo theN as well), Suicide Squad features Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) concocting a questionable plan to round up the most dangerous villains the world has to offer and forcing them to work for the government to end threats their military can’t handle.

Leading the team is Waller’s hand-picked subordinate, soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Under his watchful eye, and controlled by his deadly wristwatch detonator, Waller’s collection is a cacophony of personalities led by Will Smith as the contract killer Deadshot and Margot Robbie as the certifiable ex-psychotherapist known now by the moniker Harley Quinn. Both do strong work in the film, overshadowing everyone else in the picture. Kinnaman’s confined performance is one of the most grating in the film.

Jai Courtney has rarely been better (which isn’t saying much) as Aussie bank robber Boomerang; Jay Hernandez mellows the team with the most compassionate performance of the bunch as the fire controller Diablo; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is decent, but hardly recognizable as sewer-dwelling mutant Killer Croc; and woefully underutilized Karen Fukuhara has little opportunity to provide depth to her non-villainous Katana. Adam Beach is very briefly included as wall-climber Slipknot, but his early departure is one of the film’s most egregious problems.

With all of these characters required to give the film its core of personalities, it’s unsurprising that the likes of Amanda Waller, Boomerang, Killer Croc, and Katana are given so little backstory development. Throw in the film’s two villains, The Joker and Enchantress, and you have too many plot threads trying to weave their way through the film. These strings get snipped off or are left dangling at alarming intervals.

David Ayer’s tight, gripping World War II drama Fury showcased a major directing talent who could elicit strong performances from his actors and convey crushing defeat and hard-fought success with equal ease. Yet at the helm of Suicide Squad, and as its screenwriter, the talent he displayed in prior efforts hasn’t been adequately fostered.

Having to fit in as many fan-favorite elements as possible while trying to establish numerous characters and keep things moving sufficiently is a dangerous tightrope to walk. Ayer has similar problems with this effort as Zack Snyder did with Batman v Superman. The film feels overstuffed and that’s undoubtedly frustrating.

There are many missed opportunities in Suicide Squad. Reducing the number of derivative characters would have helped as would providing more background to the myriad plot threads winding in and out of it. Although Ayer protests to the contrary, the structure and pacing of the film feel like Warner Bros. insinuated itself into the process and forced some questionable cuts and bridges.

Is there a better edit to the film than what we got? We may never find out. If Ayer insists this is his intended cut, then the likelihood of audiences getting a Director’s Cut in the future seems iffy. That would be disappointing.

What the film’s success comes down to is how it pleases fans. It will do that. The film is filled to overflowing with potent special effects, corny repartee between characters, and no shortage of action sequences. Those interests speak nothing of structure, narrative cohesion, or any other number of objective observations about film in general, but too often that’s not what audiences want. More’s the pity.

Suicide Squad isn’t quite in the Michael Bay class of idiotic blockbuster, there are numerous redeeming qualities. However, it most definitely does not stand up to the quality of earlier productions like Superman (1978), Batman (1989), Batman Begins (2005), or The Dark Knight (2008). It isn’t an unmitigated disaster, but the studio has a lot of work to do if it wants to polish and improve the franchise to where it can adequately compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t quite there yet.

Spoiler Discussion

Throughout the roll-out of the film, every bit of advertising teased The Joker as the villain of the film. There was little question who it was going to be. Yet, when we get the film, the character is treated as a non-entity, a plot device seemingly meant only to develop the Harley Quinn character.

The Joker is a hugely popular villain. He’s probably the most famous, having now been portrayed on the big screen by three different actors. That Jared Leto is a pale comparison to either Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger isn’t the issue. The issue is that the producers wanted desperately to use the character’s popularity to drive business to the film even though they knew his role in it was insignificant.

You could have cut out all but a couple of scenes with the character and still had a film with the same impact.

As to the actual villain of the film: Enchantress is a fairly cool one and she’s used incredibly well in the picture. Cara Delevigne isn’t a great actress and this performance is disappointingly weak, but the effects help bolster her performance to the point of making it passable. A successful campaign could have been built out of her as an antagonist without giving away too many plot details.

In my review proper, I referenced the use of Slipknot as one of the film’s most egregious problems. What I mean by that is that he was referenced heavily in pre-release advertising getting his own character posters in advance of the film (much like The Joker was), . Yet, one of the final poster designs omitted him entirely. I thought this was in poor taste since he was part of the ethnically diverse group that makes up the team. The real reason is a bit more frustrating.

When you finally see the film, you discover that the only Native American actor in it is used as a cheap plot device included only to to explain just how deadly the spinal implant the villains are injected with is. I’m not saying Slipknot was a crucial villain or that a display of the power wasn’t called for, but putting the device into a cantaloupe and then exploding the cantaloupe would have been an equally potent, if not more agreeable, outcome. I won’t say that this was race-related, considering just how diverse this cast is, but it’s disheartening to say the least.

Review Written

August 9, 2016

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