Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Look at me, writing about things.

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Starring:
Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto
Director:
David Ayer (Street Kings, Fury)
Rating: M

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Well OK then.

As the first DC Comics movie of a post Batman v Superman world, Suicide Squad had a bit of heavy lifting to do. It had to prove that this dark and morbid (well, compared to Marvel’s) Warner Bros shared universe is capable of having some fun. It had to introduce a handful of characters that will no doubt be important later. And in a superhero-drenched blockbuster movie climate, it had to justify its existence by doing something different. Its success in these efforts is… limited. Which side of the “character vs plot” scale you tend to lean towards will probably be hugely influential in how much you enjoy the chaotic movie.

How do you set yourself apart amongst all the superpowered team-up movies of this day and age, and make a statement that moviegoers can’t ignore? How about making a villainous team-up movie instead? That sets the stage for some intriguing storylines, right? Maybe some double-crosses, some infighting, a bit of the old moral shades-of-grey approach? How about giving the movie to David Ayer, writer of the emphatically grey Training Day, to direct? Sounds like a recipe for a hit, and while SS has indeed already been a commercial success, as a film I can’t help but feel like it is ultimately disappointing.

For what it’s worth, the main thrust of the plot comes from somewhere I did not expect, and in today’s day and age of trailers ruining every aspect of a blockbuster before release, that is commendable (especially for this movie, which seemed to be marketed to hell and back, with trailers and posters and spots everywhere). But that doesn’t mean that plot is necessarily engaging. The direction Suicide Squad decides to take with its story ultimately backs it into the most generic of corners, diluting the potential of its premise by stripping down its cast of beloved DC villains until they’re indistinguishable from your standard superheroes fighting against the dullest disposable army possible.

Of course several recent movies have succeeded with about as much material, so we have evidence that a generic plotline can be more palatable if put together well enough. But I cannot say that Suicide Squad is put together very well at all. The film’s pacing is beyond odd, crossing the line into outright detrimental – such is its complete lack of interest in seeing one thread of story through in a coherent manner (or even at all). The audience is frequently expected to lean on its preconceived pop culture knowledge to fill out the gaps in certain character arcs, leaving the lesser known ones without any kind of platform on which to build. Crucial expositional scenes are cut bafflingly short while inconsequential ones drag on, highlighting some rather poor editing work. The script bounces from cool one-liners to cringey marketing-friendly remarks to cuts of dialogue that just do not make any sense. The movie was sold on the promise of delivering chaos, but this particular kind of chaos probably wasn’t the goal. All-too-familiar questions pop up concerning just how much influence Ayer had over the finished product.

And yet for what its worth, Suicide Squad has shades of character, and it has them in spades. Any defense of this film is probably going to start with the sheer magnetism of Margot Robbie and Viola Davis as Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller respectively – the former for her believable insanity/surprising depth and the latter for her unflinching brutality – and perhaps most jubilantly, the return of Will Smith as a true force in big budget action movies. His role as revered hitman Deadshot puts him right into the types of situations he used to relish once upon a time, and he proves he’s still got the ability to carry a blockbuster. He happens to be the focus of the film’s biggest action highlight, which unfortunately isn’t saying much given the paint-by-numbers approach taken by the fight sequences, but it’s noteworthy all the same.

Though the lion’s share of what little character development there is to go around is given to these three big names, the undercooked supporting cast still get their fun moments onscreen. Though, again, this isn’t saying much, Aussie caricature Captain Boomerang is perhaps Jai Courtney‘s most memorable screen role ever, and it’s certainly his most enjoyable to watch. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje‘s Killer Croc is mostly a background player but despite one really awkward-looking moment, he sells the simmering confidence of the reptilian brute well enough. Karen Fukuhara and Cara Delevingne both get really cool intros as Katana and Enchantress respectively, though their characters sadly decay throughout the movie in different ways. Jay Hernandez has a surprisingly meaty chunk of screen time as El Diablo, especially right in the middle of his arc, and despite wildly inconsistent CGI quality assisting his superpowered character, he is also fun to watch. Overall there should be more than enough to chew on in this department for most viewers. It comes as no surprise that one of the movie’s best sequences involves everyone sitting down and just interacting with one another, and it’s a shame there’s only really one of these.

No, I don’t really want to comment on Jared Leto‘s unique interpretation of Joker, because the iconic Batman villain is almost entirely inconsequential to the plot of Suicide Squad and his real litmus test will come in a movie where he actually shares screentime with the bat.

That’s all there is to say about Suicide Squad. It isn’t quite a bad movie. I didn’t really feel bored at any point while I was watching it and its characters just barely carry it over the finish line. But it’s sewn together so haphazardly, with so many evident creative opinions behind it, that it can’t escape being in my opinion the worst comic book movie of the year. I want to see more from (most of) these characters, and from the looks of things it looks like I might. With a bit of creative hindsight, the sequel can surely only improve.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Davis, Smith and Robbie are strong, plenty of fun character moments
Bad:
Uneven script, awful editing and pacing, uninventive action
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2.5 VsA L R I G H T

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