Review: Suicide Squad

Watching Suicide Squad is like riding in a car with someone who can’t decide on a radio station.  He/she listens to one song for a verse or two, then changes the channel to listen to a different song… repeatedly.  An annoying mix of Attention Deficit Disorder, hyperactivity and impatience is demonstrated.  That’s how this movie is, especially during its first 30 minutes when it introduces members of Task Force X, one by one.  Here’s Deadshot, whose abbreviated backstory springs from a quick, colorful onscreen dossier.  Before the accompanying song is over, here’s Harley Quinn, etc.

An example of how inconsistent the movie is, not all team members get a profile up front; some never get one at all. And although the use of only parts of very loud songs continues past the introductions, even that dissipates the further we go in favor of the score by Steven Price (Gravity).  (By that time, the rest of the movie is so loud that you can’t really tell if the music is any good.)  I almost expected the name of each song and its artist to appear in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, like a show on MTV.  I didn’t care for this style at all.

It’s one way to establish the characters, I suppose, as long as the real development takes place later in the movie. In Suicide Squad, some of the characters fare better with that than others.  Best efforts are made with Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Diablo (Jay Hernandez).  Partial efforts are made with Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara).  Failed efforts are made with Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), but not for lack of trying.  And I’ll spend a whole paragraph later talking about June Moon/Enchantress (Cara Delevigne).

This is to be expected with a movie revolving around a team: you can’t possibly devote equal time to each member. However, you could distribute the time a little more evenly.  Since each supervillain in Suicide Squad is controlled by a chip in their head that Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) can detonate by tapping a button on a phone app, you know she’s going to have to demonstrate on one of them to keep the others in line.  You further know it’s going to be one of those who did not get an extended introduction.  That means, while it’s a surprise for the other team members, it’s predictable for the audience.

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That’s a big problem with Suicide Squad: it’s mostly unoriginal.  Sure, the characters are new; however, placing them in a familiar situation where everything ultimately comes down to fighting a bad guy to prevent construction of a machine that’s going to destroy the world, is old.  Even worse, the opportunity is squandered to avoid a spectacular CGI-driven conclusion like every other superhero movie.  In the comic books, the original stories managed to depict incredibly exciting adventures without summoning demons and turning innocent bystanders into bubbly-headed monsters.  The movie doesn’t manage to do it; it doesn’t even try.

Here’s the promised paragraph about Enchantress… Dr. June Moon transforms into a centuries-old “demon-witch” when she says the name, “Enchantress.”  Amanda Waller controls her by carrying her heart in a box… except when she doesn’t really control her.  On her own, Enchantress is able to become the big bad, unleashing her “brother” to help build the machine, but while also trying to recapture her heart from Waller.  Fine, but Rick Flag, who is in love with Dr. Moon, unleashes Enchantress on purpose.  Why?  This plot point, provided by writer-director David Ayer, makes no sense to me.

Neither do several others. For example, the original mission of Task Force X (aka the Suicide Squad), is not to battle the big bad or to destroy the death machine.  Instead, it’s simply to rescue someone from the highest floor of the tallest building, which happens to be in the same location as ground zero.  The identity of this person is meant to surprise, then to cause a huge reaction among the team.  If they’re not meant to engage the enemy, then who is?  Is the survival of this one person really more important than the survival of the entire human race?  Once you learn who it is, it, in my humble opinion, is not.

You know the team is going to fight Enchantress, her brother, their minions and come up with an idea to squash their plan. Why act like it’s not going to happen, or like it’s not supposed to happen?  And that leads to another squandered opportunity.  With such an eclectic group of villains, there could have been some freshly-staged fight situations.  You know, if the battle is unoriginal, at least make the fighting of it clever.  Nope.  It’s mostly punching, throwing bodies and swinging weapons, with a style as stale as the rest: an inconsistent mix of close-ups, slow motion and freeze frame.  Did I mention I don’t care for this style at all?

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All this doesn’t mean there aren’t good things about Suicide Squad.  As expected, Harley Quinn is the best thing about it.  We’ve seen a lot of her funny lines in the trailers, but they’re funny again in the entire movie and there are plenty more of them.  She’s also a fully-formed character, not a caricature.  In fact, she has a sentimental side that best expresses itself in her relationship with Deadshot, who also has a sentimental side.  His arc is the emotional core of the movie, particularly in how his relationship with Flag represents that of the entire team.  The evolution between the two speaks for the evolution of everyone else.

What about Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker? I haven’t decided how I feel about it.  I can accept different interpretations of the character, but I’m not sure that, other than with his appearance, the actor does much unique with him.  He exists within Suicide Squad tangentially, and only because of Harley Quinn.  He doesn’t have that much screen time and his scenes are short and choppy like most other scenes in the movie.  I just don’t think we see enough of him to know if he’s very good in the role.  He’s best as motivation for Harley’s actions, but that could have been done without him ever appearing on screen.

I liked how the movie fits into the relatively young DC cinematic universe. It begins immediately following the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and yes, features cameos by other key players.  They’re more organic and entertaining here, though, than in that movie.  And, in a mid-credits bonus scene, it’s clear that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is the Tony Stark/Iron Man of DC.  He’s also assembling a team, one that has yet to prove itself as functional and humorous as Marvel’s, but which now shows promise with the lighter tone and banter of the characters in Suicide Squad.

I’m under the impression that audiences and fanboys are willing to cut Suicide Squad more slack than they did Batman v Superman.  The characters aren’t as familiar; consequently, expectations are lower.  The hype has focused on all the right things and has not been as long-running as with the other movie, which seemed interminable.  What I don’t know is if the same audiences and fanboys will be happy with the final product.  Will they feel like it delivers on its promise?  You may find it perfectly entertaining; I did in parts.  But if you’re being honest and separating it from all the hoopla, I don’t think you’ll find that it’s a very good movie.

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