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Review — “Suicide Squad”

Three strikes and you’re out, DC.

At one point in Suicide Squad, Captain Boomerang informs Harley Quinn that she’s amazing on the outside but ugly on the inside, effectively summing up the latest misfire to come out of Warner Brothers’ DC films division. 2011’s Green Lantern was Warner Brothers’ poor, misguided attempt to rift Marvel Studios’ highly successful Iron Man, and Suicide Squad stands as DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy – but for all its supposed celebration of anti-heroes who are barely bad guys, the reactive and made-by-committee Suicide Squad never manages to understand what it was that made that movie work so well. Suicide Squad is a wannabe; a glitzy poseur decked out in neon and flashy colors, with glamor and Billboard 100 hits sitting in for substance or characterization.

Suicide Squad

In Suicide Squad, shady government big dog Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is out to protect the world – by any means necessary. In this world without a Superman (the perennially dour Man of Steel temporarily perished at the end of the equally disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but he’d feel right at home among this glum band of social rejects), Waller believes that the unhinged, dangerous, and deadly inmates of Belle Reve prison would make the perfect task force to protect the world from the next metahuman who may not be as saintly as Superman. Waller chooses deranged Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) – because when you need a God-like being taken out, your go-to defender is a baseball bat-wielding psychotic – the never-misses Deadshot (Will Smith), the desperately-in-need-of-moisturizer Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Australian assassin Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyro Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and the “totally not in the movie just to die so we can have a casualty without killing any characters that have sequel potential” Slipknot (Adam Beach). If Task Force X fails, they’re thrown under the bus. If they don’t fail, we’re subjugated to sequels.

The first act introduces the Suicide Squad through a series of character vignettes (each set to their own soundtrack with accompanying neon biographies – why show us character when you can Cliff Notes it in a pretty font?), making for a thirty minute montage that plays more like an expository music video than a movie. There are no setups or payoffs introduced here, because Suicide Squad is too busy trying to sell you its official soundtrack (available wherever music is sold). Suicide Squad cares less about its mediocre and miserable characters than it does its muddled and formulaic plot-that’s-barely-a-plot – “Don’t forget, we’re the bad guys,” says Smith’s Deadshot, whose declaration of that all-too-necessary reminder cements one of the film’s chief failings – and its inability to resist going out of its way to blare a costly track in place of developing enjoyable, worthwhile characters reinforces the gnaw-at-you inkling that Suicide Squad doesn’t give a shit about its characters (and neither will you). The greatest hits of the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival aren’t acceptable substitutes for silly little things like characterization or plot, and Suicide Squad‘s constant, unending mishandling of what little character work there is in the movie makes for thankless, boring watching. It’s borderline impossible to become enthralled in a movie where you’re apathetic towards every character that isn’t six foot tall and dressed in a bat costume, and Suicide Squad really sells it’s “worst heroes ever” tagline – just not in the way it intends.

Suicide Squad

What little characterization and motivation present isn’t consistent, and Deadshot (the second most important character after Harley, who serves as the lead) is little more than Will Smith being Will Smith. He’s no different here than in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Independence Day, or Bad Boys, or Hancock, and its to the point where it veers into actively distracting territory. His motivation, so to speak, is his young daughter; if he joins Task Force X, he’s awarded leniency on his sentence and perks for his daughter. She’s his big “why.” But when a supernatural showdown with the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) presents the Suicide Squad with fantasies birthed from their deepest desires, Deadshot’s fantasy doesn’t include his daughter – it’s all about killing Batman (Ben Affleck). This kind of shoddy, inconsistent character portrayal makes it even harder to connect with any of these killers, murderers, psychopaths, and criminals. “You’re a serial killer who takes credit cards,” says Suicide Squad babysitter Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) of Deadshot, who is made out to be heroic because he doesn’t kill women and children. What a guy.

Worse still is the botched handling of the Joker (Jared Leto), surely a main attraction for many moviegoers – even if they won’t be able to dodge the feeling that the Academy Award winning actor is doing a poor imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the infinitely more superior The Dark Knight. Leto’s Joker is nothing more than a chalk white Pepé Le Pew, a horndog thug with a Harley Quinn obsession who uses brute force in lieu of any real menace, terror, or presence. This Joker is like the “heart eyes” emoji, but poorly dressed and covered in shitty tattoos. As bad as this iteration of the iconic clown prince of crime is, it’s worsened by this embarrassing cornball’s lack of reason for being in this movie. He’s from another movie entirely – not a better movie – with his “B” plot never properly intersecting with the “A” plot, which finds the Squad tangling with the Power Rangers-esque Enchantress and her equally goofy-looking brother (Alain Chanoine).

Suicide Squad

Warner Brothers’ fetish for CGI monsters duking it out in over the top, overbearing and exhausting third act climaxes resurfaces in Suicide Squad, when you would think Suicide Squad is the kind of movie that wouldn’t have big, CGI monsters duking it out in an over the top, overbearing and exhausting climax. Director David Ayer’s handling of the the CGI and its unnecessary and cringe-worthy supernatural plot is clumsy at best and uncomfortable at worst, rivaling the amateurish and embarrassing climax of last year’s Fant4stic. Enchantress isn’t just a bad villain, she’s offensively so – particularly in a movie that has the Joker at its disposal. A smaller-scale, more intimate film – with a threat relative to the Squad and their abilities – would have been preferable, especially when it doesn’t make sense for this particular band of outliers to be saving the world from an ancient witch with ambiguous powers.

For all it’s try-hard desperation to be edgy and subversive, Suicide Squad is bland, generic, and vanilla – even safer and lighter than Batman v Superman, a surprise for a movie with a cast comprised of psychopaths and killers. Even Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is darker, edgier, creepier, more twisted, and more serious – and Batman Returns had Happy Meal toys. This is DC trying to be Marvel, right down to the generally light, non-threatening tone and aesthetic. Breezy as its tone is, Suicide Squad is a tedious, mundane slog to get through, never bringing the fun that was advertised in those trailers that utilized Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.” We were promised a Slip N’ Slide. Instead, we were hosed down in the yard.

Suicide Squad
The group of bad guys in Suicide Squad never feel like a team, much less like a family – so when these heartless, sociopathic and narcissistic villains start throwing around words like “friends” and “family,” it’s more laughable than heartwarming. If you feel like you missed something among the choppy editing, you did – all those pesky things like character development and relationships were left on the cutting room floor (if they ever existed at all), in favor of rare, poorly-shot action sequences where the camera seemed to be tossed into a blender in a dark room. When faced with the nameless and faceless minions of the Enchantress – they’re innocent civilians transformed into these creatures against their will – what does the Squad do? Kill these generic, CGI monsters without even a hint of remorse, naturally. (Harley Quinn’s overkill, literally, is played for laughs as she bashes in the head of a creature because “it moved”). It would have been more interesting – dare I say more inventive – to have had the Squad have to subdue these creatures without killing them. Rick Flagg playing babysitter to a bunch of killers who suddenly can’t kill and who are forced to use handicaps and restraint not only makes us like the Squad more, but it opens the door for some creative and imaginative action scenes – instead, the chaotic and unclear action is concealed through fire, smoke, or rain when it’s not going over the top with cheesy slow-mo and even cheesier action poses.

Suicide Squad
What few standouts that exist in Suicide Squad come down to Ben Affleck’s all-too-brief appearance as Batman, Robbie’s intriguing (but frustratingly erratic and illogically characterized) Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller – the most interesting and intimidating character in the movie. Hernandez’s Diablo, the only other Squad member to get any kind of development or a character arc, is one of the best characters of a movie whose characters play second fiddle to moving Hot Topic merch; a compliment that ultimately doesn’t say much when his competition consists of cardboard and shallow puddles. The movie never earns it’s inevitable “outcasts come together as family” moment in the third act, nor does it earn its hilariously sappy climax, the immediate aftermath of which comes off as something out of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. A lifeless and pale imitation of Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad is ultimately nothing more than a shallow, soulless music video. Devoid of story, character, substance, heart, and fun (and with the same “big blue beam piercing the sky” finale that you’ve seen in every other blockbuster for the last six summers), Suicide Squad is better off – like its titular “heroes” – being thrown in the hole, better left untouched and forgotten about. 

After a slew of interesting trailers, Suicide Squad is a major disappointment – and it’s just too bad DC is too far along to take this limp universe of theirs behind the shed and Old Yeller it. With Wonder Woman, Justice League, and Aquaman on the way, Suicide Squad isn’t the desperately needed turnaround you hope it would be – instead, it’s just another foreboding and threatening warning of what’s to come.

Suicide Squad: 2/5


Directed by David Ayer and starring Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jay Hernandez, and Ben Affleck, Suicide Squad opens this Friday.

The Breakdown

Suicide Squad is a wannabe; a glitzy poseur decked out in neon and flashy colors, with glamor and Billboard 100 hits in place of substance or characterization. A lifeless and pale imitation of Guardians of the Galaxy, Suicide Squad is ultimately nothing more than a shallow, soulless music video. Bland, generic, and boring, Suicide Squad is a major misfire with few redeeming qualities.
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1 Comment

  1. Paul
    August 5, 2016 at 3:47 pm — Reply

    Just like in the comics, Slipknot was there to show that Waller wasn’t bluffing.


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