*1/2 out of ****
(for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language)
Released: August 5, 2016
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez
There’s a pretty nifty parody trailer out there called Quentin Tarantino’s Suicide Squad. Vibrant, violent, and colorful. As a full-length feature, it’d probably be pretty fun.
Unfortunately, DC’s official version is not.
Patched together like a movie trying to pre-emptively address all previous DC criticisms but with no real vision of its own (not to mention a serious Deadpool inferiority complex), Suicide Squad is a muddled mess. It’s mindboggling how something like this comes together. Even as a big budget effects ride, this is barely passable spectacle. This would-be escapist entertainment ends up being the kind you want to escape from.
It’s not a complete disaster. Suicide Squad has its moments, and even a few strengths (namely Will Smith’s Deadshot, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, Viola Davis’s government ring leader, and Jay Hernandez’s Diablo), but the plot is patchy, at times incoherent, often lacking an actual narrative drive. The villain is absurd (like a discarded Ghostbusters leftover), and the two biggest draws – The Joker and Harley Quinn – are patently ridiculous.
Honestly, it’s depressing how badly calculated those two, er, jokers are. To the extent Suicide Squad is trying way too hard (and it is), it’s largely due to Jared Leto and Margot Robbie’s embarrassing turns. Harley’s psycho-sexy shtick is incredibly obnoxious, and Joker’s maniacal insanity is all surface with no subtext that’s cranked up to eleven. Joel Schumacher would be proud.
(Incidentally, if this is the Joker we’ll all have to put up with for the entire overarching DC mythos, it may drive me to Arkham Asylum.)
After an extended twenty minute setup compiled of various origin vignettes (a bit lengthy, but generally well done), the titular Suicide Squad is assembled…for nothing in particular, exactly, except the precautionary likelihood that some Superman-type metahuman could choose to be bad instead of good.
One inevitably emerges, natch; a latent demonic force called Enchantress that, along with her lethal brother Incubus (aptly named), seeks to rise up, reclaim her former glory, and rule the world. Who you gonna call? Not the guys or gals with proton packs (unfortunately), but rather this motely crew of villains toting machine guns and (not terribly exciting) super powers.
I should take a step back. For the uninitiated, the Suicide Squad is a team of villains, not superheroes, all second-tier baddies from the DC Universe. The government promises to reduce their sentences from maximum security prison terms if they help Uncle Sam defeat superhuman evil, should it arise. It does.
The effect writer/director David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) is going for is some sort of a Guardians of the Galaxy (with similar soundtrack choices) but with more edge and attitude. It’s definitely that – which means not for all ages – due to violence, overt sensuality, and dark demonic activity. It’s just not nearly as fun as it thinks it is.
The second act of this three act structure (a term I use liberally here) was likely intended to be the eye-popping centerpiece, as it pits the Squad against a legion of Enchantress’s zombie-like horde in the heart of a major city. Like a “Rated M for Mature” video game, it’s an extended onslaught of violent monotony.
The Squad battles these dark, grotesque, faceless creatures with all the gory dismemberment and decapitation of non-humans that PG-13 will allow. And there’s always that mammoth Incubus lurking, like the last big obstacle you have to annihilate in order to pass on to the final level.
The actual finale is little more than a gussied-up facelift of the Zuul showdown from the original Ghostbusters, and the 1984 version definitely wore it better. That one had cheesy effects, but you were invested in the heroes and having fun with them. Here, the effects are first rate but it’s the villain and stakes that come off as cheeseball. Mouth figuratively agape, it sort of leaves you wondering “What were they thinking?”
There are some admirable attempts at character backstory, but they’re better played (again – Smith/Deadshot, Kinnaman/Flag, and Hernandez/Diablo) than written (generic family and romance conflicts). As for the much-publicized reshoots intended to pump up the laughs, they actually make the overall endurance test less painful than it otherwise would’ve been, but the jokes can’t single-handedly save what was so fundamentally broken.
Still, Smith’s swagger and apparent ad-libs sure do make up for a lot. He has the cool confidence that Leto and Robbie’s desperation lacks, as do Kinnaman and Davis. The rest of the squad is hardly worth mentioning because the script hardly does anything with them.
After the underwhelming reception of Batman V Superman (which I actually liked), Suicide Squad is the exact opposite kind of follow-up that Warner Bros. was hoping for. Even for as good as the trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League look, this failure puts an unfair but understandable burden on those next chapters.
In 2016, the only thing epic about DC comic book movies is how they’ve failed at executing the “Operation: Catch Marvel” strategy. Granted, I see little qualitative difference between this and what Marvel churns out (their mediocrity is lighter, which is enough for audiences, I guess), but perception is everything. Right now, the DC brand has nowhere to go but up.