Saturday, August 6, 2016

"Suicide Squad" (2016)

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Joel Kinnaman
Written and directed by David Ayer
Rated PG-13: Violence, language
Running Time: 123 Minutes

Not too long after the devastating events of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," the U.S. government is looking to be better prepared for the consequences of meta-human attacks. Intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a radical idea: Gather some of the worst of the worst to create a completely deniable tactical team that could respond to cases where regular armed forces just aren't cutting it.

And so Waller, along with SpecOps Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) puts together "Task Force X," a secret team of villains comprising mercenary Floyd "Deadshot" Lawton (Will Smith), crazed sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), weirdo thief Digger "Boomerang" Harkness (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic Chato "Diablo" Santana (Jay Hernandez), sewer-dwelling gangster Waylon "Killer Croc" Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), possessed archaeologist Dr. June "Enchantress" Moone (Cara Delevingne), assassin Christopher "Slipknot" Weiss (Adam Beach). With bombs implanted in their necks to keep them in line, this "suicide squad" is let loose in Midway City to extract a high-value target while an ancient evil ravages downtown.

But as the stakes grow more dire and more is revealed about the nature of their mission, this group of crazed villains must find it within themselves to do something a little less bad than they're used to.

Unfortunately, they're not the only ones who have come to Midway. Because the Joker (Jared Leto) is here, and he's not about to leave without his girlfriend Harley Quinn.

Woof. When "Suicide Squad" was first announced, I thought it was a pretty bold move. DC/Warners was trying to build itself a cinematic universe like Marvel's, but instead of playing the same pattern, they made some really interesting decisions — firstly to start out with a massive team-up film with the three biggest names in DC's pantheon (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) and immediately following that up with a movie that would focus entirely on villains. When it was announced that David Ayer would be writing and directing the project, I became more intrigued. And then when casting announcements rolled around I was even more intrigued.

But when "Batman v Superman" came out earlier this year and was savaged by critics and became divisive with fans, someone at Warners panicked. Stories have swirled for months of last-second reshoots, multiple edits by different companies, and more. And now finally "Suicide Squad" is rolling into theaters and it's going to make a ton of money on its opening weekend but... sadly this movie is a total mess.

Perhaps the worst part of this whole thing is how much potential there is here. From the premise to all the talent behind and in front of the camera, "Suicide Squad" should have been a sure winner. Instead it hits screens with all the punch of a feather pillow. It's a movie full of bizarre, strange ideas that pulls all of its punches and when faced with the option of doing something cool or doing something completely friggin' dull it nearly always goes with the latter option.

You have a cast of some of the weirdest freaks in the DC universe, and they populate a movie where nearly all of the action sequences are bog-standard gunfights. Aside from the occasional flair of creativity, there's almost not a single moment in "Suicide Squad" that's exciting once the bullets start to fly. The final battle feels a little fresher since the team is suddenly being utilized according to their unique skills, but even then it feels too little too late.

For example, you have Killer Croc who is a huge amphibious creature but for most of the movie he gets to slam one or two dudes to the ground and grunt a bit. When he finally gets a chance to use a skill that's unique to him, it feels like a total throwaway — and worse, gets hidden behind some shoddy camerawork and editing that makes it hard to tell what's going on.

Or you've got Boomerang who only once gets to use a boomerang with a camera on it and otherwise mostly punches and stabs the bad guys. Or how about Slipknot who, and I shit you know, is introduced last and is killed in the next scene to show the other characters that Flag and Waller are serious about the whole neck bomb thing.

I could go on and on about every missed opportunity in this movie, but I feel like I've said enough. There are a few things the movie does get right, though. Firstly, the cast is uniformly excellent. If they had been given better material to work with, I'd be over the moon.

Margot Robbie wonderfully inhabits Harley Quinn but is saddled with almost no good dialogue whatsoever. She gets a couple laughs, but is far more interesting in the movie's bizarrely placed third-act bar scene. (In fact, this is one of the best scenes in the entire movie as Deadshot, Quinn and Diablo basically lay themselves bare to each other. It's an honest, fascinating scene but it is jammed in right before the film's climax and for the life of me I have no idea why it exists where it does.) On the whole, Will Smith's Deadshot is funnier than Harley ever is.

Deadshot is also the closest to being an actual hero than the other characters on the squad. He's given more emotional depth and is more sympathetic for the audience since he's motivated by his love for his daughter. He's followed by Diablo, who's wracked with guilt over something he did with his powers — so much that he's given up the violent criminal lifestyle and is most reluctant to be going on this mission, even with the promise of a lighter prison sentence. After Robbie and Smith, Hernandez's Diablo is the best and most interesting character here.

Viola Davis is also great as Waller, revealing a character who at first just seems interested in being unconventional in her quest to protect the United States but grows more and more repulsive as the film goes on.

Jai Courtney doesn't get much to do, but makes a bigger impression in a few moments as Boomerang than he did as Kyle Reese in "Terminator: Genisys." And Courtney's an actor who made a big impression on me when I first saw him in Starz's "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and since then has done nothing but disappoint.

I should mention Jared Leto's Joker. A lot of ire was fired at him online, and stories of his erratic behavior on set didn't make things much better but to be honest he's a fine Joker. There's just not much here, though. He's not a primary character, even though the film seems to want us to think he is. Whatever murkiness there is about Joker and his motivations I attribute entirely to the script and final edit, rather than Leto's slickly menacing interpretation.

Ultimately, "Suicide Squad" is a limp superhero actioner full of missed opportunities that's only buoyed by a handful of fun sequences, the occasionally great witty remark and a first-rate cast.

See Also:
Man of Steel
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)