The Good: Fun, Wonderful special effects, Format, Moments of performance and character
The Bad: Way too many characters to do them all justice, One lousy special effect, Terrible editing
The Basics: Suicide Squad is pretty much all one might expect with violent and fun characters teaming up under duress.
As Summer Blockbuster Season winds down, I'm down to seeing the second-to-last film of the year that I am genuinely excited about watching. The film is Suicide Squad and while I might have begun with comparatively low interest in the movie - the source material was never one of my favorite corners of the DC Comics Universe - the first trailers for the movie made it look like it would be a lot of fun. I'm down for a truly engaging film that has wacky characters and a sense of cool to it every now and then and after the disappointment that came with Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (reviewed here!) my enthusiasm for Suicide Squad came from the idea that the characters I recognized from the DC Comics comic book universe seemed to be very well-cast for their roles in the film.
The inherent potential weakness of Suicide Squad comes in trying to find a balance between the "cool" factor of likable, quirky antiheroes and making those characters relatable. Suicide Squad was a risky creative venture only in that it had the potential to alienate its serious audience and play too simplistic with the catch phrases and one-liners. Few truly violent films effectively find that balance - Payback (reviewed here!) is the only one that comes instantly to my mind. Suicide Squad generally finds its mark, but it falls flat on the character level by loading the film with far too many characters to do justice to all of them. On the plus side, writer-director David Ayer seems to recognize this and does not even bother trying - as evidenced by Slipknot appearing in her line-up in the initial pitch meeting, but him not getting a proper introduction. Yeah, don't get too attached to Slipknot.
At a black site prison in Louisiana, Amanda Waller has captured some of the most dangerous criminals (mostly from Gotham City) and kept that information from the government. She has a project - Task Force X - that she wants the military to authorize, in the wake of Superman's apparent death. Waller wants her criminal team on standby for the next major metahuman attack. Her team is set to include an expert sniper (Deadshot), a psychopath (Harley Quinn), an Australian psychopath who kills with boomerangs (Captain Boomerang), a metahuman who can harness and generate massive amounts of fire (El Diablo), a mutant from the sewers (Killer Croc), and the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen (Enchantress) (and, incidentally, Slipknot, a guy who can scale anything, but apparently only when using a grappling gun). Her plan is to keep the team in check using Special Ops agent Rick Flag, who is in love with June Moone - whose body the ethereal Enchantress is inhabiting. Almost immediately after Task Force X is authorized - thanks to Enchantress stealing military plans from Iran - a crisis comes up that forces Waller to activate the task force.
Enchantress uses Waller's information to find the totem entrapping her brother and she unleashes him on a man in Midway City. When Rick Flag attempts to use Moone to stop the new threat, Enchantress turns on her. Waller's task force is sent to Midway City to extract someone from the city. Unfortunately, a guard at the Louisiana prison gambles at a casino run by The Joker and the guard feeds information to The Joker, who begins a hunt for Harley Quinn. Shooting the team's transport down in Midway City, the Joker begins a methodical hunt for Harley Quinn as the team discovers many of the occupants of Midway City have been transformed into faceless drones under the influence of Enchantress and her brother. Rick Flag must keep his team together long enough to rescue the mission's target, avoid The Joker and thwart the Enchantress's attempt to destroy humanity!
And Katana joins the team as another fail-safe to keep members of the team from running. Katana, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and - obviously - Slipknot are given almost nothing to do in the film. El Diablo becomes critically important, but spends much of the film like Harley Quinn's regurgitated shiv . . . which the viewers see early and just keep waiting for it to appear again. In many ways, Suicide Squad is Deadshot, Quinn, Flag and Waller's film, with the Joker and Enchantress acting as integral supporting characters. Fans of Batman who were hoping Suicide Squad might do right by Killer Croc are left waiting.
What works exceptionally well in Suicide Squad is the format. More than any other film based on comic books, Suicide Squad has the feeling of being a comic book on screen. Characters are introduced, for the most part, one at a time with backstory and significant skills. Director David Ayer, sadly, does not linger on the character dossiers long enough for viewers to take in all of the information being thrown at them, but he does a decent job of illustrating most of their abilities, origins, and how they came to be in Waller's custody.
The speed of information in Suicide Squad is a problem that is compounded by some terribly abrupt cuts and absent transitions. More than any other super hero film, including Watchmen (reviewed here!), Suicide Squad feels like it would have benefited from being slightly longer and taken the time to breathe and present more motivations for characters and more attention to narrative flow. Perhaps Ayer was worried that if he took too much time between Harley Quinn challenging El Diablo to own his shit and him actually stepping up to her challenge, viewers just would not get it. I suppose that's the difference between trying to make the movie for adults versus the PG-13 teenage summer movie-watching crowd. Maybe that's a good argument against doing a film for Birds Of Prey . . .
Arguably, the two biggest set-pieces in the promotion of Suicide Squad were Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and all the hype surrounding Jared Leto as The Joker. From the instant he was cast, Leto was living in the shadow of Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight (reviewed here!). Leto as The Joker is all right, but used in a way that makes the character feel remarkably un-menacing. The intervention of The Joker is an occasional redirect from the primary mission, but by and large, he's just a demented businessman in Suicide Squad. Seriously, whatever headspace Leto had to get into to create his rendition of The Joker (there are times when it seems like it was just Jim Carey), the result was that The Joker is a mob boss in this and he effectively manages clubs and casinos and follows a surprisingly rational and linear trail to find and hunt Harley Quinn.
Robbie, for her part, looks predictably amazing as Harley Quinn - exactly what one expects from a beautiful woman in a summer blockbuster. More than showing off her legs and ass, though, Robbie deserves real credit for landing the full range of Quinn's lines. Robbie delivers the one-liners of the sociopath perfectly, but the best moments for her performance in Suicide Squad when she delivers analytical advice with the hints of intelligence that remind the viewer that she was a plausible mental health expert . . . without betraying her new, crazier character. Robbie's performance is good, especially for finding the balance.
Suicide Squad also reminds viewers just how amazing Will Smith can be as an actor. Harley Quinn is a fun character and Margot Robbie plays her well, but Deadshot is the heart of Suicide Squad and Smith gives the character instant credibility. The viewer is immediately able to believe, through his performance, that Floyd Lawton has a core of honor and morality to him, but he just uses his amazing skill set for the unseemly pursuit of profit by contract killing. Smith is able to emote badass and loving father in the role of Deadshot and he grounds many of the most potentially ridiculous scenes with the humanity he brings to his performance.
Most of the special effects in Suicide Squad are absolutely amazing. The effects for Enchantress are particularly impressive, up until the final time June Moone is seen. Enchantress's brother is awesome and some of the damage and carnage in Midway City is downright beautiful on the special effects level.
Ultimately, Suicide Squad is a fun movie and it seems like people who were not fans of any of the characters going into the movie might be enticed into picking up a volume of the book. But, while Suicide Squad makes it fun to root for the antiheroes again, it is hard to see it as more than entertaining and occasionally clever, as opposed to a franchise that could build into something bigger or more profound.
For other new films, please check out my reviews of:
Batman: The Killing Joke
Star Trek Beyond
Alice Through The Looking Glass
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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