Suicide Squad (Movie Review)

Suicide Squad (Movie Review)
5 10

PLOT: After the arrival of Superman, a government agent fearing the threat of superhuman forces beyond our control assembles a team of deadly sociopaths to fight against evil.

REVIEW: SUICIDE SQUAD wears the scars of a movie at war with itself. It's clear while watching it that it's just as damaged as one of its sociopathic characters, and often just as clear that some of that damage isn't self inflicted. There might've been a really cool movie here if everything came together in prefect harmony, but things certainly did not, and SUICIDE SQUAD ends up being a clumsy, poorly-crafted mess. Scenes smash up against one another gracelessly, popular songs jump in and out at odd intervals - as if to say, "This is totally a cooler soundtrack than Guardians of the Galaxy!" - the story is dull, the action is ho-hum and the actors founder while trying to navigate scenes that are overcrowded and underdeveloped. I don't hate SUICIDE SQUAD. Honestly, I feel bad for it. (I'm sure that feeling will go away once it makes $100+ opening weekend.)

What's not to like about the idea of a bunch of supervillains being forced against their will to be good guys? When most superhero movies give us the same old sanctimonious do-gooders taking down the same old threats, the notion that the bad guys - usually the most fun characters to watch anyway - will take center stage and dredge up some previously unknown valiance is quite alluring. The genre truly needs a shake-up, because even the really good ones nowadays (CIVIL WAR) have the unavoidable aura of been-there, done-that. Despite WB/DC's fatal mishandling of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, there was substantial reason to hope SUICIDE SQUAD was going to be strange and even kinda nuts, especially with David Ayer - director of such violent, loose cannon numbers as END OF WATCH and FURY - at the helm.

But no. SUICIDE SQUAD is another misfire from the studio, which certainly needs to get a grasp on this universe before it spirals out of control beyond repair. It's not the same old thing, but it's not a cool new thing, either. Instead, it's an uncomfortable amalgam of routine action movie and gonzo cartoon, where Ayer's sensibilities are consistently tampered down by the lame constraints of a company too afraid to let him go wild. The movie is about bad guys with violent tendencies, so how come it feels so safe and predictable? Because a conglomerate isn't actually going to invest $200 million in a bunch of unhinged psychopaths.

The squad is assembled by shady fed Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose bright idea it is to corral the city's most formidable villains (most of them locked up in a secret base) and turn them into government operatives. Inserting exploding chips in their necks assures her of their loyalty, while their status as known creeps makes it so the government won't be blamed if their missions go south. Among the baddies: Deadshot (Will Smith), a brilliant assassin whose only weakness is his young daughter; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), formerly a psychiatrist, now a gibbering lunatic thanks to psychological damage inflicted upon her by the Joker (Jared Leto); Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gangbanger with a knack for creating fires from thin air; Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian boozer who uses a boomerang during his robberies; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a reptilian monster; and Slipknot (Adam Beach), who can, uh, tie knots really well. They're under the command of straight-arrow Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his silent assistant Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who has a sword that contains the souls of all it has slain. Flag also happens to be in love with Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevinge), who unfortunately is possessed by the spirit of an ancient spirit called Enchantress. This complicates things when Enchantress gets angry with the human race and starts destroying everything, sending Flag and his new soldiers into action.

Frantic as it is (and yes, the film is often as silly as that description makes it sound), SUICIDE SQUAD is still showing promise at the point. The characters are just weird enough to grab our attention and the prospect of seeing them on a crazy mission together is, if not exactly exciting, sort of intriguing. But once they're all assembled, the movie goes off the rails completely. Their mission isn't cool - they have to stop an angry witch from destroying humanity? - and the manner with which they go about it is rote and unexciting. Ugly creatures created by the witch roam the least photogenic streets of Toronto (sorry, Midway City) and the squad has to shoot and beat them away as they stroll around cockily. It's the video game version of action, and you begin to wonder what's so special about these guys if they're doing what any random soldiers could do. Why aren't they engaged in something really out-there? Is this the best Ayer can come up with for his idiosyncratic team, a completely standard point-and-shoot scenario?

For Ayer, the appeal of SUICIDE SQUAD is easy to see. As a writer and director of high-octane thrillers where macho anti-heroes face down threats worse than themselves, the prospect of bringing together a misfit group of villains and forcing them to do good is a no-brainer. The problem is, Ayer is not allowed to intensify the proceedings or to make his villains really villainous. Most of these characters just seem eccentric, likely to be naughty but never truly bad. The closest we get to an evil fellow is Diablo, who's killed countless people (including those closest to him) - and he's the only one of the group who's repenting and refusing to fight. Now if all of these folks seemed really demented, really dangerous, we might have had something here. But it's obvious someone above Ayer thought it best to neuter the squad and make them as faux-likable as possible. They never come across as people to be feared, just avoided, so the movie's "Dude, look how edgy this all is" attitude proves to be thoroughly hollow.

While the "heroes" are sadly mishandled, the main villain is a catastrophic error. Enchantress has no interesting plan other than to make some kind of machine engineered to kill humanity, and she's relegated to standing in the same spot for much of the running time and dancing in place while a whirlwind of trash flies around her. The audience literally gives zero shits about this. Then there's Enchantress' brother, a poorly rendered CG monster that looks as if it would be more at home in a MUMMY sequel than in this "gritty" urban thriller. A climactic fight sequence between this character and Diablo at the end of the movie is shockingly awful when you consider both SUICIDE SQUAD's budget and its haughty aspirations of being hip and different. I couldn't believe my eyes. (In fact, everything about the final confrontation is really bad on almost every level.)

I've hardly gotten around to The Joker; that's because the character as brought to life here is a miscalculation, beginning with the awkward way he's shoehorned into the story and ending with his appearance. Looking like cheesy pimp who's decided to glam it up for Halloween, the Joker's blinged-out facade is almost laughable (and not in a way the Joker would appreciate). Leto's performance is adequate but unmemorable; too often it reeks of a Heath Ledger impersonation. But the biggest WTF of all is that the character serves no real purpose; you could cut out 95% of his scenes and you'd have the same movie. He's mostly here to galvanize Harley Quinn, be it in flashbacks detailing their twisted romance or while he's coming to her "rescue" as she sashays around Midway City. It's clear Ayer (and studio) felt the need to bring Joker into the mix to balance out the relative anonymity of the other characters, but the result is unwieldy. You could say, "Well, we'll see more of him in future DC movies," but who the hell wants to?

The rest of the cast is good, honestly. Will Smith is the standout, bringing that Big Willie swagger to Deadshot in enjoyable fashion, and Robbie does indeed disappear inside Harley's deranged circus performer persona (although her over-the-top Bronx accent gets a tad old after a while). Kinnaman provides a solid straight man, Hernandez gives his wounded character some internal depth, and Viola Davis - as the only really deadly character in the film - owns every scene she's in. Even Courtney is amusing when he's allowed to shine (which isn't often). It makes the movie even more frustrating to think Ayer rounded up an almost pitch-perfect ensemble, only to give them nothing exceptional to do.

I have absolutely no interest in the recently released Ultimate Edition of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, because I believe that movie's fundamental problems cannot be fixed by a longer cut; its very core can't be saved. This may not be the case with SUICIDE SQUAD, and I really am curious to see if Warner Bros. eventually releases a version that's closer to Ayer's original vision. That I'd watch, because I think the film has been distorted out of shape by outside interference. Don't mistake me, there very likely isn't a great movie here - too much of it was already out of whack at the drawing board - but if SUICIDE can still be redeemed, even a little bit, it'll be worth a look.



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