Movie review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

At this point, there’s no reason for me to consider the DC Extended Universe at large when I review these movies. Three films in, it’s clear I think Warner Bros. learned all of the wrong lessons from Marvel’s successes (and none of the right ones), and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon. As a shared universe, the DCEU is a dud, and the fairest thing for me to do from here on out is look at these films strictly as individual movies.

Sadly, even on those terms, Suicide Squad is fairly terrible movie. It’s one real job is to convince you that this group of criminals, weirdos and psychopaths would arrive at the end of their two-hour journey feeling like a team, like a family. But writer/director David Ayer botches that job immensely by assuming that not-stop, gritty action scenes can work as an effective method for building on-screen relationships. I can overlook the fact that the mere creation of Suicide Squad‘s Task Force X doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense. With Superman dead, the government wants to put a team on standby that could take down the next Superman that arrives, should he be a more malevolent being. So how exactly does giving a spot to a non-powered insane person — the girlfriend of Gotham’s biggest crime lord, natch — seem like a good fit? But, hey, I get it. There were girls in line at my screening cosplaying as Harley. She’s the brand here — a cult icon Warner Bros. needed to get into a movie as soon as possible. Sometimes you just have to roll with these things. What I can’t roll with is the fact that the movie feels like Ayer took the Guardians of the Galaxy framework and sloppily pasted a group of DC villains over top of it. The group comes together as a team at the end not because the movie earns it in any way but because oh we’re at the hour-and-a-half mark so I guess these people should come to value and respect each other and take down the threat at hand. The whole thing is a narrative jumble.

So let’s talk about the team. It’s assembled by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a no-nonsense government big-wig who has a special interest in super-powered beings and finding ways to get them under her thumb. Her field commander is Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a decorated soldier who falls in love with an archaeologist who just happens to be possessed by a powerful, centuries-old witch called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). With those two already under her command, Waller assembles the rest of the group from a top-secret prison, implanting remote-controlled explosive devices in their necks so they’ll stay on task. There’s the aforementioned Harley Quinn, played gamely by Margot Robbie. (If this were a better film, we’d all be talking about how perfect her casting is.) Will Smith still displays at least a portion of his movie-star charisma as Deadshot, a sharp-shooting assassin who never misses. Less intriguing are Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, an ex-gang-banger with a tragic backstory who reluctantly controls fire; Jai Courtney as Aussie bank-robber Captain Boomerang (he seems even more useless than Harley from a powers perspective); and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, a scale-covered man-beast who mostly just stands around looking threatening. There’s also Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who serves as Flag’s sidekick and carries a mystical sword. Oh, and let’s not forget Slipknot (Adam Beach), who is given no backstory, gets tacked onto the team as soon as it’s called into action and then is almost immediately killed by Waller for stepping out of line. It’s unintentionally hilarious.

When Enchantress breaks free from Waller’s control and resurrects her even more deadly brother, Task Force X is called in to bring the pair down before they end up destroying the world and/or enslaving humanity. To get to them, they must fight their way through hordes of mutated mush people (I seriously don’t know how else to describe them) who Enchantress creates from her victims. There are minor plot twists, mostly concerning what the team’s true objectives are, but nothing that can jolt the narrative into being anything other than a series of boring, muddied action sequences, as the team shoots and slices their way through streets and office buildings filled with endless mush men. The only team member with an impressive superpower is El Diablo, and he spends over the half the movie not wanting to use it. There are jokes and lots of quipping, but the humor feels lazy and tacked on, as opposed to springing naturally from the characters and story. (For an example of summer-blockbuster humor done right, just check out the laughs the excellent Star Trek Beyond earns from something as simple as a necklace Spock gives to Uhura.) And this being a DCEU film, it’s often grimdark just for the sake of it. At one point, Waller is closing up a secret facility that’s been compromised, and, after ordering the hard drives destroyed, she murders all of the government officials in her employ by shooting them in the head. There seemingly are no good guys in the DCEU, just shades of asshole.

Let me answer some of the other questions you might have: Bat-fleck makes no impact on the film. He’s on screen for less than two minutes. Jared Leto’s Joker, the focus of so much pre-release hand-wringing, isn’t great, but I don’t think he’s as misguided as the interpretation of Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman. Leto basically plays Mr. J as a lame, white-boy wannabe tough guy who’s watched too many old gangster movies. He mostly flitters around the periphery of the movie, appearing in Harley flashbacks and occasionally mounting a rescue attempt for his girl. He’s not unbearably terrible. But he surely isn’t Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight either.

There are a few things I liked. I have no idea if Delevingne can act, but she looks great as Enchantress. It’s a CGI-heavy character who doesn’t always appear photo-real, but her over-the-top, surreal design is a nice contrast to the nuts-and-bolts armored look the Marvel villains usually have. (I also dug the creepy transitions from Delevingne’s human character into her supernatural one.) Smith and Robbie build up a decent enough rapport, even if you never quite buy them becoming best super-villain buds. And, uhhhh … the end credits looked neat in 3D, I guess?

Past that, there’s really nothing interesting to see here. The rumor is Suicide Squad was heavily altered by studio mandate during production, and at times it does feel like a movie that’s been tweaked to death. There’s a scene where Flag lets all the villains off the hook and tells them they’re free to go if they choose. Captain Boomerang says fine and immediately bolts for the door. It’s one of the few good, genuine laughs in the movie. But in the very next scene, without explanation, he casually rejoins the group as they’re walking in slow-motion down the street toward their next objective. It effectively kills the gag. But, hey, he makes the hero shot. Sometimes I think the hero shot is all Warner Bros. really cares about.