Written by Kristen Lopez
After the massive blunder called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad was primed to represent the funky cool cousin who sets the reset button on the grimdark world DC set up for itself. Unfortunately, what audiences ended up with was the equivalent of the cool cousin O.D.ing on shrooms who tries to hide it by acting like their older relative. And by that I mean Suicide Squad is the same drab, lifeless, convoluted continuation of what we saw in BvS (and, based on the recent Hollywood Reporter article detailing production troubles and an alternate studio cut explains the film’s problems). When Suicide Squad is fun, it’s fun if lacking in anything passing for narrative (and is way better than X-Men: Apocalypse), but when the story wanders into frame the entire thing burns in a smoking ash pile of “what could have been.”
A top-secret government entity comes up with the idea to assemble a team of the “worst of the worst,” made up of meta-humans (DC speak for mutants), assassins, and more with the idea that, if something goes wrong, they’ll be the scapegoats. When trouble descends on Midway City, this newly assembled Suicide Squad will have to band together and stop it.
The premise above is probably what was pitched to the studio, but what ends up on the screen is a bastardization of those elements in the hopes that audiences will assemble the pieces on their own. Suicide Squad’s narrative flow is the oddest series of ebbs and flows I’ve seen, as if a beaver dam was inserted every ten minutes. We’re introduced to each of the characters – all of whom come with their own theme music, from “House of the Rising Sun” to “You Don’t Own Me,” that I’m surprised it wasn’t their individual ringtones – as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) details the project. Instead of giving the the characters time to bond, they’re immediately thrust into a plot with the imagined force of a third-act climax before they’ve even learned each other’s names.
Now, I’m all for a film’s self-awareness of tropes. It correctly assumes the audience has watched so many of these team-ups that something as simple as a training montage isn’t warranted because these characters are all trained. But there’s no warm-up or other way for the audience to bond with the characters and/or watch the characters bond with each other, which is crucial when they start peppering their sentences with “friends” or “family” at the end. I never bought this group would buy a Big Mac for one of them, let alone die for each other. This could explain why one member of the squad is only around for, literally, two minutes (their death being a punchline), and why each has a fully-fledged side story that puts them at odds with everyone else; this isn’t meant to be a team, but a group of selfish individuals. Again, this is all well and good if the script devoted time to it, but it’s displayed as if if everyone is in their own movie.
The characters’ decisions play like the rapid firings of a dying man. There are moments where the sheering off works; Margot Robbie’s subplot as Harley Quinn is easily the film’s highlight. Robbie is snarky, spunky and so much fun that it almost makes you forget the cameraman is in love with her ass. The few moments of her and Joker (Jared Leto at his creepiest) are perfectly timed and, to the contrary, give us just enough to actually inspire a desire for a Harley Quinn/Joker spin-off.
Harley Quinn also injects color into this film. Don’t be fooled by those neon-tinged credits and the overabundant love for “Throwback Thursday” tuneage. Harley’s cotton candy pink and blue pigtails are the bright light in the otherwise tar-tinged world of Midway City (was Gotham too cluttered that we needed to go with this Grand Theft Auto-esque title?). The color palette is the same drab, rain-slicked chromatic world we’ve come to identify as the DC color aesthetic.
Suicide Squad’s unsung MVP ends up being Jay Hernandez as the pacifist El Diablo. Not only does his story illustrate the dire consequences of villainy, but Hernandez gives the character emotion the script doesn’t care to. Diablo grapples with losing his family, and his own part in that, and just when the light shines on a Latin comic hero….well, suffice it to say it’s reason #252 this isn’t a good movie.
Will Smith is his usual Will Smith-inest as Deadshot. Diablo and Smith’s characters have family at the center of their plots, but we’ve watched Smith play this cocky, flawed character before, and when he takes point halfway through the film, it’s more the script picking the biggest name as opposed to the character possessing additional leadership qualities.
Too often though the rest of the characters are just loud noise. (Note: this is an unnecessarily loud movie. My screening had a horrific sound mix to start, but too often scenes of dialogue are smothered by music, barking dogs, and other noises that should have been silenced in post.) Joel Kinnamen, and who I thought was also Joel Kinnamen but it was really Jai Courtney, are bland white guys, one a military man and the other doing some type of, what I presumed to be a PG-13 impersonation of Mel Gibson. Speaking of Courtney’s Boomerang – IMDb helped me with that; I didn’t think anyone had mentioned his name – there’s a joke with a unicorn that just left me begging the question: Why am I not watching Deadpool?
Cara Delevingne is probably Suicide Squad’s worst element – as if there aren’t enough already – as June Moone aka Enchantress. Ripping a page out of Days of Futures Past’s playbook, Enchantress becomes the big bad for no reason other than her mystical powers. This leads to a moral conundrum with another member of the Squad who is sleeping with her because, and I’m not making this up, a member of the government board, put them together in the hopes they’d end up having sex! Why is that a good idea? Who knows, but it supposedly leads to what passes for inner conflict and ends up giving us Delevingne gyrating a la Aaliyah in Queen the Damned while wearing a stupid headdress. Oh, and we get this “witty” bon mot compliments of David Ayer’s script: “smack her on the ass [and] tell her to knock that shit off!”
In a summer that’s been so underwhelming, dammit Suicide Squad should have been better! The film leans heavily on those who have followed the DC universe thus far – and, based on the Flash and Batman cameos, they hope will continue to do so – but offering them nothing to get hungry over. Robbie, Leto, Hernandez and Smith are in fine form, but their form is the only stability in a sloppy bowl of goo masquerading as a movie.