Action/Adventure, 123 Minutes, 2016
This is the third film in the contiguous DC cinematic universe. It follows Man of Steel [My Review] and Batman v. Superman [My Review]. I enjoyed the first for its careful initial character development, but recognized its many flaws. I bemoaned the fact that character development was forgotten in the vapid, overwrought follow-up. Both left fans wanting more and Suicide Squad with every chance to be the first truly great entry in the series.
Unfortunately, it isn’t great. That said, it’s also not nearly as horrendous as you might have heard.
The story is simple: a legendarily hard-boiled government spook, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis [IMDB]), has put together a team of violent, but talented, criminals to tackle missions too difficult or dangerous for regular troops. To ensure their compliance, she’s injected each of them with a head-from-neck separating explosive that can be activated at the first sign of rebellion.
The team includes the miraculously accurate sniper and hired killer, Deadshot (Will Smith [IMDB]), the sexy, but capable insanity of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie [IMDB]) and… a bunch of others that get very little screen time in comparison. The team is led by super soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman [IMDB]) who’s in it for his girlfriend, June (Cara Delevinge [IMDB]), who is possessed by an ancient god called The Enchantress.
Nearly all of the individual elements are well done. The performances are good and there’s a better understanding of the characters than we saw in Batman v. Superman. Everybody truly seems understand their motivations, even the “and the rest” members of the team, firestarter Diablo (Jay Hernandez [IMDB]), drunken fool Boomerang (Jai Courtney [IMDB]), monstrous Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje [IMDB]) and mysterious Katana (Karen Fukuhara [IMDB]) are all well represented well.
Harley’s Quinn’s paramour and creator, The Joker, had many fans worried. The initial glimpses, depicting a chrome-toothed, green-haired gang-banger covered with tattoos, led some to believe that the character was being pulled too far from his iconic roots. Jared Leto [IMDB] was able to meld this new interpretation with enough of the classic to sell it. The Joker doesn’t get much screen time, overall, but when he’s around, he dominates.
The Joker was far from the only character to get an overhaul. Character and set designs were very good. The sillier aspects of their comic origins were discarded while still paying them respect. The effects were also very nicely done. There was a wonderful “smear” effect used when something was attacked by magic; as if the object was melted instantly then resolidified in the midst of the maelstrom that destroyed it.
The sins of the film – and they are extensive – are editorial. It’s as if the film went through a blender. The movie starts, as you would expect, with the scene previewed in the trailer: an elegant dinner in an empty restaurant where Waller introduces her plan and team members to skeptical string pullers. Character backgrounds are given through conversational flashbacks with teasing cameos by future Justice League members.
Except that’s not the way the movie starts. We start, instead, with sequences of DeadShot and Harley Quinn in prison. The actual opening scene comes later, bringing in the rest of the team and expanding further on these two. You can almost picture the empty-ended, but stern, producer demanding that “we have to see our stars first, dammit!”
The tone of the film vacillates wildly. Elements are introduced succinctly, almost clinically, with no weight or tension. You know, for example, that a demonstration of the explosive leash will be needed eventually: one of the squad needs to die. Might you have guessed that it would be the one character brought in at the last second and not mentioned at all up until that point? The actual demonstration is perfunctory; almost off-handed.
Even the main story sneaks up on you. You’ll be 20 or 30 minutes into the main events of the film before you realize that this, this right here, is the main story. That that’s the actual villain and not simply an introductory mission to flesh out the team. It leaves the audience readjusting expectations rather than engaging with the characters.
There are high points. Brief moments of brilliance that make the sloppy execution all the more regretful. The pieces are all there, but were seemingly tossed together by committee. The result is uneven, lacks a cohesive vision and is still better than Batman v Superman.