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Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Directed by: David Ayer

Premise: A follow up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The United States government recruits a group of supervillains and offers them clemency in exchange for their participation in black ops missions.

What Works: Despite all that’s wrong with Suicide Squad, the performances are impressive. This is supposed to be an ensemble piece but Deadshot is foregrounded and the closest the film has to a point of view character. Will Smith brings his likability to the role and creates a complex character who is a hitman but also a father trying to do right by his daughter. There is a similar complexity in Diablo played by Jay Hernandez. This villain is able to conjure fire but his gift killed his family and a cloud of mourning hangs over the character. Suicide Squad also includes Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as the Joker. Robbie livens up the movie with her manic performance. Leto’s Joker is also notable; he’s distinctly different from other incarnations of The Joker and the character is given a contemporary gangster look.

What Doesn’t: Suicide Squad is not the movie that was advertised in the trailers. The ad campaign made this look like a lighter and more subversive movie than it actually is. But trailers are separate from the movies they advertise and the film has to be evaluated on its own merits. Unfortunately, taken on its own terms, Suicide Squad is a disappointment that does not take advantage of its premise or even tell a coherent or dramatically satisfying story. This movie commits basic narrative mistakes. Stories need a purpose and characters require goals. Suicide Squad begins with the American military assembling a team of incarcerated supervillains and using the possibility of freedom as leverage to get these criminals to fight for the government. It’s a good start but this lot never coheres as a team and when they are sent on a mission the objective is not clear. The middle of the picture is a series of disconnected action sequences. Suicide Squad has no rising action and no narrative momentum. The characters are blackmailed into this mission but that quickly evaporates leaving them with no motivation. There is a vague threat that they must defeat but nothing compels them to act, not even self-interest. The pacing is off. The movie frequently stops dead to deliver exposition, it’s illogically edited, and the soundtrack is crammed full of songs that don’t match the visual tone of the movie. The allure of Suicide Squad—and the thing that ought to make it unique in an oversaturated superhero marketplace—is the way the movie places the villains at the center of the story. The filmmakers don’t commit to the antihero qualities of their characters. Rather than embracing the madness and evil of its roster, the moviemakers instead bend over backwards to make everyone conventionally likable; in short, they make the bad guys into good guys. This negates the very reason for the movie to exist. The film should have tapped into the taboo pleasure of cheering for morally bankrupt characters, as we experience in gangster pictures like Scarface. But Suicide Squad is just another superhero movie that happens to have villains acting in a heroic way. Aside from The Joker, who is an outlier in this film, the only villain to act villainous is Enchantress who conjures some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe. Exactly what she’s doing is unclear and Enchantress is not threatening at all. She’s played by Cara Delevingne, an actress with virtually no screen presence. Delevingne’s miscasting is exacerbated by the character’s stupid looking costume and the lousy special effects of the finale. The movie is a slog through the clichés of superhero movies and it’s not nearly as fun or as dangerous as it thinks it is.

Bottom Line: Suicide Squad squanders an exciting idea. The movie has a good cast and several of these characters could be spun off into more interesting solo projects. But instead of emulating the darkness of The Crow or the mischievous fun of Deadpool, Suicide Squad is a warmed over rehash of other mediocre superhero films.

Episode: #607 (August 14, 2016)