Suicide Squad is a lively comic book movie – albeit one that is undermined by plot holes and uneven execution of action, character, and comedy.
Following the Dawn of Justice and the death of Superman, top-secret government agency A.R.G.U.S., led by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), pressures officials to form a team (of merciless killers) to carry-out unsanctioned operations that are too dangerous (as well as too sensitive) for the U.S. military. In order to persuade this “Suicide Squad” to follow her orders, Waller tempts incarcerated super criminals with shortened prison sentences – and, to be sure no one steps out of line, injects each of them with remote explosive devices.
To oversee the team, Waller relies on field commander Rick Flag, who leads the Suicide Squad – Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Diablo, Katana, and Slipknot – on a mission to investigate a supernatural entity unleashing havoc in Midway City. However, when ulterior motives are revealed, the Suicide Squad must choose between their individual self-interests or the mission – a mission that no one else on the planet would be crazy enough to take on.
Following the divisive reaction to Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice theatrical cut, DC Extended Universe fans and Warner Bros. Pictures executives were hopeful that supervillain team-up movie, Suicide Squad (from Fury director David Ayer), would deliver a less contentious entry point into the Justice League movie universe – one that casual filmgoers, die-hard comic fans, and cinephiles could all support. The irreverent source material, a talented cast of A-list actors in zany supervillain roles, and a slick marketing campaign positioned Suicide Squad as one of 2016’s most buzzworthy projects – high expectations the final film simply does not reach. Instead, Suicide Squad is a lively comic book movie – albeit one that is undermined by plot holes and uneven execution of action, character, and comedy.
As with the prior two DCEU films, there are plenty of big-picture elements in Suicide Squad – a dark tone and select casting picks among them – that some viewers simply will not enjoy, and that’s understandable. Comic book movies are no longer limited to a single style or genre and, as a result, not every comic book movie is going to be palatable to every moviegoer. Some viewers will draw contrasts with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an effort to pinpoint the “right” approach for a superhero film; yet one of the most refreshing aspects of Suicide Squad is that it doesn’t aim to be like other superhero films.
An example: In print, the Guardians of the Galaxy (a team of lovable misfits) and the Suicide Squad (a team of deranged killers) are not alike. So, even though their movies feature antiheroes, and were both equally surprising subjects for blockbuster adaptation, a Suicide Squad movie that aimed to produce the same kind of experience as Marvel’s cosmic team would not have serviced the DC source material – and if there’s one thing that should excite longtime fans about Suicide Squad, it’s that several members of the Squad are lifted right off the comic page.
Suicide Squad‘s shortcomings are not a byproduct of overarching choices in the DCEU; the real problems are in the details – details that leave head-scratching plot holes, half-baked support characters, and underwhelming drama, in their wake. The story itself is straightforward enough – a supernatural force is unleashed and the U.S. government attempts to contain the problem, quietly, by sending in a team of expendable (but skilled) assets. Nevertheless, in Ayer’s attempt to balance introducing the team, exploring backstories, building on the DCEU foundation, telling his story and investigating his interests (such as morally ambiguous heroes), as well as providing an emotional payoff, nothing in Suicide Squad is ever firing on all cylinders. There are several slick action set pieces, gripping character beats, and zany moments of dark comedy – but, just as often, fight sequences are bland, Squad members are shallow outlines, and jokes fall flat.
Squad members that stand out, and are provided space to develop, carry the film – most notably Harley Quinn and Deadshot (aka Floyd Lawton). Harley, especially, is a living-breathing version of the fan-favorite villainess and Margot Robbie manages to highlight the character’s humanity as much as her deranged mind. For all of Harley’s over-the-top antics, Ayer and Robbie ensure this version isn’t just crazy. She’s unhinged but self-aware – enough to offer insightful reflection on the irony of the team’s assignment: save a world that hates them. In a film that struggles to define certain Squad members, Harley is fully-realized, brought to life by a dynamic performance, bubbly physical comedy, and several of the film’s best lines.
Similarly, Deadshot’s journey from selfish gun-for-hire to de facto leader of the Squad keeps the movie grounded. While Lawton’s goal remains the same (care for his daughter), the crisis in Midway City affords the assassin opportunities to evolve and redefine his identity. Will Smith brings his usual charm and action chops to the role – making Deadshot a (comparatively) sympathetic entry point into the Suicide Squad, while at the same time serving up slick weapons-work and sassy digs at his teammates.
Team-up movies rarely have enough room to service every member equally and several Suicide Squad players are sidelined in favor of spotlighting Harley and Deadshot. Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress is haunting (thanks to striking visual design and effects work) but, for those hoping to see the unique dynamic between host June Moone and the mystical being unpacked a bit, the portrayal in Suicide Squad is relatively one-sided. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is serviceable as a seasoned army grunt but other aspects of the war hero, most notably his connection to June Moone, serve the plot more than Flag himself. In fact, when Flag isn’t being used to advance the narrative, he’s tasked with playing second fiddle to Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Fortunately, Suicide Squad makes good use of Waller, positioning the hardline A.R.G.U.S. commander for future appearances in the DCEU. Davis is solid in the role – presenting a Waller who is just as intimidating, manipulative, and cold-blooded as comic book fans remember.
Diablo (Jay Hernandez) also manages to earn his spot on the roster (and in the film) but, outside of a surprisingly impactful payoff in the final act, Ayer mostly fast-forwards through the pyromancer’s backstory. In spite of a madcap turn from Jai Courtney, Captain Boomerang is confined to comedy side-kick territory (flirting, drinking, and punching his way through most of the film). Katana (Karen Fukuhara) shines with slick sword-wielding choreography but, even though the character wields a blade containing the trapped soul of her dead husband, is mostly set dressing this round. Still, Killer Croc is the most awkward addition to the roster – particularly with talented actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje buried under heavy prosthetics. Croc gets a few choice lines, a pair of slow-motion action shots, and one tailor-made plot point to solve, but the scaly cannibal spends the vast majority of his time reacting to other members of the team – rather than distinguishing Croc.
Despite limited screen time, Suicide Squad also leans heavily on Jared Leto’s Joker and the actor excels in making his mark on the iconic role. Thanks to memorable turns on the big and small screen from Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, and Cesar Romero, fans will differ on where this Clown Prince of Crime ranks, but Leto has whipped up something different (and still familiar). The chemistry between this Joker and Harley Quinn is strong – finally bringing one of the most captivating (and messed up) relationships in comics history to the big screen. Leto is a fit for the world of Suicide Squad, but it’ll be interesting to see how this iteration works in the larger film universe (where, for instance, he might also share the screen with Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor). Ultimately, Ayer only gives his audience a few brief scenes with the new Joker but, for viewers who are open to another take on the villain, Leto’s appearance in Suicide Squad is an enticing teaser for future encounters with the (tattooed) baddie.
Conversely, Suicide Squad‘s main antagonist is underwhelming – a long-running criticism of most comic book movies. Here, it’s a slightly more forgivable fault, since Ayer’s movie is about a team of villains, lead by a villain-like government agent, that also crosses paths with a bonafide supervillain (Leto’s Joker) – leaving little need or room for a particularly nuanced threat. Even so, the Incubus plot checks nearly every superhero movie faux pas: a nondescript plan to enslave the world and a faceless CGI army of automatons, etc. Battles between the Squad and the “Eyes of the Adversary” are brainless fun, in which each antihero engages the creatures with unique weapons and metahuman abilities – a welcome reprieve from the god-like, city-leveling, brawls in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. That said, Ayer injects his own eye-popping encounter with the Incubus in Act Three – a set piece that is much more thrilling than viewers might expect from the comparatively restrained battles that precede it.
Note: Suicide Squad is also playing in 3D as well as 3D IMAX presentations but, given that the film is very dark, that added immersion comes at a cost: dulling glossy visuals and colorful costumes. As with any superhero blockbuster, better sound and a bigger screen will add to the experience but, typically, those come packaged with 3D. To that end, it might be worth sticking to a 2D screening this time or, for viewers who are set on seeing the film in 3D, be sure to seek out a theater that does not skimp on bulb brightness.
Simply put: Suicide Squad is an uneven and sometimes disorienting viewing experience – even if most ticket buyers will find it entertaining. It’s a clumsy movie but one that still succeeds as the sum of its various parts. Ayer has created a passionate piece of comic book movie counter-programming and introduced intriguing versions of iconic DC villains for future use in the DCEU. It may not be the shared universe savior that some fans were anticipating, and moviegoers who have not been won-over by DC’s deconstructionist approach to superhero filmmaking are not likely to be taken by Ayer’s installment. Yet, for those who are still eager for more big screen adventures in the DCEU, or just like seeing bad guys doing good, Suicide Squad is an amusing subversion of the superhero movie genre.
Suicide Squad runs 123 minutes and is Rated PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. Now playing in IMAX, 3D, and regular 2D theaters.
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