Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad is fun but flawed

For those familiar with the DC Comics universe, it may come as a surprise to some that the Suicide Squad get a feature film before more notable and recognizable characters like Wonder Woman (Coming in 2018), the Flash (also coming in 2018) or even Hawkman. But given all of Warner Bros. failings to deliver a Superman film that’s universally adored by both fans, one might see why they shifted their attention at a bunch of mercenaries and psychopaths to change up the formula, to simply have more fun.

Originally a comic conceived by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, then later popularized by John Ostrander and Luke McDonald, the Suicide Squad introduces many characters on the big screen that would otherwise be henchmen or minor villains in the big league hero films, with the exception of Joker and Harley Quinn. But could they carry a feature film together? Could they be Warner Bros. version of Guardians of the Galaxy?

Suicide Squad picks up where Batman v Superman left off. With Superman “gone” the Pentagon makes the observation that they were lucky that the Man of Steel was actually on their side. What if the next omnipotent being that arrived at the Earth’s doorstep had ill intent?

That’s where Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) comes in with her Task Force X initiative, a collection of psychopaths, murderers, and metahumans incarcerated in the most unique maximum security prisons. Who put them there is a bit of fun and there’s a wealth of Easter Eggs for DC Comics fans with quick eyes.

We meet Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and how she became involved with the Joker (Jared Leto) to become Gotham City’s deranged Bonnie and Clyde. The can’t-miss-assassin-for-hire Deadshot (Will Smith), the Australian outlaw Boomerang (Jai Courtney), half-man-half-crocodile Killer Croc (Adele Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and pyrotechnic gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez).

Suicide Squad
Deadshot and Harley Quinn shoot the breeze

They would be led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) a field soldier who is in love with June Moone, an archeologist that is possessed by a powerful voodoo witch, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). That last one is so unique that she requires a unique method of control.

Waller must convince her superiors that Task Force X would be worth unleashing out to the public, only in the most extreme of situations and risking innocents for the greater good. She must also get these inmates to agree to become patsies and most of them don’t come along willingly. Think of the DC Universe’s version of The Dirty Dozen, Earth’s last resort when it needs to dial 9-1-1. Remember, the Justice League hasn’t been formed yet.

It’s a long, drawn out piece of exposition but I still found myself along for the ride at this point. It wasn’t a pure origin story and when you have a large ensemble cast, there has to be a method to explain their involvement. What impressed me to this point was that director and screenwriter David Ayer (Fury, Training Day) got the characters right.

Harley Quinn and the Joker were excellent, Deadshot had some complexity going on, and Diablo had more layers to him than he was letting on. I was also starving for more development of Boomerang, more of Killer Croc, and of Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Flag’s personal bodyguard but those are areas that audiences will feel short-changed. But this lack of balance and attention to the actual story these characters exist in, plagues the second half.

The Enchantress finds a way to give Waller and Flag the slip, and puts into action her own evil plans and enlists the help of her brother, Incubus, who has the power to create destruction everywhere. She also creates an army by turning humans into relentless, faceless rock creatures. It’s just the threat Waller needs to put her plan into play. But if I’m referencing movies like The Dirty Dozen in the premise, I can’t help but think of a few other films to help describe the final act in what could have been a really solid movie.

It would seem that this would be the key part of the film, where “story” could conceivably go out the window because it’s what you’re really waiting to see, the Squad being the Squad, but that requires some crafting of a story to earn that moment. That didn’t happen here and without taking more time to develop the Enchantress and Incubus, the movie falls in a bunch of cliches and unoriginal moments seen in too many films of multiple genres.

The Squad has disposed a bunch of faceless henchmen so they can show off what they can do, but is too much to try and reverse that notion when characters start feeling empathy for the victims, who as a reminder were actual humans to start with.

There’s a point in the film when the film could have felt more like the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, The Predator, where a bunch of badass commandoes go into to kill an alien but instead becomes the prey. Or if you need another comparison, it could have been the DC Comics version of the modern Ocean’s 11, but instead, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the first Ghostbusters (in this case, that’s not a compliment), as the Squad slowly marches towards a building with lighting at the top of it with a bunch of swirling debris in the air, dealing with something unknown to this world and are clearly outmatched.

Unfortunately, whether it was Ayer’s direction, his script, or too much influence by the studio, I don’t know where the blame falls, but it all crumbles apart with the Enchantress/Incubus being untethered to the story for much of the film and there being too much one-on-one fight scenes with multiple onlookers, when there’s an entire ensemble of adversaries for villains this omnipotent.

If you build a gang, why not fight as a gang? Warner Bros. could have also spent a little less money on licensing popular music and using that money on a tighter script. It’s literally a jukebox of popular music that becomes all too distracting a third of the way into its 123 minute run time. And don’t get me started on the waste of post-converting this film to 3D. If you must see this film, save your pennies for a 2D version.

Can one still have a good time watching this film? Yes, but only in pieces and parts, not as a whole. The characters are fully realized, and I enjoyed how they carefully connected these characters to the rest of the DCEU. Davis, Robbie, Smith, Hernandez, and Kinnaman breathe life to their roles and I wished others had more to work with. Leto (even with the crazy dressing) was a different version of the Joker but as equally menacing.

It’s just a shame that most movies have either great character and no story or a story with subpar performances. As the Squad was assembled hastily, there was absolutely no finesse once these characters were brought together. It was hard to believe this was a “squad” of any type, and that idea is supported by how well these characters are handled in their separate corners of the film in the denouement.

When it comes down to it, the Suicide Squad is a tale of two halves, one moderately entertaining front portion and a back half that’s a mess. Despite whatever you’re hearing out there, it’s nowhere nearly as bad as some are making it out to be, but it’s also not as good as you’re probably hoping it could be, either.

Believe me, I really wanted the best for this film because the last thing I want to keep reading on the internet is how bad the DC Extended Universe is on the big screen and now more pressure is weighed on Wonder Woman’s shoulders.

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