|Even the movie poster looks spliced together|
Movie: Suicide Squad
Directed by: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto
Hopelessly muddled and long on exposition, DC’s latest brick in their rushed attempt to build a cinematic universe from scratch falls short of most expectations, although surprisingly competent performances from Margot Robbie and Will Smith throw out a lifeline as the poor writing and wasted potential of its characters tempt you into reaching for a noose.
So DC Comics has recently marshaled up the gumption to set out a game plan for an expanded cinematic universe - despite sporting a roster largely unknown to the big screen compared to its rival, and despite having its forays into that territory mostly slammed at the box office (with maybe one notable exception). But despite the setbacks, a lot of us held on to the hope that Suicide Squad would be different - that it would redeem DC in the nihilistic fires of El Diablo - offering, perhaps, a few shades of Deadpool along the way. And, I suppose, for many movie fans, it does. But to the rest of us, Ayer’s grimy, ugly stain of a superhero film is no Deadpool. While the cast is undeniably talented and the film offers up occasional peaks of humor and cool action, it’s still a choppy mess, a muddled fustercluck that's but a fraction of the movie it could have been, wasting its A-list actors on a thinly-written hack piece that apparently left its soul on the cutting room floor.
Suicide Squad picks up where Batman vs. Superman ended: the death of Earth’s strongest hero not only left a void in the world’s spandex quota, but also opened up a serious question on how and when to control these “metahumans,” who seem immune to pesky little things like the laws of physics, or city-wide body counts. Enter Amanda Waller, DC’s resident sociopath in the name of national security, answering the call with the poorly thought-out solution of using expendable baddies to police the world’s supers. Played by the talented Viola Davis, she spares us of the chore of sitting through anything interesting by giving an expository info dump for the first 20 minutes of the movie on every bad egg comprising her proposed team: Deadshot (Smith), the ace sharpshooting hitman with a soft spot for his daughter; the Joker’s deranged girl-toy, Harley Quinn (Robbie); disfigured man-eating mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Aki Akinnuoye-Agbaje); Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a bank robbing bogan with...a boomerang; and last but not least, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a pyrokinetic hombre who dedicates half of his lines to reminding us that he is, in fact, Latino. The remaining non-criminals of Waller’s task force include Joel Kinnaman as Spec Ops field marshal Rick Flagg, his sword-wielding bodyguard Kitana (Karen Fukuhara), and Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone, an archeologist possessed by an angry evil spirit who can be summoned at will. And here is where the trouble begins, for although Waller chose “The Enchantress” to be part of her unit as well, the spook’s harboring some serious beef with the human race for imprisoning her soul in a clay doll. She breaks loose, and sets about on her obligatory world domination/destruction plan. Now it’s up to Waller’s band of murderous misfits and their straight-laced handlers to save the day.
Let me say right off the bat that if there is one thing I despise in any movie, no matter the genre, it's long-winded exposition - and Suicide Squad struck that nerve like hammer. I'm not talking about exposition integrated into the story somehow, either through a flashback, or maybe an in-movie play. No, I mean the "Let's have a seat and I'll explain everything about the plot" kind of exposition. That type is the Devil itself, violating the sacred Show Don’t Tell rule of fiction, and is just flat-out boring to go through. Twenty minutes is a long time to sit there just listening to someone prattle off details of a person’s life - time better spent on something else, like moving the plot forward. Deadshot’s dossier is a perfect example of how the movie screws this up; we’re not only given a brief (and admittedly humorous) look at him doing what he does best, but we're also force fed his relationship with his daughter as we're walked through the details of his capture - complete with extended Batman cameo, so we can all bask in his awesomeness. Most of that could have been implied, just to give us something to explore as the film progresses, but instead it's practically spelled out in FLASHING NEON LETTERS, leaving me, at least, with little reason to tune in when the action eases up and we’re forced to deal with these characters as actual human beings.
This mistake gets repeated with nearly each character and throughout the film, and delves into other no-nos of storycrafting that really should have been avoided. Every time a new character is introduced, they come with a backstory-flashback combo designed to spill everything about them before they even get a chance to do anything. As a method of character development, this falls somewhere between amateurish and GTFO, and I kid you not, it annoyed me to such a degree that I was actually tempted to walk out of the theater. But more than a cinema sin, this highlights just how choppy Suicide Squad is as a final product. The movie has a massively edited look, like it’s gone through more facelifts than an aging supermodel, and I can’t fight the feeling that a lot had to be sliced away just to make it all work. While the action flowed pretty well, the scenes in general were held together by duct tape, with sudden breaks that felt jarring and discombobulating. That’s not enough in and of itself to make a terrible movie experience, but it certainly doesn’t help, and it sure as hell doesn’t lend any confidence that the filmmakers knew what they were doing from the start.
But the biggest heartache comes from what they did, or failed to do, with its cast. Read that list again, and tell me it doesn’t sound like a virtual dream team of who’s who on the Hollywood A-list - and Jai Courtney. But the movie does almost nothing with them, with two notable exceptions. Will Smith was surprisingly adequate as Deadshot - “surprising” in the sense that, despite his obvious acting chops, he has a major Achilles heel when it comes to antiheroes, with a bad habit of reverting to his nice-guy self on screen. This time, though, he...well, he pretty much does the same thing, but unlike Hancock or Focus, it doesn’t derail the character or feel out of place. Smith’s gotten much better over time with how much he lets his basic humanity leak into his characters, and this time, it definitely pays off. But though Deadshot’s the designated glue character in this rickety boat, the real captain of this ship is the pale-skinned terror in hotpants, Harley Quinn. I had my initial doubts that Robbie could pull this off; playing Quinn requires a certain manic energy that I felt the Aussie actress lacked. But despite the gratuitous fanservice and her complete inability to pick ONE accent and stick to it, Robbie gives a brief but powerful panoramic of the clown girl’s complex psyche, working within the sad limits of the film’s painfully restrictive writing to bring out at least a little of what makes Harley tick. It wasn’t as definitive as Ryan Reynolds and his masterstroke in Deadpool, but it’s enough to lift this otherwise broken buoy of a movie a little bit above the tide.
But the above two cast standouts really underline how underdeveloped the rest of their mates are - and unlike most movies, it has little to do with the acting chops on display. Smith and Robbie stand out in their own minor ways despite Suicide Squad’s writing, not because of it. The rest of the crew were barely given a moment’s chance. Despite his much vaulted publicity in the trailers, Jared Leto’s Joker debut was little more than a combined 15-minute cameo of minor importance. The rest of the Squad fared little better; Akinnuoye-Agbaje was straight-jacketed by layers of make-up and a guttural growl that made his few lines unintelligible. Hernandez gave me Konnan flashbacks from WCW, and I half-expected him to shout “Arriba la raza!” at any minute. It’s sad that while he’s aiming for the whole “redeemed gangster” schtick, he ends up in an even bigger stereotype tar pit than if he’d just played a straight-up thug. Almost without question, if any of the actors came off as tired, boring, or just plain offensive, it's because the series of disjointed scenes trying to pass itself off as a movie rarely gave them the opportunity to be anything else.
Which isn’t to say that it’s all doom and gloom. There are a few nice action scenes scattered throughout the film, even if they culminated in an astoundingly lame final fight that seriously tried it with a forced Power of Friendship angle (among sociopathic super-criminals, mind you) and abused THE HELL out of the slowmo cam. There were more than a few moments of humor that worked - thanks to Robbie's stellar Quinn and Smith's natural charm - and were sorely needed in a budding cinematic universe that so far takes itself waaay too seriously. But on the whole, Suicide Squad is a temple to mediocrity - one by design instead of accident. The filmmakers threw this movie together haphazardly, forcing relationships and holding it in place with the flimsiest of excuse plots. It might have been better to allow the crew to develop over another movie or two, filling in their roles and coming together in a more gradual way. But rushing to the finish is apparently DC’s current mindset, and while Suicide Squad is a lot more fun than anything else they’ve put out this year, it still fell far short of both its hype and our expectations.