MOVIE REVIEW: Suicide Squad
“SUICIDE SQUAD”—3 STARS
In the words of professional wrestling Hall of Famer Razor Ramon, “Say hello to the bad guy!” Warner Bros. and their DC Entertainment wing need a rebound from the maligned “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and are banking on getting you to cheer for villains instead of heroes with “Suicide Squad.” Packed with a head-turning cast of wild cards and very little shame for spectacle, this film aims to combine the chipper referential moral flexibility you loved in “Deadpool” with the anti-hero team dynamics of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Gritty action specialist David Ayer (“Street Kings,” “End of Watch,” “Fury”) directs and adapts a modern incarnation of DC Comics’ rag-tag team of supervillains first created by John Ostrander in 1987. The cold and cunning Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a high-ranking government official looking to build a covert team of assets capable of combating threats in this post-Superman world of “metahumans.” Doing research on captured prisoners with special talents locked up at a Louisiana supermax facility, Waller enacts a heretical scheme of blackmailing the baddest of the bad with clemency and work release in exchange for participation on world-saving black ops missions.
On her leash are a batch of twisted killers and thieves. The marksman and assassin-for-hire Floyd Lawton (Will Smith), known as Deadshot, has the most to lose with a little girl at home that he wants back in his life. Alongside Waller’s hired good guy soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Deadshot leads Flash foe Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), L.A. gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the monstrous thug Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the soul-taking female swordsman Katana (Karen Fukuhara, in her film debut). The cherry on top of this spiteful sundae is the dysfunctional and decadent Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the #1 squeeze of the vicious and legendary Joker himself (Academy Award winner Jared Leto).
The uncontrollable threat that puts these psychos in play is Enchantress, a mystical witch with Zuul-like tendencies to create cloudy portals of hellish energy over urban city centers. The powerful sorceress has taken over the body of archaeologist and Rick Flag love, Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne). She was formerly under Amanda Waller’s control, but now the “Suicide Squad” has to clean up the mess before Midway City is turned into post-Zod Metropolis West.
Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro said it best when he called playing bad guys the “meaty roles” that allow “more freedom to experiment and go further.” Every member of this notably diverse cast playing an anti-hero is clearly having fun with the opportunity to cut loose and fly their freak flag. This the most pulse Jai Courtney has ever shown in a film career filled with playing dull duds in franchise movies (“A Good Day to Die Hard,” “Terminator Genisys,” “Jack Reacher”). All-round Hollywood hero Will Smith can never really go full evil convincingly, but settles for the badass alpha wolf which works just fine for his headlining charisma. Out of all the flamboyant costumes and personalities running around with firearms, you will find that Viola Davis’s Waller is the most ruthless of them all, a tenacious role fit for her calculated intensity.
The two stars that most live up to del Toro’s quotes are Margot Robbie and Jared Leto. Those two need to get a room, and by “get a room” I mean get their own movie after stealing this show. The shades of origins comprise elaborate flashbacks that break up the forward motion of mayhem. They create, far and away, the most delicious and interesting characters in the film by a Boom Tube mile. Robbie’s basket case Harley Quinn is the pitch perfect balance of not-so-coy sex appeal and devious zeal. Leto had the tall task of following absolute legends that have put their stamp on The Joker. Through Method acting madness, Leto succeeds backing up his unique and frightening physical look with a gangster variant core containing all of the simmering menace and macabre violence fit for the Clown Prince of Crime.
“Suicide Squad” is a case of two hemispheres of tone and purpose that become problematic in cohesion and comprehension. The first half of the film, containing the recruitment and character introductions set to a raucous soundtrack of rap and rock, has the engrossing and edgy tone matching the genius marketing and trailers that sold so many on seeing the movie. The kaleidoscope of trippiness is turning on full blast. Comedian Ike Barinholtz adds some laughs and this portion moves with a brisk and unpredictable energy. That’s the addictive cinematic drug you want more of as soon as you taste it.
Much of that frolic and buzz feels sapped by the required drudge of the necessary quest to defeat the big baddie and her cliché nonspecific world domination rantings and actions. The colors go away, the faceless minion army shows up, and a hailstorm of bullets replaces the character antics. Contrary to Barinholtz in the first half, a talent like Scott Eastwood gets wasted in a throwaway nearly-nameless sidekick role for this section. The built-up sharpness and excitable potential sputters to the loud and dumb theatrics that take over many superhero movie climaxes.
The cardinal flaw is undecided pacing from Ayer and his DC Universe handlers on those halves. Either stay zany or stay dark. Now three movies into their own world-building, the studio appears to be in a frantic hurry to play catch-up with Marvel. Too much of “Suicide Squad” moves at a manic speed, sending everything screaming out of the scripting sessions and camera onto the screen. Little is given time to linger long enough to resonate with any sting. Even with its constantly colorful style, catchy beats, and amusing cameos planting seeds and suggestions, the rush makes plenty of the final product sloppy.
LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF A “BAD GUY”—Through nearly a dozen characters, “Suicide Squad” becomes a clinic on the characteristics of immoral and non-heroic people. Each nefarious character shows one or more traits or triggers than leave little doubt to their catogorizing depravity.
LESSON #2: EVERYONE HAS A WEAKNESS TO LEVERAGE—Amanda Waller is a middle-aged woman with no superpowers, yet she holds over ten of the deadliest people in the world in the palm of her hand at her beck and call. How? She discovered a frailty and vice in each person to exploit. No matter how apathetic or evil, everyone has physical or mental vulnerability.
LESSON #3: IT TAKES CRAZY TO LOVE CRAZY—Say what you will about a villain’s deplorable motives and tactics, they operate with an unmistakable and insatiable passion, one that most regular folks would call “crazy.” Well, birds of a feather flock together. To love insanity, it takes someone equally or more insane. We’ve got couples in “Suicide Squad” that are made for each other.