Silver Screen: Suicide Squad *1/2
Your enthusiasm for Suicide Squad depends on what you look for in a movie.
When you go to a movie, do you like to: Be sitting still for two hours? Recline, resplendent in thoroughly conditioned air? Have your eyes bombarded by rapidly flickering lights that never slow their flickering to potentially boring levels? Do you like vivid color schemes and slick costume design? When you watch a movie, do you often find yourself thinking, “I would also like to be listening to a classic-rock radio station right now?”
These are the burning questions in Suicide Squad, a mangled collection of footage assembled into something like looks like a story if you squint hard enough. It’s an intermittently cool-looking mess that changes tones and tempos throughout without ever briefly landing on the right ones.
There’s an interesting story in here. The pitch is a simple one: The Dirty Dozen with supervillains. And Suicide Squad has its share of supervillains, and then some, so many that the filmmakers— including writer/director David Ayer and however many higher-ups were leaning over his shoulder— have no idea what to do with all of them.
The crew is introduced in what’s essentially a thirty-minute preview/primer for the movie you’re about to see. That protracted montage also happens to be the movie’s zippiest act.
The audience is introduced, in rapid succession, to Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), an unaccountably cynical, confident government agent who believes the government should create a black-ops team of disposable soldiers to deal with superpowered threats, and her subsequent team. That includes Deadshot (Will Smith), a hitman whose entire backstory consists of having a daughter he cares about; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), former psychiatrist of the Joker (Jared Leto), who has warped her into his demented pixie girlfriend; Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist possessed with the spirit of a powerful millennia-old witch; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a reformed chollo who can conjure fire; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man-crocodile hybrid monster who’s apparently supposed to be self-explanatory; and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a personality-free Australian hooligan who throws boomerangs yet whose official military title is neither confirmed nor denied.
The crew is commanded by steely soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who’s bound to the team because Waller orchestrated him falling in love with the Enchantress, I guess.
Then, as the team prepares to land for their first mission, Flag casually mentions they’ll also be joined by a Japanese samurai (Karen Fukuhara) whose sword captures the souls of her victims, and that she might occasionally talk to the sword because her husband’s soul is also in there.
The Suicide Squad’s internal trailer is followed by a series of minor-seeming sequences that later reveal themselves to be the totality of what passes for the plot. The antagonist turns out to be the team’s own Enchantress, who’s gone rogue and brought back the spirit of her ancient brother and now wants to build “a machine,” the specifics of which remain vague. Something about taking over the world.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, I was subjected to months of advertising prominently featuring the Joker. Isn’t he in the movie?” Yet another excellent Suicide Squad question. The answer is, kind of, in a few flashback scenes and a couple brief sequences early on. He’s introduced as an agent of chaos, but unlike Chekhov’s gun, he never goes off.
Not to speak directly for the great playwright Anton Chekhov, but if he’d introduced the Joker into his story, he likely would have put him to good use. Suicide Squad doles out brief scenes of the Joker and a couple quickie cameos from Batman (Ben Affleck), clearly aware these are its most interesting characters. But they’re never integrated into the larger plot, and they soon abandon us to hang out with Mysterious Origin Crocodile Man and Hey Isn’t a Literally Fiery Latino Kind of a Stereotype Guy.
The final hour is joyless, nonsensical clamor. In the back half, Suicide Squad only comes to life when Robbie is front and center. She’s deviously charming, so good as the sexed-up antihero that she overshadows some of the more questionable material thrown her character’s way (including a condescending fantasy sequence where we learn she really just wants to be a happy housewife pregnant with a domesticated Joker’s baby). No matter how much the script fails her, though, Robbie charges full steam ahead. If she were allowed to commandeer the movie, she might have saved it through sheer force of dark-hearted charisma.
But she’s not, and she doesn’t, and what’s left is an unscratched itch. Suicide Squad doesn’t deliver what it teases, although it occasionally looks damn handsome. While the Marvel movies are slightly hamstrung by their uniformity, Suicide Squad is granted a brash aesthetic all its own, which helps it achieve a level of iconography lacking in similar, far superior movies. But unlike Robbie, Suicide Squad has nothing to fall back on other than its looks.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@RealBryanMiller.