Review: Suicide Squad – Cinematically unstable

Suicide SquadThe highly anticipated Suicide Squad film hits theaters this week, the movie that many (including executives at Warner Bros.) hope is going to prevent the DC cinematic universe from imploding under the weight of the dark and humorless monkey that Zack Snyder has placed on its back.

The good news is that this is a pretty decent action movie that owes a huge debt to 1981’s Escape from New York and, for better or worse, seems like it could exist in that same era (when comic writer John Ostrander’s version of the Squad came into existence.) The bad news is that the film has a lot of problems.

Fortunately for DC, I think most fans will be forgiving of the movie’s missteps, because they desperately want a fun movie on the scale of the Marvel’s many successes – and then there are those who will just be content to see Harley Quinn gratuitously suiting up on the airport tarmac (as partially seen in the film’s fun trailer.)

Suicide Squad is written and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch – 2012) and works as a logical transition piece between last March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League film (slated for 2017.) If you are wondering how they are tied together, well, that would be one of those spoilers I’m dutifully trying to avoid.

The narrative here is as cinematically unstable as Harley Quinn’s mixed-up marbles. Did Ayer intend to write it from an insane person’s perspective? I doubt it, but nevertheless the final product is a mash-up of timelines, flashbacks, dream sequences, origin stories and loose ends that do not play well together. Is this the result of the re-shoots the movie underwent, allegedly to add more humor to the mix? I think it’s possible, but whatever the reason, at 130 minutes it could have used some serious editing (one sequence in particular is a pointless flashback that covers the exact same action we saw earlier in the film.)

Suicide SquadIn case you’ve been locked away in Arkham Asylum or Belle Reve Penitentiary for the last thirty years, Suicide Squad is a underground team of incarcerated DC supervillains who, in this film, consist of the sharp-shooter, Deadshot (Will Smith); the Joker’s wacky girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie); the Flash’s Aussie nemesis, Boomerang (Jai Courtney); the flame-throwing gang-banger, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the reptilian Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and the rope-expert/assassin, Slipknot (Adam Beach.) Whew!

The misfit rogues, otherwise known as Task Force X, are put together by the hardcore government agent, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who promises to reduce their prison sentences in return for their assistance in dealing with the super-powered evil-doers that Superman used to handle. The team is led by the military Captain, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who is assisted by the Katana-sword wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara.)

Cara Delevingne plays June Moone, who is Rick Flag’s true love, but who is also possessed by the ancient spirit of the Enchantress, who reluctantly helps to create and control the squad, until things go drastically awry. Eventually we have, of course, some sort of mystical funnel cloud that sucks cars up off the ground and threatens to destroy the planet. (Grodd help me if I ever have to see that gimmick again in another film.)

And don’t forget our old friends the Joker (Jared Leto), who appears sporadically throughout the film for no real coherent reason other than his inherent popularity with fans; and the Batman (Ben Affleck), who starts off on a sour note by doing something that is completely out of character – which has been my biggest complaint with the most recent crop of DC films, where the filmmakers apparently have a very loose grasp on the source material.

If it seems like there is an awful lot going on here with too many characters and too many plot-lines to cram into one movie, you’re right. That said, considering the monumental task of juggling all of these pieces, Ayer puts forth a nice effort to try to accommodate everyone and everything. A lot of it works well; some of it is ingenious; while other parts fall flat or were completely unnecessary in the first place. The writer/director’s mistake was in not knowing when enough is enough (and to be fair, that’s probably more the fault of the studio.)

Suicide SquadLeto’s lackluster Joker seemed particularly out of place and could have been cut completely. I think the actor has the chops to pull off the role given the right script, but he was just redundant in this movie. And I love Robbie’s Harley Quinn, which is certainly the highlight of the film, but be it the comics or the film her origin always seems incredulously lame to me.

In addition to Robbie, the other acting highlight here is Viola Davis as Waller, even though the film fails to explain how she survives in the end – to great comedic effect I might add. After all is said and done, the movie does have some very funny moments.

There is a boatload of great music in this picture, but, strangely, the best of the tunes are missing from the film’s official soundtrack. So you’ll have to stick around until after the after-credits scene to see who did that song you were digging.

I really, really wanted to love this movie, and I was hoping, as I’m sure was Warner Bros., that it might reach the lofty heights of Marvel’s obscure hit film, Guardians of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that level, but Suicide Squad is still worth seeing … and here’s hoping next year’s Wonder Woman finally gets it right. Grade: 6.5/10

Photos © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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