“Suicide Squad” Review: Good Characters Trapped in an Awkward Movie

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The lead up to Suicide Squad was a shaky and disconcerting one (but also, unfortunately, not unfamiliar considering previous DC Extended Universe movies). First, there was the lashing the movie was receiving from critics in early reviews, which some fans responded to by petitioning to have aggregate-review website Rotten Tomatoes shut down. If that wasn’t enough, there were reports of studio meddling, which David Ayer then refuted to an extent. So even before Suicide Squad released, it was carrying a lot of baggage that could color a movie goer’s expectations in a negative light. But even after all that, I can say that the Suicide Squad movie is not that bad of a movie. It’s not great, and it’s a little bit of a mess, but the performances go a long way toward making Suicide Squad kind of worth seeing.

In the almost immediate aftermath of Batman v Superman, the death of Superman has left the DC world in a state of massive flux. Super-powered people, or “meta-humans”, exist and they pose a huge threat to national security. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a no-nonsense government agent with a plan, and that plan involves gathering and controlling the worst meta-human criminals and villains for off-the-books missions that no one else can do. The so-called ‘Task Force X’ brings together the likes of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Overseen on the ground by Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnamen)and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Task Force X is pulled into service to stop the magical threat of Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Also, the Joker (Jared Leto) shows up for, like, a minute to be annoying and completely ineffectual towards the plot.

If the roughly 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes has you worried about the quality of the movie, rest assured that Suicide Squad is not garbage. Like all of its other DCEU counterparts, Suicide Squad is a watchable and mostly-enjoyable movie that suffers from structural weakness and quite a bit of poor editing. For the average audience, the faults of Suicide Squad can be forgiven on the strength of the actors and their performances alone.

Will Smith and Margot Robbie are two of the primary pillars supporting the movie by virtue of their screen time and presence. Despite whatever he may have done recently, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Smith is great in his role as Deadshot, whom serves as the relative moral compass in a group consisting entirely of killers and sociopaths. The man never stopped having charisma and it’s in full force here, whether he’s showing his soft side for his daughter or demonstrating his abilities as a professional killer – he also shares some of the movie’s best lines and reactions with Robbie. I initially didn’t think I’d like this new “edgy” version of the Joker’s plaything, but Robbie captures the cute, funny psycho that is Harley Quinn well. Her appearance might be tailor-made for fan art on Tumblr, but she captures Harley’s personality and character perfectly, right down to the slight accent that might make Batman fans long for the Harley voice from the Animated Series.

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Davis’ Amanda Waller is intimidating and supremely in-control, even when she’s rattling off roughly 10 solid minutes of exposition. Akinnuoye-Agbaje adds some much needed charm and personality to Killer Croc, a character who could have easily become trapped beneath make up, prosthetics and a modulated voice. Even Jai Courtney has some stand out moments as comic relief Captain Boomerang, which was a nice surprise for me since I usually think of Courtney as “Generic Hollywood White Man #3.” Hernandez‘s El Diablo deserves special mention as he manages to find some real humanity and emotion in a character who spends most of the movie in the background, as El Diablo had sworn off his pyrokinetic powers after a tragic accident of his own making.

But alas, even the best actors cannot save a movie when its biggest faults arise from the post-filming production and construction of the movie, where they have basically no control over what happens. Suicide Squad is awkwardly paced and has trouble doling out the right information to the audience, which robs the movie of what little emotional weight it might have had and robs the characters of purpose outside of their mission to save the world or whatever.

When I mentioned that Amanda Waller spends 10 minutes excellently delivering exposition and backstory, it occurs during the first of Suicide Squad‘s multiple first acts. By himself, Deadshot is introduced no less than three times, and each time could have easily stood on its own before moving onto the rest of the movie. First, Waller reads off character dossiers with accompanying flashbacks, and flashy neon visualizations that are used nowhere else in the movie. Then the characters are introduced again as they are being gathered for the mission. Then they receive another bit of introduction as they prepare for the mission. Each time, the broad strokes of the characters’ backstory, abilities and persona are laid out, with nothing new added, so these sections serve little purpose. They’re redundant, and would actually be pretty boring if not for the aforementioned performances.

After the unnecessarily repetitive opening, the Squad is put into action. At that point, I became more hopeful as the characters started to have some actually charming and interesting interactions. That hope faded somewhat as the “rescue mission” felt more like them just wandering around a city, fighting generic enemies and pursuing a goal that is surprisingly undeveloped.

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“But what about the Joker?”

For all of the news about Jared Leto‘s antics on set, I would have expected the Joker to interact with more characters beyond Harley alone. Seriously, the Joker has a handful of short scenes where he’s mostly on his own, and his only meaningful interactions are with Harley. These few scenes could have easily been removed from the movie with minimal or no impact. Also, while everyone is entitled to their interpretation of the Joker, and there are many different portrayals of this one character, Leto‘s portrayal is probably one of the worst. Leto‘s blinged-out thug rendition of the Joker is neither menacing nor funny – worst of all, he is unmemorable. There’s nothing about this version of Joker that’s distinct besides “generic manic-ness”, and he does nothing worth remembering. He’s just an annoying, mush-mouthed modern gangster that wears lipstick.

The structure of Suicide Squad doesn’t provide enough charming character moments to offset its weird, repetitive and momentum-less narrative. It’s unfortunate, because the characters themselves are cool and interesting, warranting more time with them, and a lot of people – fan and producer alike – seemed to be placing their faith in Suicide Squad to “save” the DCEU after the one-two combo of disappointment, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. While I hesitate to say that their faith was misplaced, I also can’t say that Suicide Squad is definitely the savior they hoped for. Lets just hope that the actors stick around long enough to reprise their roles in a better movie, because I would love to see that.

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