‘Suicide Squad’ Review: The DC Movie Universe’s Darkest Night
If you liked the scene in Batman v Superman where Wonder Woman watched YouTube videos about the future members of the Justice League, you'll love Suicide Squad.
Instead of just one scene of plot-stopping fan service, Suicide Squad delivers an entire first act of soul-deadening exposition. The movie spends 20 story-free minutes with a Machiavellian bureaucrat while she sits in a restaurant discussing a top secret personnel file. Here is Deadshot, the world’s greatest assassin; this is Harley Quinn, the Joker’s psychotic girlfriend. Oh and have you heard about Captain Boomerang? And on and on and on.
Director David Ayer tries to liven things up with a couple of flashy DC cameos and lots of iconic rock songs on the soundtrack. But that’s just the proverbial lipstick on the dead pig that Jared Leto sent to his co-stars to prove his Method bona fides as the Joker. This opening sequence has all the excitement of a mildly contentious HR meeting, and the movie gets no better from there. Bland, boring, and sometimes borderline incoherent, Suicide Squad is a disappointing disaster.
The bureaucrat is named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, looking sad and a little lost). She wants to assemble a team of the worst villains on the planet to defend America the next time a Superman-type arrives and threatens humanity. Violent sociopaths seem like a poor choice to save the world, but Waller intends to keep them in line by Snake Plisskening their cooperation with implanted nanite bombs, and by bringing in a super soldier named Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead them in battle. Does this sound like a terrible plan? That’s because it’s a terrible plan. And fittingly, it immediately backfires. (Without spoiling too much, the team is to blame for the crisis that necessitates its first mission.)
Besides Will Smith’s Deadshot, a hitman with perfect aim and a daughter he misses, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a deranged killer who enjoys bludgeoning people to death while not wearing pants, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, an amoral Aussie with razor-edged boomerangs for weapons, the Squad includes El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a remorseful gangster with the ability to spew fire, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a martial artist with a magical sword, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) an ancient witch in possession of a meek scientist, and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), whose name pretty much says it all. By the time Waller gets White House approval for her “Task Force X,” their services are required to resolve a crisis in fictional Midway City.
So much time is spent explaining each Suicide Squad character’s backstory that there’s almost no room for an actual story amidst the subsequent onslaught of wisecracks and bloodless, PG-13 action. But few of the jokes land and the Squad’s main opponents are waves of literally faceless enemies with no goals or motivation. And even as Suicide Squad ramps up to its big second act, it keeps shoving more characters onto the team, including one member who shows up randomly halfway through the movie just so they can be killed a couple minutes later.
On paper, Ayer makes a lot of sense with this material. As the director of movies like Sabotage, Fury, and the underrated End of Watch, he knows a thing or two about compelling antiheroes and he has a knack for exploring the interpersonal dynamics in military and police units. Beyond the film’s fetishization of gun violence, though, Suicide Squad bears little of Ayer’s authorial stamp. The characters themselves have some personality (particularly Robbie’s spunky Harley Quinn), but the rest of the movie has almost none.
Despite the bright and colorful opening and closing titles, the cinematography by Roman Vasyanov is dark and dingy. The characters make inexplicable decisions and then reverse themselves at random. The locations are all interchangeable backlot streets and sets. Nothing of consequence happens until the movie’s climax, and when it does it might steal even more plot points from the original Ghostbusters than Paul Feig’s remake. Say what you will about Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman, but at least that movie had a point-of-view and some distinctive visual panache. Suicide Squad is yet another movie about destroying a big glowing beam of energy in the sky. The final battle takes place in a backlit cloud. It’s like watching people fight in a steam room through foggy glasses.
Ayer’s construction is as ill-conceived as Waller’s. Suicide Squad begins with introductions for Smith and Robbie, then gives them each another intro as part of Waller’s endless briefing, and then Smith is given a third chance to show just how good he is at shooting people in a scene at a prison shooting range. Sure, it’s kind of fun to watch Will Smith act like a remorseless badass, but how many times do we have to be shown the same information?
Characters come and go, as do several subplots. (Whatever happened to Ike Barinholtz’s guard?) A character needs to be rescued, then gets rescued, then immediately gets kidnapped and must be rescued again. Three totally different helicopters get shot out of the sky and crash land in the middle of a city; each time, all the important characters walk away with absolutely no injuries. The movie is so repetitious it’s like Ayer’s trying to make a postmodern commentary on pointless fetch quests in modern blockbusters.
That would give Suicide Squad way more credit than it deserves. There are almost no scenes of the team getting to know one another, or playing with the discomfort that comes from a bunch of antisocial loners forced to work together as a team, or even clarifying what the team is doing in Midway City. And the CGI monsters the Squad eventually fights are downright laughable in their design (although not as laughable as the random moment where Kinnaman solemnly contemplates his job by staring out his hotel room window while chewing on a big hunk of meat).
Those hoping to see lots of Jared Leto’s much-hyped Joker, who’s second-billed in the movie’s advertising below Will Smith, should adjust their expectations accordingly: His grill and tattoos appear mostly in flashbacks, and then only in a pointless subplot that could have been removed from the movie with zero consequence to the primary story. (For all his insane preparation, Leto’s Joker is basically just a 1930s gangster with green hair and bad tats; he never approaches the complexities of the men played by Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger.) There’s even less of Ben Affleck, who looks like he showed up only because someone at Warners threw up the Bat-Contractual Obligation Signal.
After one of the crummiest summer movie seasons in recent memory, asking one film to redeem four months of tepid blockbusters might have been a suicide mission in and of itself. But Suicide Squad doesn’t even come close. From the first scene to the last, it’s an absolute mess, one whose harried pacing, jumbled narrative, and blaring soundtrack of radio hits suggests a desperate post-production attempt to reconfigure what Ayer got on set into something palatable and poppy. The movie opens with a shot of the logo for Belle Reve Prison, which serves as the Suicide Squad’s home base; the facility’s slogan is “’Til Death Do Us Part.” The direness of this movie, along with the staggering number of films yet to come in the DC cinematic universe, makes these words feel like the ultimate threat.
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