Cinematic Releases: Suicide Squad (2016) - Reviewed

Suicide Squad is finally in theaters. Read our review, ya joker. 

As the summer movie season comes to close, the last major summer blockbuster, the highly anticipated Suicide Squad, is finally upon us. Suicide Squad is not only meant as a capper to the summer movie season, it is also expected to continue the DC Extended Universe after the critical and audience polarizing film Batman V Superman.  It seems like it is being positioned to win back those viewers and fans that were alienated by the dark and grim tone of the last installments of this hopeful cinematic universe.  Suicide Squad is being offered as the fun, offbeat course correction from the dour and gritty super heroics of its predecessors.

I'm pretending to eat a banana right now. 

In spite of this, Suicide Squad seems to be almost as polarizing as Batman V Superman. Is it as bad as the Rotten Tomatoes would lead you to believe, or are the negative reviews an indicator that the film is a victim of the brewing backlash toward superhero films? The answer to all of these questions is no.  Honestly, I feel this is yet another fun, yet flawed, superhero movie that could have been so much more.  Coming from someone who isn't a major DCEU fan, I felt like this was a step in the right direction and nowhere near as bad as folks say it is.

There is a lot to like about Suicide Squad. The idea of a team of crazy ultra-violent super criminals working together sounds like a fun spin on the genre that we haven’t really seen during the superhero craze that has dominated the summer movie business.  After years of watching the heroes get their time in the sun, it’s nice to see the villains get their chance.  The script offers some fun scenes for the squad and we get a great sense of who they are as characters, their backgrounds, and the unique beats throughout. It’s nice to know who these people are and why. The titular Suicide Squad themselves are as interesting as they are fun to watch. I wish the movie around them was as good as their performances. The actors really do shine in this movie and make up for some of the weaknesses I had with the movie itself.

Will Smith as Deadshot reminded me of why audience members like myself initially loved the actor in the first place. This isn’t the dull and dreary I-just-took-ten-Ambiens-before-shooting-this-scene Will Smith that audiences have had to sit through in films like After Earth or Concussion. This is the fun and charismatic Smith who is finally back doing what he does best. He has some strong emotional beats regarding his daughter, but for the most part the film allows him to explore the persona and also be the Will Smith we know, love, and miss.

Okay. Who wants to lick my bat?

Margot Robbie is also a lot of fun as the Joker’s love interest, Harley Quinn. She does a great job of capturing the fun and sexiness of the character. There is a fine line with Harley when it comes to portraying her, and Robbie does a good job of not making the character the Token Sex Object. Harley Quinn is in charge of herself and she knows it. Robbie steals scenes as the wisecracking psychopath who is in love with the Clown Prince of Crime.  There are some moments where she tries a too hard and comes off as a little cringe worthy or hokey, but then again, I think that faithfully sums up Harley as a character.

Jai Courtney's performance is better than his usual fair as the delightfully crazy Aussie criminal, Captain Boomerang.  I was impressed by how much I ended up liking him.  He was a ton of fun, and his introduction in the film might just be my favorite scene. Katana was a slick character, on the other hand, that I really wanted to know more about. Maybe I just dig chicks with swords? But out of all the characters, I was surprised by El Diablo. Jay Hernandez brought a real humanity to the character. His arc added a lot of emotional weight to the proceedings. Had he not been there, I don’t think I would have nearly enjoyed the movie as much as I did.  And finally, Viola Davis does a damn fine job as Amanda Waller. She plays it with the badass nature that we as an audience have come to expect from her. I’d say more but at this point we should all know how wonderful an actress Viola is. She's simply brilliant.

But what weighed the film down then?

The supporting cast outside of Viola Davis is nowhere near as good as the core squad themselves.  Maybe it’s the lack of strong material for these characters or the various scenes that were cut out of the film but there is a serious discrepancy between the two groups. Cara Delevigne plays the dual roles of the Enchantress and June Moone, but I never got a strong sense of either character. Outside of the surface-level character background and her role in driving the story forward, I didn’t understand her motivation. What toll would such a curse have on a person sharing a body with a crazy 6000-year-old witch? Why does the Enchantress want to destroy (rule?) the world besides the need for story progression? Considering how crucial Enchantress is to the plot, it's unfortunate that the script didn't seem to care.

Another major disappointment is Jared Leto as the Joker. Given my love for Jared as an actor and the hype around his “shocking” and “game changing” performance as the Joker, I was extremely disappointed.  I don’t know if we can chock it up to poor directing, bad dialogue, or what, but his Joker is absolutely cringe worthy. It is even unintentionally hilarious at points.  His performance is no Heath Ledger or Mark Hamill. Hell, he isn’t even a Cesar Romero. Every time he came on, I was hoping that the film would just get on with the pertinent plot and ignore him. He sucks the soul out of every scene he's in.  His portrayal of the legendary villain is like something out of a bad fan film.  Seriously, it's that bad. The Joker contributes so little to the plot of this film that the character is essentially a glorified cameo.  You could cut him out entirely and the movie would probably work a lot better as a whole.

Of all the actors in this film, the worst is Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg, in what is arguably the worst performance I have seen in a major blockbuster in a long time. His line delivery is atrocious and he seems to be changing his gruff accent every other scene. One scene, where he introduces Katana, is so bad I actually laughed out loud. His romantic interest is both a crucial motivating factor and the dullest, cliché love story I have seen in a while. I didn’t believe for one second that he could have fallen for the character he does. Every minute of it was just flat and sucked the life right out of the movie. His performance, likewise, is so bland and forgettable compared to the otherwise more lively, and exciting squad members that surround him. Unfortunately for us, he is a major part of this movie and brings it down several notches.

What hurt Suicide Squad the most are the script and the creative choices surrounding it. A lot of the scenes in this film feel like window dressing or artificial flavoring meant to add to the movie. Why is this song there? Because it’s awesome, that’s why! Why do we need to have this shot be in slow motion? Because it’s awesome! Why is Joker here? Our market research indicated that people really like the Joker and would like to have him around more. Does it add to the movie? Eh, but it adds to our pocketbook so let’s throw it in there.  Don’t ask questions, look at Margot Robbie’s ass!

There are far too many throwaway moments deliberately and cynically chosen for cool factor and little else. None of these choices impact the story in the slightest. They are there so we can have cool shots for the trailer and get butts in seats.  Why have a story when the premise alone sells people on what we are doing?

It’s a shame because what works about Suicide Squad is the premise and the actors. I really wanted to adore this movie. I love the works of David Ayer and I think the cast is awesome. I even liked the concept but I am willing to admit that it is not the original and bold film that I think audiences wanted nor the film David Ayer is most capable of deliveringWith recent news, we've learned that this isn't exactly the film Ayer envisioned from the start--compromises had to be made with the studio even if he admits being happy with said compromise. Unfortunately, I think that shows in the rough-around-the-edges editing and obvious reshoots that appear throughout the film.

That being said, I didn’t hate it. In a summer of dull and dreary blockbusters, I think it's not the worst of them. I definitely take it over X-Men Apocalypse. I found myself mostly entertained. It might even be my favorite of the DCEU so far.

Which way to the orgy?

You can really tell that DC and Warner Bros. want to do something different but they don't seem to know how to strike that chord with fans, critics, and regular audience members alike. The problem is that their own ambition for their cinematic universe gets in the way of making great movies. There is so much that could have gone better that it can’t help but feel like a disappointment. I want to live in a world where my two favorite comic universes can coexist and have awesome comic book movies.  I don’t want to see DC be considered the lesser company because the truth is there are some DC comics that are a million times better than the stories Marvel is currently making. The problem is that WB seem to not be able or willing to try and tell these stories without alienating people.

As for Suicide Squad, I think they're getting closer to making a film that really works. I enjoyed the world of Suicide Squad. I would love to see these characters again with the exception of The Joker and Rick Flagg. Who knows, maybe with a more developed script I can grow to appreciate them? I hope that the DC Extended Universe gets out of its growing pains and manages to right the course because I think there is a potential for a great alternative to what Marvel offers and there’s nothing wrong with having two great cinematic universes going at the same time.

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-Liam S. O'Connor