Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But it wasn't very good, either.
by Lynn Lee
Suicide Squad was supposed to be DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s big-screen dominance. It had even more pressure riding on it to make up for the underwhelming Batman vs. Superman. Unfortunately for DC, there’s nothing here to challenge Marvel’s crown.
It’s not that it’s unwatchable, it’s that everything about it is either unfocused or uninspired: the plotting, the fight scenes, the visual aesthetic, and most damning of all, the character development. Let’s face it, most superhero movies are variations on the same handful of basic plot arcs and themes; their rhythms are so familiar to us that they rarely pack true surprises. What makes some more compelling than others is the characterization of the heroes (and, less frequently, their villains)...
And in that department, Suicide Squad falls fatally short. The main characters are simply presented upfront with one or two identifying traits...and that's it. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, who gets points for effort), the mastermind behind the Squad, is a ruthless pragmatist whose sole priority is to do whatever it takes to protect humanity. And herself. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, wasted), her deputy, is an equally hard-nosed if more personally conflicted soldier who stays on mission despite that conflict. Deadshot (Will Smith, who gets no points for effort) is an aptly named assassin-for-hire and a devoted dad, which, as the movie both tells and shows with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, is his Achilles heel. Then there’s an Australian (Jai Courtney) who hurls boomerang knives, likes to drink, and carries around a stuffed pink pony; a crocodile-man (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, hardly recognizable under the makeup) who likes to stay subterranean; and a badass Asian swordswoman (Karen Fukuhara) who wields a fearsome soul-capturing blade and mourns her lost husband. We learn nothing more about any of them that would change or complicate these initial impressions; I couldn’t even be bothered to catch their character names.
The two Squad members who come closest to breaking into three dimensions only end up highlighting the potential the movie ultimately squanders. One, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), is an X-men-like gangbanger who can summon fire at will but has renounced that power for reasons we discover later. But his character is still written in shorthand rather than allowed to unfold organically, as evidenced by the fact that his key moment of revelation comes via a hasty expository dump that could have been integrated earlier and more gradually into the storyline.
The other exception, of course, is Harley Quinn. To give credit where credit’s due, there’s a reason why Margot Robbie’s been front and center of the movie’s marketing campaign, and it’s not just because she’s hot. It’s because she’s the only one who truly feels like a loose cannon and Robbie is the actor that's having the most fun and, by extension, is by far the most fun to watch. But this Harley is almost exclusively defined by her romance with the Joker (Jared Leto), which doesn’t feel twisted so much as insufficiently developed for the time it gets; it feels at once like there’s too much of that subplot in the movie and not enough. That’s no knock on Leto, who’s fine, despite getting flak that seems driven more by the offscreen stories of his puerile stabs at Method acting than what he does onscreen. Yes, he’s basically delivering a mash-up of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger lite, but it’s not like the Joker is given much more to do here than keep trying to pry Harley away from the Squad.
The heavy tilt towards Harley Quinn’s relationship with the Joker also underscores the movie’s other major problem: the squad never really jells convincingly as a team. It doesn’t help that they don’t assemble until well into the movie, that there’s nothing particularly memorable about any of their battle scenes, or that we never see them interact in any other way that creates a credible bond independent of their forced joint servitude. The real point of comparison here isn’t so much The Avengers as Guardians of the Galaxy, which did a much better job showing how a band of misfits could end up standing together to save the world à la Dirty Dozen. Or, for that matter, writer-director David Ayers’ previous films Fury and End of Watch, which also focused effectively on the tight camaraderie of men tied together by intense life-or-death circumstances. By contrast, Suicide Squad shows no connection or basis for chemistry between its bruisers other than admiring each other’s fighting styles and having the same enemies. (It tries a little harder with Deadshot and Harley Quinn, but not much.) That’s not enough for a viewer to form any emotional attachment to them, nor are they funny or subversive enough to make up for it.
In other words, they are not Groot. And more’s the pity.
Grade: C, maybe a C+ because of...