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Review: Suicide Squad

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...
MVP: Robbie

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Reader Comments (16)

The boomerang-guy is Captain Boomerang, the crocodile-guy is Killer Croc, and the swordswoman is called Katana. So yeah, you didn't miss out on much there.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDietrich

This movie is a victim of its marketing campaign. Sure it's making tons of money but one could argue it could make the same amount of money with about one quarter of the campaigning, The people who were set to watch it decided to do so a few months ago and those like me who were waiting for the reception were completely annoyed and overwhelmed by the over-marketing. Granted its a very small group that is financially insignificant but in terms of the film's durability, it's just not going to survive. It was a complete letdown even before it got a chance to hit the movie theatre, This whole "new clips released" thing needs to stop. It's killing entertainment. Same goes for Margot Robbie and Jared Leto's performances. There is no way Robbie was going to live up to the hype. I remember Heath Ledger's hype before The Dark Knight being completely different. We got some cheeky posters and a hint of greatness in the trailer but none of these long articles about how she has arrived !!!!! before the movie is ever released. It's too bad.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Liked it a smudge more than but on-point with the criticisms.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

The MVP should go to actors and actresses who did not take the paycheck and sign on this mess.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Well it's making money so we are destined for more of this drivel.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

I have zero interest in this film

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

Really? I thought Margot Robbie was annoying in this movie and I found Will Smith to be such a movie star, that he hardly needs to try to be magnetic; he Just is. And that's all I need. But yes, the rest of this movie is crap.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClarence

What a disappointment this movie was. There's no story, half the actors are wasted, and for the most part, it was just boring. I found Viola Davis and Margot Robbie to be the best parts of it. But Tom Hardy and Jake Gyllenhaal can count theie lucky stars they missed out on this mess. They were circling the role of Rick Flagg with Hardy having to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and Gyllenhaal turning it down. Although they probably would've been better than Joel Kinnaman was.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

I'm officially not watching badly reviewed blockbusters unless Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman or Tilda Swinton are in them.

And I've been a judgmental juggernaut on Facebook about it.

I almost saw The Huntsman: Winter's War but then I realized Chastain, Blunt, and Theron aren't part of the elite club mentioned above. At least not yet.

I might make an exception once or twice based on director. Did it with Pan since I am an admirer of Joe Wright's work but I regretted it.

Btw, I'm totally loving 2016 and the flopping or just moderate success of so many "it" movies.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

I felt like Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, and Will Smith were the highlights of the film. The costume design was really beautiful in my opinion. The visual effects not so much (especially Cara Devligne as the Enchantress. It was so bad I thought I was watching a movie made in the 2000s. Everything else was awful, especially character development and plot. It's a shame since the actors have so much on screen personality and charisma. The only reason to watch this film is for the characters.

August 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

It's not a fiasco, but it is shockingly poor in its construction. You could make an interesting movie with these characters and especially this cast, but there's truly no story here, and minimal opportunities for the personalities to bounce off each other. Also the visual aesthetic is very "old Ed Hardy shirt found in a storm drain".

August 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Just watched this movie today. Huge letdown from the great expectations.
Lol at those fanboys who blamed it all on those studio mandated reshoots. Just deal with it pls.
Robbie is fantastic imo. Davis is as usual running circles to those around her. And yes the costume design is very good.
WTF indeed at the lack of character development, and don't get me talking about Slipknot.
Scott Eastwood is bound to be that handsome second tier guy who'll always die.

August 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

They certainly aren't Groot. Harley Quinn is the MVP of this film...I absolutely loved her character, but who didn't??

August 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

hello, I love your blog, can we cooperate?

July 15, 2017 | Unregistered

Nice article and great content ... See my product images and content & give ur feedback

Suicide Squad is very good and definitely worth catching... It's a film with confidence and swagger, a film in which the sharpness of its dialogue is matched only by the coolness of its (very loud) soundtrack.

December 30, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradrain smith

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