Suicide Squad (Ayer; 2016)

Suicide Squad is the third film in DC Universe series of films which is obviously trying to capitalize on the popularity of movie franchises which are becoming ever more omnipresent in our local multiplexes, and in particular, on the superhero franchise which Marvel and Disney have seemingly perfected as much as something as fickle as pop art can be perfected.  For their third movie, Marvel brought us Iron Man 2, a safe movie considering the massive success of the first Iron Man, but also the movie that is the nearly universally agreed upon worst movie in their entire canon to date.  Suicide Squad, a film that focuses on villains that are foes of heroes and sidekicks to other villains who haven’t even been introduced into the DC movies as yet is a far bolder choice, and it sort of works in the sense that it is not an obvious choice for their worst movie in the canon, but it doesn’t in that it really isn’t terribly obvious that it’s any better, either.

Marvel has managed to corner the superhero and blockbuster market so well largely because each film builds just enough on the last one to keep you invested in their shared world, but make each film enough of their own individual story that you don’t need to know every single detail.  They have been able to build long term character and plot over long periods of time without sacrificing smaller individual plot lines, and the films that are the least well regarded in the Marvel canon are those that did a little too much set up for future movies rather than focusing on what their characters had going on in front of them.  What DC has not yet realized in their attempts to play catch up to Marvel by bringing out character after character fast and furious with already developed back stories we don’t know and with motivations we don’t understand is that they have not earned it.  They have not earned the epic story lines they want to tell, yet.  By skipping the smaller character set up stories and jumping right to the major events, they are sabotaging their own franchise before it really gets a chance to get off the ground.

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And, I know a thing or two about sabotage.  I think I do.  I’m not really given any backstory.  I just sort of do evil stuff.  I laugh a lot, so I guess it’s evil.  Ah, hell if I know why I’m here.

Suicide Squad does a bit to avoid falling into this trap by giving a dossier on each of its main characters early in the film, but it’s really through a lazy form of story telling barely more dynamic than the sending an email bit introducing the Justice League members in Batman v Superman.  Even that isn’t enough, either, as most of these characters are connected in some form to a more major player in the DC canon that isn’t yet fleshed out themselves, leaving a loose thread just like before, just one a little farther down the line.  We see how Harley Quinn and Joker met, for instance, but without knowing anything of the Joker’s backstory we really don’t understand why they have such a deep connection.  You can say these are iconic characters, and we don’t need yet another origin story movie, and I would absolutely agree with you, but there is a huge difference between an entire origin film and dropping in a years old relationship and just expecting us to know every detail of what makes them tick right off the bat.  While the Joker is an iconic character (as an obvious example, there are others in this movie that get similar treatment) this is a new interpretation of him by actor, writer, and director and we’re dropped into his life an unmentioned amount of years, but seemingly many, as a supervillain and we just have to run with it.  DC, you have to earn it.

The writing in Suicide Squad is quite hit or miss.  The dialogue is for the most part quite fun.  The words our characters string together can be quite witty and rarely out of character, and never stand out as a writer trying too hard.  The pacing, structure, and logic of the story, however, does suffer.  Aside from what I’ve already mentioned about being dropped into the middle of story in which we missed the entire first act (or more) in the DC movies in general, we have a story with strange breaks to catch our breath, when there was no breath to be caught in the first place, poorly worked in exposition, and characters with motivations that are entirely unclear and seem to conform to what the plot needs at the time rather than any internal character logic.  When the Earth needs saving bad guys just stop being bad guys, apparently, and not just out of necessity, but because their entire personality magically transforms even when it doesn’t really need to just so the audience won’t hate our protagonists.  Deadpool is considered an anti hero, but what he did in his movie was far more ethically questionable than anything these supposed villains do on their mission.  Not only does this make someone wildly question the characters’ motivations in the first place, but also undermines the originality of the film’s premise that a bunch of supervillains have to save the world when those villains are as heroic as The Justice League themselves.

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How can I really be evil with the face of an angel?

The acting here is also a plus overall for the film.  Most do at least a solid job in their role, with Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn both being quite exemplary.  I may not agree with the way the characters were written, but I can’t argue with the talent behind delivering those characters to the screen.  Jared Leto as the Joker is perhaps the one standout in the bad category.  Other than laughing occasionally, and only occasionally, I saw nothing in Leto’s performance that suggested a character like the Joker, at all.  In fact, he seemed to be more of a cool, collected crime boss.  More of a Penguin type character, or even Lex Luthor.  He has white skin and green hair, yes, but there was nothing else even remotely Joker-like about him.  In fact, switch Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor from Batman v Superman with Leto’s Joker, and we may have the actors and characters in the correct spots, even if their make up is a bit off.

The visuals and action sequences in Suicide Squad are perhaps the best elements of the film.  The action pieces do start out a little slow and uncreative, but they really do pay off by the end once all the characters start getting involved.  The camerawork never approaches work of art level, but it is always competent, always makes it easy to follow the action and frames what we need to see adequately, if never elegantly.  What you see on the screen never approaches the heights of a master, but it rarely if ever lets you down, either.

Suicide Squad is one I recommend more for eventual Blu-Ray or streaming viewing, but if you really feel the desire to go catch this one on the big screen, I won’t dissuade you, either.  It’s a film I would say is slightly better than Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but only very slightly.  Here’s hoping that Wonder Woman with its plot that begins long before the current DC movie storyline can fix many of DCs mistakes and can get their franchise on track, because DC definitely has not earned Justice League, yet, and that is their last chance to do so.

Rating:  5.4 out of 10

 

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