At last, the release of Suicide Squad — the movie at the top of my must-see list for 2016.
The first trailer previewed a rogues gallery of misfits — awesome and not — who become forced into some good ol’ fashioned do-goodery. The preview had a bit of humor, our first look at Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and a shot of Batman hanging from the roof of a speeding getaway car.
The latest trailers gave us more of the same, but it was the delivery — they played like the best fan-made music videos. A helicopter launching flares as Brian May goes into full swing for his guitar solo in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or Sweet’s high-charged Ballroom Blitz in step with shots of pure kinetic energy.
Unfortunately, we’ve come into a golden age of trailers, where companies can cherry pick the best visuals, break open the plot, and piece together a TLDR version that can make a bad movie look good.
Somehow, people were tricked into seeing Fantastic Four — and half of the scenes in the trailer weren’t even in the movie!
On the strength of its casting, premise and top notch trailers — rumor has it, the final cut of the movie was completed by Trailer Park, the company that created the previews — Suicide Squad topped even Rogue One on the “Want to See” list, but no amount of editing could save a movie with a circular kind of logic that is a means and end to itself in all of the worst ways.
Kicking off with stylistic introductions similar to what the seven deadly exes got in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World — see also the in-your-face intros for the various characters of the Borderlands video game universe — the main characters of Suicide Squad appear one by one with a bit of backstory, a flashy name placard, and a list of dirty deeds that are more for show because you’d have to be a speedreader to catch every single detail.
The art direction, featured prominently in the movie’s ad campaigns, gives the first act of the movie a nice touch — bright colors, pinks over greens, and a nice mix of songs for the character vignettes and scene changes.
We start with an assorted mix of nuts — Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley who are both captured by Batman and sent to Belle Reve, a secret prison for the worst criminals. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) of A.R.G.U.S. (Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans), ruthless in her tactics and proud owner of a dossier that would make Julian Assange jealous, comes up with a contingency plan to gather the worst meta-humans in preparation for the next evil Superman.
When Waller’s puppet Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) goes rogue and wakes her brother Incubus from ancient slumber, Midway City turns into a warzone. Sending in the military only makes everything worse as the siblings turn the soldiers into monsters.
Desperate to save the high value target hiding out in Midway City, the government scrambles the Suicide Squad, “encouraging” them to stay on task with mini-grenades embedded in their necks.
From there, the movie devolves into a strange, barely cohesive action movie that eschews the promising lightheartedness it started with for a rote action flick filled with cannon fodder. What could have been the year’s best superhero movie tightens up and misses every opportunity to play the anti-hero, instead opting for cheap laughs and pacing that screeches to a halt in between scenes.
First and foremost on the list of why it fails is the basis of the conflict — Waller gets clearance to create her black ops team using the powers of the one member who ultimately becomes the team’s main foe. Waller’s failsafe — and her credibility — is completely nullified, and the rest of the movie is spent following the Suicide Squad who never realize their full potential as a team because they’re constantly kept under guard by Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his Navy Seals.
We never get to see the team move as a tactical unit — instead, we’re forced to watch a more violent version of Adventures in Babysitting with an X-Men crossover. We have our icy cold leader with an eyepiece, a beast-like strong man, the comic relief in a trenchcoat, the wild card femme fatale, and a sword-carrying ninja warrior.
And when the high-value target is found — it turns out to be Waller — the sinkhole plot shows how deep it can really go.
I mean, seriously, talk about self-fulfilling prophecy.
Gun battles against the Enchantress’ army become chaotic skirmishes that make no real sense given the inconsistent nature of what kills and what doesn’t. Flagg’s military-grade assault rifle can’t kill a bubble monster within point-blank range, but Deadshot takes an elevated position on a car roof and saves the day with a Rambo-like massacre. The rest of the crew manages to survive because the story needs them to — writer/director David Ayer must have forgotten the title to his own movie. In fact, the first and only casualty for a majority of the movie is Slipknot who tries to escape and has his neck bomb triggered. The character is completely useless otherwise — he doesn’t get a backstory, is dropped into the team right before it’s sent out on the mission, and he doesn’t fight a single foe before becoming a cautionary tale for the enslaved criminals reluctantly following orders.
Other total miscues include Waller hopping onboard her escape helicopter only for it fly low towards the threat instead of, you know, up and away. While Davis is great in her role as a cold-hearted, do-what-it-takes glorified human resources director — her character as it’s written continuously creates every single problem in the movie.
The main villains to the group of villains are also a problem — Incubus and Enchantress, like final bosses in a video game, don’t have much reach outside of their main base of operations. When the Squad come to knock on their door, there’s a couple of fight sequences that, while decent, could have been a lot better. The problem is, for someone so powerful, the Enchantress does everything in her power to lose this one. It’s mind-boggling.
Outside of the plot holes and technical mistakes, the one thing that will rile most audience members is Jared Leto’s lack of screen time. The Joker appears infrequently and only to advance Harley’s portion of the plot. We get a bit on Harley’s origin story, and it seems like Leto really soaked in the role as some scenes just become Joker-time. But overall, he’s reduced to a plot point for which Harley gets her neck bomb disarmed — not that it matters because she willingly continues with the team after the Joker’s helicopter crashes and burns.
So Joker spends the entire movie trying to rescue Harley, only to be apparently killed off, and Harley stays with the team. There isn’t even a dead body — you would think she’d be a little hopeful after she tumbles out of the same helicopter, does a roll, and springs into a full-on sprint. After seeing that, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Joker had sprouted wings and flown.
Suicide Squad is this generation’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Does that mean I love it — I’m a big fan of LoEG despite fully acknowledging how terrible it is. One can love a movie and know it’s bad — really bad.
I don’t love Suicide Squad. I wanted to, but it wouldn’t let me. It started off so manic, ready to throw itself off the edge with glee, but it never fully committed itself. Against Harley’s words, it did not “own it.”Where Sean Connery’s Quartermane shouted, “Venice is saved!” while the entire city burned, Suicide Squad buries itself in cliches and twiddles its thumbs trying so hard to prove it isn’t crazy.
In its journey to stay sane, it just becomes boring. In one scene, the Squad decides to quit the mission after Deadshot finds out Flagg has been sleeping with the Enchantress’ host. They settle into a bar for drinks and start a game of “Who’s the worst villain?”
If only Suicide Squad had spent its run time dedicated to answering that.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Directed by: David Ayer
Screenplay by: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, David Harbour, Common, Jai Courtney, Ezra Miller, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, and Scott Eastwood