a critiQal film review Suicide Squad (2016)

Plot: Figuring they're all expendable, a U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret mission. Now armed with government weapons, Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Courtney), Killer Croc (Akinnuoye Agbaje) and other despicable inmates must learn to work together. Dubbed Task Force X, the criminals unite to battle a mysterious and powerful entity, while the diabolical Joker (Leto) launches an evil agenda of his own.

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DC Comics has been trying to play catch-up lately to the Marvel juggernaut in the movies. While Marvel continued to rack up hit after hit (Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012) (and all their sequels), etc.), DC Comics looked longingly back to when Blade (1998) and The Dark Knight (2008) were ruling the box office roost. Despite setbacks (Man of Steel (2013) didn’t garner the same critical praise as the Marvel films), they pushed ahead, and released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)…which scored even lower among critics and fans (27% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, as opposed to 55% for Superman’s previous outing). Still, DC Comics kept pushing, and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad hit theaters. Would this film finally get DC Comics back into the critics’ good graces?

Apparently not, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Suicide Squad is currently sitting at a dismal 26% positive reviews. That’s pretty bad, especially considering Marvel’s latest endeavors are sitting pretty with 90% positive for Captain America: Civil War (2016), 84% for Deadpool (2016) and 90% for Doctor Strange (2016) (and 93% for Logan (2017), although that’s still a 20th Century Fox property).

Despite those numbers – and after hearing rumors of problems plaguing the set, including the studio forcing filmmakers to reshoot several scenes to improve on them – I still wanted to check out Suicide Squad for myself. Is it really that bad, or would I (once again) disagree with the critics?

Suicide Squad has a large cast of characters portrayed on-screen, and it’s an eclectic grouping of personalities. Will Smith leads the way as Deadshot – playing out of his normal good guy comfort zone while still trying to reach for that redemption in his character. Margot Robbie is a standout as Harley Quinn, the iconic psycho-girlfriend of the Joker. She plays crazy well, and the best scenes in the film mostly center around her. Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang and the rest of the gang are mere backup characters to these two, although the film does try to push Jay Hernandez’s Diablo character to the forefront, with limited success.

Viola Davis is largely under-utilized as Amanda Waller, the government force behind this crazy group. While she is decent enough, she still seems an odd pick for this tough-as-nails boss, and viewers may find themselves wondering if Angela Bassett (who proved she can do tough in Strange Days (1995)) might not have been a better pick. In most scenes, Davis sets out to prove how tough her character is, something Bassett would have probably been able to do a lot easier. It’s a bit of a miscast, but Davis does a decent job of it anyway.

Jared Leto’s Joker is also a standout in Suicide Squad, and fans should be clamoring for a film that gives his character more screen time (but, with that character being so over-used – he’s already got himself 2 Batman films to himself – chances are it won’t happen anytime soon). His mania is infused with a bit of heart in Jared Leto’s portrayal, and his crazy is a bit contagious.

Other quick cameos give hints at the future of DC in the movies. Affleck pops up briefly as Batman and Ezra Miller speeds through a scene or two as The Flash (not to mention a post-credits sequence that tantalizes Justice League (2017)). Not on-screen long enough to really make a difference here, they are just teases, whetting the viewer’s appetite for what’s to come in the DC movie universe.

In a film where a bunch of heroes (or villains in this case) are teaming up together, there needs to be a potent villain. The Avengers (2012) got that right with Loki in their first film, and their subsequent films gave the viewer villains who were memorable enough to make it worth the time (True, Captain America: Civil War (2016) gave us Zemo, who was quickly dismissable, but their true enemy in that film was their inability to come together on becoming a policed unit, which ultimately drove them to fight each other, which Zemo just capitalized on).

Sadly, the Enchantress, while extremely powerful, doesn’t really help Suicide Squad. She’s nothing more than another generic villain (see the latest reincarnation of Lex Luther in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)). She quickly takes over in a way that will have viewers slapping their heads at Amanda Waller’s stupidity, and proceeds to wreak havoc until the anti-heroes of the film save the day. By the time the team gets to the final battle, viewers will be shaking their heads at all of the plot inconsistencies that have lead up to this point.

Where Suicide Squad works is the interactions between the anti-heroes themselves. There’s a grudging camaraderie and mutual respect that develops, and it’s here that the film gathers itself. It keeps that going even through the final battle, as the team manages to come together against supposedly impossible odds.

With a film like this, any director would be hard-pressed to come up with a film that managed to both introduce a whole slew of new characters and make a film that wasn’t without it’s flaws. With so much background to cover before the team can even start fighting, it’s a wonder Ayer managed it at all. Marvel did this the right way, by introducing each character in their own movie before joining them all together. Even Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) didn’t have this many team members to introduce!

With a perfectly-timed (and completely un-forshadowed) solution out of left field during the final battle, Suicide Squad manages to take all the character development the film has managed to cram in before that, and completely tosses it out of the window with a quick toss of Killer Croc’s arm. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), which needed all of them as a team in order to defeat their foe, Suicide Squad needs far less, making the viewer wonder why the rest of the characters are there at all.

With a promising beginning, and Ayer’s ability to introduce a whole bunch of characters without the film getting dull, Suicide Squad starts off well enough. But, the film starts to fall apart quickly when the enemy of the group takes the forefront. With no charisma and less explanation, the big bad of the pic is the biggest disappointment of all, and the filmmakers quickly do their level best to destroy any kind of rapport it’s built with the viewers up to that point.

With a better villain, Suicide Squad could have been really good. Alas, DC Comics again fails to produce in that area, and this supervillain team-up pic ends up falling flat at the end. Sure, it’s still fun to watch, but it could have been so much better…and viewers will know it.

Bad critic reviews don’t always amount to low box office receipts, and despite the critics slamming this movie, it still managed to rake up a good showing at the box office, meaning a sequel is definitely on the horizon (unless Justice League (2017) bombs too badly, of course). It will be interesting to see if they can do better in Suicide Squad 2 now that they’ve already gotten the character introductions out of the way with this film. I, for one, had enough fun watching Suicide Squad to hope that a sequel will be able to do what this first film couldn’t – give the team a foe worth their time…and ours.

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