Review: Ayer's 'Suicide Squad' Barely Keeps DCU's Head Above Water
by Jeremy Kirk
August 5, 2016
"We're the bad guys." It's a common phrase heard throughout Suicide Squad, the latest expansion of the DC Cinematic Universe after Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The characters making up the eponymous team here are on constant alert to remind us just which side of the morality coin they prefer. Seeing "the worst of the worst" being forced to team up is an idea that works wonders on paper. Hell, it even works wonders in execution at least part of the time. But Suicide Squad, for all of its entertainment value, becomes the latest casualty to studio interference and the dreaded, editing machine. What's left over has just enough verve and edge to let us in on the film that could have been, a potentially great film, too, and the charisma felt from those characters goes a long way.
It doesn't hurt that the team is led by Mr. Charisma himself, Will Smith playing Deadshot, a skilled hitman who pines away for the affection of his daughter from his prison cell. You see, Batman, doing what Batman does in Gotham City, captured Deadshot as well as Harley Quinn, a former psychiatrist turned supervillain played by Margot Robbie. Like Deadshot she yearns for the day when she can escape her cell and return to her one, true love, that being the Joker (Jared Leto), and we all know how bad that crazy character can get. Along with a handful of other villains and "metahumans," the criminals are given a once in a lifetime opportunity that comes from the very government that has incarcerated them.
Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller, a mysterious government executive whose brilliant plan sees her controlling this superteam of sadistic killers and horrifying monsters. Also keeping the group in check is Rick Flag, the squad leader in the field played by Joel Kinnaman. What could possibly go wrong with this plan? It isn't long before we find out precisely what that could be, and the newly created team is forced into a rescue mission in the heart of a city under siege by strange creatures. Also, the Joker is hot on their heels.
It isn't difficult to deduce why hard-edged filmmaker David Ayer took on the task of writing and directing Suicide Squad. His action films are often weighed down by the darkness found within the characters he creates. Films like End of Watch and Sabotage are as gritty as they are intriguing and each come loaded with engaging characters, some, as is the case with the Ayer-written Training Day, even falling into iconic status. Taking a batch of comic book villains through a grim, urban adventure would seem to fall right in line with the filmmaker's previous work.
Much of the Ayer factor can still be felt in the finished product here, the bad guys proving their nefarious standing with not only words but actions, as well. The screenplay doesn't mince attitudes with any of the characters. Deadshot shows early on just how good he is at taking someone's life. Harley Quinn doesn't apologize for the voices in her head or for the clearly dysfunctional relationship she has with "Mr. J." Even Waller and Flag come complete with a murky gray area that shows they might be just as bad as the criminals they're controlling.
Where Suicide Squad slips up in tremendous fashion, though, is in the editing, the pacing, and the structure of its finished product. It comes in from the start like a race car already in fourth gear, speeding through flashbacks that serve as brief intros and a vague notion of the mission on which the team finds itself. So much is glossed over and assumed in the early moments of the film that it's a wonder the whole thing isn't more convoluted than it is. It helps that Ayer keeps the story relatively focused, though many aspects to that story come through as awkward. I'm sure the filmmaker understands all the choices his characters make, but much of it just doesn't come across as clearly as it should. Also, the Joker shows up.
I've made that joke twice now, but it really emphasizes the way Suicide Squad handles the iconic DC villain. Leto's method performance notwithstanding, the character plays like an afterthought in the film. He pops up here and there like the shark from Jaws reigning terror and executing chaos on anyone, good or bad, who decides to get in his way. It isn't the execution itself that misses the mark in Suicide Squad, though, it's what the character's presence means to the overall narrative, and, apart from the internal conflict it creates in Harley Quinn, it doesn't mean much.
Leto grits his silvery grill through red lips, and, for the most part, he plays the part suitably psychotic. Smith and Robbie, on the other hand, bring out the real charm in the cast. Smith's genuine warmth almost does a disservice to the highly lethal Deadshot. Robbie kills it in her performance as Harley Quinn and ends up creating the only iconic figure the film has to offer. Davis does the same with Waller but to a lesser extent.
The supporting cast of characters fills the wide array of colorful criminals with a decent amount of success. Jay Hernandez shines as Diablo, a gang member who also dabbles in pyrokinesis. He gives the character's rare arc the genuine nudge it needs to be effective. Jai Courtney offers some comedic relief as Captain Boomerang, whose special abilities you can clearly assume from his moniker. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gives Killer Croc a performance that nearly comes through the CG effects that make up the reptilian creature. Neither Cara Delevingne as Enchantress nor Karen Fukuhara as Katana add much to their parts, but that assumes they're even given much with which to work.
The vague development on those supporting characters is an issue found across the board, too. Suicide Squad suffers from poor editing that chops the backbone out of the finished results leaving bloated bouts of excitement that don't add up to much. It's never a dull result, Ayer's handling of the film's action keeping your attention span in firm grasp. There is this nagging sense there could have been a grittier and far more rapt story behind those action scenes, though. It feels like there should be a more world-expanding yet efficiently constructed narrative to go along with those bright characters and fascinating performances. Suicide Squad is an all-in-all improvement over the narratively flat and outright confusing Batman v Superman. If the DC world is to continue this course correction into their expanding universe, though, it may be time to start focusing on the actual story they're wanting to tell. Also have the Joker show up.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 5
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