Suicide Squad (2016) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
Running Time: 130 min.

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jay Hernandez, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Ike Barinholtz, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, David Harbour, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Scott Eastwood
Small role: Common, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck
Director: David Ayer
Screenplay: David Ayer

Review published August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad is the third official film in the DC Extended Universe, a bit tangential to what's come before, save for a couple of Superman/Aquaman references, as well as the appearance of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck, Gone Girl) and a cameo by The Flash to remind us there's more going on in the world than just what's surrounding this new cast of super-powered characters. Warner Bros' wants to remind us that this offshoot ties in with what they've planned so far in their mad rush to catch up with the Marvel films and their jam-packed universe of already beloved characters, but we've never really seen any of these new Suicide Squad characters on the big screen before. So, it's a few little cameos, the revamped appearance of Batman's main nemesis, Jared Leto's (Dallas Buyers Club) take on The Joker, and a great deal of concentration on the biggest stars of the film, Will Smith (Concussion) and Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan), as Deadshot and Harley Quinn respectively.

The Dirty Dozen-inspired plotline involves black ops ringleader, federal agent Amanda Waller (Davis, Blackhat), bringing together Task Force X, a group of strangers, all violently criminal super-powered sociopaths locked away in elaborately imagined high-security prisons, forced to do the government's dirty work to stave off the threat of other meta-humans that, in the wake of the death of Earth's savior, Superman, can't be stopped by conventional forces.  To keep these fiercely independent baddies under control, these criminals are injected with micro-explosives (a la Escape from New York) through which Waller can detonate them with the touch of a phone app, and to sweeten the deal, promises of reduced sentences.  Their first big mission ends up being taking down the evil, ancient entity known as Enchantress, who has usurped, for spells, the body of a scientist named Dr. June Moone (Delevingne, Paper Towns) -- an entity once controlled by Waller but she managed to finally break free from the curse that bound her.

One of the weaknesses of Suicide Squad is the sheer amount of characters that it must introduce, relegating the first half hour to a collection of brief dossier-style bios and a singular introductory scene to define each one of the characters. And just when you think they're done, a handful of other characters get introduced. Other than our pre-conceived fondness for a few of the actors, and, for comic fans, some of the characters, there's just not enough development given to any of them for us to truly care about what happens to them as they battle for their mission, as well as their own livelihoods. Other than the fact that he's haunted by his love for his daughter, who pleads with him to give up the criminal life, we learn that gun-for-hire Deadshot is called this because he never misses a shot (a la Bullseye from Marvel's Daredevil). Harley Quinn, the most well-known of the principal Suicide Squad members, is a former psychiatrist who turned sociopath herself when becoming attached to The Joker while trying to treat him in Arkham Asylum, but we get little feel of why she's so enamored, and anything about her other than she wears sexy outfits and talks like a ditzy New Yorker (though sometimes forgetting) now that she doesn't wear glasses any longer. The rest of the team is barely even dealt with, save for some backstory to El Diablo (Hernandez, Bad Moms), the pyromaniac-turned-pyrophobic Mexican-American whose inability to control his literally fiery outbursts during moments of rage ended up causing a family tragedy.

The villains are a liability as well, especially the occasional tar-bodied, spore-skinned humanoid forms that are obviously injected so that Ayer can up the violence quotient and still maintain a PG-13 rating.  But the big bad bosses of the film are also a disappointment, including the evil-but-conflicted black-magic witch in a good human's body, Enchantress, and the superfluous inclusion of her hulking demonic brother at her side, Incubus, whose abilities are thinly defined and whose motivations other than perhaps family loyalty are not at all dealt with.  The ending of the film strongly echoes the climax of the film Ghostbusters, with Enchantress substituting for Gozer the Gozerian amid a similar cloudy, lightning-blazed cloud portal, including giving her a kooky new wave look, as well as an incredibly silly-looking, jittery dance style as she speaks as erratic as watching an inflatable air dancer at your local car dealership.  We get her motivations, but they don't pass any sort of snicker test: she wants to eradicate humanity because we've supplanted worship of these mystical creatures in favor of a preoccupation with machines, including, ironically, the phone app that might destroy those out to destroy her.  Jared Leto, in a small, mostly tangential role playing The Joker, is a push at best; he won't make anyone forget Heath Ledger's iconic turn any time soon -- or Jack Nicholson's and Cesar Romero's for that matter.

There are some strengths as well. Ayer has a good command of law-enforcement and military types, as well as the street cred to understand how they interact with the criminal elements, which are usually featured in all of his films. Smith and Robbie acquit themselves well, sharing a nice, albeit limited, chemistry together, perhaps cultivated from their time together working as leads in their recent semi-romantic effort, Focus.  He also knows how to cut together a pop/rock/rap soundtrack to action sequences and give them the propulsion necessary to get audiences prone to music-video editing a few moments of excitement as the principal characters go into their respective battles throughout the fictitious Midway City.  The neon-infused, tattoo-tinged, psychobilly look and vibe separate Ayer's film from that of the other superhero properties, infusing an appropriately dark, trashy, bad-boy image to the film that sets the mood for the crazy amorality that ensues.

However, what keeps Suicide Squad on the level of being merely "passable entertainment at best" is the choppy and stuttering nature of the ill-defined plot, perhaps undone by yet another instance of nervous studio meddling, ostensibly to try to not stall momentum for their young universe of tent-pole films meant to keep them in the black for years to come. Ayer has said that there are many deleted scenes we'll be seeing come the Blu-Ray release, though he does state that the theatrical release is his final cut, unlike the Batman v Superman release that had Zack Snyder cutting out characters and altering story elements to squeeze the film down to 2.5 hours from his original 3-hour cut. Nevertheless, the film had a lot of pre-release press coverage that substantial re-shoots had been done on the film due to the negative reviews received by the critical press, as well as less than die-hard fans, toward the grimness and lumbering nature of Batman v Superman, and the success of lesser established superhero flicks with lots of music and humor in Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool.

Suicide Squad has its share of enjoyable moments, and how much you ultimately come away liking the film overall will be mainly determined by how many of these moments entertain you enough to be willing to overlook the more underwhelming and underdeveloped moments in its storyline and one-dimensional characterizations.  It does sport a lengthy run time for a film that doesn't really wrestle much with important themes, and it probably introduces about a half-dozen too many super-powered characters in its rogues gallery that distract more than they enhance, and yet, taken as purely a popcorn entertainment experience, the humor, likeable actors, and Ayer's ability to draw out good kinetic energy keeps the film from sinking from the leaden weight of its ramshackle plotting.  Superhero-fatigued film critics and the uninitiated masses may scoff at the snark-fueled, comic-book antics, but DC Comics devotees will likely champion the film for the very same reasons.

-- There is an extra scene midway through the closing credits.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo