Saturday, August 6, 2016
The highly anticipated Suicide Squad proves to be a not entirely unsurprising fizzle. It's the second in DC's expansion of its extended film universe (it's really not fair to count the far classier Man of Steel, which was never really meant to start this particular ball rolling, as part of the series). On paper, Suicide Squad looks like the most daring of the upcoming DC films. It features a deep stable of super-villains instead of the predictably stolid heroes. It is directed by David Ayer (End of Watch), a throwback to Walter Hill and the closest we've seen to a true auteur shaping this kind of film since Guillermo del Toro helmed Blade II. But save for a couple of lunatic performances by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as Harley's boyfriend, the Joker, plus some lustrous cinematography by Roman Vasyanov, Suicide Squad is perhaps even more disappointing than its dark predecessor, Batman v. Superman.
If Suicide Squad's premise has one virtue, it is that of being unfamiliar to non-comic book fans. Covert government flack Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together a team of criminal misfits to respond to the highly lethal superhuman situations powerful beings like Superman are probably better equipped to handle. Why risk losing decent God-fearing American soldiers on suicide missions when you can send some of the scummiest villains that the likes of Batman (Ben Affleck) have put away in the Louisiana black site, Belle Reve Prison? Gathered for this initial mission (to retrieve one of Waller's own collateral gone rogue) are: expert marksman, Deadshot (Will Smith); the aforementioned sexy psycho Harley; the obnoxious Aussie Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); the scaly monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and more, all under the red-white-and-blue command of Special Forces Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).
Expectations of a muscular, superhuman version of the Dirty Dozen are dashed early on as Suicide Squad unfolds into an ever more incoherent mess. Strangely enough, and to its detriment, many of the team members introduced are delineated strongly enough to maybe carry their own movie. Deadshot's cynicism concerning his chosen occupation of assassin is outweighed by his ardor for his tween-age daughter. Harley's misplaced devotion to the frightening Mr. J is an incisive look at the blind, madcap obsession that can sometimes accompany young love. Croc's bestiality proves to be a symptom of what can happen when one buys into everyone's perceptions of their own looking-glass self. Most intriguing is the turning of a new, pacifist leaf by the flame-throwing vato El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), who has renounced violence not after he inadvertently killed his own family in a blind rage, but after exterminating all of his fellow jailees in the prison yard when they pushed him too far.
Maybe that is the long-term intention here by Warner Brothers, to prime the pump for an endless succession of potential spinoffs. But as it is, Suicide Squad suffers from the same schizoid aspect that afflicted Batman v. Superman. The fairly basic central plot involving the anonymous, imaginary Midway City being slowly dismantled by a compromised Squad member just isn't strong enough to stand up to the distracting interpersonal dynamics of each of its ensemble. Suicide Squad frequently goes off on wild tangents devoted to explaining each individual's stronger backstory. Little wonder that Suicide Squad feels less like the potent exploration of dangerous camaraderie among outcasts usually executed by Ayer than a film that has had some significant portions of it extracted and replaced by shorter scenes full of boring expository dialogue to bridge the gaps. Leto's scene-stealing Joker is the hardest hit by these cuts, his short appearances feeling more like non-sequitur merely used to punctuate a given chapter. One is never allowed to see Leto's performance in toto for fear, one assumes, that it might rob the movie's main characters of the audience's attention.
The sad byproduct of this streamlining is Suicide Squad's instability. One may think that this unevenness befits the union of such a wild collection of oddball outlaws as some postmodern meta-commentary on the calcification of this now decades-old genre. However, it would be far too generous to attribute Suicide Squad's failings to such forethought. It's far more productive to ponder how Suicide Squad can be both half-baked and overcooked at the same time.