Movie Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

“Worst.  Heroes.   Ever.”

1 Stars
Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)


Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Synopsis: A group of imprisoned supervillains are recruited to form a crime-fighting organisation in return for reduced prison sentences.

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Like all movies saddled with a pre-release status of Most Eagerly Anticipated Movie of the Summer, Suicide Squad, the latest addition to a DC universe that stubbornly refuses to gain traction, was always going to stand in the crosshairs of those with an agenda.   The release of superhero movies, in particular, provokes sharply opposing reactions, often which have relatively little bearing on the actual quality of the movie in question.   So, as a viewer who is neither a fan of the bloated superhero genre, or of the concept of alternative cinematic universes in which the movies are so intertwined that they begin to make little sense to a casual moviegoer, I can, after all the hype and anticipation, report that Suicide Squad is… well… ok.

Taking place shortly after the events depicted in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad sees Government Agent Waller (Viola Davis – The Help, Prisoners) on a mission to assemble a team of highly skilled crime fighters comprised of the most dangerous criminals currently residing in the country’s top security prison.   As plans go, it’s just a little bit crap, but this is comic-book world, so she receives a tentative thumbs-up and, with the aid of Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman – Run All Night, Robocop), explains the situation to the six super-criminals dutifully assembled.   Basically, this boils down to ‘do what we tell you and we’ll reduce your sentences.’   Most of the candidates view the offer with open cynicism, and probably all see it as an opportunity to escape, although, once they accept, the explosive device implanted into each of their necks they don’t tend to stray too far.

All superhero franchises begin with an origin story, and origin stories are often dramatically inert.   It’s a problem shared by all movies hoping to be the first in a series, but, with The Suicide Squad, the problem is magnified six-fold, because here we have to peruse the big red This is Your Life book of not just one, but six, superheroes.   Even allowing for the fact that Suicide Squad tries to breeze through the histories of all but Deadshot (Will Smith – Focus, Concussion) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Legend of Tarzan), it still idles long enough for us to impatiently yearn for the story to kick in.   But then the film hits its second hurdle: there is no plot.

Well, ok, there is a plot, but it’s so bland that it just does its own thing in the background while we watch these new friends getting to know one another.   The Squad’s nominal leader, largely because he’s awarded the most screen time, is Deadshot, a ‘serial killer who takes credit cards’, and who’s devoted to the daughter who stood between him and a point-blank shot at Batman (a cameo from Ben Affleck).   Harley Quinn was once a prison psychiatrist, but she fell under the spell of a particularly fascinating inmate known as The Joker (Jared Leto – Alexander, Lonely Hearts) who seduced her into a life of crime.   The other, secondary, members of the Squad are Digger Harkness (Jai Courtney – Jack Reacher), who thinks nothing of increasing his share of the spoils from a heist by killing his accomplices, the fire-wielding El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the mutant-skinned Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuouye-Agbaje – Concussion), and Oriental swordswoman, Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

This dirty half-dozen represent the lowest dregs of society, highly violent sociopaths with no regard for the wellbeing of anyone but themselves.   And therein lies another problem that Suicide Squad fails to address: the only possible way to build a story around such irredeemable degenerates is to soften the very character defects that make them the villains that they are – but by doing that, the whole foundation upon which the concept is built is fatally undermined.    It’s a conundrum that Suicide Squad never satisfactorily solves, and now probably never will without a major reboot.

The sheer number of characters in the movie makes it difficult for any one individual to stand out, but Margot Robbie – and, to a lesser extent, Will Smith – does manage to make an impression as the manically sexy but deadly baby-doll killer whose unconditional love for The Joker is perhaps the one strand in the movie that could have benefited from a little more screen time.   Unfortunately, The Joker is relegated to the sidelines for much of the picture, with chief bad-guy duties falling to a lacklustre villainess known as The Enchantress (Carla Delevingne), who will be unfamiliar to anyone not already immersed in the DC universe.   Will Smith, as reliable as ever and looking lean and fit, works hard to turn Deadshot into a flesh-and-blood creature, but is largely undone by the pedestrian script and weak plot.

Although Warner ordered extensive reshoots in order to beef up the laughs in Suicide Squad following the poor performance of Batman v Superman, they’re still pretty few and far between, leaving us to wonder just how dark the movie was before the rewrites.   The action sequences do at least pass muster, and the sheer scale and spectacle of the enterprise is admirable, but while Suicide Squad just about works as a stand-alone movie, as one designed to lay the foundations for a whole series of movies to come, it falls far short of expectations.

(Reviewed 7th August 2016)

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