How can you possibly mess up a "Suicide Squad" movie? Let's count the ways. There has simply not been another movie in 2016 that has been so hyped-up, so eagerly anticipated by millions. It was supposed to pull the DC Movie Universe from the disastrous ruins left in the wake of "Batman v Superman" last Spring, and had all of the promise and hope that a movie could ask for. It was nearly impossible over the past year to miss headlines about Jared Leto's take on the iconic Joker role, or Margot Robbie's turn as his girlfriend, Harley Quinn. "Suicide Squad" (opening today) was the talk of Comic-Con, and had activated a rabid fan-following even before it hit theaters. There is no pleasure in delivering the painful news my friends: "Suicide Squad" is just bad, but not in a good way.
Taking place after the events of "Batman v Superman," special ops agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) pitches a preposterous idea to her superiors: Now that "meta-humans" are waging war in the human world, what do we do to combat them? What if the next Superman doesn't share the same values as the U.S.? Her idea? To take a group of death-row convicts - the baddest of the bad - and use them to do some good. Yeah, what could go wrong, right?
It's "The Avengers," if the participants were selected from Batman's Rogue Gallery, but every last one of them (except Harley Quinn...more on her later) feel like they were a second-rate pick. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a master assassin and never misses a shot. There is Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man-crocodile mutant (excuse me, "meta-human" as they're called in this universe), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a -- you guessed it -- boomerang-wielding bad guy and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a dude who can shoot fire from his hands. None of these goons are nearly as forgettable as Katana (Karen Fukuhara), SlipKnot (Adam Beach) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the Army-appointed "leader" of the rag-tag bunch. Together, they form Waller's secret "Suicide Squad," and are told that they will all have 10 years shaved off of their prison sentences if they do the bidding for the good guys (some of them are serving three life terms, but alas...). Their first mission is to take down another "meta-human" known as The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who succeeds at being the least memorable villain in the history of comic book movies.
If you're wondering why The Joker (Jared Leto) hasn't been mentioned much, that's a great question. The sad fact is that he exists in the peripheral of this film and is not a major player nor a member of the group. At first, this seemed like a horrible decision and a real shame, to cast the beloved Joker to the sidelines, but once it's realized that Jared Leto is no Heath Ledger -- not even by a long-shot -- it suddenly feels more like they're doing us a favor by keeping him out of the limelight. Now, it's a tall order to step into a role that the late Heath Ledger absolutely crushed and will forever be linked to, but Leto, in the few scenes he is given, gives an almost laughably bad, copycat performance of the late actor. His Joker is neither funny nor mad; he plays it more like he's Marilyn Manson just awoken from a nap.
Worse than the misuse of The Joker, "Suicide Squad" squanders what should have been a built-in cool factor inherent with these characters. They opt for long lulls of talking, and only the occasional joke. They land so infrequently, that each time one does it just goes to remind you of how out-of-step the rhythm of the film feels. The action is unmemorable and lazy, and there is nothing at stake. By the time the climactic battle scene comes with The Enchantress, the CG is so bad it makes one wonder if they just ran out of budget, or thought that maybe no decent-minded movie-goer would ever still be in the theater by that point.
But from the darkness there shines one bright, illuminating light: Margot Robbie is a star. Her Harley Quinn is the only part of the movie worth watching, and she's so good that her presence alone nearly salvages things. She is absolutely great, in the same way Heath Ledger now embodies The Joker, or Hugh Jackman embodies Wolverine. There simply can never be another actress who tries to step into Harley Quinn's shoes other than Robbie. And, like Ledger, Robbie should (but most likely won't) garner some award consideration for her portrayal. She is having fun, and isn't that the point? When has being bad ever felt so tedious, so lame? If aspiring villains were to watch "Suicide Squad" as an example of being evil, many of them may find that "breaking good" is the more desirable option.
Stay to the end for the stinger scene during the credits, as it features Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who also appears sporadically in other portions of the movie as Batman. The scene sets up the upcoming Justice League movie, but the echo really just reminds the audience that Marvel has been doing a better job at recreating their beloved characters on the big-screen. Like so much else that has come before in the DC Universe thus far, "Suicide Squad" feels like kid brother, or the player on the team that wants the large salary, but isn't willing to put in the work. How in the heck this movie couldn't be cool given its cast and characters defies all logic and reason...it seemed like an easy lay-up. Now we are being asked to look forward to the Justice League movie, but is there any trust that this ship is righting? Unless they announce word of a Harley Quinn stand-alone film, everyone should be worried. But truly, is there anything at all to look forward to? "Suicide Squad" is a loud, thudding, "not yet" from the filmmakers...and yet another slap to the DC fanboy's face.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Run Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne
Written & Directed by David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch)
Opens locally on Friday, August 5, 2016 (check for showtimes).
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