“Suicide Squad”: the okay PG-13 that could have been a kickass R

suicide squad poster

Nutshell: All pop-art acid trip posters with happy bunny colors, Suicide Squad‘s ad campaign came on like the new and different stepchild of Zack Snyder’s DCEU (DC Extended Universe).  But Squad is just as bleak as what’s come before, it just has sprinkles. And while Smith, Hernandez, Robbie and Leto are engaging, Squad still suffers from that same WTF-itis that hobbled Man of Steel and BvS. Fun, but forgettable. The Squad deserves better. Like a film that wasn’t afraid to go for a hard R. Grade: C+

“In a world of flying men and monsters, this is the only way to protect our city.”

Suicide Squad!  Pretty sweet, right?  Well, yes.  The team of anti-antiheroes has been Grade A badass in print for decades.  The idea of bad guys fighting evil has a groovy ring to it, and harnessing some of the coolest villains in the DCU hasn’t hurt.  But writer/director David Ayer takes these characters out for a spin…and then doesn’t have the foggiest idea where to take them.  Kickass performances, fantastic special effects and cinematography, and top-notch sound mixing/editing can’t hide the fact that Ayer has no idea what to do with his toys.  And that’s a shame.

Story?  Well, it’s the world where Superman has died.  Everyone’s freaking the [RADIO EDIT] out about metahumans, and what’ll we do because no Superman, wah!  Cue Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, channeling Annalise Keating), who says why not fight fire with fire?  Hey, if they get caught we say we don’t know ’em.  And bad guys do stupid vicious stuff all the time.  What can go wrong?  Meanwhile, we see the current squad and how they’ve come to this point in their careers:

  • Deadshot (Will Smith, admirably acting his guts out), an assassin for hire who never misses, gets taken down purely by chance when Batman comes calling.
  • Boomerang (Jai Courtney) gets stopped mid-diamond heist by a certain speedster.
  • Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)…well, he’s been chillin’ in the sewers, becoming more inhuman thanks to the way he’s been treated at Belle Reve Penitentiary.
  • Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), aka archeologist June Moon who opens the wrong totem in the wrong cave, and becomes fused with a seven thousand year old power and is not happy about it.
  • Diablo (Jay Hernandez), whose powers of psychokinesis lead him to turn himself in to authorities after they spiraled out of control.
  • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Joker’s girlfriend, and a crazy, violent killer in her own right, relaxing at Belle Reve after Batman chased her down.
  • Slipknot (Adam Beach), a killer who uses ropes and “can climb anything”, who gets roped into this gig.  GET IT?

There’s also Squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who is in love with June Moon. Flag enlists the help of his second, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), whose sword steals the souls of those she kills.  Now that the gang’s all here – and fitted with neck explosives that will literally blow their heads off should they misbehave – let’s get down to the business of stopping metahumans!  But perhaps Waller should make sure that her Squad is fully with the program…

Let’s start with what I liked.  There’s plenty, but as with the film it’s all over the place.  The opening shot shows a gorgeous washed neon colored DC logo, featuring the pinks and greens we’ve all loved in the posters.  Then there’s the one-by-one introduction of the baddies, each with their own theme music.  And as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka can tell you, everyone needs theme music. Suicide Squad feels like a music video of badassdom, and for the most part that’s a good thing.  I’ll get back to this film’s soundtrack in a minute.

The Squad members themselves are badasses.  Yes, the characterizations are wafer thin.  Yes, there’s too little focus on their backgrounds and motivations. But the actors in this ensemble are up for the fun of being bad. And the bumps along the road to a cohesive Squad are a lot of fun to watch.  Especially if Croc ends up growling. Because that growl is awesome.

Not to say that there’s no backstory or development.  Smith’s Deadshot gets a one about his young daughter, which allows Smith to get into why Deadshot does what he does.  Harley gets the full backstory treatment, including tons of H+J moments, and Robbie tears into it with abandon.  As Enchantress, Delevingne gamely hops back-and-forth from the sweet Moon to the all-powerful Enchantress, and it’s amazing until Ayres turns her into a woo-woo caricature instead of letting her be the creepy badass the Enchantress was meant to be. But it’s Hernandez as Diablo who really steals the show as a man devastated by his past, and frightened of the power he has at his disposal.  I’d have liked to have seen more about Diablo’s past, and how he got those powers. (Not that I don’t know how, but it’d have fleshed out a certain juxtaposition…I’ve said too much.)

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave the Big Bad out of my review.  But I will say that it’s a silly choice, and even though the BB in question is a seriously powerful force, once the usual plan for world domination establishes itself, all that’s left for that creature to do is pose, preen and wriggle.  It’s like Ayers has never seen a humanoid sway before, and wants to get all that glorious motion onscreen. It’s also a disservice to the actor in question, who is saddled with hilariously overblown dialogue, and too little screen time save for the big finish.

Which brings me to the not so great.  Getting back to that theme music.  Who doesn’t love “Sympathy for the Devil”?  “Bohemian Rhapsody”?  “You Don’t Own Me”, “Fortunate Son”?  They’re all here!  Again.  Because everybody loves putting these songs in films.  So while they’re effective as hell – I found myself amping up once I heard those well known chords start to twang – it feels too easy.  Then again, with Ayre taking the easy way out of actual plot, I guess it’s a perfect fit.

Compelling narrative?  In-depth characterization?  Bah, humbug, says Ayres.  Oh, there’s a tidbit of 411 here and there, most especially at the introduction of a new character, when there’s a Pop-Up Video tidbit or two thrown up on the screen.  It’s gorgeous, it’s groovy…and it’s flashed onscreen way too quickly for anyone to actually be able to read it.  I’m guessing Ayres did that for the Blu-ray crowd, who’ll pause the action to get those fun facts.  What, couldn’t spring for another second or two on information?  You could have trimmed a few seconds of Big Bad writhing here and there.  Nobody would have missed ’em.  But I sure wished for more from Enchantress and Killer Croc.  Not to mention Katana, who only shows up to glower and talk to her sword.  Her character could have been completely cut from the film, and it would have made zero impact. That’s a waste of a great character.

Then there’s the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker.  In the comics, and every other iteration of the H+J mythology, Harley has been the hapless victim of Joker’s intense abuse.  She’s not someone he actually cares about, she’s a plaything he’s created.  Just another of his jokes, and one that’s taken Harley years to break free from.  In Squad, the Joker is just as crazy about her as she is about him.  They’re the King and Queen of the dark prom, and this retcon will whet the appetites of all fans who’ve loved those two.  But you’re not supposed to love the Joker.  Leto plays Mistah J as a full-on punk gangster, and he’s amazing.  But the Joker’s love/obsession with Harley lessens the impact of his ruthlessness.  And it paints Harley as a fangirl, which I have no problem with as long as there’s development it her future…but with this film I’m doubtful that there’ll be a next time.

In fact, Suicide Squad feels less like the start of a new franchise, and more like a reason for the Justice League film coming down the pike.  Which reminds me, stay past the first part of the end credits for the usual nod to the whole DCEU.  It doesn’t have the pow of a Marvel end credits reveal, but why not catch it anyway.  Then you can go back home and read Suicide Squad trades, where the gang can unleash as they were meant to.  And maybe that’s the problem of this film; in trying to shoehorn the idea of bad guys doing bad things for the common good into a PG-13 film, the raunchy, bloody fun had to be dialed way back.  And without that adult-themed fun, the Squad just ain’t what it should be.  Go enjoy the boom-boom-pow, and smile when you see your favorite baddie.  Lose yourself in Leto’s amazing performance that brings a cool New Jack spin on the Joker.  But know going in that it’s not gonna be the incredible experience that amazing ad campaign dangled before us.

 

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