What happens when you assemble a team of the world's most dangerous, incarcerated supervillains?
As it turns out, not all that much.
There is a brilliant film wading around down in the cinematic swamplands of Suicide Squad somewhere, a film so dark and nihilistic and funny and gothic and extraordinary that it would practically redefine what it means to make a superhero film. Unfortunately, in the hands of director David Ayer (Fury), Suicide Squad never begins to flirt with its potential for brilliance instead scoring points only for momentary glimpses of promise and of the film it could have been and should have been.
Suicide Squad tells a story not worth telling and tells it badly. We've been led to believe in the film's darkness for months now, trailer after trailer promising a sort of demented glee rivaled, perhaps, only by this year's Deadpool, and an appearance by Jared Leto's The Joker that we are rightfully expecting to rival Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning portrayal of the iconic characters.
There were rumors of re-editing, especially after the darker than expected Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't exactly win over American audiences. Who knows what's to blame?
The simple truth is that Suicide Squad is a clumsy film, edited in an almost nonsensical and derivative way and bogged down by stylistic posing in lieu of character development and awkward dialogue that frequently, and I mean frequently, feels disconnected from scene-to-scene.
At times, it almost feels as if we've stumbled onto a high-tech version of 1999's Mystery Men, a film said by some to have arrived before its time whose time has yet to come.
Suicide Squad would have been a better film, a much better film, as an R-rated film less consumed by mass appeal and more consumed by comic and character integrity. Easily the most anticipated flick of late Summer, Suicide Squad is supposed to be the film that rejuvenates the DC universe in a really special way.
Will it do that? Well, Donald Trump is the Republican candidate for President of the United States. So, quite clearly, anything is possible. Ayer, who really made his name penning Training Day, was a poor choice to direct Suicide Squad, a gifted raw action/thriller filmmaker tasked with weaving the comic's finer nuances, comedy and, yeah, even a little bit of actual humanity into a universe that needs to be relentlessly dark and devoted to the evil of each of its characters. Instead, we mostly get characters who are kind of evil, but not really.
Despite the massive amounts of marketing attention afforded Jared Leto's The Joker, Suicide Squad really centers around Will Smith's Deadshot and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, the latter who practically steals the film despite being tasked with bringing to life scenes that quite often feel like the best material was left on the cutting room floor. Viola Davis is also a rather evil gem as Amanda Waller, a U.S. secret agent of sorts whose plan to assemble Task Force X comprised of meta-humans just in case the universe's next Superman isn't quite as much a public servant. The team includes the aforementioned Deadshot and Harley Quinn, both heavily incarcerated after having done some major dirty deeds not done dirt cheap, along with the sewer dwelling Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the remorseful gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a Navy SEAL tasked with riding herd over this potentially malevolent mob who rules with an iron first... or at least a titanium smart phone.
Of course, it's not long before they're called into action. Waller's first experiment has gone awry, turning a timid archaeologist named Dr. June Moone into a seriously badass witch spirit going by the name Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who seems rather intent on world domination or, at the very least, trying out for the next all-female Ghostbusters.
While we've been deluged with stories of Leto's antics behind-the-scenes of filming Suicide Squad, largely resulting from his longstanding tendency toward serious method acting, this is a case where either Leto left everything off the set or he's been so ridiculously edited that his presence here almost feels like an extended cameo. While Ledger's The Joker was dark and demented and soulful, Leto's is cartoonish and stylish and surprisingly devoid of substance. The performance itself feels like, just perhaps, it could have gone somewhere, but Suicide Squad feels like more of a teaser trailer for things to come.
Among the film's gravest errors in focus, none may be more detrimental than the decision to inevitably top bill Will Smith. While Smith isn't weak here but he's clearly coasting and also clearly not the main attraction. Every time the camera switches from Harley Quinn to Deadshot the film loses both focus and energy. Robbie's Harley Quinn, rumored to be front-and-center in an upcoming flick, is sort of love it or hate it type of character. She reminds me of just about every woman I've ever dated - beautiful to look at, dangerous to touch and charismatically demented with a smoldering vulnerability that will seduce you then stab you in the back. Twice. Robbie's performance here isn't brilliant, but it is the most brilliantly realized effort here and seems to give the film a lift every time she's on the screen.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc reminded me an awful lot of Groot, though he was never really given the chance to come out and play. One can't help but feel like Jay Hernandez's El Diablo, given one of way too many cinematic flashbacks in the film, could have added a whole lot more emotional resonance to the film if given the chance. Jai Courtney's Boomerang is mostly an afterthought, while an abundance of screen time doesn't add up to much for Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag. The weakest performance, by far, is offered up by Cara Delevingne, going from Paper Towns to paper thin here. Delevingne's Enchantress, completely with an unfathomably misguided design for her closing scene, practically channels Ghostbusters and not in a good way. It's a performance that feels out of place in a film where quite a bit happens to feel out of place.
The decision to incorporate a ghastly number of rock tunes is unfortunate and ineffective, while even in IMAX, how I saw the film, Suicide Squad is more self-congratulatory than substantial and lacking in the kind of vibrance and spontaneity that could have helped it stand out as a remarkable achievement.
Suicide Squad isn't a remarkable achievement. It's not even a good one, though neither is it quite the debacle that many will proclaim it to be. It's a film that wants to be bold, but isn't. It's a film that wants to be bad, but isn't. It's a film that wants to be unique, but follows the formula on the way to getting there.
Suicide Squad could have been something special. Beyond rebooting the DC universe, Suicide Squad could have created a comic franchise unlike any other. Whether by studio pressure or misguided artistic vision, Suicide Squad falls remarkably short. Lensing by Roman Vasyanov is smoky and shadowy, a decision that continues to boggle the mind when it shows up in IMAX or 3-D. John Gilroy's editing? Well, I suppose I've said enough. Suicide Squad feels like post-shoot editing gone awry with scenes at times feeling disconnected and an artificial lightness that lacks honesty and authenticity.
On a weekend where it's opening opposite Kevin Spacey's Nine Lives, where he becomes stuffed inside the body of the family cat (No, really!), one can both hope and assume that despite its enormous flaws the $175 million Suicide Squad stands heavily favored to take the box-office crown its opening weekend with long-term box-office prospects uncertain at best.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic