Suicide Squad forgoes interesting characters and engaging plotlines in favor of faux nihilism and flat one-liners.
The law of probability dictates that DC Films must one day produce a good adaptation of their popular comic book characters for the big screen. Sadly, that day has not yet arrived. Suicide Squad is an unmitigated disaster that makes Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice look like Masterpiece Theatre. Writer-director David Ayer’s drab deconstruction of the superhero genre forgoes interesting characters and engaging plotlines in favor of faux nihilism and flat one-liners. There’s simply no reason to care about anything or anyone in this bumbling ballet of idiocy and pyrotechnics.
Following the titanic events of Batman v. Superman, the world is wondering what will happen when Metahumans pay a visit without Superman around to protect them… or murder them with fiery debris (whichever comes first). With that in mind, the opportunistic military sociopath Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) concocts Task Force X; a group of notorious supervillains she can dispatch to fight even worse supervillains. This makeshift “Suicide Squad” can fight dirtier than any sleazoid Metahuman and no one cares if they get killed in the line of duty. Think of all the money the government will save on superhero health insurance!
Waller’s superiors quickly sign up for her idiotic plan after a Metahuman witch called the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) steals some of Iran’s juicy military secrets for their perusal. This half-hearted demonstration is the sort of laziness inherent throughout Suicide Squad, which steadfastly refuses to show us anything new or creative. It doesn’t help that the grimy visual effects used to augment Enchantress make her look like Pig-Pen from Peanuts.
Waller quickly assembles her crack team of psychopaths and malcontents from Arkham Asylum. Chief among them are Deadshot (Will Smith), the assassin who “never misses”, and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former psychiatrist corrupted by the alluring villainy and unfortunate teeth of Jared Leto’s Joker. It was a great idea to have everyone already incarcerated, thereby eliminating the exciting need to round them up. No point in having any fun, right?
If the remaining Squad members were any more expendable, they’d probably be wearing red Star Trek uniforms. They include a flame-shooting dude named El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a master thief called Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and an indecipherable crocodile-man (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who loves hip-hop music. Waller assigns the military hard-ass Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to watch her back, while Flag enlists a sword-wielding ninja lady named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) to watch his. Together, they rampage through the streets, engaging unimaginative villains in unimaginative firefights.
For Suicide Squad to work, Ayer (Fury, Sabotage) must overcome two gigantic obstacles. First, there must be a compelling motivation for these narcissistic scumbags to cooperate. Second, and most importantly, the narcissistic scumbags must be interesting enough to earn our empathy. The spectacular failure of Suicide Squad to satisfy either of these conditions is almost mind boggling.
The problems start almost immediately. There's no rhythm or escalation to the Squad introductions, only macho posturing with a few ham-fisted flashbacks for character development. Each member gets ‘a thing’ designed to make them more relatable, usually involving a lover or child that they failed to protect. Deadshot has a young daughter that he wants to raise, and Flag wants to save his lover from her villainous Enchantress alter-ego. We know these things because the script tells us… repeatedly. These emotional shortcuts do nothing to ingratiate our despicable heroes and actually damage the film with their manipulative transparency.
Harley Quinn’s flashbacks are particularly damaging because her “character arc” forms the thematic backbone of Suicide Squad. Quinn’s complicated relationship with the Joker has massive dramatic potential, but the origin of their lusty obsession is presented like some hyper-stylized psychedelic freak-out. There's no substance or subtext to their story, just a jumble of “cool” images to convey the point quickly so the shooting can resume. It’s a missed opportunity to explore the themes of love and redemption with some much needed emotional and visual flair. Indeed, the film’s only visually arresting scene involves an intimate moment between Quinn and Joker in a vat of melting, swirling crayon colors.
After these woefully thin introductions, the Squad takes to the streets to battle Enchantress, who wants to re-create the Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Surely there's a more efficient (and cinematic) way to destroy the world than a whirling cloud of garbage? The individual members of the Suicide Squad don’t cooperate in this endeavor so much as they just go where the meandering plot pushes them. Call them the world’s first ‘inertial superheroes.’
Who can blame them? They’re probably confused about their ultimate motivation and purpose. Ayer keeps the convicts in line by lifting the arterial micro-burst conceit direct from Escape from New York; failure to cooperate causes a tiny charge to detonate in their neck. Indeed, the somber tone and grungy look of Suicide Squad owes much to Snake Plissken and his midnight marauding. Doesn’t anyone in the DC universe fight crime during the day?
Beyond the whole ‘exploding head’ menace, there’s no compelling reason to keep moving forward. Random bad guys appear and disappear. Sometimes they seem to be military hit-men, while other times they look like giant mutated poo monsters. They’re all just boring, faceless obstacles for the Squad to mow through on their way to pseudo-redemption.
Worse still, it’s no fun. Everyone is too busy trying to look cool or say something glib to enjoy themselves. Will Smith lands a few zingers through his natural charisma, but everyone else in the cast requires a writer to do the heavy lifting. Mostly, it’s an uninspired diet of kill-quip-repeat to distract from the fact that nothing is actually happening.
When the one-liners aren’t falling flat, the relentless soundtrack is pummeling our senses. Playing snippets of rap or hip-hop classics to accentuate the action is one thing, playing entire songs is quite another. It feels like Forrest Gump took a U-turn and started running through Hell, where the only soundtrack is “a mix of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and today!!” The same songs that made the theatrical trailer look hip and cool make the movie feel desperate and tired.
Those looking for an irreverent kick to the superhero crotch like Deadpool are going to hate Suicide Squad. This is a humorless affair that exerts the bare minimum of effort to entertain. Were it not for the ultra-evil exploits of Viola Davis, there would be nothing worth watching. Jared Leto’s much anticipated take on the Joker is squandered by a lack of screen time. The action is generic and the characters are instantly forgettable. In other words, someone needs to stop the Suicide Squad before it kills again.