Review: Somehow, ‘Suicide Squad’ is a step backwards for DC/Warner Bros.

Not only is Suicide Squad a dreadful movie on every level, but it’s a movie wildly different from the one it sold itself to be over the last couple years. That is its greatest sin. Immediately after the generally negative reaction to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros was quick to remind us that Suicide Squad would be fun, zany, etc. They even underwent re-shoots (reportedly to add more humor). The trailers and TV spots were quick to highlight this humor over a fun soundtrack. This movie was sold as DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, Suicide Squad fails at everything it tries to do. It’s not funny, or even particularly strange. It’s not engaging with its antiheroes. It doesn’t explore anything new or find a way to make the old look fresh. It’s a cliché-ridden clusterfuck of baffling editing decisions, nonsensical plotting, and performances whose best moments you’ve already seen in the trailers. It features arguably the worst comic-book villain ever put on film. Its effects look awful. In a summer of bad movies, Suicide Squad may very well be the worst.

Set immediately after BvS, the initial premise is solid enough. Superman is dead. While he was a good guy, what if he wasn’t? What if Superman wanted to wreck havoc; who would’ve stopped him? These are the questions Amanda Waller (a bored Viola Davis) presents, which leads to her assembling a team of metahuman criminals. At the forefront you have expert assassin Deadshot (Will Smith). Despite Smith not being this much fun in nearly a decade, the character is laughable. He has a daughter, the film loves to remind us. Even bad guys have daughters, ya know? Then there’s Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist turned crazed lover of the Joker. She’s written so thinly that Robbie’s efforts are wasted. Her story is told over a couple flashbacks that last about three minutes total. There are hints of depth; that her character’s craziness is actually just an act to hide her depression, but they’re just that, hints. Every time something interesting happens with Harley the film quickly reverts to a shot of Robbie’s ass or a bad one-liner from one of the others.

 

Managing to shine in a few scenes is El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former gang member who can do things with fire. Hernandez does enough with his eyes to make up for the fact that the script gives him nothing. The rest of the team is completely bereft of life or anything redeeming. They’re just, there. Writer/director David Ayer never gives us a reason to root for or against these characters. However you choose to view them -as heroes, antiheroes, or villains- at no point do any of them come across as intriguing. The film’s first act is sort of fun with brief introductions and a few cameos but at about the 20-minute mark it becomes everything it told us it wouldn’t be. The main “villain”, Enchantress (Carla Delivingne), is some dark sorceresses who wants to take over the world for some unexplained reason. Delivingne’s entire performance is just her gyrating in front of a green screen. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so self-serious.

A by-the-books superhero movie can work, but you need to nail the visuals and action. Suicide Squad fails with both. There’s not a single memorable set piece or CGI image. It’s messy, poorly lit, and surprisingly small scale given that the world itself is at stake in the film. The climactic sequence offers no sense of space feels like it lasts for ten seconds. Ayer can’t find a way to do an action scene that shows off all these characters. Deadshot and Harley are fine, I guess, as they’re the focal points, but nobody else in this movie really does anything.

The Joker (Jared Leto) is in the movie for maybe twelve minutes total. It’s hard to judge Ayer and Leto’s interpretation of him because he’s an outsider the whole time. 75% of his screen time comes via flashback. I’m not sure if the script or editing is to blame, but this movie relies so heavily on flashbacks and boring exposition that take away screen time from its stars. Ayer claims it is in fact his cut that is in theaters. Is he taking one for the team or is this truly the movie he wanted to make?

Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov give the film a forced dark look that resembles that god awful Zack Snyder blue-grey filter. A huge reason none of the film’s action scenes excite is because they all look so bland. There a few panning, rotating bird’s eye shots but other than that there is absolutely nothing unique about the movie’s visual style. Its actual effects are completely bogus as well. Ayer, an undeniably good filmmaker in a vacuum, is clearly out of his element here.

Ultimately, Suicide Squad is a few good moments (you’ve seen them in the trailers) sandwiched between some of the most spurious and laughably bad blockbuster filmmaking I’ve seen in a while. I don’t see how even the most diehard DC Comics fan can claim this is a good, or even passable, movie. We were sold something off-kilter and unique, then given one of the most formulaic superhero movies yet.

If DC fans want to start a war with Marvel fans, claiming that DC movies are “dark” and “gritty” while Marvel movies are “silly”, so be it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to die on that hill. Whatever your least favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, it’s light years better than any of the three recent DC films Warners has concocted. I have hope for the future of the DC Extended Universe due to some of the very talented people involved in future projects, but fundamental change is needed at the top.

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