Suicide Squad [Review by Haus]
Buckle up, because Suicide Squad opens tomorrow and it’s about to get a very bad rap–part deservedly, and part, I think, maybe not.
To understand why, we must cast our minds back to that which should have no name, that which we swore to forget, that which they called Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Meant to be DC’s big 2016 blockbuster, it was instead a truly unwatchable failure, a black, plodding, convoluted stink-pit, a dark-and-stormy slug-fest with a robo-suited Ben Affleck landing meaningless hits on a wooden Henry Cavill for no good reason at all. It was humorless, colorless, senseless, bleak, depressing, long as an Anchorage night, too damn WET, and–really now!–utterly, totally boring. I couldn’t care less about any of it. Batman vs. Superman was a failure of almost unimaginable proportions. It’s like Waterworld and mortgage-backed securities just pulled up in a sun-bleached Trabant.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before the wizards at DC comics realized that Goyer and Snyder took an upper decker in the boss’s ensuite and were selling the runoff as punch. Wagons were circled, emergency plans were made, defenses were shored up.
And something happened. Suicide Squad got tagged. What had up to that point been a weird little also-ran on the DC calendar suddenly got promoted.
Or, in Top Gun parlance: “Affleck was number one. Affleck lost it, turned in his wings. Now you guys are number one.” You characters … are going to Top Billing.
I’ll bet Suicide Squad got a rewrite in the wake of Batman v. Superman. It at the very least got some upgraded effects, a spare-no-expense soundtrack, and a serious shot in the arm for its marketing.
Does it live up to the hype? No. Is it a summer blockbuster, on par with Marvel’s winners? No.
But is it an awful movie? No.
The titular Squad is a ragtag collection of villains from the DC universe, most notably the Joker’s nutso dime-piece Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), assassin-for-hire Deadshot (Will Smith), freak sewer-dweller Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), firestarting gang-banger Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Japanese swordmistress Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and unspecified Aussie with muttonchops
Wolverine Boomerang (Jai Courtney). They’re recruited by some rando top-secret suburban-riding government rep (Viola Davis) and teamed up with Robocop special forces soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to combat any “meta-humans” that may threaten civilization. (Why the government couldn’t just use Superman and Batman for this is not explained. Did Superman die? I was pretty much asleep by the end of Batman vs. Superman. That film plus a full work day is as good as melatonin in warm milk. Milk that makes you angry.)
There’s a lot that’s good here. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals the show, both visually and script-wise–she gets the deepest backstory (such as it is) and most of the best lines. Deadshot’s pained, doting-father hitman is a bit tiresome, as is his silly outfit, but Smith does it right and he’s the most watchable of the bunch. Jay Hernandez does an admirable job with fairly sophomoric material, infusing his human blowtorch with some quiet anguish and a stubborn, pacifist bent. Kinnaman and the rest form the backdrop, barking and grunting and saying buff things to advance the story.
The story, mind you, is abysmally vapid. Truly, truly. Legendarily stupid. Like, resurrected Amazonian-witch-doing-Ghostbusters-magic-downtown type stupid. Nothing here makes sense–such as why an untested, disloyal cadre of criminals would have any inclination or ability to combat Inca sorcery. Inter alia.
I mean, I get why DC did it this way. David Ayer painted himself into a corner, choosing killers as protagonists–because who, really, can they kill? The film’s money grab means a PG-13 rating, which in turn means they can’t go around murdering real-world terrorists, for instance. So, Avengers-style, they need hordes of not-men to slay. The problem is that not-men don’t exist, no one cares about them, and there’s nothing at stake when you kill a whole crowd of them. The Suicide Squad itself isn’t bad, but they needed a smaller, more modest sandbox to play in–a real world issue and real enemies and some grounding. And an R-rating. And an edge.
Jared Leto‘s Joker is annoying. I heard Leto went all method on it, spending time with psychopaths and what not. But he’s come out the other end basically aping Heath Ledger’s diction and (much better) performance. Ledger was scarier, meaner, and darker–a Joker who could almost really exist. Leto’s is tattooed and gleaming and inexplicable, his metal grill and slicked hair and measured mutterings just a reminder of the many better portrayals before. His romance with Harley Quinn is new (at least on the big screen), but consigns the Joker to playing gimme-my-girl-back–a declawed villain. He’s just background.
The less said of Affleck’s Batman, the better for all. This film had a real chance to show Batman from the villain’s perspective, as a terror. Opportunity missed.
What heart Suicide Squad has is mined from its maudlin, one-note backstories–but not without effect. It also does a decent job of painting the good guys as bad guys (how, I guess, the bad guys must see them). It’s a bit high on its own supply, equipping its protagonists with hearts of gold and dreams of domestic bliss.
But the visuals are clean, the effects are good, the soundtrack is tight, and the action is solid. Sure, the story sounds like something from a PublishAmerica reject pile, but there’s good stuff here. It’s not the flop of the summer. It’s not the film DC needed, but it might be the one they deserve right now.
Haus Verdict: Staggering under the weight on its shoulders and stumbling over an idiotic story, Suicide Squad can’t be the blockbuster DC needs. But it can be a fun, loud, diversion with a handful of good performances, an iconic Harley Quinn, and a surprising, big-budget soundtrack. It won’t change your life, but don’t write it off.
Suicide Squad opens Friday, August 5.
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