Suicide Squad (2016) Review

I am dumbfounded by how one of the world’s largest media machines could put out something that could barely be called a movie. Not mad, just…amazed and confused, really. It’s weird because everyone involved in Suicide Squad has made movies before – good movies too – and after the abject failure that was Batman v Superman, WB has a lot riding on this film to show people they can actually do this whole comic-book-movie-universe-thing. But while I came out BvS many more times angrier and sadder, Suicide Squad doesn’t work in some more fundamental ways.

The titular Squad is a government black ops team created by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) made of super-villains that do things too dangerous and/or illegal for any other government group in exchange for time off their prison sentences or other rewards. I’m gonna use bullet-points to explain who’s on the team because I don’t feel like putting more effort into my review than the movie puts into itself.

  • Deadshot (Will Smith): A hit-man who never misses his target, but does miss his daughter. And if you somehow miss that, don’t worry, they introduce him four times.
  • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): The Joker’s (Jared Leto) Girlfriend. Crazy. Sexy.
  • Diablo (Jay Hernandez): Living flamethrower and ex-gang leader who refuses to fight after accidently burning his family to death. The only character with an arc.
  • Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje): Big Black Man stereotype, but green and scaly. We’re never actually told why he’s a villain besides that he’s ugly.
  • Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): He throws a Boomerang maybe three times in the movie, otherwise just stabs people with them. Supposedly sexually deviant, but everyone in the movie hits on Harley, so, he doesn’t actually have many defining traits.
  • Slipknot (Adam Beach): The one who dies first to teach the others a lesson.

The team is led by Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), who is the best soldier; and his lieutenant, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a Japanese vigilante with a magic katana.

The squad’s inaugural mission is to take down The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a 6000 year old witch possessing Flagg’s girlfriend, and her brother (made entirely of CGI) from destroying/taking over the world. There’s a big evil portal in the sky, the Enchantress thinks she’s an ancient god; it’s Ghostbusters, it’s The Avengers – you’ve seen this before, you know how it goes.

Also Joker pops up some of the way through to take back Harley in a sequence that doesn’t affect anything in the slightest and even worth it to see the Joker because Jared Leto does nothing interesting or even decent with the character.

If I seem disinterested in the plot of the movie, believe me, the movie cares even less. After the introductions, and the re-introductions, and then two more introductions for Deadshot, (but before Harley’s third or fourth flashback), Suicide Squad dumps the team into the middle of the city and waits for them to stumble across the next action scene. This movie doesn’t even care enough to fling or toss them from set-piece to set-piece; it waits for them to walk there.

And it’s not just the plot that doesn’t work, individual beats fall completely flat, and can’t be saved no matter how many classic rock hits you cut up into 30-second chunks to play over them. Nothing with the Joker and Harley works even in the slightest: the movie expects us to feel sad whenever they’re separated even though it shows that he’s constantly manipulative and abusive towards her. There’s another moment when we see one character – separated from the group – survive something that looks fatal; but the rest of the team doesn’t know this. But the scene where they think that one character is dead is played like a great moment of sadness even though we – the audience – know they’re alive. And even if they found a way to make that bit dramatic irony work, they kill it less than two minutes later when everyone reunites! The big damn heroes moment – you know, when everyone walks slowly in a line together – comes out of nowhere and doesn’t feel at all triumphant no matter how hard the soundtrack tries to make it so. And the one time in the movie where Deadshot finally misses a mark – the one thing he never does – has no dramatic or character weight behind it at all. There’s a weird bromance-rivalry thing between Deadshot and Flagg that’s never really explained or given enough space to result in anything interesting. Pretty much the only emotional arc that lands is Diablo’s – going from pacifist to using his powers to help his friends – but he’s third in line to be the film’s protagonist. Suicide Squad also constantly has characters telling the camera “we’re the bad guys” because it can’t even effectively show off THE MAIN CONCIET OF IT’S PREMISE. It’s frankly amazing how bad this movie is at being a movie.

The movie’s only redeeming quality is a handful of performances, mainly Smith, Davis, and Robbie. Smith’s Deadshot is, largely by screentime (and number of introductions), the movie’s primary protagonist; and his performance here is a great reminder of why this guy is a movie star. He manages to turn a Deadshot that would read as terribly inconsistent on the page into a consistently charismatic character with a solid emotional center. Amanda Waller might be the best written character in the movie, and Davis makes her appropriately cold, calculating, and indomitable. Like in the comics and cartoons, Davis’ Waller is someone who can believably walk into a room full of supervillains and make them shit their pants. On the other side, Harley Quinn is far and away the character with the worst dialogue, least consistent characterization, and has to fight her own ass for screentime; but Robbie plays the hell out of her, spinning all those unwieldy threads into an electrifying and fun presence.

It’s hard to tell where this movie went wrong: bad script, studio meddling, reshoots, editing, etc; because the final product is bad on paper and worse in execution. There are errors in the most basic procedures of storytelling at every level. It’s not fun like a movie about people trying their hand at heroics should be, but it’s also not dark like a movie about evil people should be. It’s ostentatious in the way only studio approved focus tested PG13 films starring cartoon characters could be – which is to say, despite its pretenses, not at all ostentatious. There are three great performances and maybe four minutes of actually entertaining moving pictures in here – I don’t know what to call it – but Suicide Squad is so fundamentally broken I really hesitate to call it a movie.