REVIEW: ‘Suicide Squad’ stumbles despite stars shining

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Suicide Squad has memorable moments, most of them powered by its big name stars. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Viola Davis all bring charisma and dramatic chops to a film that sorely needs it.

However, all that talent and star power isn’t enough to lift the film much above uneven, at best. Pacing issues plus a lackluster antagonist keep the film from ever truly hitting its stride or maintaining narrative momentum.

But the film’s most important failing is that it’s just not as much wicked fun as it should be. The presence of these characters promises unrestrained, gleeful mayhem, but the final product fails to deliver on that promise.

What’s it about?

In the wake of the events seen in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the U.S. government tackles the problem of how to defend the world against the next great super-powered threat. Defense Department official Amanda Waller (Davis) has a solution, but it’s not one the Pentagon likes.

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Waller wants to recruit some of the world’s most dangerous “metahuman” convicts for a group code-named “Task Force X.” This group, led by Special Forces veteran Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, Robocop), would be the ultimate black bag operation. Missions would be top secret, successes would go unrecognized, and failures would be blamed on the group’s members.

And what’s in it for the convicts? Reduced prison time, plus the little bombs implanted in their necks upon their “recruitment” don’t go off.

But just who does Waller have in mind for this team? There’s Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot (Smith), a hitman renowned for the fact that he never misses. Then there’s Harley Quinn (Robbie), paramour and partner-in-crime of Gotham City’s Joker (Jared Leto), reportedly even more murderous than her infamous boyfriend.

The group’s more colorful members also include monstrously mutated sewer-dweller Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnyoye-Agbaje), Aussie bank robber Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic gang banger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and a bonafide magic-wielding witch simply called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne, Paper Towns).

Sure enough, Waller soon gets her chance to send her team into harm’s way in order to save the world. Question is will they do as they’re told and get the job done, even with their own lives threatened if they don’t comply?

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Stars shine brightest

Of Suicide Squad‘s truly impressive collection of talent, it’s Smith, naturally, who delivers in just about every scene. There are few who do ‘effortless cool’ as well as Smith, even when playing a more intense, less likable character.

Yes, Lawton doesn’t get to smile much, and that takes away one of Smith’s best assets on screen. But he does crack wise and kick ass, and Smith has never had trouble bringing those qualities to life in big cinematic moments. Of all of Suicide Squad‘s characters, it’s Smith’s take on Deadshot that could, most likely, carry a stand-alone film.

While Smith has to hide his smile for the most part, Margot Robbie gets to flash hers at every wicked opportunity, and the film is better for it. Robbie doesn’t just “play” Harley — to all appearances, she truly delights in becoming the Squad’s pretty little bundle of crazy.

No doubt, there are nods to the “Batman: The Animated Series” character to Robbie’s take on Harley here — if there weren’t, fans would walk out. But Robbie does her best to make the character her own within what’s expected, and it works, even if on occasion her reads of certain “Harley-isms” feel a little forced.

As for Viola Davis as the steely, ice-water-in-her-veins Amanda Waller? There are few working in film and television today that do “intensity” on the level that Davis does. The casting here could not have been any better.

Can’t give everyone their due

From the get-go, the challenge of Suicide Squad is giving all those personalities with backstories rooted in DC Comics lore their cinematic due.

To his credit, director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) approaches that challenge with a solid vision. He stays away from cartoony renditions of the characters and at least tries to give them all depth.

The problem with this approach is that with this many characters, it gets unwieldy. Complicating things further is that for casual audiences, most of the characters aren’t familiar ones. They need introductions on top of narrative beats that highlight internal conflict and complexity.

What results is a Suicide Squad film that feels belabored with baggage. It’s slow to get going, and never hits its stride due to scenes intended to develop character that instead interrupt narrative flow.

Lackluster villains

It’s also important to note that Suicide Squad fails to provide for audiences a compelling antagonist for the “heroes.” Odd as it may sound for a film full of super-villains, the one that should be the scariest of all ends up being the one that’s least interesting of all.

But what of Jared Leto’s much-anticipated take on Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime? Leto without question gives a game effort, but his Joker will certainly suffer from endless comparisons. Suffice to say audiences may find themselves thinking of the late Heath Ledger and his take on Joker while watching Leto, and finding the latter’s work less than inspired.

Worth seeing?

It should go without saying that if you enjoy superhero movies and DC Comics, then Suicide Squad is a must. Cosplayers in particular should find lots to admire and re-create in the film’s striking costume and make-up design. The film also features a soundtrack almost as fun as the one that helped make Guardians of the Galaxy so much fun.

Casual audiences looking for a decent popcorn flick this weekend should find it suitable, though by no means anything ground-breaking. Put another way, it’s no Deadpool.

But don’t be surprised if you hear fanboy and fangirl audiences crowing that Suicide Squad is, in fact, “better” than its DC Cinematic Universe predecessors. “Better” is debatable, but compared to the Zack Snyder-helmed Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad is definitely more fun, for no other reason than the characters are less stolid.

Suicide Squad

Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Adam Beach, and Karen Fukuhara. Directed by David Ayer.
Running Time: 130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.

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Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.

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