THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Suicide Squad is a huge mess. It's disjointed, it's underdeveloped in spots, and it often feels like it's holding back from being the darker, nastier story it really wants to be. Those are only some of its flaws. But have you ever seen a movie whose messiness was part of its appeal? That's the case here. The stuff Suicide Squad gets right is very right, and everything else is just interestingly sloppy enough to be fun in an offbeat way. While far from perfect, it's a step forward for the DC Cinematic Universe after the utter disaster that was Batman v Superman.
Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller, a tough, no-nonsense government official who fears what would happen if “the next Superman” came to Earth with less benevolent intentions. As such, she proposes putting together a group of criminal “meta-humans” to take on any kind of otherworldly threat. By agreeing to participate, they all get time knocked off their prison sentences. The team consists of ace assassin Deadshot (Will Smith); deranged psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie); Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), who wields the object suggested by his moniker; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a man capable of shooting and manipulating fire; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a half-human/half-crocodile; and expert swordswoman Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Together they must stop an ancient witch, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who wants to rule the world. Meanwhile, Harley's boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto), tries to rescue her from Waller's clutches.
There's no denying that Suicide Squad is flawed. There's so much going on that writer/director David Ayer (Fury) can't begin to pay it all off or develop everything as fully as he should. Enchantress, for example, is a fairly lame villain who stands in a cloud of lightning and airborne trash while swaying her hips back and forth. She's not menacing in the least. On a similar track, the story tries to go in so many different directions all at once that it's at times a bit disorienting. The movie doesn't have the kind of streamlined, straightforward plot that the best comic book-based pictures have. Suicide Squad also frequently feels as though it has been edited in an attempt to give fans “what they want” as opposed to a manner that equals coherent storytelling. The PG-13 level of violence additionally seems too tame, given that these are supposed to be vicious criminals.
An entire review could be spent expounding on those flaws, but let's get to what works. Suicide Squad has great characters. The film does a good job establishing them and preserving some of the notable traits from their comic book histories. (One of Captain Boomerang's most dastardly deeds is recreated here, which will delight fans and intrigue newcomers.) Several of them have engaging backgrounds that are revealed. Diablo has guilt over something he did within his family, and we learn how Harley fell in love while treating the Joker and subsequently lost her professional perspective. These personal stories converge nicely in the third act, when the members have something to lose and must find the motivation to carry on.
There are moments of effective humor in the way the teammates interact. Sometimes they don't trust each other. Sometimes they bust one another's chops. It's fun to watch them almost compete to see who is the most badass. On a related note, Suicide Squad has a certain middle-finger-in-the-air vibe that mimics the attitude of its protagonists. Even if it isn't as smoothly assembled as the best comic book movies, it plays more uniquely because it refuses to shy away from the fact that the heroes are decidedly unheroic much of the time.
By far, the strongest element of Suicide Squad is the casting, which is often perfect. Will Smith brings his trademark charisma to Deadshot, and Jared Leto is appropriately unhinged as the Joker, but some of the other actors exude even more wattage. Jai Courtney provides strong comic relief as Captain Boomerang, and Viola Davis is superb as Amanda Waller, who takes no guff from anyone, ever. The best performance comes from Margot Robbie, who captures Harley Quinn's mixture of sultriness and dangerous mischief. The actress walks off with every scene she's in, taking a popular print character and bringing her magnificently to life. Robbie completely owns the role.
Again, there's a lot about Suicide Squad that could have been improved, but they've got a few of the fundamentals in place. The sloppy execution, in particular, is both frustrating and weirdly fascinating. If the filmmakers can rectify that going forward, there's the potential here for something really special. For now, we've got an imperfect, but kind of goofily entertaining first chapter with the Squad.
( out of four)
Suicide Squad hits DVD and Blu-ray on December 13. The Blu-ray edition contains the most enticing special feature in an already impressive set: an extended cut that runs eleven minutes longer. Some of the changes are minor. Killer Croc, for example, has a better introduction in the form of a scene where he's fed a goat carcass in prison. Another brief bit shows Deadshot making a “deal” with Rick Flagg that could lead to him getting back to his daughter.
Others additions are more substantial. There's an elongated scene in which Harley Quinn attempts to provoke the other members of the Squad for her own amusement. The most notable inclusion is a flashback that details the manner in which the Joker was emotionally abusive to Harleen Quinzel before she became Harley Quinn. She chases his car on a motorcycle, forcing it to stop. They then have a discussion in which it becomes obvious that she loves him, but he views her as little more than a plaything that he's grown tired of. It's a moment that adds depth to their subplot.
Katana, El Diablo, and the Flagg/June romance also get a small bit of expansion. On the whole, the extended cut feels more complete, as it fills in some of the gaps that left people scratching their heads in the theatrical cut.
The rest of the bonus features are informative behind-the-scenes shorts. “Task Force X” provides a history of the Suicide Squad and its individual members in the comics. It makes for a nice primer on them. The actors also discuss their approaches to bringing these villains to life. “Chasing the Real” explores the way in which the movie attempts to take obviously fantastical elements and ground them in some sort of reality. “Joker & Harley” is, as the title suggests, a closer look at the film's depiction of the crazed lovers. Margot Robbie talks about the things she did to prepare to play Harley, a true fan favorite in the DC universe.
“Squad Strengths and Skills” is all about stunts and stunt training, “Armed to the Teeth” centers on the weapons used in the movie, and “This Is Gonna Get Loud: The Epic Battles of Suicide Squad” gets into the choreography of the fight sequences.
Finally, there's “The Squad Declassified,” a 4-minute short capsulizing each character, plus a short gag reel, most notable for Will Smith scaring Margot Robbie with a sneeze.
The Suicide Squad Blu-ray is very well-assembled, filled with information about the film's production that any fan will want to devour. A digital HD copy is also included in the pack.
Suicide Squad is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.
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