Things Suicide Squad needs more of: plot and pants.
Suicide Squad once again demonstrates how the powers that be running the DC cinematic universe just don’t know what to do with their characters. Batman v Superman was mired with unclear character motivations and a tone that didn’t feel like it matched the characters. After the negative response to that movie, Suicide Squad went through some re-shoots and re-edits. This second-guessing of the film has left it suffering from the very problems the studio wanted to avoid. The movie assures us these criminals are the worst of the worst, but then never lets them ever be all that bad. Rumor is that the director originally had a darker film in mind, but more levity was inserted when Batman v Superman was criticized for being too dark. That’s a shame, as this is the movie where going harder and darker would be the right impulse. In a perfect world, Batman v Superman would have been a brighter movie about hope and actual heroics and Suicide Squad would have been allowed to not pull its punches.
One of the ways the studio tried to make the film more peppy and kinetic is through editing, yet it’s perhaps the editing which damns this movie the most. Early scenes are rife with an overload of introductions to too many characters in a parade of pop songs which feels hurried and disjointed. Everyone is done a disservice by never having a chance to breathe. Even our most central two villains, Deadshot and Harley Quinn, feel like they needed more time to have their stories properly told. As it is, their flashbacks feel like little more than token efforts. And if there weren’t enough characters already, this movie is our introduction to Jared Leto’s take on the Joker. All of the off-screen antics and hubbub leading up to this performance were really much ado about nothing; the Joker is in so little of the film and so inconsequential that I can’t help but wish he’d had a more worthwhile introduction in another film. Suicide Squad is a quintessential example of style over substance.
Despite all of that, though, the style it does have is pretty entertaining. Even if the plot and characterization let me down, I have to admit everyone here looks great and is having a blast living in these costumes. Killer Croc delivers what few lines he has with aplomb. Margot Robbie as Harley is sufficiently wild and crazy and is fun to see every time she’s on screen. Deadshot comes across as a badass and also has all the charisma that comes with being played by Will Smith. Viola Davis as Amanda “The Wall” Waller is a force to be reckoned with. When surrounded by bad guys, her cold and calculating attitude proves that she is clearly the worst one in the room. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil” is heard when Waller is introduced to the audience; on the nose, but apt. Top these off with cameos from Batfleck and the Flash, who took a break from screwing up the timeline, and I’m reminded that despite the poor execution, this is a world I want to see more of.
Suicide Squad falls short in writing, has an unbalanced tone, and even lacks basic story structure at times. But what could have been an unmitigated, irredeemable disaster is carried on the backs of Robbie, Smith, and Davis with such skill that Atlas himself would be jealous. We’re left with a movie that falls well short of the promise of the trailers. Treat it more like a music video, though, because sometimes it really is, where you just enjoy the visuals and don’t try to look past the surface and you’ll have an okay time. I wish these characters had a better introduction and I hope they’re used in much better ways in the future, but I’m glad they’re here in the DC cinematic universe and I hope to see them again.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Batman: Assault On Arkham – This animated movie was Suicide Squad before Suicide Squad was Suicide Squad. Amanda Waller sends a team of supervillains into Arkham Asylum to do bad things the government doesn’t want anyone to know about. Bloody chaos ensues. At a brisk 76 minutes, no time is wasted as the focus is squarely on the action. Each member of the Squad is given time to shine, there are enough minor twists here and there to make the path to the end interesting, and the action is fast and fun as they take on guards, Batman, and each other. While still a shallow experience, this one is definitely more enjoyable overall than its live-action counterpart.
Allegiant – In this penultimate entry in the Divergent series, our heroes have overthrown their technologically-advanced government and its dehumanizing caste system and ventured outside the mysterious wall. What do they find? Another technologically-advanced government with another dehumanizing caste system to rebel against! Wheeee! The future tech provides the opportunity for some neat effects, but that’s me stretching to find something to like in this rote and dull YA stereotype that has graduated from copying other franchises to copying its own earlier installments.
Lights Out – Based on a short film of the same name, this spooky story deals with a violent ghost that can only manifest itself in the dark. Like The Babadook before it, this film uses the monster as a metaphor for depression but creates a more traditional and visceral scare fest than its more atmospheric predecessor. The gimmick of the ghost disappearing and reappearing with flickering lights and skulking in every darkened nook and cranny provides some truly creepy visuals and frightening moments. There is also something particularly frightening when there is a child who can’t trust his own parent. Watch the original short. If you like that, you’ll surely enjoy seeing the same style and flair amped up to 11. Problematic note: if you accept that the movie is about depression, it actually handles the metaphor quite poorly, painting the afflicted person as a burden and culminates in the worst of outcomes.
Sharknado: The 4th Awakens – How many different words can you put in front of the suffix “-nado?” The writer of this SyFy epic dares to find out! The only thing I want out of these movies is unadulterated, unapologetic, unintelligible ridiculousness. We have another winner! From sharks destroying Las Vegas to Gary Busey perfecting Tara Reid’s bionic appendages, this bizarro action film features performances filled with the nuance and subtlety normally only found in triple X porn parodies. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this film aside from its patent absurdity. If you’re as down for that as I am, grab a drink and enjoy the ride.
Sid and Nancy – Chronicling the destructive whirlwind relationship between late ’70s punk rocker Sid Vicious and groupie Nancy Spungen, this movie is often as loud and chaotic as the Sex Pistols themselves. Brash and at times grating, I can’t say I enjoyed watching this film exactly. Yet, I can’t deny the transformative performances of its leads that made me feel for them. I don’t plan on putting myself through the screaming and the noise again, but I’m glad to have seen it for Gary Oldman.
Ouija – Don’t these teenagers know that they shouldn’t play with Ouija boards in movies? When the spirits of a tortured mother and daughter are conjured up by the spirit board, attractive young people start dropping one by one. While lead actress Olivia Cooke is better than your average screaming teen, everything else in this movie is competent but forgettable. Basically, it’s…fine? You know, not great, but worth a few kicks? Shout out to Lin Shaye who is always a comforting presence in campy horror.
Shutter – For people who like Asian horror but demand white people as the central characters. Pacey from Dawson’s Creek and Trish from Jessica Jones are newlyweds living in Tokyo for a photography gig, only to find their cameras are capturing evidence of a malevolent spirit. As they try to unravel the mystery of this spirit and what it wants we are treated to many of the trappings of J-horror: creepy young women with long black hair covering their faces, lingering atmospheric dread in lieu of jump scares, and wrongs that must be righted. As far as American imitators of the genre go, this is an effective example that I enjoyed watching unfold.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Based on a true story, Tina Fey leaves her desk job to become an unlikely war reporter in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. She deals with culture shock, shell shock, and the frustration of feeling like the men and women fighting there are forgotten by the media once they no longer pull in ratings. Fey brings her honed comedy chops to this realistic role to play a character who is confident, witty, and real. Her performance coupled with a strong supporting cast and a good script that effectively uses both comedy and drama make this a quality film.
The Untouchables – Isn’t there something in the rulebook against a Scotsman playing an Irishman? I know we dumb Americans don’t know the difference, but… Set in the prohibition era, Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness vows to take down
violent mobster honest businessman Al Capone. Assembling a small team of men who can’t be touched by corruption, including Sean Connery who gets to describe “the Chicago way,” this is a stylish cops and robbers flick. I have to admit that with this movie being just shy of 30 years old I thought it almost seemed…quaint…with its simplicity in terms of story and action. Still, a solid pace, tense and exciting finale, and Robert DeNiro’s mole make this one a winner.