'Suicide Squad' almost kills itself with slopping storytelling
August 7, 2016
“Suicide Squad” – “The Dirty Dozen” arrived in movie theatres in 1967, and it delivered a most unique WWII story. The United States government recruits 12 convicts for – basically – a suicide mission to assassinate a group of high-ranking German officers just before the D-Day Invasion. Lee Marvin stars as Maj. Reisman, the man who leads a dozen criminals, played by an all-star cast, including Telly Savalas, John Cassavetes, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, and Donald Sutherland. To say the least, this is movie is a classic and holds up after 49 years.
Fast forward to 2016, and Hollywood conjured up a new “Dirty Dozen” film ripped straight from D.C.’s comics called “Suicide Squad”. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about this specific comic, but I was willing to learn. After sitting through this 2 hour 3 minute film, I do appreciate the individual players in the squad, however, I can also say that the picture is not a modern-day classic.
First of all, it is difficult to determine how many members actually make up this band of sinister brothers and sisters. The film provides whipping introductions to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who are serving brutally long sentences in an equally brutal prison or perhaps, prisons. From the kinetic pacing, I believe they are all housed in one place, but I cannot be sure, and actually, the words “I cannot be sure” are a common theme for me throughout the picture.
We discover another squad member is a witch, Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and she sometimes possess a really nice lady named June Moore who is a close girlfriend to a military captain, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). In addition, about 50 minutes into the movie, some other baddie squad member called Slipnot (Adam Beach) is added with absolutely no previous introduction whatsoever, and Flag’s sword-wielding friend named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is thrown in for good measure too. Theoretically, there are here to help.
Now, after some doofus prison guard is finished torturing the previously-mentioned five convicts in a series of meaningless scenes, Amanda Walker (Viola Davis) - who plays the Maj. Reisman-character and is amped up on extra doses of angry pills - pulls this not-so-merry group of meta-humans together. Their job is to protect the country if one of the nice superheroes - like Wonder Woman or Batman - ever drum up a mean streak. Sure, that makes sense, I suppose. As “luck” would have it, a terrorist attack occurs in Midway City’s subway system, so our new favorite bad guys are now gainfully employed.
The objective of the overall story is certainly understood, but it does not deliver a clear and smooth path to get there, and that is the movie's main problem. The first five members of the squad are pulled out of prison, given their new job descriptions, sent back to their cages, and then yanked out again to deal with Midway City’s issues. Once writer/director David Ayer’s yoyo push/pull with their prison time is over, the team has their marching orders but not well-defined ones. Flag keeps them in the dark on their actual mission and so is the audience.
The team walks (and I do mean, “walks”) along various financial district streets at night and contemplates their various dislikes and complaints while somewhat getting along under an umbrella of shared hardships. They do apply their various talents in two major fight sequences, which occur in the movie’s last 40 minutes, and each player gets their chance to shine. Smith’s Deadshot is the squad’s unofficial leader, and Smith does a good job of playing Will Smith in the frontrunner role. Robbie particularly stands out as the sassy, sexy, sarcastic, and sadistic Harley Quinn. Having experienced the same chemical-induced transformation as her boyfriend, The Joker (Jared Leto), she gleefully swings a baseball bat and mallet in the direction of some inhuman soldiers whose heads resemble giant blackberries.
Leto is charismatic and fascinating as The Joker but feels like a low-level gangster rather than a criminal mastermind. Nonetheless, in the film’s present-day narrative and continual flashbacks to The Joker and Harley Quinn’s history, it is difficult to take your eyes Leto and Robbie as D.C.’s most wonderfully-unstable couple. The movie tries to get creative – and is moderately successful – in shoehorning The Joker into the story, and his and Harley Quinn's screen time minutes are precious treasures for fans everywhere.
Too bad that the main villain’s (who I will not divulge) ultimate goals are somewhat muddled, and the “ultimate weapon” to carry out the plans is never really seen or understood. This is not unlike Ayer’s winding storytelling route from the film’s beginning to nearly the end. Well, at least the squad’s final confrontation against “worse evil” excites in wild comic book fashion.
It will surely be fashionable to include at least some members of the squad in future D.C. universe features, and I look forward to their appearances in - hopefully - better written and edited films, but in 2065 – 49 years from now – I am pretty sure movie fans will look back 98 years to “The Dirty Dozen” for villain-turned-hero inspiration. (2/4 stars)