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‘Suicide Squad’: Film Review

9:00 AM PDT 8/2/2016 by Todd McCarthy

Director David Ayer (‘Fury’) brings his eagerly awaited DC Comics-based action noir to the screen, with Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Viola Davis starring.
A puzzlingly confused undertaking that never becomes as cool as it thinks it is, Suicide Squad assembles an all-star team of supervillains and then doesn’t know what to do with them.

Part smart-ass genre sendup, part grimy noir that wants to be as dirty as Deadpool but remains constrained by its PG-13 rating and part short-falling attempt by Warner Bros. to get a big-budget DC Comics mashup right, the film starts with promise but disengages as it loses its creative bearings.

The alluring cast and great expectations roused by some deceptively fun trailers should spark major box office at the outset. But a sense of disappointment will soon enshroud Suicide Squad, as it did the recent Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Although the pic marks a departure for writer-director David Ayer from his usual turf of combat and/or street realism (Fury, End of Watch), its grungy, gritty texture not only feels related to his usual milieu but also to the malevolent, eternally nocturnal world conjured up by the Batman: Arkham video games. Beyond that, Ayer has made a point of shoehorning into the story the most reliably alluring of all DC villains, the Joker. What dedicated comics fan wouldn’t show up for his big-screen return?
Unfortunately, the result resembles a sports dream team whose combined efforts don’t nearly measure up to the talents of its individual players. The introduction of the dramatis personae in the extended prologue or first act, whichever you choose to call it, remains by far the film’s highlight, due to the promise it holds out: Will Smith as the ultimate American sniper Deadshot? Absolutely, and this has got to be a better bet for him than that Independence Day sequel he didn’t do. Margot Robbie as Joker’s crazed girlfriend Harley Quinn? Bring her on. Jay Hernandez as pyromaniac Diablo? Sure. Viola Davis as the government hard-ass who assembles the team? About time she got a plum role in a franchise. Jared Leto as the Joker? Yeah, he’ll deliver a few new twists.

These main baddies are joined by a few too many less significant figures such as Boomerang, Slipknot, Killer Croc and Katana under the military supervision of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Problematically, the snappy, quasi-pop-art feel effectively emphasized in the film’s first trailers is felt only in the early stretch. If Ayer had been able to sharpen and sustain something resembling a darkly subversive cartoon style — which is what is suggested in the interludes centering on Harley Quinn — he might have been on to something. But he’s a grim realist at heart, and it’s a sensibility that doesn’t jibe with this sort of material, which, at this stage of the superhero cycle, benefits from being approached with irreverence (as evidenced by the more entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool).

It’s too bad the mashup of bad guys and girls doesn’t find its groove, because the format of pitting an ad hoc bunch of loners, misfits and outlaws against an even greater menace has proven to be highly reliable — from Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven to their numerous descendants. When Davis’ American intelligence honcho Amanda Waller proposes the idea of the bad-guy dream team to take on a rather vaguely described evil, it seems like a great idea: Sure, they’ll be hard to control, but it’ll be worth it.
But the evil is never properly defined and, worse, isn’t personified in a way that balances the firepower of the opposition. In a fuzzy and hokey manner that encourages immediate viewer checkout, unlimited malevolence is made to reside in an ancient witch goddess whose physical heart literally is held by Waller and whose horrific spirit insinuates itself into a modern archeologist (played by Cara Delevingne); the latter’s boyfriend is Kinnaman’s Col. Flag, the guy who just happens to be in charge of the criminal team. Why anyone thought this creaky narrative line was a good idea for a wannabe-edgy superhero action piece is unfathomable. Indeed, it brings any and all investment in what’s going on to a quite complete end.

All that’s left, then, is mild curiosity about relations between the Joker and Harley, the two liveliest characters onscreen. Unfortunately, the Joker never feels properly integrated into the storyline but rather seems like a special guest star on hand to enliven the show when needed, which is increasingly often. Sporting tats, green hair and metal teeth, Leto brings a measure of the requisite unpredictability and evil glee to the role, but his Joker doesn’t threaten the big-screen hold on the public imagination that Jack Nicholson and then Heath Ledger established.

The action of the film’s middle and latter stages is largely set in a gloomy murk that recalls far too many previous dour sci-fi/fantasy films, and by that point, vestiges of the opening stretch’s humor and snap long have fallen by the wayside. Suicide Squad may not quite commit harakiri, but it certainly feels like it’s taken far too many sleeping pills.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Production: Atlas Entertainment
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Common, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Jim Patrick, Alex Meraz, Corina Calderon
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: David Ayer, based on characters from DC Entertainment
Producers: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Executive producers: Zack Snyder, Colin Wilson, Geoff Johns, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: Roman Vasyanov
Production designer: Oliver Scholl
Costume designer: Kate Hawley
Editor: John Gilroy
Music: Steven Price
Visual effects supervisor: Jerome Chen
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham
Rated PG-13, 123 minutes

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