Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Aidan Devine, David Harbour, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Common, Scott Eastwood, Ezra Miller
Written by: David Ayer
Directed by: David Ayer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
Running Time: 130
Date: 08/05/2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Death by 'Suicide'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

David Ayer's Suicide Squad seemed like it could have been special. It could have been the scrappy, colorful, irreverent bastard cousin to Zack Snyder's lumbering, sludgy Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; it could have been a funny, nothing-at-stake joy like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Deadpool were for the Marvel Universe. But somehow, Suicide Squad is a disappointment. It has its fun parts, sure, but it goes on a little too long and feels ill-paced, and has a few other problems, and it eventually leaves off with a "meh" rather than a "wow."

I have no idea whose fault this is. As a screenwriter-turned-director, Ayer wrote some terrific screenplays and some bad ones, and directed some terrific movies, and some bad ones. It seems that the good ones, Training Day (2001), End of Watch (2012), and Fury (2014), were all about men doing real-life jobs over a compact period of time, but his more non-realistic, lightweight entertainments, like The Fast and the Furious (2001), S.W.A.T. (2003), and Sabotage (2014), have fallen flat. But then there's producer Zach Snyder, who was, ill-advisedly, put in charge of the DC Universe film franchise, even after he proved himself one of the least qualified filmmakers alive. Could his touch have curdled Suicide Squad in some way? Or would it be more appropriate to blame both men?

In any case, I hesitate to blame either Will Smith or Margot Robbie, who are as fun and lively onscreen as they've ever been (they worked together before, in the slight, enjoyable heist film Focus). But, truth be told, they are stars, and they get the most screen time and the most character weight, and this doesn't do much to balance out the idea of a team or establish camaraderie or working together. The other members of the Squad come up decidedly short. Either way, most of Robbie's hilarious, demented line readings have been featured in the trailers, and there's not much left of her in the final film.

The movie opens introducing us to six members of the team. There's hired assassin Deadshot (Smith), whose love for his daughter is equal to his hate for Batman. Then there's Harley Quinn (Robbie), who was once a therapist in charge of the Joker (Jared Leto), and is now his crazy lover. We also meet Australian Boomerang (Jai Courtney), sewer-dwelling Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and tattooed fire-maker Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is in charge of them, and the nasty, unflappable politician Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is in charge of him. Waller keeps Flag in control via his true love, June (Cara Delevingne), whose body has become the home of a centuries-old witch called Enchantress. Another member of the team, Slipknot (Adam Beach), is not introduced, but only because he's due to be killed after ten minutes. And Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is an expert with a sword who protects Flag, but has no other purpose.

Eventually, when a supernatural being attacks, Waller sends Flag and the Squad into battle in the city. I'm not sure if I missed something, but their first mission — to rescue Waller — didn't make much sense. I suppose it was more of a MacGuffin, though, and the real point of this sequence was to build teamwork, which fails. Then it's off to battle the real bad guy, an all-powerful absolute nothing bent on destroying everything and taking over the world. This kind of bad guy is so boring. So boring. We had to deal with one just like this in X-Men: Apocalypse, and here it is again. Seriously? They had the Joker in this movie, and they went with an all-powerful magic being who just stands there, doing some kind of weird, shimmying dance?

To summarize thus far, the movie takes a very long time setting up the team, rushes them into battle, and then draws out the climax while they pummel uselessly against a totally yawn-worthy villain. At some point, with Smith and Robbie getting most of the screen time, this team was supposed to jell and form a unit whose members depend on one another. Frankly, they don't. One scene, which takes place in a bar, was probably supposed to carry most of the weight, but it seems to have been cut down (a line that's in the trailer did not make the final cut).

Even though his role in the film is negligible, I should add a word about the Joker. I know I'm supposed to love Leto, since he just won an Oscar, etc., but he has some big shoes to fill with this role, and I'm not entirely sure he's up to the task (especially since talk has already begun of his return). The Joker has been a fascinating character since he first appeared in 1940 in Batman #1, and a legendary role in Hollywood, since most of the actors portraying him have gone a little over the edge. After Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and — especially — Heath Ledger, Leto's Joker just seems like a guy who puts on lipstick and chews the scenery. The others found some sense of pure homicidal insanity, but Leto seems to have been cast more for sex appeal (his muscular chest is often shown) so he can be a partner to Robbie's Harley.

Though the movie features colorful characters, and even a colorful marketing campaign, the look of the film is, like Batman v Superman, gray and sludgy. It's a shame. Yet, despite all this, Smith creates one of his best characters since his "Jay" in Men in Black (1997), cocky, funny, and with a sense of gravity and hurt. And Robbie is wonderful; she's incredibly beautiful, but dangerously alive and marvelously crazy. Harley is not the kind of role a woman usually gets, especially not in superhero movies. (Just look at all the hassle the female Ghostbusters have been getting; clearly the movies are still a men's club and women are not allowed to do anything more than sidekick.) And, if it's not giving too much away, this movie has a few scenes with a terrific Batman (better than Christian Bale). Some of these guys deserve their own movies, but most of the others deserve to be forgotten. In the end, it's frustrating that the men in charge of making movies from the comics I used to love, seem to have absolutely no concept of good or bad. No one seems to care. It's all just money.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with an optional DVD and digital copy. It includes several short featurettes, including a doc about the history of the Suicide Squad in comics, other behind-the-scenes stuff, a gag reel, and trailers. The set includes an extended cut, which is approximately 11 minutes longer (I haven't yet seen it, but I will report back if I get around to it). Fans should be pleased.

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