By Bob Garver
Simply put, "Suicide Squad" was my most anticipated movie of 2016. I'm a big fan of Batman, but I'm a bigger fan of his rogues gallery - his collection of colorful recurring villains. "Suicide Squad" brings us not one, not two, but three of those characters. We've got The Joker, one of the most iconic villains in all of pop culture, played by Academy Award winner Jared Leto. We've got Harley Quinn, The Joker's lover and complement, played by Margot Robbie, possibly my favorite actress of her generation. We've also got reptile-themed strongman Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a lower-tier threat who has nonetheless given Batman a few memorable outings. As if that wasn't enough, the cast features box office champion Will Smith and the incapable-of-doing-wrong Viola Davis. This movie would get five stars for its casting alone were it not for the presence of "Robocop" washout Joel Kinnaman and notorious franchise-poisoner Jai Courtney.
The setup is that shady government operative Amanda Waller (Davis) wants to set up a task force of extraordinary humans to combat extraordinary threats. After all, this is the DC Expanded Universe, where General Zod and Doomsday have already run amok in two hugely disappointing films. She wrangles together Croc, the psychopathic Quinn, expert marksman Deadshot (Smith), double-crossing stick-tosser Boomerang (Courtney), human flamethrower Diablo (Jay Hernandez), slash-happy Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and alleged escapist Slipknot (Adam Beach). All have done bad things, some want to be better people, most are interested in saving the world if it includes them, and all want time off their prison sentences. That's why they band together under Captain Rick Flag (Kinnaman) to battle Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient South American goddess possessing the body of Flag's archeologist girlfriend and trying to enslave the world.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given how much weight I've put on their shoulders), my biggest problems with the movie have to do with Harley and The Joker. First of all, why is Harley on the team? The Suicide Squad specializes in straightforward attacks where they can take out evil armies en masse. It makes sense to have members who can shoot, torch, and pummel a lot of enemies at once. Harley is good at one-on-one fighting and her strange mindset might make her a good choice for specialized missions that require her to get into enemies' heads. But I don't see why Waller would think she fits in with this glorified assault team. As for The Joker, he needs to be the embodiment of craziness and chaos. There are hints of that in scenes where he interacts with Harley, but too often he just seems like a standard gang leader with a clown theme. He also has little relevance to the story outside of flashbacks. He makes a play to abduct Harley from the Squad, it fails, but we know he's not really gone. Batman villains simply do not die by disappearing in explosions.
My other complaints about "Suicide Squad" are complaints I have too often about action movies. The action scenes are muddied, the editing unconvincingly conceals weaknesses in the filmmakers' abilities, the dialogue gets flat at times (they couldn't come up with something more creative for a key scene than "You hurt my friends!"?), the characters' backstories are rushed and their motivations are inconsistent. I am not going to complain about the presence of Jai Courtney and Joel Kinnaman, they're about as interesting as anyone else in this movie. Every now and then there'll be a decent one-liner (the usually-dense Croc gets some good ones) and I like that the movie wants to look like a cheesy carnival ride with neon everywhere, but this movie blows nearly every opportunity, and it's presented with so many. The sad thing is that despite its pretty thorough awfulness, relatively speaking it's actually the best movie from the joke that is the DC Extended Universe.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
"Suicide Squad" is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language throughout. Its running time is 123 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.