Sunday, August 7, 2016

Review: Suicide Squad

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
In a summer full of expensive and mostly uninspired blockbusters, "Suicide Squad" is an exemplar of all that is wrong with the current Hollywood summer tentpole movie. It's littered with special effects and explosions, barely developed characters, too many crossovers to other comic book movies and plotlines pilfered from everything from action to science fiction movies. It's a hodgepodge that is clunkily assembled and its various tones are often at war with one another.

The picture's threadbare plot involves a shady government agent (Viola Davis) who is putting together a team of comic book villains - that is, to say, criminals so evil they are kept in underground vaults - in the hope that they can take on dangerous missions covertly and, in the process, get a shot at redemption.

We are first introduced to each of these characters as they act sinister in their various jail cells and this is where the picture makes its first major blunder. Each character is introduced via a classic pop or rock song - from "House of the Rising Sun" to "You Don't Own Me" - and the musical choices are so obvious that you might be able to guess them in advance. In fact, throughout the entire picture, great songs are used to minimum effect, popping up randomly not so much to comment on the action, but rather to give the film's heroes a melody to which they can blow shit up or smash opponents with various instruments.

Will Smith makes the most of his role as Deadshot, a hired assassin who never misses a target and has a young daughter, while Margot Robbie is merely required to vamp it up as much as possible as Harley Quinn, a protege and lover of The Joker (Jared Leto, more on that later), and Jay Hernandez mostly sulks around as Diablo, a former gangbanger who can set things on fire with his hands. And since this is a comic book movie, there's an obligatory cameo by Batman and another by The Flash that do little to inspire or excite.

Leto pops up now and then as The Joker, mostly to cause mayhem and to conflict Quinn, who is smitten with him. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the iconic villain was mostly played for humorous effect, while Heath Ledger's Academy Award winning turn was a chilling monster for the ages. Here, Leto's Joker is meant to be a cross between the two and the result is mostly forgettable. I'm not sure this should be laid at Leto's doorstep, considering that the character was written as such, but whenever The Joker pops up, it's mostly just a distraction.

Most of the rest of the film involves Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag, a top soldier, leading the motley crew of villains on a mission to stop The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who has taken possession of the body of Flag's girlfriend and brought back her evil brother from the dead.

The two supervillains are building some kind of weapon that will - just wait for it, you'll never guess - bring about the end of the world. Seriously, I think my mind would be blown if, for once, in a summer movie, the villains threatened a whole city block, rather than the entire world. It's getting monotonous. The scenes in which the Suicide Squad face off against The Enchantress are among the film's worst. For starters, she speaks in an absurd voice that Bill Murray's Peter Venkman would have had a blast ridiculing and she spends most of her time standing amidst light and electricity raining down from the sky, giving the scenes the appearance of a mid career AC/DC album cover.

The film is not completely without its merits. Smith brings some heart and conscience to his character and Robbie, although her character has been written to cause maximum annoyance, occasionally provides a few laughs. But on the whole, "Suicide Squad" is a weak summer movie in which there's entirely too much going on, although very little of it makes much impact.

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