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The challenge before DC is similar to that of Marvel a year ago.  How to introduce a new addition to the superhero franchise that is not immediately familiar to the general public?  Marvel faced this with Guardians of the Galaxy, a property that even comic fans had trouble describing.  Opting for outlandish comedy and embracing its over-the-top action, Guardians of the Galaxy went on to become a huge success and its sequel is highly anticipated.  Suicide Squad faces the same conundrum; can it make up with cinematic finesse what it lacks in brand name familiarity?

The worst of the worst; a menagerie of some of the world’s most dangerous super villains, all somehow behind bars and left to rot in a super-max security prison in Louisiana.  Where most see society’s throwaways, Federal Agent Amanda Waller sees opportunity.  Those heinous criminals might hold the key to evening up the odds against some of the new evils, homegrown and supernatural, that are landing on the doorstep of the United States.

Waller brings together Deadshot, a mercenary marksman, El Diablo, a Angelino homeboy whose ability to create infernos at will has left him with no desire to ever flame on (Oops, wrong comic) again, Boomerang, a brash Aussie who really likes… boomerangs, and a big hunk of scales called Killer Croc.  However, there’s none in the reluctant team quite as much the loose cannon as the former Harleen Quinzel, as she was in her days as a psychiatrist at Gotham’s Arkham Asylum.  Her flying too close to the flame of its most infamous inmate, one Mr. Joker, The, sees her reborn as Harley Quinn and as bugnuts insane as her boyfriend with his taste for nihilism and wanton destruction.  All these lethal variables are meant to come under the command of elite soldier, Rick Flag, whose training couldn’t have prepared him for these guys.

In Waller’s aim to create the perfect team, she even dabbles in the occult, bringing in an archaeologist imbued with the spirit of an ancient witch.  A slave as long as the agent owns her physical heart, Enchantress does Waller’s bidding until the day she can retrieve her missing anatomy.  That day comes coincidentally soon and Enchantress decides to remake this modern world more to her liking; a procedure that involves turning the whole slavery thing on humankind, whilst blowing up entire cityscapes.

Preferring the direct approach to positive reinforcement, Waller injects a remote explosive into the necks of the motley crew and sends them off on their journey to either stop the witch, or go boom.

One of the most striking things about Suicide Squad is how very 80s it is; from its hyper-saturated colour palette, to its cinematography and MTV video-like montages of flashback and exposition.  This last aspect is bolstered by its blaring soundtrack, packed with epic hits by everyone from Lil Wayne, Kehlani and twenty one pilots, to The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Eminem, Queen and Lesley Gore(!), punctuating every moment, insisting the audience take notice.  It works on a lot of levels at first glance, but not for long, and the film’s look and sound, became tiresome quickly.  They could’ve ended the 80s nostalgia with the incessant slo-mo during the battle sequences, as well, which was utterly at odds with the choppy, start-stop pacing and haphazard action of the film’s second half.

There is a strange lethargy around Suicide Squad that isn’t helped by the fact that the script is utterly predictable and bears no surprises, and even long-awaited teases like Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker turn out to be far less than one might expect.

While starting pretty rousing, the whole film deflates about midway and feels very empty as the script devolves into the most trite “Teamwork, yeah!” clichés imaginable.  None of the backstories are presented in any sort of new or ingenious way, and play like an obligatory checklist, and I wasn’t terribly fussed whether any of the team lived or died.

Part of my disaffection comes from the wide variety of performances.  There is the excellent: Viola Davis really is the ultimate superhero/villain paradox as the ruthless, persuasive, unflappable Amanda Walker.  She was Darth Vader without the mask and absolutely the most compelling thing about the movie.  Will Smith conveys his usual warmth and wit to the well-worn trope of the bad guy who only loves his kid.  Despite the film’s determination to be PG-13 (Which did not work in its favour), had the movie gone more raw with the usual family-friendly Smith’s Deadshot, and I would have been here for it.  I suspect he would have been, too.

The flip side of the acting coin comes via several unfortunate performances.  Were we really supposed to fear that the world was about to be destroyed by Cara Delevingne’s incredibly awkward go-go dancing?  Poor thing looked like someone threw itching powder down the back of her bikini.  As a former model, it was interesting that she didn’t have any idea what to do with her face during her scenes as the newly-revived witch, and she wasn’t remotely memorable as the human vessel, Dr. June Moone (spoon).  That goes twice and three times on Sunday for her movie boyfriend, Joel Kinnaman as Squad wrangler, Rick Flag.  Kinnaman is so utterly without presence or heft that I wouldn’t listen to him if he was directing me to a sale at the Hershey Store.  He comes off as irritating and mosquito-like rather than commanding, and so after Flag begs the team to help him save his girl, the point when the inevitable Squad group hug occurs, and they all decide to work together to save Moone June (spoon), it’s completely unconvincing.

Of course Mr. and Mrs. Joker must be explored.  As I mentioned earlier, this performance by Jared Leto that was supposedly so scary, so intense, it disturbed his costars, was a lot of meh.  Leto lets his makeup and styling do most of his work for him, and the portrayal of the sickest puppy in the comics is awfully light and superficial.  Even when we are given long wind-ups to Joker about to do something crazy to some unfortunate, it’s like being punched by a kitten.  For his very few moments in the film, you don’t miss or want him back.

I actually had high hopes for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and in many instances, I thought she did well (She sells a lot of the physicality of Harley’s fight scenes better than other sex-kitten supes in other franchises I could mention), but that doesn’t make up for the fact that her Harley has no depth beyond ‘La, la, la, I’m so crazy.’  Her ‘unpredictability’ doesn’t account for much conflict, and I kept waiting for something under the surface to show, but like every character in the film, she’s written with far too shallow a hand.  She’s pretty one-note and that note becomes a shrill harangue after a quick minute, and even the most inexplicably tiny super villain costume in the world can’t distract from it.

Is Suicide Squad the worst superhero flick, ever?  Not remotely.  Some contenders for that title were released less than a year ago.  It starts off with a lot of fun and style and some of the comedy does click before descending into a plot mud pit full of clichés and less-than-thrilling action.  Still, between Will Smith’s leading presence and the mighty Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller as the spinoff I now most want to see, Suicide Squad might not deserve a sequel, but it’s harmless enough as summer popcorn movie fodder.

Pity it couldn’t have been more.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

August 3rd, 2016

 

 

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