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Movie Review: "Suicide Squad" Is Really Just a Cry For Help

Starring Will Smith, Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, 
Cara Delavingne, Adewale Akinnoyue -Agbaje
Written and Directed by David Ayer

Reviewed By Paul Gibbs and Patrick Gibbs

Out of Four

Where Marvel gave us a slow buildup to "The Avengers", DC has tried to cram the setup to "Justice League" in so few films that it brings to mind (to us, anyway) the analogy of an older brother who is jealous of his younger sibling getting married first, so he tries to compensate by getting as many women pregnant as possible to ensure he ends up as the one with more kids. Technically, it may work, but that doesn't make it a good idea and the end result won't satisfy anybody.

To put it another way, the good news is that "Suicide Squad" corrects one of the most common complaints against recent Warner Bros/DC Comics films by having a sense of humor The bad news is the movie still doesn't work. That's not to say the film is completely awful, or unwatchable. It's just not the movie that's going to turn things around or set DC on the right course after the disappointment of "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice". While it's considerably faster moving than that slow, solemn, somber slog, "Suicide Squad" shares the other film's difficulty in telling a coherent story or developing compelling characters despite its strong cast (or in at least some cases do a poor job working with characters who were compelling to begin with).

The film begins with a lengthy introduction of most of the main characters: Will Smith's Deadshot is a world-class assassin who seems able to hit any target. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is a former psychiatrist with the idiotic name Dr. Harleen Quinzel (yes, we know that's from the comics. As much as we love the character, that name was stupid in the comics, too. They might as well make Batman's real name Batthew Manowitz) who fell in love with the notorious supervillain The Joker (Jared Leto) and made herself over in his image. Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang . . . has a big bushy mustache and likes to throw things, etc.

The group of criminals has been assembled by government agent Amanda Waller (Davis) to form Task Force X, a secret team designed to combat the perceived the threat of "Metahumans", which as anyone who watches the CW's "The Flash" knows, are people with extraordinary powers and abilities. After the untimely death of Superman, the government is concerned that someone with his powers might be working with the bad guys next time, and obviously the best way to combat such a threat would be a hot female clown with panties and a baseball bat (plot holes and logic flaws abound). Soon the team is dispatched to deal with one of these Metahuman threats.

The biggest thing that does work is the two leads, Smith and Robbie. While he may not fit many fans concept of Deadshot, Smith brings back the star presence and considerable charisma that's been missing in some of his more recent vehicles, and provides the film with both humor and it's only touch of humanity (Deadshot's relationship with his young daughter almost gives us a reason to root for a character who is aptly described in the film as "a serial killer who takes credit cards"). Robbie nails the beloved character of Harley Quinn, stealing pretty much every scene she's in with her manic energy, goofy sense of humor and . . . other assets (she also delivers a perfect character voice).  She also manages to completely outshine her high profile co-star Leto, whose Joker is perhaps the least interesting character in the film. Leto faces a difficult task following iconic performances by Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger, but the only new things he brings to the role are tattoos and capped teeth, and he also fails to capture what worked so well about the character in the past, making the Joker a fairly generic psychopath. and doing a voice that is merely a variation on Mark Hamill's cartoon version. The best thing that can be said about this film's portrayal off its most iconic villain is that it's better than the Lex Luthor of "Batman V. Superman". The worst is that it's the least interesting live action take on the Joker yet, and that includes but Cesar Romero's largely harmless version, as well at that episode of "The Office" where everybody showed up in a Joker costume for Halloween.

The film is actually at its best during the brief  moments when Ben Affleck's Batman is onscreen, again causing us to yearn for the chance to see him play the character in a really good film. In fact, Affleck actually makes a stronger impression in the role here than he did in the previous film, and we found ourselves sinking down in our seats in sadness whenever it was clear his latest brief appearance was over.

The rest of the squad is something of a mixed bag. As Captain Boomerang, Courtney shows as he has before that he has far more personality and charisma when speaking with his native Australian accent and playing a character role rather than the leading man, but the character has little to nothing of interest to do and has no clear motivation (truthfully, he plays almost like a character out of "Mystery Men"). Jay Hernandez gives easily the film's most nuanced performances as the tortured Diablo, who is filled with regret about the consequences of his pyrokinesis. Cara Delevingne's Enchantress is a scantily clad irritant who seems to be inspired by a mix of "Ghostbusters" and "The Mummy", and  Karen Fukuhara's Katana feels like an afterthought who the filmmakers only occasionally remember is there. But even she has more to do than Adam Beach's Slipknot, a glorified cameo that borders on featured extra, and Adewale Akinnoyue -Agbaje's Killer Croc is a spectacular make up job covering what is barely a character or performance (this seems more the fault of the film's overstuffed, under-cooked nature than a failure of the actor.).

Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag irritated us less than Kinnaman's performances usually do (which doesn't say much), and Viola
Davis, one of Hollywood's finest actresses (who should have beat Meryl Streep out for that most recent Oscar), is undermined by a plot that makes her enigmatic character seem borderline incompetent. It's an almost inconceivable accomplishment to get a genuinely dull performance from Davis, but that's exactly what this movie has done. Director David Ayer is able to stage some fairly entertaining action sequences, and as we said before, at least the pace keeps moving. But the story is such a mess, and the tone shifts so wildly from broadly played comedy to grim darkness that it's difficult to get a grasp of what it is we're watching. And as for the visual elements, Ayer is as constrained by having to follow Zack Snyder's lead as any Marvel director is by Kevin Feige and company.

Before readers get too annoyed that we're not giving this movie a fair shot and accuse us of being "addicted to the Marvel drug" (as one thoughtful reader said when we reviewed "Batman v. Superman"), we want to point out that we've always primarily been DC fans, and nobody wants this universe to work more than we do. Furthermore, we'd rather see DC's universe stand out from Marvel's than have it just be a carbon copy. But put plain and simply, Marvel is doing what they do well, and DC isn't. Far and away the best film of the new DCEU remains its first, "Man of Steel", which for all its shortcomings told a complete and largely coherent story and committed to its universe and tone. The two subsequent undertakings have been all over the map and not made a lick of sense. We're still hopeful that "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League" will live up to the promise of their dazzling teaser trailers, but "Suicide's Squad"'s trailers were deceptive.

If you're a comic book/superhero fan, "Suicide Squad" is worth a look. It's not the worst comic book film by any means, and those performances from Smith and especially Robbie (who'd be a Best Supporting Actress contender if this were a better movie) will likely be enough to carry the film for many audience members. But we're sad to report this isn't any kind of step forward for DC, it's more that awkward, uncomfortable dance one does when one really needs to use the bathroom but it's already occupied.

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