Friday, September 16, 2016

Fun In Parts, "Suicide Squad" Is Still Spoiled By the Same Old Wanky D/C Plotting and Characterization

Will Smith and Margot Robbie display good chemistry in their second 
film together.


Like several of its main characters, Suicide Squad suffers from some sort of personality disorder. At times, it feels fresh, vibrant, and kinetic, operating with the same type of tongue-in-cheek mania that defined Deadpool. But unlike that incredibly successful Marvel adaptation, this D/C Comics joint fouls up many of the basics of superhero 101. The main bad guy sucks of course (that’s usually the way it goes), and the climax involves the same tired race to stop some doohickey from destroying the world (ditto). But worse than the that, the fights aren’t very dynamic, the logic of the whole thing is a mess, and, the characterization is problematic at best. As a result, the film plays a lot like The Losers, another mediocre team-up film from D/C that basically nobody remembers.

However, while The Losers was a totally innocuous property, Suicide Squad features small roles for Batman and Joker, two of the most popular comic book characters on the planet, and thus it can be sold as a major event to fans. As such, it simultaneously reaps the benefit of a built-in audience and gets crushed under the weight of expectations.

When I say small roles, I'm not kidding. Batman (Ben Affleck) and Flash (Ezra Miller) are inserted into short sequences solely to provide set-up for our antiheros. Joker (Jared Leto) has more to do, but not much -- he's really nothing more than tangential chaos on the margins of the main story. He's an interesting tertiary baddie, but he basically rates less on the importance scale than Yondu did in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Instead, the primary focus of the film is on the titular suicide squad, or rather it's supposed to be. The idea here is that ruthless government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has implanted explosive devices into a gallery of gifted villains, with the aims of forcing them to do the nation's dirty work. It's a familiar concept, but also a good one. Unfortunately, only half the team gets any semblance of development, while the rest serve as little more than set-dressing.

This is comically evident during a finale in which the villain attempts to neutralize our heroes by promising to fulfill their deepest desires. Conflicted mercenary and expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), Joker's crazy mol Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire-wielding El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the soldier in charge of all these wackos, all have visions of their desires, but the film doesn't even bother investing the time in the other members of the team, including Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and martial arts expert Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a character so extraneous that she doesn't even get an introduction in the opening montage.

Not that it would've meant much. In his introduction, Captain Boomerang is shown to be a shit-bag who turns on his accomplices at the first opportunity, and yet, with no development whatsoever, the script has him go all Han Solo/Jack Sparrow in the end. A similar moment occurs with El Diablo, who is far better realized but still doesn't earn his departing line about the team being his new family. Excepting the bonds Deadshot independently forms with Harley and Flag, none of this camaraderie is earned in even a kinda-sorta way. Consider how much less credible these people feel as a team than the characters of Guardians or The Avengers do.

This all sounds super negative, but the film is a mostly enjoyable watch. It's stylish, has a lively soundtrack and some game performances. Smith and Kinnaman are fine anchors, and although he isn't given the room to deliver an iconic take like his forbearers, Leto is interesting as a thug Joker. Robbie and Davis are the standouts, suggesting distinct shades of villainy and vulnerability, which is a pretty cool thing to say when talking about such a dude-heavy movie and genre. As poorly as the film serves the rest of its cast, it serves these characters pretty well, which is a valuable thing since they are the five most important ones. Still, I wish the second tier characters had been afforded the same level of thought that Marvel affords the likes of Scarlett Witch, Vision or Falcon.

But, of course they weren't, because this isn't Marvel, it's D/C. Like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this feels like a cool concept sunk by poor characterization and screwy plotting. Of chief concern with that last point -- why the hell is Waller even bothering to utilize such potential security threats when she has access to information that could lead her to more heroic accomplices like Batman, Flash and Aquaman (Jason Mamoa)? I'm going to assume it has something to do with a sadistic impulse to control powerful beings, but, once again, that means the D/C Universe is lazily asking me to just assume character beats it's not actually developing (as they did with Lex in Dawn of Justice). Not exactly the kind of thing I'm thinking about when I hope for consistency in such a cinematic universe. C+