Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ★★★

In the superhero renaissance we're living in right now, the most important thing each one can do is live or die by its own voice. While there are undeniable tonal/structural similarities among them, the genre thrives when the template is used as a jumping-off point for filmmakers to tell all kinds of different stories, whether it be a gritty crime film, a political thriller, a space opera, a heist film, or a fourth-wall-breaking comedy. The specific quirks of these characters and the source material that used to scare mainstream audiences away are now the secret weapons that make these movies special.

There's no denying "Suicide Squad" has a voice, but I can't help but think it got lost in translation somewhat. Is it a stranger dive into comic book mythos all about embracing villainy? Is it a straight-forward redemption story where the worst of the worst learn to be the best of the best? Is it a villain story? A hero story? An anti-hero story? I don't know, and I'm not sure the movie knows either, which is a shame, because so many of the individual pieces are still funny and nutty enough to entertain. Ultimately, the film is too busy balancing its countless characters, frantic subplots, and wildly-different tones to fully satisfy, but with a game cast and a fun, cocky energy, I still enjoyed what I got.

When dealing with a major tentpole film, where characters have the potential to appear in sequels, spin-offs, and various other entries, casting is perhaps the most vital element to get right, and luckily, "Suicide Squad" introduces a slew of instantly memorable characters into the DCEU. You've got Will Smith back with a vengeance, whose charismatic yet emotionally broken take on Deadshot is a hot reminder of why he's a movie star. You've got Margot Robbie, finally bringing Harley Quinn to the big screen with all the playful, psychotic energy fans want to see out of her. You've got Viola Davis, making the exposition-delivering government official Amanda Waller an compelling force of deliciously unapologetic evil. And while much of the supporting cast feels underutilized at points, characters like the aggressively-Aussie Captain Boomerang (perhaps the first time I'm pissed a movie didn't have MORE Jai Courtney), the surprisingly tragic El Diablo, the amazingly-rendered Killer Croc, the katana-wielding bad-ass, um, Katana, and Jared Leto's wildly different take on the Joker still have plenty of moments to shine and prove their worth.

For a film that started out as a smaller, left-of-center take on the DC universe, "Squad" is given a surprising amount of heavy lifting to do. It's introducing a whole new ensemble of characters, all who need backstory and motivation. It has to find its own unique voice while working within a basic superhero template. It has to line up with the events in this cinematic universe (though for the most part it's refreshingly standalone). It has to bring out-there concepts like soul-sucking swords and 6,000 year-old malevolent deities into the previously-grounded DCEU. It has to prove WB cares about its comic book catalogue after "Batman v. Superman" wounded audience trust so deeply. And on top of all that, it still has to work as a satisfying, three-act-driven action film. Clearly there were a ton of plates to spin, but between the haphazard structure and erratic editing, there never seems to be much control over the proceedings, and the final result is exhausting at times. It feels like Ayer and company went a bit too big - relegating to a standard "defeat the mindless army and stop the glowing portal in the sky" plot that, on top of being run into the ground at this point, feels much too broad and superheroic for a movie like this - when they should've scaled things back and allowed individual moments and subplots to breathe.

Because it's when those moments and subplots are allowed to breathe that the movie works best. The banter between this group of oddballs. Characters we thought were black-and-white evil showing signs of grey. Unusual relationships being established and explored. Kooky bits of humor I'm surprised made it into a mainstream blockbuster. I can't say this movie is completely watered down, because there's plenty of singular Ayer-isms on display here, and when those Ayer-isms are given room to play, it's the most exciting stuff in the movie.

I have one other major problem with the film, and for me, it's the deciding factor that keeps me from being completely won over. The joy of team-based superhero stories, whether it be in comics or movies, is seeing the team become a team. They may bicker, bite, and fight, but by the end of the day, they come together and become something bigger than themselves. Something's missing in "Suicide Squad", though. As much as I love this cast and many of their individual moments together, I'm missing that instant sense of chemistry and camaraderie. And I know it's hard to have a group of friendly teammates who love each other when you're dealing with assassins, monsters, and psychopaths, so I'm not expecting the most typical superhero team dynamic. But when it comes time for the "Hoorah, we're friends, we're family, we're a team!" moment towards the end, it feels like a pay-off that's missing the set-up, and because of that, there's a major hole in the heart of this film.

Maybe we were just asking too much of "Suicide Squad". We wanted something to "save" the DCEU after "Batman v. Superman", but an off-beat, villain-centric movie was never going to be and shouldn't have been the savior of this universe. The film's weakest moments are when it aims for that level - when it goes too broad, when it tries to be too heroic, when it follows the basic superhero movie structure with little new or interesting to add. The strongest moments are when it's allowed to be its own thing - when these characters bounce off each other, when the film makes eccentric choices that feel totally Ayer, when the film dives into the weird and wacky. With "BvS", I believe that movie's just rotten to the core, and I hate what that movie stands for. At least with this film, I dig what it's doing, I just wish it stuck to its guns more.

Alan Gunn liked this review