To review “Suicide Squad” feels like a disservice. The finished product released to theaters doesn’t feel like David Ayer’s true vision. It plays host to his story, that of a group of villains being recruited to act as a task force for the government, but feels half baked. The remnants of his film are stitched together to create a one-hundred and thirty minute highlight reel to sell future installments in the DC cinematic universe. People complained about “Batman v Superman” being rushed in order to build to the “Justice League;” this isn’t much better.
It’s a shame because, while I slightly prefer “Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad” is a lot more fun and engaging on the surface. The premise of the bad guys working together to begrudgingly act as good guys is a novel concept. It’s ripe for humor and scenarios in which they bend the rules to save the day and/or betray the government whenever possible. Those moments exist but are blazed through with reckless abandon. I’d like to imagine that’s the point, the pacing complementing the erratic personalities of the squad members, but Ayer’s last film, the similar in feel “Sabotage,” shows he can move at a fast pace without losing touch of the humanity (no matter how seedy it is).
Ayer was the perfect choice for “Suicide Squad,” as his brand of anarchy befits that of the Suicide Squad. As he’s shown in “Sabotage,” he can juggle multiple characters and instill comradery amongst their squalid demeanor. He does so here, such as in the action set pieces where they all unintentionally work together to combat the witch’s army that resemble the offspring of the Toxic Avenger or when they all bond over booze and backstories in an abandoned bar during guerilla warfare. These moments are glimpsed at, but never allowed to breathe. The editing cuts them short constantly, rushing to the next plot element. Any chance I had to become endeared to the characters was brought to a halt in order to appease the mechanics of the script. There’s not enough time to develop the entire squad, with some falling by the wayside. Those that get the much-needed attention still feel robbed of their evolution, struggling to have their voices heard. I liked what they said, even laughed quite a bit at their wisecracks, but was always left wanting more (and not in a good way).
The Suicide Squad consists of seven anti-heroes. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a wisecracking hitman with perfect aim. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is the unhinged girlfriend of the Joker (Jared Leto). El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a former gangster who can produce fire from his hands. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is a thief with a short temper. Slipknot (Adam Beach) is a specialized mercenary and not a member of the metal band. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is a skilled warrior who wields a deadly and mystical sword. And Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a mutated cannibal that resembles a crocodile. Almost all were brought into Belle Reve Penitentiary by Batman (Ben Affleck), and all are brought out by intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). She enlists Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to preside over them in battle and to constantly remind them that, if they disobey orders, the bombs implanted in their heads will detonate.
Rick Flag’s girlfriend, Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), is initially recruited to join the Suicide Squad as she plays host to the Enchantress, a witch who inhabits her body. She has gained control over the witch and uses that to convince the government to fund the Suicide Squad initiative by obtaining heavily sought after documents in a heartbeat. Immediately following the approval, Moone loses control of the Enchantress, who embarks on the city of Gotham wreaking havoc alongside her brother (who I completely forgot existed until the finale). This is as much development as the villain gets, with many questions about her powers and abilities being left unanswered. I’m sure they exist in the extended cut that is surely to be released down the road and I look forward to seeing that version. This version, however, is too incoherent at times to stick the landing.
The editing is so incoherent and turbulent that only a select few members of the Suicide Squad get a chance to shine. We learn of Deadshot’s MO, trying to provide for his bright daughter. We get flashbacks to Harley Quinn’s time with the Joker, starting out as his psychologist at Arkham Asylum and slowly morphing into his diabolical girlfriend after falling in love. El Diablo holds back tears when describing the death of his family at his hands, the result of his hotheadedness. The rest of the crew doesn’t fare so well. In a blink and you’ll miss it bit of exposition, we learn that Katana is reeling from the death of her husband and acts as Flag’s bodyguard (she is a volunteer, therefore no bomb implant). Captain Boomerang has no backstory; he’s just a vile thug with a wicked sense of humor and nifty boomerangs that double as GoPro cameras. Killer Croc suffers from a skin disease and is expectedly filled with rage and that’s it. As for Slipknot, he exists.
David Ayer does his damnedest to make them a formidable unit! He gives them quips to deliver, all of which match their personalities. Those that don’t joke are silent but deadly. They all initially hate each other, but bond over time. I can believe they’d all warm up to each other, but not as quickly as they did here. One minute they’re bickering, the next they’re consoling one another. Their bonding is constantly overshadowed by the film’s other elements, such as the Joker who is hot on their trail to rescue Harley, the in-fighting between Waller and the government, the numerous references to the Justice League, and even their own selfish agendas. It’s sensory overload.
It’s a testament to the cast and crew that “Suicide Squad” isn’t the disaster it could’ve been. It’s an overstuffed mess rushing through everything to get to the conclusion. The DC cinematic universe is currently in the early stages of development, a time in which baby steps are in order. Instead, each film barrels out of the gate with a furor, stumbling valiantly to the finish line. There’s no room to breathe, and the film suffocates because of that.
Despite this, David Ayer’s vision slightly rings through, unfortunately too restrained to get over the hump. The manic nature that embodies the Suicide Squad is on display and is entertaining when not feeling cobbled together by the editing. The key performers capture the essence of their characters well, with Will Smith imbuing the right mixture of cockiness and pride and both Margot Robbie and Jared Leto nearly going too over the top as the King & Queen of Disaster, but reining themselves in just enough to make it work. The rest of the crew are admirable, but get lost in the shuffle.
I desperately wanted to like “Suicide Squad!” I liked the ingredients: the humor, the characters, the kinetic tone, the cinematography showcasing the underbelly of Gotham City as seedy and bleak. The ingredients aren’t mixed well due to a studio interfering and forcing their recipe onto the cook. I’m reminded of Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” in which the actor/director portrays a chef stunted by the demands of the clueless restaurant owner. He is brought on due to his skills, only to be told to hide them in favor of producing vanilla. That film as a whole was symbolic of Jon Favreau’s relationship with Marvel in regard to the “Iron Man” films and it feels eerily reminiscent here of David Ayer and DC. Here’s hoping the restraints are loosened for the sequel and everyone is allowed to breathe.
Final Rating: C+