By Travis Trombley
And that’s too bad. Given Director and writer David Ayer’s history with films about people who cross the line (End of Watch and Training Day, just to name a few), Suicide Squad should have picked up Dawn of Justice’s torch of superhero deconstruction and explored moral complexities of punishment, right intent, human rights, and that cold pragmatism that defines get-it-done government types like Amanda Waller. Instead, it gave us a Guardians of the Galaxy knock off that fails to meet the quality of its Marvel counterpart in almost every way due to an overstuffed, lazy narrative and lackluster cinematography.
The film’s premise follows its comic origins closely: the government answers the threat to their power posed by metahumans like Superman by coercing jailed metahuman criminals to execute covert operations on behalf of the US government. With her typical gravitas, Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller secures the team’s sanction and subsequently leads it into its first mission - a rescue operation of a mysterious figure from Midway City, which is under attack by the Enchantress, an ancient witch/goddess who was formerly under Waller’s control but finds an easy out and who seeks to build a “machine” weapon to take over the world. Or something like that.
In an attempt to provide a sense of coherent development, the film narrows its focus to 2.5 characters from the aforementioned roster. Will Smith’s Deadshot goes from loveless sociopath to someone who wants his little girl to see him as more than a killer. Margot Robbie’s Harley hogs much of the screen time reminiscing about her relationship with the Joker, who she later thinks died trying to save her, which forces her to….cordially reunite with the teammates whom she’d moments ago abandoned... Most interestingly, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag starts out condemning Deadshot’s brand of murder but ends up releasing his monopoly on moral superiority, finding himself in league with the criminals he’s charged with handling. Kind of.
None of the aforementioned arcs provide much in the way of payoff. After some throw away lines throughout the film about the squad being “bad guys,” they meet in a bar and resolve to go save the world together, now a “family” after a few hours of shared angst. “So are they good guys now?” you may ask. Doesn’t matter - the film just wants us to root for them as they go into the silly final boss battle against Enchantress and her CGI brother, pandering to the simplest genre model.
Speaking of CGI, the action here is lackluster at its best, and straight up confusing at its worst. For the most part, choppy editing and a lack of lighting obscure any semblance of combat prowess. When Ayer wants you to see something, he has to dumb it down to slow motion. Perhaps more problematic, though, is the complete lack of economy in these fights. In the final melee, especially, there’s no resource management on either side, and the audience is never given any indication of what it would take for the ‘heroes’ to defeat their antagonists. It's the worst kind of flashy, trivial action.
The only exception to this anarchistic pandering, Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller is, as Deadshot says, “one mean lady.” At one point she kills three people in her office before evacuating because “they didn’t have clearance.” Flag refuses to judge her, saying he’s buried stuff, too. It’s one of a handful of moments in the film that hint at something worth thinking about after the film - “Is she just as bad as the squad members? Does ‘right intent’ or authority make a moral difference?”
Eh, who has time to bother? We’ve got a rushed third act fight scene to get to and world-building cameos to shoehorn into the credits.
The actors here are fun, especially Smith, Robbie, Jai Courtney, Davis, and - yes - Jared Leto as the Joker, even if the script demands relatively little from them. While occasionally entertaining as an ensemble romp, Suicide Squad is mostly lazy and visually confusing cinema.
It makes one appreciate Batman v Superman for at least trying to deconstruct the genre - I’m really not sure what Suicide Squad wanted from me (except to go buy clothes from Hot Topic to express my status as a super fan). If you’re looking for a story with meaningless boss fights, flashy intro panels, funny one liners and morally ambiguous characters, go pick up a Borderlands game - they’re much more fun.