Movie Review: Suicide Squad
By Ben Gruchow
August 8, 2016
The problem is that almost none of this weighs anything, and the parts that hint at it are grievously truncated. Suicide Squad demonstrates, even more clearly than its predecessors, how fundamentally corrupted Warner’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. On its own, this third entry slots in in the middle of a small heap: no better than the bloated and contemptuously juvenile Dawn of Justice, considerably worse than 2013’s Man of Steel (a film I harbor scant affection for to begin with), and not really any damn good at all in a vacuum.
Part of it is the strain behind the scenes that you can glimpse all too easily; the DC Extended Universe is conspicuously meant to pull fewer punches and land more impactful revelations and developments than the Marvel version dreams of doing. If Iron Man & Co. are the end result of years of meticulous tactics and consistency in branding by Disney, Warner is going for a vision made up of diverse and risk-taking artistic choices. This feels like the way it should be; Warner was, after all, the first studio to really legitimize comic-book movies as big-budget blockbuster entertainment in 1978 with Superman, and the first to legitimize the reboot as artistically valid and justified in 2005 with Batman Begins. But they’ve tried too hard to jump the gun and roar out of the gate with a fully-formed narrative bedrock right away, and the slapdash, creatively muddled nature of their approach is distractingly obvious by looking at the initial entries.
Looking at the results of this in hindsight, we are given some perspective: there was a scant path available for this film to ever be more than mediocre. It’s been patched together from two competing visions, utilizing two schools of stylistic influence that are utterly at odds with each other: Christopher Nolan’s punishing sound-and-music aesthetic, workable in the context of a pragmatic and adult-anchored actorly presence, and Zack Snyder’s overwhelming CG-and-slow-motion sensibility stapled to a positively juvenile approach to narrative and character. Smash these two together, and you end up with something that is loud, self-serious, visually overbearing, tonally arrhythmic, brain-dead, and occasionally - almost by accident - compositionally startling.
This is more or less what we get with Suicide Squad, a film that possesses part of a first act, most of a final act, and almost none of a middle act. In that first act, we are introduced to Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the first of a crowd of antiheroes recruited by a shadowy arm of the U.S. government, headed up by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and supervised by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). The goal of the Suicide Squad is, I guess, to prevent the advent of an evil being with the same powers as Superman (a government official asks in the beginning: “What would we do if Superman flew down one day and tore the roof off of Congress?”, having not been informed that a regular guy with access to a bomb was able to vaporize a Capitol building relatively easily scant months prior). It’s not particularly clear what the goal is, with the Squad being made up of the viciously homicidal, the insane, or both; none of them does much that couldn’t be accomplished with a flamethrower wielded by a tactical strike team of the non-homicidally insane.