Suicide Squad Kills It with Characters; Almost Dies of Incoherence

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From left to right: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Deadshot (Will Smith), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) assemble to take down an evil magical presence that threatens the city in Suicide Squad.

Suicide Squad is a story of anti-heroes. “The worst of the worst” as director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) describes them—a woman who self-admittedly specializes in “getting people to act against their own self-interests.” When Waller perceives a gap in her nation’s ability to address threats from meta-humans (i.e. individuals with extraordinary abilities like being able to fly faster than a speeding bullet), she proposes Task Force X: a pet project that would unite incarcerated felons into a disposable team, controllable under threat of death. A threatening situation arises necessitating the specific skills of these villains, and thus the Suicide Squad is called into action.

A bevy of talent comprise the Squad. First is Deadshot aka Floyd Lawler (Will Smith), a marksman with a reputation for never missing a target, no matter what the firearm. Next is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a fearless, deranged former psychiatrist who fell in love with The Joker (Jared Leto) during therapy sessions, and now seeks to reunite with her puddin’. Also in the mix are Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie bank-robber whose weapon of choice is obvious, Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a human pyrotechnic, and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a mostly honorable soldier under Waller’s command who oversees the team and doles out marching orders laced with malice and disrespect.

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What works in Suicide Squad are Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, and the soundtrack their characters dance to throughout the film. Smith demonstrates a return to form where he draws upon his natural charisma, comedic timing, swagger, and physical prowess to remind audiences what a fantastic leading action star he can be with the right material. Robbie too shines, in what will likely be a true breakout performance among the geek community with her embodiment of Quinn. Harley is a beloved character with very recognizable traits: a New Jersey accent, catchphrases, weapons of choice, and a distinct presence. It is clear that writer/director David Ayer is well-versed in Quinn’s history as Robbie’s performance will be both a delight to longtime fans, and memorable to newcomers—a rare treat when adapting comic book characters to the big screen. Finally, Leto’s Joker accomplishes something rather difficult in creating a new persona for a now ultra-defined character without distraction or detraction from the development of the central players in the film.

Music plays an important supporting role in Suicide Squad. Each character has their own theme song; a ballad that defines and contextualizes their persona. The choices are perfect. For example, Amanda Waller has been assigned “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, and this moniker resurfaces later in the script. The soundtrack also helps set the tone of Suicide Squad as light and playful. This movie wants audiences to fully enjoy these characters along with the ridiculousness of the situation. The playlist selections go a long way in achieving this goal.

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While the primary cast and musical accompaniment bring refreshing qualities to Suicide Squad, the overall product is marred by a few glaring missteps. To start, most of the secondary characters are bland at best and confusing at worst—Kinneman and Courtney pick up yet another pair of Thanks-For-Participating awards. The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) begins as a rather intriguing character, but then quickly devolves into a bizarre plot point handled sloppy. Hernandez’s Diablo arc falls some place in middle with a complex backstory, quietly powerful execution, but questionable resolution.

Some critiques of Suicide Squad include labeling it as frustrating and messy. These subjective descriptions are fair as Ayer can prove masterful with framing shots on one hand, and appear to fumble with pacing and development on the other. Plot holes come wholesale in Suicide Squad, so the enjoyment of the film will rest solely on the audiences’ preferences—if strong narrative is a necessarily ingredient for entertainment, then this movie will likely disappoint. If one can dispense with logic and an acceptance of muddled character motivations, the charm of Smith and Robbie may be enough to merit a win. Inevitably, Suicide Squad will be the subject of great debate and divisiveness among comic book aficionados, professional critics, and casual theater patrons alike.

Incoherent inconsistency weighs down Suicide Squad, but the efforts of a mostly superb cast may be enough of a counterbalance to categorize the film as enjoyable popcorn fodder.

Recommended if you enjoyed: Deadpool

Final Grade: B

Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.