I’m kind of over comic book movies these days. At best, they’re good fun; at worst, they deliver diminishing returns based on a tired formula. I do appreciate one done well, like The Avengers, or one done differently, like Deadpool. But they’re all the same movie deep down. That’s why it’s so frustrating the Suicide Squad, which could have been something very different, ends up being just like the rest.
Suicide Squad is not afraid of exposition dumps, and they’re practically required to get the plot moving. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, easily the best thing in the film) is a merciless government bureaucrat who’s assembled a team of “bad guys” as a Dirty Dozen-style unit to fight the next Superman, just in case he turns out to be a bad guy himself. Supervising this team is special ops hero Rick Flagg (Joel Kinneman, alternating between a decent Southern accent and his normal weird accent). There are six or seven other members of this team, but the only two that are worth paying attention to are Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). It doesn’t take long for a crisis to appear that requires them being rushed into action.
It’s actually refreshing that the film doesn’t spend the first hour of its (surprisingly reasonable) two hour running time establishing origin stories. It’s just too bad that there’s not much left to fill the next hour and thirty minutes. The action scenes are both generic and poorly edited. One features Deadshot mowing down bad guy after bad guy, and could could charitably be compared to watching someone play Call of Duty. Likewise, the two villains suffer from some standard action movie/comic book inconsistencies. One spends the first half of the film invincibly swatting helicopters and jets out of the sky, but is done in by a well-placed bomb. The other has the power to teleport at will and command inanimate objects to form a super weapon, but she still decides to fight our (anti-)heroes hand-to-hand.
These inconsistencies (and there are more) are the downfall of Suicide Squad. What could have been an interesting film presenting the point of view of the comic books’ less fortunates – we were caught by vigilantes operating outside the law, we were held without trial, the government does even worse things than we do but wraps them in the flag – or just a nihilistic action comedy instead becomes a generic exercise in team-building and world-saving. (Not to mention place-holding between Batman V Superman and Justice League.) Occasionally we get glimpses of a much more interesting film, like when Waller guns down her subordinates and abandons Flagg and the rest after being rescued, or anytime Robbie indulges in some craziness. But the need to adhere to the formula quickly brings the film back on track.
Like the bad guys’ powers, the characters are inconsistent throughout the film. One minute Harley Quinn is smashing windows open to shoplift, the next she’s telling a team member to “own” the hurt he’s caused. Their only consistent motivation appears to be to move the plot along. If they have time to be bad, they will. But if it’s time to become a team and save the world, they’ll do that just as gamely.