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Featured VOD Review: Suicide Squad

November 28th, 2016

Suicide Squad - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 3D Combo Pack, or 4k Combo Pack
Video on Demand: Theatrical Release and Extended Edition

Suicide Squad

After Superman Returns struggled at the box office and The Dark Knight became a surprise $1 billion hit, the folks at Warner Bros. decided to reboot the D.C. movies as D.C. Extended Universe using the dark and gritty style of the Dark Knight Trilogy. That hasn’t worked out so far. Man of Steel barely broke even and the mixed reviews made a few people worried about the franchise’s future. The dour interpretation of Superman didn’t work and the editing and pacing was a mess, but at least it had an interesting villain. Batman v Superman was terrible and had one of the worst villains of any comic book movie I’ve seen. When that film was eviscerated by the critics, Warner Bros. stepped in and made last minute changes to Suicide Squad. Did it work? Nope. But is it better than BvS?

The Movie

On a side note, there will be spoilers in this review. It is unavoidable, as the problems with this movie are too deeply wrapped up in the plot.

The film begins at secret black site facility where a couple of future members or the Suicide Squad are being held: Deadshot and Harley Quinn. We don’t get much from them in terms of characters, Harley Quinn is crazy, that’s about it; however, we do see they are both dealing with the same abusive guard. That’s all we really learn before we switch to...

Amanda Waller, who is having a meeting about her Task Force X project, a plan to use criminal metahumans for certain tasks that are too dangerous for the regular special forces. She’s been trying to get this going for a while, but now she finally has the hook to get the people in charge to agree: Superman. If the next Superman is a bad guy, they will need their own set of metahumans to stop them. ... Keep that in mind when I begin to describe the members, most of which get little vignettes.

Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, is a hired assassin who supposedly has never missed a shot and he’s skilled enough to demand $1 million paydays. He also has a daughter, Zoe, who is the only person he really cares about. Amanda Waller used that weakness to help Batman capture him. Harley Quinn started out as the psychiatrist for The Joker, but The Joker was able to manipulate her into falling in love with him and he used her to escape. The pair were unstoppable on the outside, until they tangled with Batman. The Joker got away, but left Harley Quinn to die. The next person Amanda Waller talks about is Captain Boomerang, who is a drunk Australian bank robber who uses boomerangs. Unlike the previous two, he was captured by The Flash. El Diablo has pyrokenetic abilities and he used this to rise as a gang leader. However, when his wife and kids were killed, he surrendered to the police. Killer Croc is a mutant with inhuman strength, and crocodile-like skin. Finally... well, finally for now, there’s The Enchantress. She’s a thousands of year old witch who inhabited the body of June Moone, an archaeologist. She has a weakness, her heart. If you have her heart, you can destroy it and kill her. Because Amanda Waller has her heart, she thinks she can control the Enchantress. There is still skepticism, but that’s where Rick Flag comes in. He’s the greatest special forces soldier they have and he will personally be in charge of handling Task Force X while on a mission. He’s also in love with June Moone, so he has emotional stakes in her safety. ... Later we are “introduced” to Slipknot, the man who can climb anything. Seriously. That’s all of the introduction he gets. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn who dies in this movie.

After Amanda Waller demonstrates the power The Enchantress possesses, she gets approval for Task Force X. First, she and Rick Flag have to head to the black site to view their “recruits” for themselves. The only character with any character development is El Diablo, who refuses to be anyone’s weapon. The only character with any real screen time is Deadshot, who gets to show off his skill with a gun and make some demands.

At this point, the movie takes a turn for the worse, as we look in on The Joker. The Joker has been looking for Harley Quinn and he’s finally learned where she’s being held. He decides to go after her and then laughs. (On a side note... congratulations to Jesse Eisenberg. You are no longer the worst villain in the D.C.E.U. He might not be the second worst either. That laugh. Every time the Joker laughs in this movie, I wonder why someone on the set didn’t tell Jared Leto to knock it off.) The Joker does have an advantage, Griggs, the abusive guard from above, has a gambling problem and is deep in debt. So The Joker pays off his debt in exchange for helping him with Harley Quinn.

Meanwhile, The Enchantress begins her plan. While she can’t get her heart back from Amanda Waller, she is able to find the relic that stores her brother’s soul and give him a body to possess. When her brother, Incubus, makes his presence known, Task Force X is brought in. The first plan is to get The Enchantress to plant a bomb to kill the attacker, but instead, she goes to her brother who helps protect her from the attack on her heart by giving her some of his powers. Now that they are free, they plan to build a machine / cast a spell to destroy the humans, because ancient Egyptians worshiped them as gods and they are upset that is no longer the case.

In the meantime, bombs are planted in the necks of the rest of the Suicide Squad, because Amanda Waller can’t think of a better way to control them, and they are given their gear and sent in with Rick Flag and about two dozen mostly nameless soldiers. Amanda Waller gives one last order, do anything that displeases her and you will be killed. ... Oh, and just before they get ready to go, Katana shows up. She has a magic sword and she will be assisting Rick Flag.

This is the point where I end the plot summary to avoid spoilers; however, some of the biggest problems with this movie are with certain plot details that happen and they are mentioned down below. I was going to go over the spoilers and use white text, but it isn’t worth it.

So... is Suicide Squad as bad as the previous films in the D.C. Extended Universe? In some ways it is better, but in others is it worse. The most damning problem is how similar the problems are. Bad movies happen. Even talented filmmakers and actors can get together and make a bad movie. However, all three films share so many problems that it is likely systemic. Getting a new director or new actors in key roles won’t help.

The first problem is the tone. Even if you didn’t know about the behind-the-scenes troubles with Suicide Squad, you would still be able to tell there was studio interference. It is clearly a two and a half hour long movie that was cut down to 90-minutes, before being padded out to two hours with added “humor”. You can still tell what the core of the film is and you can bet that before these changes, it would have been the same grimdark dreck that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were. Trying to edit in more humor only made the pacing and the editing a mess, while it made the changes in tone stand out too much. For example, there are two teams of soldiers sent with the Suicide Squad and one of them were captured and turned into these, well, silly looking monsters with pulsating heads. It is supposed to be this big dramatic moment the first time we see this happen in detail and then the scene immediately cuts to Harley Quinn smashing the window to steal the purse. This is one of the funniest scenes in the trailers, but because of terrible editing, it lands with a thud. Worse still, Deadshot gets an emotional beat after that, but it also fails to connect, because of the jarring change in tone we just witnessed.

Getting the people who made the trailers to create an edit of the movie was a disaster. The skills needed to create a great two to three-minute long trailer are very different from the skills needed to create a great two-hour long movie. One of the things that works in trailers that doesn’t work in movies is the overuse of classic songs. Trailers don’t have a lot of time to set tone, so using classic songs as shortcuts makes sense. Using over a dozen of them in the movie itself is just lazy. For example, when Amanda Waller is introduced, “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones is playing. Calling that song choice cliché is understating it and this ham-fisted choice in music happens over and over and over again. Another symptom of this is the opening vignettes. Sure, some of these, like the Deadshot intro, are cool, but they give the audience too much information without giving this information to the other characters. The characters learn almost nothing about each other, so they don’t really bond ... for the most part. More on that down below. As a result, the second act of the movie is just the main characters walking, fighting and then walking some more. This would have been a perfect time for them to tell each other war stories so they could bond, but there’s very little they could tell each other that the audience wasn’t already told. Any momentum the film had up to that point is killed and it never really recovers.

Another problem all three films have is something I call plot induced personality changes. Deadshot and the others decide they will wait till a battle happens and kill Rick Flag and Katana and escape. ... Did they forget about the bombs? Moments later, Deadshot is telling the others to save Rick Flag, or they will be killed. Was there a scene in-between that was cut from the movie? Also, in the end, The Enchantress uses her power to try to entice the characters with perfect lives and for Deadshot it is killing Batman, not being a father to Zoe. His entire motivation was to be with his daughter, but his greatest wish was to kill Batman? This could work, if they addressed this conflict, but they don’t.

There are also serious problems within the universe of the movie. Amanda Waller wants to put together the Suicide Squad in order to fight the next Superman, if the next Superman is a bad guy. So she chooses... these people? Granted, The Enchantress might be able to do something to Superman, because Superman has a weakness to magic. Sort of. He has no inherent defense against magic, unlike so many other things, so relatively speaking, he has a “weakness” to magic. El Diablo is a pyrokenetic, which would be useful in a fight with most people, even most metahumans, so his inclusion makes sense. Killer Croc is big and strong, but he’s not superhumanly strong, at least we didn’t see much evidence for that in the movie. The others are not even metahumans and from a story point of view, many of them add nothing to the movie. At least Deadshot and Harley Quinn have backstories we learn about. Captain Boomerang is completely useless in this movie. He uses one trick boomerang during the entire movie and that wasn’t even an important scene. Introducing Slipknot only to kill him less than 9 minutes later was hack writing. Another in universe problem was the main mission, which had the Suicide Squad cleaning up the mess the creation of the Suicide Squad caused. This could have been an interesting plot point, but it is barely mentioned until the scene in the end credits.

I already mentioned that Jared Leto’s version of The Joker is the worst villain in the D.C. Extended Universe; however, The Enchantress isn’t a good villain either. I’m not blaming Cara Delevingne on this one, because this is likely an issue with direction, but the way she moved didn’t look like villainy. It looked silly. Granted, magic can be hard to do on screen. The magic duel between Gandalf and Saruman isn’t cinematic and too often “magic” is just characters doing funny hand gestures while special effects happen. It can the done well, but it doesn’t work in this movie. For that matter, her disposable henchmen also looked really silly as well. We are talking about Power Rangers-level silly. Boring would have been much better. It is hard to be wrapped up in the story when the main villain isn’t engaging. You need really compelling heroes to make up for a lackluster villain and we didn’t have that here. Oh and that ending with Rick Flag explaining The Enchantress’s weakness, it is even worse than the Martha scene from Batman v Superman. It is clear the filmmakers had no faith in the intelligence of their audience.

That’s not to say there are no good parts in the movie. Will Smith is good as Deadshot and has some of the best scenes in the movie, his intro, him showing off at the shooting range, him going all out in the first fight, etc. Margot Robbie is great as Harley Quinn, but too many of her scenes are with Jared Leto. Her fight scene in the elevator is arguably the best action scene in the movie. On a side note, she had to train in acrobatics to do that fight scene, which is a lot more impressive than anything Jared Leto did to get into his role. The best scene in the movie is the scene in the bar when the group is at the lowest point. We finally got the bonding the team so badly needed and we did it by learning El Diablo’s backstory and why he really surrendered. Hey, look at that. Giving the characters the same information at the same time as the audience gets it pays off. Finally, Viola Davis is great as Amanda Waller, even if the character of Amanda Waller is a mixed bag. She was cartoonishly evil at times. You would think one of the people she has screwed over would have killed her and made it look like an accident.

The Extras

I don’t have the DVD or Blu-ray, so I don’t know what the extras are. I did watch both the theatrical version and the extended version, because there was some confusion with my group of moron friends who was supposed to buy the VOD copy. The extended version is worse. Nearly all of the additional footage is with The Joker and every time he is on screen, the movie just sucks.

The Verdict

Suicide Squad is as bad as its Tomatometer Score. It’s not worth buying on DVD, Blu-ray, etc. it is not even worth renting. If you are interested in the Suicide Squad as a concept, buy Batman: Assault on Arkham on DVD instead. It’s certainly a much better adaptation of the Suicide Squad comics.

That said, I am still looking forward to the Wonder Woman solo movie and I could see myself watching a Deadshot solo movie, or a Harley Quinn solo movie. (Or better yet, a Harley Quinn / Poison Ivy / Green Arrow movie.) There have been changes at the top, so perhaps the D.C. Extended Universe can still be saved, but they are rapidly running out of time.

Filed under: Video Review, Suicide Squad, DC Extended Universe, Dark Knight Trilogy, Will Smith, Ian McKellen, Ben Affleck, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Adam Beach, Henry Cavill, Viola Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Jay Hernandez, Christopher Lee, Jared Leto, Michael Shannon, Ezra Miller, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon, Karen Fukuhara, Alain Chanoine