Suicide Squad reviewed: Very problematic but buoyed by charismatic stars

Live-action DC Comics adaptations seem to be the new Tom Cruise films. In other words, critics can't wait to pummel them with as much vicious prose as possible, regardless of actual merit. For cinemagoers then, it becomes difficult to receive a fair assessment of the film’s quality.

I went into Suicide Squad with as much of an open mind as possible. I refused to believe that the film was worse than Batman v Superman, as many critics were insisting. And it turns out that I was right. It may be leaping a low bar, but heavily flawed Suicide Squad is considerably more entertaining than the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman (my review).

In essence, the film is the Dirty Dozen of superhero films. Assorted villains from the DC universe, including master hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), ferociously crazy ex-psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire-powered gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and feral cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – to name just a few – are forced into running missions for ice cold government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). These bad guys are dispensable but their talents are quite the opposite when it comes to stopping a meta-human threat to civilisation as we know it.

Suicide Squad doesn’t get close to achieving its potential but it’s far from the turkey some critics have made it out to be. It’s more like a limping duck.

Certainly part of the problem is that Suicide Squad feels toothless as a PG-13 movie. For all the villainy onscreen, the worst the characters do is kill a few thugs and loot a department store window. The film’s chief enemy isn’t even human, meaning zero moral hang-ups for the characters or audience as the lackeys are dispensed with.

The Joker, in particular, seems to have been hardest hit by this neutering. Jared Leto looks great in the part, but there is no sense as to why this version of the Clown Prince of Crime is so feared. He does nothing really to earn his reputation. Suicide Squad strains to appear edgy and darkly comic, but it never actually puts its money where its metal-toothed mouth is.

Plot-wise, the film frequently loses its grip on coherence, and it is far too overstuffed with characters. Just when you think you’ve met everyone in the squad, further members are added… with some set to die literally seconds later.

What is most problematic though is that despite having four major female characters, Suicide Squad continues the trend established in Batman v Superman of having women “attached” to male figures. An exception is Amanda Waller, but every other female character in the film has their agency shaped around boyfriends, husbands, fathers and brothers – and typically has one of these of male protectors coming to her rescue at some point.

It’s also worth noting that though the women are admiring of each other (yay for no catty rivalries), they never actually talk to one another. Big Bechdel Test fail.

These are some very big cons of course, but Suicide Squad is not without its positives. I was never bored at the least, and visually striking fan nods and special effects inventiveness should keep viewers engaged to the end of the credits. This is even if, at times, you find yourself prattling off movie titles like Scarface, Thor, Ghostbusters and Queen of the Damned, which all have obvious echoes in the film.

Suicide Squad’s biggest saving grace is the fact that it managed to recruit some very charismatic performers. Will Smith brings the antihero star power as expected, and though the character is given a sexier treatment than usual, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is spot-on. Now if only the abusive nature of the character’s relationship with the Joker was allowed to be shown at its full, distasteful strength, as opposed to its muted, practically romantic form here.

So Suicide Squad is not the disaster that some have made it out to be. However, it is also far from the smart-mouthed, bloody, insolent romp it could have been. Watchable but a far from memorable 6.5 out of 10.

P.S. Try to avoid in pointless 3D.


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