SUICIDE WATCH

EVEN A STRONG PERFORMNCE BY WILL SMITH CAN’T SAVE THE UNINSPIRING MESS THAT IS SUICIDE SQUAD

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, David Harbour, Jai Courtney, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevigne Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman

Rated: PG

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 3 Mins.

To say that DC and Warner Bros. have a lot riding on Suicide Squad would be a gross understatement. Not only do they need the villain mash-up to bring in a king’s ransom at the box office, but they also need it to repair the damage done to their brand by the poor fan and critical response to last March’s Batman Vs. Superman. And while Suicide Squad will probably make a lot of money (during its first weekend, at least), it will most likely be a mixed bag as far as restoring the faith of a disillusioned and disappointed fan base.

Under the manipulative eye of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the United States government has assembled a covert team of incarcerated super criminals to face meta-human threats above the pay grade of the conventional military. Lead by Waller’s hand picked special forces operative Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), criminals Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtenay), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and others are recruited with one simple understanding; success is rewarded with reduced sentences while failure or disobedience results in death.

The team is thrown into action after one of its potential members (the Enchantress, played by Cara Delevigne) escapes Waller’s clutches and takes an entire city hostage. Enchantress has grander designs and the entire planet soon finds itself in her vengeful crosshairs. Just to complicate things for the newly formed Suicide Squad further, the Joker is coming for his beloved Harley Quinn. And not even an extra-dimensional sorceress and her army of demons will stand in his way.

I wanted to enjoy this movie. I really, really did. I needed it to cleanse the sour taste BvS left on my pallet months ago. But this was easily one of the most boring action movies I’ve ever seen.

While most of the promotion for the film focused on Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot as an anti-hero in villain’s clothing was the strongest performance in the film (giving Smith his own stand alone movie might not be the worst idea in the world). Ben Affleck makes a few cameos as Batman that are effectively used to set up origin stories and seeing Smith and Affleck’s Dark Knight share a scene will give you geek shivers. Viola Davis does severe justice to Waller, a no-nonsense, ball-busting force of authority that never backs down. Leto’s Joker is entertaining but isn’t the acting tour de force that we’ve been sold and lacks the depth that Ledger brought to the character years ago.

But for every strong performance, there’s a turn that misses the mark. While Robbie has her moments as Harley Quinn, she has just as many moments where she seems lost or the film doesn’t know what to do with her. Squad goes out of its way to identify her as its comedic conscience early, and while a fair chunk of her jokes land, just as many don’t. Kinnaman is tragically miscast as Flagg because as hard as he tries, he just can’t match Smith’s screen presence or natural charisma. His inability to hold his own against Smith undermines the tension the movie tries so hard to establish between the two characters.

Suicide Squad’s pacing is as chaotic as it is inconsistent, a result of extensive reshoots and unprecedented editing (half the scenes and zippy one liners from the first trailer didn’t even make it into the final film). The plot synopsis at the top of this review is pretty much the entire story and the movie almost trips over itself trying to get the plot out of the way as soon (and as simple) as possible. Like everything else, the movie invests little effort in developing or establishing the villain. Technically Enchantress and her plan threaten the entire world, yet the stakes don’t feel that high. Despite the global threat, Suicide Squad unfolds on a much smaller scale than Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier. Squad would have worked far better if the threat had been smaller or more contained.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the action. Or more accurately, the lack of action. For a super hero action movie, there isn’t a lot of it. Most of what it does have is predictable, stale and boring. There are a few beats during the climax that are almost captivating, but otherwise nothing in this movie is going to push your pulse any faster. There are a few chuckles but no moments of genuine humour, despite a number of serious attempts. Suicide Squad is a joyless exercise in how not to make a successful super hero movie and it lacks anything resembling intensity. When its at its very best its still only mediocre and never memorable.

How much of this is director David Ayer’s fault and how much is the result of reshoots ordered and shoehorned in following the embarrassing reaction to BvS earlier in the year remains to be seen. We may not know until the DVD release, but there were two very different visions of this movie; Ayers’ darker tone and the studio’s lighter one. Having the two of them forced together obscures the best part of both while letting their worst parts shine through.

It looks like the task of salvaging DC’s movie universe falls on the shoulders of Wonder Woman, which is already generating serious buzz a year before its release. Can the Amazon Princess succeed where Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman and now Suicide Squad have failed? After this summer Warner Bros better have its fingers-and everything else-crossed that she can.

Shayne Kempton