“Suicide Squad” saunters, then stumbles, but finishes nonetheless

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Suicide Squad is not a bad movie — not nearly as bad as some would like you to believe. That said, it is by no means a great one, which might feel like just as much of an injustice considering the incessant buzz that has been plastered all over pop culture sites and blogs in recent months.

Taking place shortly after the events that saw Superman makes his loud and destructive entrance onto Earth’s stage, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) realizes that if another, not-so-nice Superman decides to take refuge on our planet, the consequences could be dire. This message is floated in the trailer by a scenario describing nega-Superman ripping off the roof of the White House and plucking the president right out of the oval office. It is strong rhetoric, and it primes Waller, a high-ranking government official, to describe her plan of assembling a squadron of powerful villains, criminals, and downright evil-doers in order to combat this potential threat. No timid suit could pull this off, and Davis plays Waller with sinister aplomb. No one wants to get in her way for fear she might end them.

No time is wasted in rolling out these baddies. It’s a sequence that would not be out of place in a boxing match’s tale of the tape. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a guns and ammo wizard who only misses if and when he wants to. The deranged Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has no apparent powers except for gleeful insanity and a baseball slugger’s swing. Less focus is given to members El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). Of the three, El Diablo’s backstory is the most satisfying as it reveals itself through flashbacks. Slipknot (Adam Beach) is an afterthought, and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) figures into the conflict more so than anticipated.

Said conflict stumbles from the moment the squad touches down in Midway City to do battle against aggressive dark blobs each resembling a human figure. These things do not bleed, so when one gets the top half of its head sliced off, only chunks of darkened matter spray across the screen. It is a conscious move to up the carnage but temper the MPAA’s sensitivities. Larger scenes of destruction could be copied and pasted from any other movie from Suicide Squad’s ilk. Men panic in the situation room as precious government property is zapped away. The combat suffices thanks to Deadshot’s quick and concise gunplay, and the thunks of Quinn’s bat are satisfying, but the scenes grow redundant quickly.

Where Suicide Squad does excel is the manic energy of its characters, an aspect that could be argued as the movie’s most important trait. The plot, however thinly written, is inconsequential. The building of Deadshot and Quinn is not. Smith is measured as the ultra-effective hit man for hire, and Robbie takes delight in the psychopath role, though the character is overly sexualized one too many times. The others, Croc and Boomerang in particular, elicit the occasional chortle. This cannot be said of the movie’s soundtrack, a smorgasbord of hits from then and now that have no business being in the same movie. When the congas of “Sympathy for the Devil” start up immediately after Quinn flashes back to a jarring torture scene where she is the victim, it does not play well. Nor does Eminem’s “Without Me” when the squad gears up for battle.

Jared Leto‘s Joker is also in this movie, but the character is superfluous. That is not to say Leto’s portrayal is bad — far from it. But he, like so much else in this movie, is secondary. It sums up much of the hanging threads, inconsistent tones and half-baked ideas that end up crowding a fun but unrewarding movie.

Suicide Squad, which has been slowly, achingly teased for what feels like an eternity, is rightly considered to be DC’s response to the antihero standard Guardians of the Galaxy. It might seem unfair to compare the two films, but the superhero boom has made it impossible not to do so, to the point where the rival production companies, Marvel and DC, are akin to the butting parties of Donkeys and Elephants. Whether your barometer is a poll or a critic, it is not hard to imagine which studio belongs where.

Many were hoping Suicide Squad would end its marketing marathon in triumph, fists held high. It finishes alright, but crosses the line with a limp and a wheeze.

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