The Last Jedi is a Messy Masterpiece
It’s the second week in August, which means the most lackluster summer movie season in recent memory has finally come to a close, and with it comes the arrival of one of the year’s most surprisingly anticipated movies: DC’s Suicide Squad. “Surprising” may seem an odd term to describe the hype around a summer superhero movie, but Suicide Squad stands somewhat apart from the rest of this year’s comic-book fare by featuring as it’s protagonists a group of incarcerated super villains forced to team up to do good. The end-result is a surprisingly bleak, confusing, and muddled mess that’s only marginally more enjoyable than the last DC antihero blockbuster, Batman v Superman.
If you’ve paid any attention to the movie’s marketing campaign, which is difficult to ignore if you tend to visit geek blogs, frequent Hot Topic or watch television, the premise should be fairly clear: when a several-thousand-year-old witch called the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) threatens to destroy a major city, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a task force of the six deadliest (and most marketable) incarcerated citizens she can find, her reasoning being that they’re more talented, easier to control and far more expendable than your average soldier. The deal is: they extradite important personnel and information from the disaster zone, and in return they’ll get a shorter prison term and maybe some perks. They fail, or try to run, they die via explosive neck implant.
Among the team is expert assassin and divorced father Deadshot (Will Smith, appearing here instead of Independence Day: Resurgence), murderous reptilian hominid Killer Croc (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje), Aussie bank thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), flame throwing reformed gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and some guy named Slipknot (Adam Beach) who has no backstory. Leading them is the hapless Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman).
And then there’s Harley.
Yes, the film is notable for finally bringing one of Batman’s most infamous villains to the big screen in the form of fan-favorite Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. She’s brought to manic life by Robbie, but unfortunately doesn’t have as much to do as she should. In fact, considering her superpowers as depicted in the film seem to come out to “has baseball bat”, “can fight really well” and “will travel”, one may question why she’s even there, which is troubling, as her character is among the movie’s biggest draws. The same can be said (and to be fair, already has been said) of her beau, the Joker, played here in an equally hyped, but far more disappointing, performance by Jared Leto.
In fact, that’s a problem with most of the titular Squad; they don’t actually talk among themselves a whole lot. Most of the character development occurs between Deadshot and Flagg. Their relationship, one of jailer and inmate forced to begrudgingly watch each other’s backs, is fine, but I don’t think it’s what the filmmakers intended, or the fans wanted, to be the focus. This is upsetting, because the first half hour goes to painstaking lengths to show us how interesting the rest of the group is, and it mostly works. I like the faces Agbaje makes while in that fantastic Killer Croc makeup, I like Captain Boomerang and I think it’s nice to have a female villain onscreen (or two, or three) for once. Come to think of it, only two of the film’s main characters are white men, which is downright refreshing for a major summer tentpole. One also gets the impression that Robbie and Davis as Harley and Waller, respectively, have the potential to be something out of casting heaven. Diablo, as the one member of the group (hell, the whole cast) who seems actually repentant for the things he’s done, is an especially intriguing character. He’s pretty far from the first “firebender” we’ve seen in a superhero movie, but he does things with his flame that seem truly inspired.
The movie shines when it strives to be different. These are genuinely bad people we’re asked to follow, not cartoonish felons with hearts of gold (one character doesn’t have a heart in the fist place), and while that’s an intriguing twist, the movie isn’t terribly interested, or capable, in getting us to root for them, or showing them working together or having them do anything interesting once the plot kicks off. Instead, we get hit over the head with boring, incomprehensible, dimly lit action scenes featuring the stars beating up faceless (literally) zombies. There’s a Japanese warrior named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who’s so completely pointless to the story, I forgot to mention her until just now. Jared Leto’s Joker occasionally interrupts the monotony, but even he’s pretty underwhelming in the role. He’s a solid actor, but with the persisting rumor that most of his work was left on the cutting room floor, and the shadow of the last actor to play the role still looming over him, it’s pretty clear he should have been introduced in a later movie. That, or he should have been the main villain, instead of Enchantress, who has the same plan as almost every other super villain these days; to shoot a giant laser into the sky and destroy the world for no real reason.
Ultimately, Suicide Squad’s biggest misstep is in ignoring it’s principal cast. The Squad is, for the most part, only really there to shout awkward one-liners and engage in even more awkward fight scenes, with each scene leading to the next in only the most tangential ways. There’s promise here, even potential, but one gets the impression there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen, too much input from focus groups or studio executives and too many characters who don’t belong in the movie, taking precious screen time away from characters who do. It has it’s defenders, it’s already proven to be a box office hit (a fact which may owe less to its quality and more the fact that its style embraces a somewhat countercultural edge) and it’s more fun to watch than Batman v Superman, but it’s ultimately just not terribly worth the trouble.