Film Review: Suicide Squad

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

Superhero movies have seemingly become the order of the day in Hollywood, with the vast majority falling far short of expectations. Suicide Squad is the latest, with its rather obvious flipping of the script failing to make a drab movie worth the watch. Will Smith is the only aspect worthy of any praise, according to Christian Tesfaye, a Fortune film reviewer, who awarded the release 3 stars out of 10, while the 1970s music functions to take your mind off the film.

As this tepid blockbuster season comes to an end, it has become obvious that the decade-long love affair between the film watching community and men in tights is here to stay. Nothing homoerotic, I am just referring to the current superhero movie mania. It is true that film audiences have become younger over the decades, but that doesn’t singularly explain the phenomena. The first popular comic book movie, Superman, was well liked, but by the time the film had reached its fourth instalment, the man from Krypton had completely run out of steam. Producers didn’t dare jumpstart another similar franchise for some time. The same doesn’t seem to be happening today – anything connected with the superhero brand is a hit regardless of how repetitive it has become.

Film studio heads are smart, so they know that superhero films are five-a-year-too-many and that this craze can’t last forever. One day, a 200-million-dollar (add a hundred more for marketing) superhero movie will be made and take in a worldwide gross of half that amount. So, recent comic book films seem to possess more original narrative techniques and film plots. Take this year’s R-rated Deadpool for instance, where the protagonist regularly breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience like a newscaster.

Suicide Squad uses a similar tactic in trying to break away from the exhausted superhero storyline by presenting a scenario where the bad guys get to save the world for a change. Aside from this unique concept, the execution, on the other hand, made me look nostalgically back at the good old days when an unwitting young man gets powers, stops a major villain from taking over the world and gets the girl. At least, that way, filmmakers knew what they were doing.

Suicide Squad is set in the DC cinematic universe, where, as we saw in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Superman no longer exists and the world is without a herculean guardian. So, the US government starts a covert operation where the world’s most dangerous felons, who are currently under incarceration, will be used instead. We never find out how Batman, who has gone to all kinds of trouble to put them behind bars, feels about this!

The operation’s mastermind, Amanda Waller (played by the decent Viola Davis), takes inspiration from a long ago deal the US made with the Mafia to protect some of its borders during WWII. So, she believes, villains who killed for money or fun could be persuaded to serve a higher purpose, like stopping other people who kill for money or fun. The whole affair is akin to resurrecting Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden to fight off an alien invasion.

The new heroes making up the Suicide Squad aren’t completely evil, probably as a way of demonstrating why they wouldn’t join the other side. Deadshot (Will Smith) seems more like a man forced to do bad things than one that enjoys it. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) talks and dresses like a sociopath but basically come off as cute. The rest of the squad, who don’t share as much screen time as the two characters, likely because they aren’t played by A-list actors, may be irascible or rude but nowhere near evil. So, for those that come to the cinema looking for a movie with Tony Montana-like grey characters with ambiguous moralities, they will not find it in Suicide Squad.

But literary themes are too much to ask for in a movie that doesn’t get the basic things – like acting or mise en scène – right. Smith gives the only competent performance in this movie, while Robbie grapples with a character that is way out of any average actor’s comfort zone. The villain, or should I say the villain’s villain, is an ancient witch who goes berserk after coming back to life not long ago. She is played by a young actor and model called Cara Delevigne, who in my opinion should give up acting.

And so should Jared Leto. I know, he has recently won an Oscar, but based on his portrayal of the Joker in this movie, it might be taken away from him. Leto did put in the work, reportedly never breaking character throughout filming, but his toil never translates on screen. He was too obvious a choice to play the Joker, and he might have got the job without an audition. The Joker, after having been portrayed feverishly by acting legend Jack Nicholson, and then chillingly in an award winning role by Heath Ledger, is debased here by Leto.

It is hard to identify who is really at fault when so many bad performances abound. The actors that may not be up to the job, the script writer who couldn’t write good material or the director that fails to unite character to actor (or vice versa)? In the case of Suicide Squad, it is all of the above.

But David Ayer, the director, is most at fault. It is hard to believe he could make this bad a movie unintentionally. His career has had ups and downs – he’s made both good and bad movies – but nothing this atrocious. His career started as a writer, where his most liked work is Training Day. At the same time, he also wrote what would become the first movie in the Fast and Furious franchise. As director, his worst movie is at least watchable while his best was the aptly shot End of Watch. Suicide Squad is a gaping blemish on an otherwise promising career.

Every popular song from the 1970’s can be heard in Suicide Squad, and that was why I stayed in the theatre. It would make better sense to play the movie in a nightclub than a movie theatre, because this is no movie. And for once, the teenage audience agrees. At our local theatre Edna Mall, Suicide Squad played to a muted audience that was perhaps calculating how much money they lost (a hundred birr, including popcorn and a soft drink). There were some laughs here and there, but the overall reaction was aloof.

So, is Suicide Squad the worst superhero movie ever? To answer this, we would have to re-examine 2003’s Daredevil and 2015’s Fantastic Four, and that, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Ayer and his crew have made a movie where special effects are king and character and plot are muck. As for the calls of novelty, Suicide Squad is just another superhero movie with a different packaging. Except that this time the packaging sucks and should instantly be tossed away instead of recycled (which is to say, no sequel please).

By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Aug 16,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 850]



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