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Suicide Squad Movie Review

Suicide Squad (2016) movie poster Suicide Squad

Theatrical Release: August 5, 2016 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith (Deadshot/Floyd Lawton), Jared Leto (The Joker), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jai Courtney (Boomerang/Digger Harkness), Jay Hernandez (El Diablo/Chato Santana), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc/Waylon Jones), Ike Barinholtz (Griggs), Scott Eastwood (Lieutenant GQ Edwards), Cara Delevingne (June Moone/Enchantress), David Harbour (Dexter Tolliver), Jim Parrack (Frost), Karen Fukuhara (Katana), Common (Monster T), Adam Beach (Slipknot/Christopher Weiss), Shailyn Pierre-Dixon (Zoe Lawton), Corina Calderon (Grace - Diablo's Wife), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman - uncredited)

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DC Comics has understandably modeled their film output after the popular and lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. The upcoming Justice League will obviously be DC's answer to The Avengers. Suicide Squad, meanwhile, is DC's Guardians of the Galaxy. Like that beloved offbeat 2014 space comedy,
Suicide Squad centers on a ragtag team of misfits assembled to save the world.

While the Guardians were virtually unknown even to many comic book fans prior to the movie, the Suicide Squad includes some characters with whom DC aficionados are familiar. Still, the movie opens with an exposition-heavy introduction to the villains who here function as antiheroes. No-nonsense government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) briefs a colleague and, by extension, us on these personalities who for the most part have never before portrayed in live-action film.

There is the sharp-shooting hitman Floyd Lawton (a bald and bearded Will Smith, regaining his movie star swagger), alias Deadshot, whose vulnerability is an 11-year-old honor student daughter. There is prison therapist turned wildcard Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). There are also the flammable, face-tattooed El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Australian hooligan Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and the monstrous underground dweller Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

The Suicide Squad, from left to right: El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

The film takes what feels like nearly a half-hour acclimating us to these do-badders, all of whom are currently imprisoned and being taunted by guards. Waller's plan is to enlist these deadly convicts to do some bidding for the greater good. She appoints soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to oversee this task force, which has to overcome some healthy skepticism to clear government red tape. Selling Waller's fellow lawmakers on this top-secret project is an appearance by Flag's girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevingne), who transforms into the body-possessing witch Enchantress, whose heart Waller controls.

With that and some convincing these convicts to play ball, these locked-up bad guys and girls are conditionally set free, getting their necks implanted with a rice grain-sized explosive that is one smartphone swipe away from being detonated. With Flag keeping their mission largely secret even from them, the Suicide Squad uses their powers and expertise to stand up to some easily overpowered otherworldly forces.

The coolly-received Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was essentially the first movie released since what is being called the DC Extended Universe was established. That film, Zack Snyder's unconventional follow-up to his 2013 Man of Steel, was primed as something of a cornerstone to what is envisioned as a franchise that will develop in over a dozen films over the next four years. To many, Batman v Superman was a disappointment and one that demonstrated that DC had a long way to go before emulating Marvel's success at cinematic universing.

Government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) pitches the dubious plan to use convicts for good in "Suicide Squad."

Suicide Squad is a huge step in the right direction. Patterning itself after arguably the best film in the Marvel canon, this succeeds on original characters and a compelling story. There isn't the excess of action that has bogged down Snyder's films. There isn't the familiarity of a one-hero origin story that has become boilerplate. The movie does not reach the lofty heights of Guardians, but it approaches them.

It is not without some issues. That opening act is easy to criticize, but far preferable in my view to giving each of these characters their own origin movie. And though that feels like a sloppy way to introduce new characters, the film pulls it off buoyantly.

The film, particularly in its early sequences, is aided by the prominent use of music, pulling another page out of the Guardians playbook. While it initially opts for the same classic rock vein as its model
(The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun", The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil"), it evolves to include everything from Eminem's "Without Me" to K7's "Come Baby Come", eventually tapping Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" near its conclusion. (It manages to overlap only one track with Guardians: Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky.")

This is a film with far more color and personality than Snyder's broody two antecedents. The man to thank for that is director and lone writer David Ayer, who enters the fray with no prior superhero movies to his name. Ayer, whose career began at the start of the millennium with screenplay credits for U-571 and the original The Fast and the Furious, has evolved into a respected filmmaker as writer-director of End of Watch and Fury. Sometimes, it just takes a fresh set of eyes to make a difference and Ayer has those, relieving the oft-maligned Snyder from directing duties and David S. Goyer, whose screenplays haven't been highly praised since The Dark Knight, from writing ones.

Oscar winner Jared Leto is the latest to put his stamp on The Joker. The vexing Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is designed to be a fan favorite.

Suicide never finds the effortless comfort zone of James Gunn and Nicole Perlman's Guardians script,
but it has a good amount of wit to it, even if certain lines might elicit groans. As the clashing alpha males, Smith and Kinnaman give the film its best performances and greatest dramatic heft. Davis is potent in a role that might be likened to Nick Fury. Robbie, kind of positioned to be a breakout star, treads a fine line between annoying and endearing, quite knowingly with her Wolf of Wall Street accent back in action and more grating than ever.

Counting a scene that plays in the middle of the end credits, Ben Affleck makes three brief appearances as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It's clearly not his movie, although the universe-building efforts are easier to swallow than the whole computer tease videos of Batman v Superman. The Flash (Ezra Miller) also makes a cameo, while others appear in dossier photograph form. Marvel must be flattered and a bit amused to see DC still getting the hang of this whole cinematic universe thing.

I am obligated to at some point mention the Joker. Oscar winner Jared Leto steps into the iconic role previously filled by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and, of course, Heath Ledger. Leto's characterization is one of the movie's big draws, but in fact it's a surprisingly peripheral performance despite Leto's second billing. His smile-handed psycho naturally makes a big impression in limited screentime, as the menace who turns Harley Quinn crazy and keeps texting her throughout her night of activities with the Suicide Squad. There is no doubt we'll be seeing more of this Joker and this film has enough going on that we hardly mind his minimal presence.

Suicide Squad is better than advertised and better than you fear after Batman v Superman and the fallout that prompted nervous reshoots. It's an entertaining ride from start to finish, with a diverse and colorful cast of rogues you enjoy tagging along with. Whether or not critics dig it (early reviews indicate they absolutely won't), I think the public should find this last big movie of Summer '16 to be a thoroughly enjoyable diversion.

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Jason Bourne The Legend of Tarzan Ghostbusters Lights Out
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Guardians of the Galaxy The Dark Knight Rises
Will Smith: Hancock Focus Men in Black | Margot Robbie: The Wolf of Wall Street | Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club
Joel Kinnaman: The Killing: Season One Run All Night | Viola Davis: Doubt The Help Beautiful Creatures
Jai Courtney: Terminator Genesis Divergent | Ike Barinholtz: Sisters | Directed by David Ayer: Fury

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Reviewed August 5, 2016.

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