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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 12:04 am

Suicide Squad executed in half-measures

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.

 

There’s a great deal of potential (most of it wasted) in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, which is Warner Brothers latest effort to get its stable of DC Comics characters on firm cinematic footing. Like most of the post-Christopher Nolan Dark Knight productions, this one is a mixed bag, a film that manages to strike the proper tone while pulling together an interesting group of mostly lesser-known characters from the comic’s canon. The film mostly works during its first hour before falling victim to an ill-conceived villain and a protracted third act that manages to suck most of the fun out of this affair.

Resurrected by John Ostrander in the 1990s, the Suicide Squad was a group of villains thrown together to complete covert missions the government didn’t want to waste their elite forces on. Think The Dirty Dozen composed of second-tier bad guys and you get the idea. The premise is the same here as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), head of the secret division known as ARGUS, proposes such a team to combat any meta-humans who might go rogue. On the roster is master assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), fashionable psychotic Harley Quinn (a pitch perfect Margot Robbie), Aussie jewel thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), vicious mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and fire-manipulator Diablo (Jay Hernandez). They’re joined by an ancient witch, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and sword-wielding samurai Katana (Karen Fukuhara), while the whole crew is led by military specialist Rick Flag (a very weak Joel Kinnaman).

All distinctive characters, Ayer, who also wrote the screenplay, makes the fatal mistake of not providing enough background for all of his main players. Deadshot, Harley and Diablo’s backstories are given adequate screen time but the rest are treated as window dressing. The small level of humanity afforded the central trio at least gives us some inkling as to what makes them tick, putting us firmly in their corner. Had we been given similar context for the rest, Ayer might have been able to deliver the most intriguing group of oddballs since Marvel’s The Avengers. As it is, it feels as though he and the audience are playing with just half a team.

As for the threat this team is brought together to combat, it is an embarrassment of epic proportions, a supernatural villain that seems comical now and will generate unintended laughter for generations to come. Playing like a third-rate menace from an unmade Ghostbusters sequel, this poorly-rendered, laughable villain who happens to be prone to nonsensical actions (why is this all-powerful beast engaging in hand-to-hand combat with our anti-heroes?) has to be seen to be believed. On second thought, it doesn’t. Save your money and your time and just trust me on this one – this is a colossal blunder.

What’s so frustrating is that there are flashes of humor and style in Suicide Squad that point to the sort-of irreverent, anti-superhero movie it strives to be. Ayer’s action sequences are well-executed and exciting, Ben Affleck pops up at the beginning and end, proving he was the proper choice as Batman and during a quiet scene in a bar in which the squad is allowed to play off one another with their personalities clashing to great effect, are all highlights that leave us wanting more. As for Jared Leto’s Joker, the actor puts a distinctive stamp on the pop-culture icon but it’s obvious the character serves little purpose to the story and has been shoehorned in to peak the public’s curiosity. His role, like much of Suicide Squad, is done in half measures, leaving fans of the DC heroes still yearning for a proper cinematic iteration of the characters that, for the most part, have been criminally underutilized.

For reviews of Café Society and Jason Bourne, visit the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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