squadBy Ashley Pauls
Box Office Buzz

Although “Captain America: Civil War” and “Star Trek: Beyond” were always the films I was most looking forward to this summer, “Suicide Squad” was my dark horse pick for biggest surprise hit. It had a “Guardians of the Galaxy” vibe: it looked risky, funny, and creative — and in this case, also really, really dark. It may be in the superhero genre, but these characters definitely aren’t “heroes.” “Suicide Squad” promised a round-up of notorious DC Comics villains who are recruited, against their will, to team up and try to save the world without killing each other first (and you thought the Avengers had problems).

The trailers for this film were fantastic, so it came as a great surprise when the reviews started rolling in and they were…terrible. With a painful Rotten Tomatoes score of only 26 percent, critics called the film disappointing, muddled, and choppy. Certainly not the result fans were hoping for. However, I had been really looking forward to this movie, so I went to see it over the weekend anyway. Bottom line? “Suicide Squad” is probably taking more flak than it deserves, and it is by no means a terrible movie. I liked the characters, and I found the film to be entertaining. However, it’s also fair to say that “Suicide Squad” falls far short of its potential. Ultimately, I walked out of the theater feeling a little disappointed, because the film actually had all the ingredients it needed to be great. These ingredients just didn’t gel like they could have — and should have.

A quick summary of the plot: U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) fears for the future of humanity after the rise of powerful beings like Superman who can’t be contained by ordinary force. So, she puts together a team of violent, barely controlled metahumans and bad guys to combat these new threats as they arrive. Because the members of this “suicide squad” can’t be counted on to participate based on a mere sense of altruism, Waller implants them with tiny bombs that will explode if they refuse to cooperate. Although they don’t exactly convert to the light side by the end of the film, they do find a dysfunctional sense of family and acceptance they probably never experienced before.

My favorite part of the film was learning about the characters that make up the Suicide Squad, and I appreciated the film’s effort to humanize these characters while also acknowledging their very serious flaws. Margot Robbie and Will Smith do a lot of the heavy lifting as the Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn and eagle-eye hitman Deadshot, respectively. Deadshot is actually the least “bad” member of this team of villains; his love for his young daughter pulls him towards the light. As Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie is gleefully unhinged; her character is fascinating, heartbreaking, and completely crazy. Her relationship with the Joker is about as unhealthy and damaging as a relationship can be, but he’s twisted her mind too much for her to see that anymore. I think my favorite character, though, was actually El Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez. He’s a former gang member who can conjure fire but refuses to use his power because of the damage it can cause. He’s plagued by guilt and grief for his mistakes in the past, and it’s a surprisingly heartfelt performance.

I’ve heard mixed reactions to Jared Leto’s much-hyped take on the Joker, but I actually really liked it. Heath Ledger from the Dark Knight trilogy is definitely a tough act to follow, but I thought Leto brought something new to the role. His take on the character is the Joker we needed for this film (I can’t really see Ledger’s version romancing Harley Quinn).

The cast and characters are great, and the concept for the film is great — so, what caused this film to stumble? I’ve heard rumors the script was rushed so the project could start on time, and that theory makes a lot of sense as you actually watch the film. It suffers from some of the same problems as “Batman v. Superman” earlier this year; the whole film does seem a bit choppy and muddled, as if it needed more time to truly coalesce (and some better editing). I liked the film’s method of introducing the characters — Amanda Waller whips out a binder and gives you a quick rundown on each team member. However, several characters just seemed awkwardly tacked on (I’m looking at you Katana and Slipknot). I understand that they needed at least one “expendable crewman” to demonstrate that yes, Waller really is sadistic enough to kill a team member who gets out of line. But I feel that ultimately, some of those introductions could have been handled more smoothly. I would have liked to see just a couple more scenes of the Suicide Squad members interacting together before Waller sends them out to face the “big bad”; maybe a training montage or even a mini trial mission would have helped. The film’s villain also feels underdeveloped, and her “evil plan” is oddly reminiscent of “Ghostbusters.”

In short, “Suicide Squad” is an entertaining film that falls short of greatness, which really is a shame because it could have been so much more. In the end, it almost feels a little too safe, which is strange for a film about a team of ragtag villains whose members include Harley Quinn, a man who can set himself on fire, and a mutant who looks like a crocodile. It’s possible the film was held back a little by its PG-13 rating, but I think they still could have done more within these constraints to make this darker, edgier, and funnier. Hopefully the next outing will deploy these fascinating characters a little more successfully.

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