“Deadpool” may have raised the bar far too high for the comic-book-turned-film genre. It was fresh, innovative, irreverent, demented, unpredictable, visually alluring, well-acted, written, directed and produced. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” flew in its shadow. And now the much-hyped “Suicide Squad” falls short, too.
The task of bringing this DC Entertainment comic book story to life is on the shoulders of writer/director David Ayer. Within the first 15 minutes, it’s obvious that something is off. The film doesn’t start with a killer action scene that draws you in. It gets stuck in a dull parade of flashback backstories for each of the characters.
As the action scenes do come into view, none are well-shot, choreographed or out-of-this-world sci-fi crazy. Ayer wrote the script for “Training Day.” He directed (in a compelling documentary style) and wrote (with engagingly grim realism) the cool police/crime/drama/thriller “End of Watch” (starring Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal). Nothing on his resume screams, “I know how to make a fantasy adventure film.”
The footage seems cheesy and low budget. Too many shots have a brownish hue. The cinematography (Roman Vasyanov, “End of Watch”) looks like someone put dirty Scotch tape over the camera lens. The interior sets and street or back alley scenes (Oliver Scholl production designer; Beauchamp Fontaine and Shane Vieau, set decorators) appear fake, and not in a stylish-really-intended-to-do-this way. The entire production looks like it was filmed in a studio or a back lot.
Hard to believe that Steven Price, Oscar-winner for the beautifully scored “Gravity” is responsible for the background music that sounds like it’s from the Macy’s Day Parade. The pacing and editing are tolerable (John Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”) and neither help or hinder.
U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who runs a clandestine ops group called the Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans (A.R.G.U.S.), is trying to lead the charge against an alien superpower that is threatening her city and the world. Her strategy is to fight evil with evil by enlisting the aid of hardcore super villains who are languishing in the Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary and desperate for freedom. “I’ve finally got the worst of the worst,” Waller says. She dubs them “Meta-Humans.”
She assigns military commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, “Robocop”) to lead the mission. He brings a Samurai warrior woman named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) along.
The criminals who will form the A-Team militia are: Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin in solitary confinement who was captured and arrested by none other than Batman (Ben Affleck version and seeing him is a buzzkill). Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, “The Legend of Tarzan, “Focus”) was once a psychiatrist who had a very famous patient, The Joker (Jared Leto). She let the fiend get the better of her and she now has amazing agility, fighting powers and a bad girl attitude.
Slipknot (Adam Beach, “Flags of Our Fathers”) is a master escape artist. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, “Divergent”) is a buffed and muscular Aussie robber. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, “Pompeii”) is a beast with an amphibians’ face. The group is rounded out by the very enigmatic and troubled Diablo (Jay Hernandez, Bad Moms) a fire starter.
Complicating matters, as the soldiers and the coerced criminals hunt the evildoers, is Flag’s love affair with a Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne, “Pan”). His paramour has been possessed by a witch named Enchantress, an ancient goddess who is in cahoots with the enemy. In a piece of tacky, over-obvious dialogue, Flag pines, “The only woman I cared about is trapped inside that witch.” First: the audience can see that, you don’t have to tell them. Second: Man up, handle your business, go kick ass and stop whining. Do you think Deadpool would utter a line that belongs in a Hallmark Halloween Card? No!
Unlike the Avengers or X-Men movies, where some moviegoers will be familiar with the heroes or anti-heroes, this film brings a whole new set of characters to the screen that only hardcore DC comic book readers would know. The viewer is forced to meet, greet and hear the history of each, and it’s a lot to ask. What’s even more challenging is that none of the Suicide Squad participants have powers that are all that magical. If they really had a lot of mojo, they wouldn’t spend so much time in long drawn-out and often boring fight scenes. They’d be able to annihilate their adversaries, in seconds.
Though the cast members put their hearts and souls into their performances, none of their portrayals resonate and all have done better jobs in other films or TV shows.
That’s a further reflection on the unimaginative direction and a feeble script that never puts them in the right light or makes their characters worth watching. Given the right material, some in the cast are fully capable of handing in Oscar-worthy performances. They’ve done it before.
As the film grinds to its cataclysmic ending (think Ghostbusters, the new one), and the witch is casting spells and fighting the squad with all the deadliness of a Miss America contestant, the scenes become less plausible, less likable, more preposterous and mundane. It’s enough to drive you crazy with contempt as you think of what might have been. This is a wasted opportunity on so many levels.
Considering this film, the misguided “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” doesn’t look so bad. And that glowing halo that “Deadpool” wears proudly shines brighter every time a pretender like “Suicide Squad” hits the theaters.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.