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'Suicide Squad' Is a Step in the Right Direction for the DC Universe (and That Step Is Harley Quinn)

by John Boone 9:00 AM PDT, August 02, 2016
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

If last month's showing at Comic-Con was the reassurance fans needed that not all DC movies will be as much of a chore as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad is the sigh of relief.

As the DC Cinematic Universe stumbles to find its legs, its latest offering centers on the so-called "Worst. Heroes. Ever." as they team up to do some good. It's much better than Dawn of Justice -- an objective fact, not an opinion -- though not as good as the trailers would lead you to believe. (Real good trailers.)

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Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

In the ever-expanding era of cinematic super-verses, Suicide Squad is not a superhero movie; it's a comic book movie. David Ayer didn't adapt a comic book to the big screen, he brought the panels to life on film. That comes with its upsides -- including one iconic jester costume that seems unbelievable to see onscreen, but there it is -- and its fair share of flaws. (Some quippy one-liners work in print, but don't sound like anything any human being has ever said.)

This approach allows the film to succeed in many of the ways that BvS failed fans: here, the emotional scenes are short and sweet -- keeping the film light on boring bits of melodrama -- and action is aplenty. It's not funny "haha," but it is fun, something lacking as Superman and Batman slugged it out over two…three...four hours? An entire lifetime? How long was that movie?

Even Ben Affleck's take on the Dark Knight -- whose cameos shouldn't come as a spoiler to anyone with an internet connection -- is better here than in his debut outing. That said, Batman -- Batman! -- isn't even close to being the most interesting character in the mix. The movie's stock is in its dynamic, colorful anti-heroes. If I were to rank the skward members, it'd look something like this:

8. Slipknot (who?)
7. Katana (who?)
6. Enchantress (cool!)
5. El Diablo (cooler!)
4. Killer Croc (I want to be his friend)
3. Deadshot (good for Will Smith)
2. Captain Boomerang (he's great)
1. Harley Quinn

The cosplay tributes will all be well-earned. Smith is as charming as he's ever been as assassin Floyd Lawton, and ripped, too! (I appreciated his gratuitous shirtlessness most of all!) Jared Leto's Joker, who will be overanalyzed in think piece upon think piece in the near future, should be seen as a counterpoint to Jesse Eisenberg's misguided take on Lex Luthor -- they're both doing the most, but Leto in a way I can appreciate. And the special effects that make up the witchy Enchantress are wild enough to distract from Cara Delevingne's uneven acting.

Still, the breakout -- which should come as a surprise to exactly no one -- is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a role that will do what The Wolf of Wall Street and The Legend of Tarzan before it weren't quite able to: make her a star. Robbie is utterly captivating from her first moments onscreen and only gets better when she's able to chew scenery in circles around any one of her co-stars. She steals ever scene she is in...'cause she's a bad guy. It's what she does.

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Suicide Squad, like the villains you will love to hate within it, has so much potential, but it's not perfect. It's bizarrely paced, with the first 40 or so minutes introducing the roster and basically serving as the longest montage ever. It's the price to pay for not having a dozen movies to establish them each as foes to some DC hero -- Aquaman versus Killer Croc, Flash versus Captain Boomerang -- before uniting them, Justice League-style. (A good idea for an alternate universe.) Mercifully, Viola Davis does voiceover for nearly that entire portion of the show, and I would listen to her read the phone book.

Once everyone in the task force is present and accounted for, it's pretty much an extended action sequence right through to the end, where things get a little effects-y, as DC films are wont to do. And dammit, if I see one more portal in the sky... This one is almost identical to the portal in the sky in Fant4stic F:-(r, of all the superhero movies to crib. Producers, from now on, when you get a script for this kind of movie, open it about two thirds of the way -- just eyeball it -- and if you see anything mentioning a portal in the sky, you tell that writer, "NOPE. Noooooooo. No, no, no, no, no, no. Not happening. Try again."

Suicide Squad's biggest issue, though, is the trailers that got everyone so excited in the first place. There's the problem every blockbuster released in 2016 faces -- many of the "good parts" in the movie were featured in the trailers, because there were 50 million different trailers and TV spots -- but the movie itself also ends up feeling like a trailer for a really cool movie that's still forthcoming. And as far as trailers go, nothing beats "Bohemian Rhapsody." That was a damn good trailer.

Still, if Suicide Squad is a two-hour preview for...you name it! The reportedly in-the-works Harley Quinn spin-off. Whatever flick inevitably pits Affleck's Batman against Leto's Joker. Wonder Woman and Justice League, for which we have actual trailers -- then the fun really may just be beginning.

Suicide Squad arrives in theaters on Aug. 5.

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