What kind of movies end up being summer blockbusters at the box office? And what are the ingredients for a summer blockbuster? Nine times out of ten, it is usually a movie from the action/adventure/super hero genre chuck full with big CGI set pieces, mind-numbing and adrenaline spiking action/stunt sequences, basic but smartly written script liberally sprinkled with catchy one-liners, a protagonist/bad guy that embodies badassery, a killer soundtrack and a production budget that rivals the annual budget of a small impoverished third world country.
These were the ingredients writer/director, David Ayer, had to work with in the highly anticipated Suicide Squad starring an ensemble cast (a new ingredient favoured by post-millennium blockbusters). In keeping with the bad reviews that have attended releases from DC’s Cinematic Universe, critics have panned Suicide Squad but is it really as bad as they claim?
Can a movie be really that bad that starts off its opening scene set to the hauntingly brilliant strains of The Animal’s hit song “The House of the Rising Sun”? As with previous ensemble cast summer blockbusters like Armageddon, Con Air and the X-men and Ocean eleven franchises, Suicide Squad spends a large chunk of its opening scenes treating the viewer to an introductory/explanatory song-coded vignettes of its ensemble cast intermittently voiced over by the inimitable Viola Davis.
The range of songs used in the movie suggested a deliberate attempt to replicate the soundtrack magic in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. There were acts as diverse both in theme, era and genre as the Rolling Stones, Credence Clearwater Revival, Kanye West, AC/DC, Etta James, Queen, Eminem, Avril Levigne, Black Sabbath and the White Stripes.
The vignettes were splendidly done and deftly spliced together with a pizzazz and badassery reminiscent of the video promos heralding a WWE or UFC pay per view event. The vignettes proclaim the movie’s anti-heroes as the scum of the earth, and in true summer blockbuster tradition, they are, ironically, earth’s best chance at countering the machinations/attacks of the scum of the not-earth. The vignettes succeed in heightening your expectations but somehow don’t quite succeed in sustaining it. When you expect full on badassery from the anti-heroes, you get a dampening restraint or an inexplicable cop out to popular culture that whittles down their badass credibility. Pyrotechnic ex-gang member, El Diablo suddenly has an attack of conscience in the thick of battle and savage reptilian mutant, Killer Croc has a soft spot for BET and walks with pant-sagging swag. Come on!
With the notable exception of Marvel’s cinematic releases, very few movies can successfully pull off an ensemble cast. In Suicide Squad, there are nine anti-heroes but very few made lasting impressions. The best of the lot was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Think bubble gum-chewing, pony-tail haired cheerleader type mixed with acid-tripping and baseball bat-swinging psychotic villainy type. Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the life blood of Suicide Squad. Her acid-bleached complexion literally lit up the screen each time she was on.
Will Smith as hired assassin, Deadshot, was not as annoying as I find him in most of his films. For me, his lead man status was overshadowed by Robbie’s psychotic coquettishness and Joel Kinnaman’s ramrod lead man presence. Jared Leto managed to bring to live the most memorable performance of The Joker splashed with a tinge of Jim Carrey’s The Riddler since Heath Ledger’s inimitable performance in The Dark Knight. While Ledger’s The Joker came across as natural-born psychotic, Leto’s seemed more drug-fuelled psychotic. Unfortunately, the limited screen time for Leto’s The Joker made him more of a bit player which was less than was deserving of the performance he put up.
Nigerian-born Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc was not the only thing buried in scaly prosthetic, his entire performance was buried as a joke with that BET quip and off-putting swag walk that came across more as an attempt to get cheap laughs from the audience from a movie that seemed lost on what to do with the heightened expectations it had provoked in its first half.
Just as Suicide Squad under delivered in terms of memorability of its protagonists (despite having an ensemble cast), it under delivered in terms of its antagonists. Its lead antagonist, the Enchantress is as memorable as an ancient Mayan curse buried deep under the ruins of a Mayan pyramid. She spent the better part of the movie stationary in one spot conjuring lightening and swaying her hips apparently to a playback of Shakira’s “Hips don’t lie” that seemed stuck on repeat and audible only to her ears. Her brother who bore a striking resemblance to The Destroyer in the first Thor movie was just as unmemorable as his sister.
Was Suicide Squad as bad as the critics say? I don’t think so. As a stand alone movie, it was okay albeit its first half promised more than what its second half was able to deliver. However, as an installment from DC’s cinematic universe, it is a disappointment especially given the universal panning that attended the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier in the year.
It does not bode well for the next releases from DC’s cinematic universe if the first 3 releases are perceived in negative critical light. But I still insist Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice were good. The former gave a really impressive Superman in Henry Cavill (not to forget; the coolest superman suit too) and the latter; the best Batman ever in Ben Affleck.
Thankfully, Gal Gadot’s impressive Wonder Woman in Dawn of Justice and Jason Momoa…well, he was Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, for pete’s sake!, are enough reasons to await with baited breath the next releases from DC’s cinematic universe.
A post-credit scene advances the story line towards an eventual Justice League release. But I would not recommend a Suicide Squad sequel. Given the current negative reviews, that just might end up a cinematic suicide for DC’s cinematic universe.