I was thinking…
…a great story, flawless script and even decent acting chops can still be undermined by poor casting choices.
A movie with a mediocre story and a so-so script are somewhat less affected. Thus it is with Suicide Squad.
Be warned: if you have not seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (read the review here), then there will be spoilers forthcoming.
Shortly after the death of Superman, the government is concerned about the mounting rise of meta-humans. One agent, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis—Ender’s Game) finds it a perfect opportunity to push her Task Force X idea, which utilizes meta-human criminals to combat the rising threats in the world while maintaining government deniability.
Led by a decorated soldier, Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman—Robocop), the squad consists of psychotic ex-psychiatrist Harley Quin (Margot Robbie—Wolf of Wall Street), assassin Deadshot (Will Smith—Concussion, I Am Legend), thief Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo and even Flag’s girlfriend, June Moone–archeologist and host to the spirit of an ancient witch called The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne—Pan).
Each member is fitted with a tracker/explosive, which can be set off should they fail to complete their missions or attempt to escape.
Ironically, their first mission is to stop one of their own members, The Enchantress, from opening a portal of doom and becoming–along with her brother–new dark rulers of the world.
Meanwhile, Harley’s love, the Joker (Jared Leto–Fight Club), attempts to free Harley from her captivity. Deadshot, however, tries to angle his way toward being reunited with his young daughter.
Origin movies are usually a challenge. Ensemble origin movies are exponentially more difficult. While Suicide Squad has many flaws, it also has several redeeming qualities, not least of which is its exposition. As each member of the squad is introduced, we are treated to their backstory and get to see–in brief–their motivations, personalities and, in most cases, how they were captured. The editing and pacing keeps the film moving and almost makes one wish there were a few more members of the squad so we could keep watching the sequence.
Producer Zack Snyder’s eye can definitely be seen throughout the film as well, with many scenes, flashbacks and interludes painted with such color and grace, they seem like they were strung and plucked on an instrument capable of producing visual masterpieces on a cinematic canvas.
Humor is also a vital element to the film, especially one with such an otherwise dark story, setting and plot. Robbie’s Harley Quinn carries the vast majority of this burden on her own, with occasional help from her squadmates. Ironically, the ‘funny madman’ himself, the Joker, provides none.
And this is where the casting comes in.
No casting choice was pondered, speculated and commented upon more than that of the Clown Prince of Crime. So memorable and mold-breaking was Heath Ledger’s performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight, it was dubious any choice for the role in Suicide Squad was not going to be met with derision. As images of Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer’s Club) in green hair and gangsta grill began making their way to the internet during production, the fear seemed entirely justified.
Leto’s performance was not in any way not up to his usual snuff, but his portrayal of the man took an entirely new direction I felt was not befitting of this beloved psychopath. Had I been doing a scene with Leto’s Joker, I would have felt far less afraid of being maimed or murdered by him and far more in danger of being sexually molested. He gives off a demented sexual vibe more than that of an unstable, rictus-faced killer. Perhaps that is the type of fear he and the director wished to engender, but the Joker forcing his way into my pants is a fear I can live entirely without, thank you very much.
Without addressing the race change of the Deadshot character, I will, however, address Will Smith’s portrayal of him. Making Deadshot black is a minor alteration I don’t particularly care about one way or the other. Making Deadshot dress and act like John Shaft, on the other hand, is something else.
But I’m talking about Shaft, so I can dig it.
Smith’s attitude is also in perfect line with, um, nearly every other quasi-badass role he’s ever attempted! It is no different than Will Smith in Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, I, Robot and the list goes on and on. The man plays only two notes in his films and one of them is ‘Aww, hell, no!’
When it comes to Killer Croc, a mutant man meant to be in excess of nine feet tall and covered with scales, it becomes evident anyone of grand stature and bulk could have played the part. Why they chose mouthful Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a man of admittedly decent 6’2″ stature, remains a headscratcher. When he doffs his ghetto gangbanger clothes for the first time, we are expecting a hulking monster so intimidating in size, it’s almost laughable to see his bulbous head perched atop a seemingly spindly set of shoulders.
Robbie, admittedly wonderfully cast, does an odd thing by choosing not to speak with Harley’s iconic accent–an accent she has already proven she can do quite well in Wolf of Wall Street. Why she went without it still bugs me. Why her introduction scene in her cell looks like a Sia music video is another thing entirely.
The story elements also suffer greatly, especially as the very threat the Suicide Squad is meant to dissuade is caused by them in the first place. One would think the events in this first movie would be the only reason the government would need to shut down the program permanently. ‘Sorry everybody. Dumb idea. No Suicide Squad 2.’
Which reminds me. There is a moment when Deadshot references the title of the film and the moment is so reminiscent of Craig Robinson’s “Must be some kinda hot tub time machine,” it robs it of any serious motive. I was waiting for Smith to actually break the fourth wall after he said it.
Back to the story. The aforementioned threat is, as a friend of mine pointed out, essentially the same that presented itself in Ghostbusters (the 1984 one. You know, the only one worth mentioning. However, if you feel so inclined, you can read the review of the other one here.) Creepy but oddly sensual supernatural woman wearing nearly nothing? Check. Goal of ruling the world in a new dark age? Check. Portal to demon realm? Check. Atop a tall building in the middle of a big city? Check. Stopped by team of misfits? Check.
While disjointed and disconnected–like a patchwork of varied fabrics sewn together to form a quilt–Suicide Squad is a visually stunning film, peppered liberally with a wonderful selection of songs from the 1970’s that lend it a strangely new flavor–like adding aged cheese to a salad of fresh greens. So, there is the potential for a truly good Suicide Squad sequel on the horizon, should the government not come to its senses before then.
Ammo Dump rating: 6 out of 10 bullets
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Run time: 123 minutes (2 hours 3 minutes)