Suicide Squad serves up bullets and ambiguity

Movie | Box office record-breaker starts with a promising premise that doesn’t pan out
by Bob Brown
Posted 8/09/16, 04:30 pm

Suicide Squad, based on a DC Comics strip by the same name, shattered the box office record for an August film opening over the weekend. Evidently company loves misery: The new fantasy-action thriller indulges the modern urge to view hailstorms of bullets puncturing a fog of moral ambiguity. In his Confessions, Augustine called this sort of vicarious thrill “a miserable madness.”

High-ranking intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) hires Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to manage a motley crew of “meta-human” arch-villains to defend the United States. Flag controls the formerly incarcerated killers—assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), pyromaniac El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), murderous former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and several others—with explosives implanted in their necks. In case of mutiny, he can detonate them with a smartphone app (of course).

Flag and his Suicide Squad, the name they take in light of the seemingly impossible mission before them, must defeat two ancient demons wreaking havoc in Midway City.

The premise might remind some viewers of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, in which FBI agent Clarice Starling coaxes jailed psychopathic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter to help catch a serial killer. The difference between the films comes in the portrayal of right and wrong. The winner of the “big five” Academy Awards establishes Starling as the principled law enforcement officer and Lecter as the embodiment of pure evil, helping Starling only from selfish motives.

Suicide Squad, on the other hand, reflects our culture’s increasing hostility toward authority and desperation to assign victimhood status to the most reprehensible individuals. Fuller, Flag, and other authority figures act from impure motives and hide dirty secrets, while the film presents a variety of excuses to mitigate the enlisted villains’ ultraviolence. Deadshot, for example, unapologetic for wealth accumulated from untold numbers of contract killings, still garners sympathy by his tender affection for his 11-year-old daughter (with whom he doesn’t even live).

Suicide Squad (rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content, and language) has plenty for the eyes to feast on but little for audience members to sink their teeth into. Just when you think the film has finished introducing the characters, two more—a Japanese she-samurai and an Australian boomerang expert—join the squad. The drawn-out roll call seems to take longer than the parade of nations at the Olympics’ opening ceremony. The romantic angles lack appeal, humor rarely comes through, and the glut of villains dilutes opportunities to invest in any of them. In short, the film’s modestly interesting set-up doesn’t pan out, and Suicide Squad settles into an average superhero shoot-em-up.

Bob Brown

Bob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course.

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