Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016). As we stand perilously on the cusp of Wonder Woman finally arriving on the big screen (which has, predictably, included the wailing of tiresome males who find excuses to decry everything that doesn’t cleave to the credo “Boyz R Da Greatesssssst!”), it’s perhaps worth remembering the DC has gotten very, very bad at making movies of their superhero properties. Suicide Squad — which is one of the most obscure character groupings that the entertainment goliath-wannabe has thus far repurposed for real live actors — is astonishing in its parade of hideous spectacle. It’s as if director David Ayer looked at the palpitating hash of Zack Snyder’s films featuring Superman and decided they were just too darn coherent and emotionally relatable. The notion of a ragtag group of villains coming together on a doomed mission and becoming kinda-sorta heroes is nifty, and even provides an avenue for sly commentary on the increasingly inescapable superhero genre. Thematic depth is usually a boon to a piece of work, but the filmmakers are having none of that. It’s slash, burn, repeat for two numbing hours. Margot Robbie undeniably has her moments as Harley Quinn, the crazy, sexy, cool member of the troupe, but the film’s perpetual motion machine of aggression even manages to drown out her brimming charisma.
Don’t Breathe (Fede Álvarez, 2016). This horror-thriller has the good sense to pick a lean, simple concept and stick with it. A group of young adults in circumstances of varying desperation rob a home in economically-ravaged Detroit. They choose the dwelling of a blind veteran (Stephen Lang), in large part because they believe he has a major stash of cash, allowing for the perpetual criminal dream of one-last-big-score-and-I’m-out. He proves to be far from a pushover, and the film proceeds to take one bleak turn after another as he fights back against the intruders and they discover the complications in his backstory. The mechanics are sound but the machine rattles, in large part because director Fede Álvarez (who is also credited with co-writing the screenplay) lacks the finesse to cover up the film’s flaws. His approach is too buzzsaw when fine detailing could have transformed the work into something special. Whatever promise the film holds is obscured by the relentless push of the filmmaking.
Rogue One (Gareth Edwards, 2016). And thus the universe expands. For the first attempt at a live-action Star Wars film outside of the main narrative, finding a story that immediately precedes the events of George Lucas’s 1977 original (still the best of the lot) probably made a lot of sense. If Rogue One is going to try to do something markedly different — and, to its credit, it does — there’s a safety to mixing in a tinge of familiarity. At times, it seems director Gareth Edwards is really trying to make a Star Wars film for adults, if only because of the way the film emphasizes that conflicts at this level have casualties. The film is earnest, appropriately stern, and consistently dull. Ultimately, it’s too safe, overly adhering to formula in its tone and tenor if not necessarily in all of its storytelling beats. There’s nothing memorable here. It’s a meager sidebar to the saga.