Suicide Squad should have been to the DC cinematic universe what Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man was to the MCU. A quirky exploration of some of the universe’s stranger corners, a movie that’s hands aren’t tied in terms of narrative quite like the franchise’s big players. The problem for Suicide Squad however is that it arrives on our screens only five months after DC messed up their opening number, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. What should have been a low pressure summer romp for DC now become the movie on which the DCU would be judged.
With the pressure on, DC upped the ante with Suicide Squad’s marketing campaign. Watching the movie’s trailers in chronological order tells you a story in itself. What began life as a dark and somewhat enigmatic film Suicide Squad (after apparent reshoots) slowly began to turn into a candy coloured music video and the film reached peak hype levels prior to its first press screenings. Then the early reviews came out and Suicide Squad has been, for the most part, torn apart by the press, currently sitting at lower than BvS on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s been a bumpy old ride for David Ayer and the crew, so is it really that bad?
Suicide Squad has a novel approach to its opening act. We are introduced to this motley crew through a series of flashbacks and montages narrated by Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller (more on her later,) we have Deadshot, played by Will Smith- an ice cool assassin who never misses his target and has some serious parent/daughter issues going on. Killer Croc, a life size croc who would be frightening if you could understand a word he was saying. Captain Boomerang, repping up B villains everywhere with his evil skill of throwing a boomerang. Slipknot, who can climb things and Diablo, a latino gangbanger who can set things on fire.
Then of course there is the delightfully demented Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie and The Joker, the character who should be the familiar face here were it not for Jared Leto’s new take on the clown prince of crime.
This is all accompanied by a heavily discussed soundtrack. After Guardians brought retro soundtracks back into fashion, Suicide Squad has clearly tried to jazz itself up here but for the most part the choices feel uninspired. A shift from Sympathy for the Devil in one scene to Spirit in the Sky in another really give the movie an inconsistent feel and are partly to blame for some of the tonal issues the movie has.
By taking on a movie about a group of super-villains DC have tried to carve their own path in a Hollywood increasingly filled with super-hero movies following the same one. Sadly, for Suicide Squad however it ultimately just ends up feeling like a rehash of so many of these cliches. The movie would end up being yet another misfire from DC were it not for the help of one man- David Ayer. In a clear attempt to compete with Marvel DC recruited the End of Watch director to bring some grit and realism to the movie and on the face of it he appears to be the perfect fit for the film. Corporate obligation clearly prevented him from making the film he wanted however but when we see his touch on the movie it sparkles. A prison guard in the movie’s opening act is one of the movie’s best characters and has Ayer written all over him, whilst a much discussed scene in the film where the Squad take a rest and have a drink really helps humanise the crew. This scene also reinforces Ayer’s love for the streets and all things LA gangster as the movie shifts its focus rather effectively here to Diablo, adding some much needed emotional weight to proceedings.
Ayer clearly had his hands tied though and the movie, especially in the second half really begins to sag. The film feels like one of two halves and apart from the aforementioned bar scene the movie has little to offer in the second act other than a preposterous final battle sequence.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Suicide Squad, a movie about villains, is just how dire the central villain of the movie is. Cara Delevinge is Enchantress, a centuries old witch who is really good at fucking stuff up basically. There is some nonsense thrown in about her heart and her brother too but all you have to know really is that she is really good at fucking stuff up. DC has such a wide array of villains (as highlighted by the central cast) that it is a crying shame that thus far it has lumped its movies with a big CGI turtle in BVS and now Cara Delevigne doing some dancing whilst creating a giant donut in the sky. It really is cringe worthy stuff and the actress was clearly brought in to fill those last few seats with her Instagram followers.
Arguably though the real villain of the piece is government operative Amanda Waller. The machiavellian Waller plays puppet master to the group and is easily the most despicable character the DC universe has given us so far. Davis is a delight and one can only hope that she becomes a more permanent staple of the universe somewhere down the line.
As for the rest of the performances, they vary. Will Smith is great as Deadshot, Robbie is enjoyable as Harley Quinn and Jai Courtney adds some comic relief as Boomerang. Joel Kinnerman continues his impression of a piece of cardboard as Rick Flagg and as previously mentioned the less said about Delevigne the better, but the real talking point of the movie for most fans if Jared Leto and his take on The Joker.
Comparisons with Heath Ledger are inevitable but I have to admire Ayer and Leto for at least attempting to take this Joker in a different direction. Leto is perfectly fine as The Joker, channeling his inner James Cagney for the most part and giving a very different twist on the character. It’s the characterisation itself that is likely to cause controversy- The Joker is less Clown Prince and more Clown Pimp here. The Joker is no longer the enigmatic psychopath he was in The Dark Knight, instead he is a career criminal whose name strikes fear into the most hardened of hearts. It’s an interesting twist on the character, one which may pay off or may crash and burn, it’s very difficult to tell after Suicide Squad where the character is pretty much just a cameo and a love interest. Seeing him come up against Ben Affleck’s Batman, who has also shown promise in these early films, will be the real test of his character.
So is Suicide Squad fun? At times, yes. The first act is entertaining and has moments of individuality. The second act is kind of a mess, but it isn’t all bad. Suicide Squad tries so hard to be crazy and irreverent but it just ends up kind of being the same as everything else. There is a lot to be picked apart here and the post mortem will likely continue for weeks to come but for me it wasn’t all bad, I never found myself checking my watch and for the most part was suitably entertained. It’s not the rebirth that the DCU was crying out for but it’s certainly not the final nail either.
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