Suicide Squad – Review
By David Baldwin
If anyone asked what my most anticipated film of the year was, I would be lying if I did not say Suicide Squad. Ever since it filmed in Toronto last spring, I have been waiting feverishly for its release. The prospect of seeing some of these wildly audacious characters on-screen for the first time was more than enough reason for this Batman fan to be excited, even if some of them are a little less well known than others. My faith was nearly broken by how disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a few months ago, but the wildly entertaining trailers for Suicide Squad kept my hopes high.
Then the negative reviews started popping up. And then a truly baffling petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes went public. And now there are articles about some really messy behind-the-scenes drama. Surely DC and Warner Brothers would not let down all the fans and moviegoers who invested their time and faith into yet another comic book adaptation.
In Squad I trusted.
If Batman v Superman was best described as a beautiful disaster, Suicide Squad would be best described as a stylishly inconsistent mess. It is neither bad nor good, instead landing somewhere in the middle. And that may have been the intention of director David Ayer — that is, before the studio interfered and turned the film into something that barely resembles that epic teaser that leaked out of San Diego Comic Con last summer.
After the death of a certain hero, the US government fears for what terrorist threats the future might hold. High-ranking government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the solution — form Task Force X, a group of super villains who will do the government’s dirty work in exchange for less time on their jail sentences. If any of the villains deviate from the mission, an explosive embedded in their neck will detonate and kill them instantly. When the witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) awakens an ancient evil force bent on world destruction, Waller sends her group into action. But can a group of bad guys actually be trusted to save the world?
The first act of Suicide Squad sets this story line into motion, along with the incredibly vast assortment of villains who make up Task Force X. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a lethal sniper with a moral compass. El Diablo (a completely unrecognizable Jay Hernandez) is a former gang member who can wield fire. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is an Australian bank robber who is deadly with a boomerang. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a hulking beast who has taken to living in the sewers. And Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a completely deranged psychopath — who also happens to be the girlfriend of infamous Gotham City criminal The Joker (Jared Leto).
Ayer introduces all of these characters with wickedly edited flashbacks, clever musical choices and fun little pop-up factoids. Each of these scenes has a colourful, tongue-in-cheek vibe that indicates this is no ordinary comic book film. These scenes pop with life and hint at wild future possibilities for these characters, both in this film and the potential never ending stream of sequels and spinoffs. But even with these small number of references (and a few cameos that have no doubt been spoiled by now), Ayer does an admirable job of never letting any of them be overemphasized. It was somewhat refreshing to see in a franchise film, especially after getting so many future plot threads rammed down our throats by Zack Snyder in Batman v Superman.
But that first act seems to belong to an entirely different movie, as the look and feel of Suicide Squad changes dramatically after Task Force X is sent out on their mission. The wild colour palette gives way to something more stark and gray, the action becomes muddled and near lifeless and the tonal structure goes completely off the rails. Is the film supposed to be consistently funny, or is it only supposed to have a few sparing laughs? Is the film supposed to get sappy and emotional, or stay dark and brooding? Whatever the answers may be, the final two-thirds of Suicide Squad seems unable to rectify or make sense of anything that came before it. It even takes a sharp turn into melodrama that lands with a heavier thud than that ridiculous “Martha!” scene in Batman v Superman we all keep trying our hardest to forget.
But I would forgive all of these problems, even the bizarre detours the shoe-horned Joker keeps taking the film on, if there were a compelling villain or actual stakes for any of these characters. I knew the fate of one character just from watching the trailers, but I never feared for any of the others. Sure Enchantress causes a lot of destruction, but her goal of world domination has a sense of “been there, done that” and the film awkwardly revels in it (although I will concede that none of this is helped by how lousy and unpolished an actor Delevingne continues to be). I noted earlier how choppy the film feels, but removing so much of the vital character development does not do Suicide Squad any favours other than reducing the running time to a mercilessly short 123-minutes.
Despite this plethora of problems, the majority of actors are actually quite good in their roles. Davis is deviously great as Waller and Hernandez brings a poignancy to El Diablo that is completely absent from so many villains — and even some superheroes. Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a terrific Killer Croc, and Courtney is actually great for once in his short film career, stealing a fair share of scenes as the unbalanced and frequently incomprehensible Captain Boomerang. I really wanted to like Joel Kinnaman as Task Force X’s leader Rick Flag, but he goes undercut and underutilized throughout. At least he fares better than Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, who gets so little to say or do that it is downright criminal.
But the film’s standouts are Robbie and Smith who both easily rise above the film’s many negative aspects. Her speech pattern matches the film’s inconsistent tone, but Robbie remains downright spectacular as Harley Quinn. This fan favourite character has always been destined for the big screen, and she does not disappoint in any instance. She is unpredictably crazy when she needs to be, an anti-heroine when she needs to be, and a downright psychopathic looney toon when she needs to be. Robbie is so good in some scenes that it almost feels like she belongs in an entirely different picture. Smith is even better, bringing both physicality and humanity to Deadshot. He is easily Suicide Squad’s most well-rounded character, and Smith uses this fact to his advantage by commanding every scene and chewing on all of the scenery for good measure. He has always been a wise-ass, but his go-for-broke style reminded me a lot of why I liked him so much in the 1990’s — and why I disliked him so much in the 2000’s. Here’s hoping he can maintain that aura into his future projects.
And I would be remiss to not mention Leto’s take on Batman’s most infamous villain. He was never going to reach the heights of Heath Ledger’s masterful Oscar-winning performance, but Leto does his very best to make The Joker incredibly memorable. From his very introduction, he is a maniacal force of nature you cannot take your eyes off. But it comes at the expense of a very odd story line and never having the chance to really invest himself into the character. While I will not go so far as to call his scenes inconsequential as so many others have, I just think they would have been better explored and expanded in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman film — granted Leto can actually open his mouth and not just sound like he’s talking while chewing on rocks.
I did not like Suicide Squad nearly as much as I had hoped, but its ambitious flaws make for a much better film than Batman v Superman. It has a wicked first act, some terrific acting from Smith, Robbie and Davis, and is often quite entertaining. WB still has a long way to go if they ever intend on competing with Marvel on a level playing ground. But this is a step in the right direction — just one that could have easily been amended with better editing and a significantly stronger villain.