Ladies and gentlemen, a brand new movie in the DC cinematic universe has been released, which means it’s once again time for fans and critics all across the internet to take vastly opposing sides. This time around, the villains are in the spotlight with Suicide Squad, brought to you by Fury and End of Watch writer/director David Ayer. Will it win back all those who were turned off by Batman v Superman? Or, will it only fan the flames of hatred DC has been receiving for its latest cinematic efforts?
After the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to build a task force comprised of some of the most dangerous criminals the world has to offer in case another superpowered being threatens the earth. Injected with explosive devices that will trigger if they disobey, this “suicide squad” is led by military hero Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and is comprised of expert hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), Joker’s (Jared Leto) lady love and pure psychopath Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), boomerang-wielding expert thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), ex-gang member and firebug El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), disfigured mutant killing machine Killer Croc (Adawale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and master grappler Slipknot (Adam Beach). When an ancient evil known as The Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) is unleashed and lays waste to Midway City, this ragtag band of baddies is the last thing keeping the world from falling into darkness.
Suicide Squad is a character driven blockbuster through and through, and just like the recent Star Trek Beyond, it has a HUGE cast to service and very little time with which to do it. It has the daunting task of introducing several DC villains, both iconic and obscure, and make you care about their personal plights. I’m happy to say that the film mostly succeeds at that, with only a few characters offering nothing of merit. The movie’s core plot is very simplistic and is really only an excuse for these characters to be gathered together and cause mayhem. The most entertaining part of the movie is its opening 20 minutes when each villain is introduced (complete with a brief cameo by both Batman and The Flash). When it comes to taking a gang of unlikable bad guys and making an audience care about them, there’s no better man for the job than writer/director David Ayer. It’s something he did flawlessly in the 2014 WW II epic Fury (which also had a bare-bones story), and it’s something he does brilliantly with Suicide Squad as well. When you’ve got characters this great, a rudimentary plot can be excused.
Let’s face it, Will Smith’s film career has not exactly been at the peak of its popularity recently. After trying and failing to gain Oscar attention with last year’s mediocre Concussion, Smith seems to have realised that he’s at his best when he’s being the witty, lovable Will Smith we remember from Men In Black and Independence Day. For a character like Deadshot, you need someone as likeable as Smith, because even though he is a cold blooded killer, he still has a moral code that separates him from a total psycho like Harley Quinn and the love he has for his daughter stops him from becoming a true monster. Smith also plays off well from Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, the straight-faced military man who is charged with babysitting the squad. As a character, Flag had a lot more depth than I could have anticipated, as his love for archaeologist June Moone (the woman who Enchantress is possessing) gives him excellent motivation for accepting this dangerous job.
Ever since I saw her in her breakout performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, I knew Margot Robbie was the only choice for Harley Quinn., and she doesn’t disappoint as she captures the psychotic sexiness that makes the character special. Yes, some will complain that Robbie may be just a little too sexualised in the film (her outfit leaves very little to the imagination) but it’s done for a reason. Harley uses her sexuality as a weapon to distract her enemies before bashing their brains in with a baseball bat, her sexuality is as important to her character as Deadshot’s gun is for his. Unlike Smith’s Deadshot, there is nothing redeeming about Harley Quinn, she is 100% crazy and I’m glad the film didn’t feel the need to neuter her character. I only wish the film would have spent more time exploring her transformation from respected psychologist to the damaged maniac we see here. Harley’s not the only strong female presence in the film as Viola Davis does great work playing the manipulative and intimidating Amanda Waller, who is arguably much more of a villain than the criminals she recruits. There’s a twist involving her character later in the film that was very mishandled, but that was due to the editing problems I’ll go into detail on later.
The two biggest surprises came in the form of Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo and Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress. I knew very little about El Diablo going into the movie, but he quickly asserts himself as the emotional heart of the squad. Unlike the rest of the characters, he hates the villain that he has become and refuses to use his destructive fire powers due to a tragic incident in his past. He takes up a much bigger part of the film than I thought he would, and of all the characters he’s the one who goes through the clearest transformation from beginning to end. As the film’s primary antagonist, Enchantress adds a creepy factor that you rarely get from most supervillains. Everything about her, from her transformation to the way she moves, makes her look like she came straight out of a horror movie. The fact that she is possessing the body of an innocent woman (who happens to be in love with one of the heroes) also significantly raises the movie’s stakes, as our heroes need to find a way to get rid of the spirit without killing the body she is inhabiting.
Jai Courtney here proves that he should always use his native Australian accent as he brings a charisma and humour to the role of Captain Boomerang that were absent from his wooden performances in Terminator Genysis and Live Free or Die Hard. He’s not on screen much, but every word that comes out of his mouth is a nugget of comedic gold, and that’s not even mentioning his odd attachment to a pink stuffed animal. The only two characters that aren’t given anything to do are Slipknot (Adam Beach) who’s there pretty much only to demonstrate that the bombs injected into the squad’s necks actually work, and Killer Croc who is just a walking special effect, a waste of the talents of Adawale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
So now let’s talk about the Joker, arguably the most controversial aspect of the film. If you’ve heard the behind the scenes stories of Jared Leto being so in character that he sent his co-stars gifts of used condoms and dead rats, then you know just how dedicated he was to the part. The Joker is a character that has changed quite a bit over the years, and so there is no “right” way to play him. Leto, however, is cursed by the fact that he must follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s revolutionary portrayal of the psychopath. While Leto’s Joker is vastly different than any other incarnation, being much more of a gangster here than he ever has been before, there’s still the feeling that he’s only a pale imitation of all the far better Jokers we’ve seen before. For all the marketing focused on him, Joker really doesn’t appear too much in the movie, and his presence is only in service of developing Harley Quinn as a character, to display just how damaged she was by this monster and how he managed to inspire such devout loyalty from her. It’s a very complex and disturbing relationship that I hope will be explored further in future films.
Now that I’ve gushed over Suicide Squad, it’s time to look at the bad. It’s no secret that the film has suffered through extensive difficulties during its post-production due in large part to the negative reception received by Batman v Superman. Warner Bros clearly wanted to have a firmer hand on the direction of Suicide Squad, and the result is a movie that seems to be fighting with itself on what it wants to be. I got the impression that Ayer wanted to make a gritty villain character study, while Warner Bros seemed intent on making a more light-hearted Guardians of The Galaxy–type blockbuster. Much like with the Warcraft movie that came out earlier this summer, you can tell that there’s a lot of footage that was cut out of the movie, and important plot points feel rushed and poorly explained (such as the Amanda Waller twist I mentioned previously). The action scenes were also lowered by the film’s poor editing, as the scenes cut so frequently that you can barely tell what the hell is going on, especially since a majority of the action takes place at night when it becomes hard to tell who’s who in the carnage. The only good things that appear to have come from the studio’s meddling are the terrific soundtrack that accompanies the film’s first act and the cool graphics that accompany each character’s introduction.
With all that said, I really don’t understand all the negative reviews this film’s receiving from critics. I can’t help but feel as though certain people are ready to hate a DC movie before even seeing it and don’t give them a chance to change their minds. With all the rumoured difficulties that happened behind the scenes, it’s a miracle this film came out as good as it is. When most superhero movies have a hard time creating one compelling villain, Suicide Squad gives you several. It’s by no means perfect, but in a Summer full of duds, it shines like a star in a clear night. It has a huge cast full of likeable and talented actors, morally complex characters, a killer soundtrack and tons of style that more than makeup for the film’s simple plot, and dreadful editing. After the bump in the road that was Batman v Superman, it’s good to see that DC is once again on the right path, and after seeing the great trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League we got from Comic Con, I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.