by Grant Cronin
If you have been hiding underground for the past four months you would be forgiven for not having any clue what Suicide Squad is. However, since the disappointment of the dark and despondent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I enjoyed, despite its flaws) back in March Warner Bros and DC have been inundating the general movie-going public with trailers, posters and character reveals highlighting just how fun Suicide Squad was going to be. Are those people who were expecting a comedic romp through DC’s badlands going to be disappointed? Yes, sadly.
The disjointed effort this film presents is unfortunate; watching it you see all the hallmarks of the film’s director David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch), you see the beginnings of decent character development. But this is all overshadowed by a derivative plot and tonal confusion.
The plot is as thin as it gets. Essentially, after the arrival (and subsequent death..) of Superman certain people within a shady part of the US government have become skittish at the idea of so-called ‘metahumans’ and the power(s) they possess. Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis, hatches a plan to harness a group of these metahumans to help them fight any future threats that may appear. The caveat being these are the bad guys, the baddest of the bad.
The first half of the film sets up the squad; through a series of flashbacks the more well-known members get their origin story, we find out why they are bad, how they end up in prison and we see their, sometimes unwilling, recruitment into Amanda Waller’s newly formed Task Force X. It is in the first half where we get the best of the film. The introductions and flashbacks we get for each character gives the audience something to cling on to – you begin to get an idea how they found themselves in such dire positions, we even get enjoyable cameos from DC heroes Batman (Ben Affleck) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) and then all goodness, it just stops…
I love The Avengers, comic book movie or not, it is one my favourite movies. But, it has a lot to answer for. If you have seen it, the third act consists of team of heroes fighting through a horde of faceless enemies in a destroyed city to get to a plot device. It wasn’t what made the 2012 blockbuster a great movie and a huge hit, but it was what had to happen for the plot to wrap up. Ever since then, that third act has become a cliche in comic book movies completely missing the point of why it worked. This where Suicide Squads becomes a complete mess within itself. The beginning of that character development, the idea we might be going in a direction we haven’t seen before, the irreverent tone all goes to the wall in the second half of the movie.
In places the characters are strong; Will Smith is on his best blockbuster form in a long time as Deadshot/Floyd Lawton. Margot Robbie is interesting as Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzell, although jarring at first but once you remember she is psychotic you begin to enjoy the performance. Two stand-outs I was not expecting and took me by surprise was Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Jay Hernandez as El Diablo/Chato Santana. Hernandez actually plays the role of a reformed LA gangbanger attempting to atone for his sins with some aplomb. It just so happens he can create fireballs with his hands too. The surprise of this character and the performance is not grounded in Hernandez’s ability but in the fact that a subtle performance like this found its way into this movie. Alongside that, Viola Davis plays Waller perfectly, playing to just how diabolic and scheming she is and becoming the movie’s actual bad guy in the absence of one that actually makes sense.
Speaking of which. They’re terrible. You may have noticed they were absent from the marketing and you can see why now. Cara Delevingne is insipid as Enchantress and there were times I was cringing for everyone involved. Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang does the bare minimum for people to forget that it is, in fact, Jai Courtney. The rest of the Squad are forgettable and replaceable and they don’t have the chance to make a lasting mark which is the risk in an ensemble piece like this. Everyone does get a chance to ‘shine’ and show off their powers or what they can do but it is the characters that are fleshed out in the first half of the movie that benefit and leave a longer impression once you’ve finished watching.
A quick side note on the Joker – don’t go to watch this film solely based on the Joker (Jared Leto) being plastered all over the posters. He’s hardly in it. I’m reserving judgement on Leto’s version now, its far too early to say anything of note. You can see he is going for something off-centre and different whilst cherry-picking mannerisms and quirks from previous incarnations of the Clown Prince of Crime. Don’t go in expecting a lot from him.
The negativity in parts of this review only comes from a place of disappointment for me. I was hoping that this would be something special; it seemed to have all the right ingredients but it couldn’t quite manage it. It is cynical of me to think, but you just know a studio executive from Warner Brothers passed a memo around two or three years ago, “Let’s make Guardians of the Galaxy – but darker“. For one reason or another they attempted to replicate other successes while failing to grasp the nuance of why they were successful.
There are parts of this film that are very likable. It is a silly piece of escapism that isn’t meant to be dissected or picked over. At times its funny, really funny. Its preposterous, in the best possible way. But you know when watching it that it could have been so much more. Whatever happens we probably will see a sequel with it earning $135m in its opening weekend in the US. So there will be more than likely an opportunity to get over this bumpy start and rightly or wrongly I will look forward to it and I will watch it.
This is not a bad movie, far from it, but for one that showed so much promise right up until the 60-minute mark it is not good enough.
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