Suicide Squad sports likeable elements and largely persuasive characterisation but is held back by disappointing execution. Writer/director David Ayer should be above this clumsily paced and poorly staged end product but everything here is just so rushed and slapped together with choppy editing compromising whatever momentum it seeks to garner. On the DC studios spectrum of things, there is so much concern with humour and fun and this film features a strong dose of these but fun and humor, a good film do not make.
In Suicide Squad we have a film that presents the clichéd rag tag bunch of misfits via comic book style flashbacks and positions them for audiences to root for. They are supposed to be the runt of this gritty DC universe and Ayer has been tasked with constructing something decent around premise of bad people serving the questionable powers that be in the name of good. It is a formula that goes against the grain as far as comic movies are concerned but there are some basic rules to action films that this film does not adhere to, particularly, a good villain.
I didn’t go into this film having seen a ton of TV spots or trailers so I can’t tell if the outright antagonist of this piece was known, but watching the end-product I can’t say it was made too clear by this screenplay. On the one hand we have mystical forces in the witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her Succubus brother who functions like a relentless hounding entity from a Prince or Persia game installment from years ago. What do they want: to take over the world. How do they want to: with over-CGIed vortexes that serve no purpose but to justify some computer graphics guy on the payroll.
On the other side of the antagonist field, we have Viola Davis’ cold blooded Amanda Waller. Its her idea to pluck villains from prison and giving them a chance at commuted sentences by working black ops for the state. The guys we are supposed to root for do not like her and there’s the way she manipulates certain events key to the plot that make you think the script would have looked to utilise her as a conduit of conflict. Waller undoubtedly is the more complex entity here but Ayer appears to settle for Enchantress and her Shakira-like gyrations along with her “swirling ring of trash in the sky.”
Just to give a small shout out to the story, the Suicide Squad essentially has to stop Enchantress and her CGI vortex – she is the easier big bad package. Her emergence essentially renders a whole metropolis a ghost city, mainly because a bout of news exposition lets us know a significant number of people are evacuated along with some of this film’s stakes. But a person of interest is holed up in the city meaning the expendables of the DC universe have to be sent into the hornets’ nest with a tight and potentially fatal leash held on by the Waller’s Boy Scout, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who himself has some personal stake in the Enchantress.
At least it is pretty clear who the “good guys” are supposed to be. We have the likes of Margot Robbie’s colourfully unhinged, hot-pants clad Harley Quinn who aligns with this films anarchistic tone and eccentric feel. There’s also the straightforwardly nuanced Deadshot/Floyd Lawton played by the effortlessly engaging Will Smith. Smith and Robbie undoubtedly toy with the best written characters and it is clear their imprisonment is from something dear to them. In Lawton’s case, we sense the strain of his separation from his daughter. Nothing like an affectionate father to stand out as more humane in a den of thieves.
For Quinn, her confinement is from her rid or die – the Joker. Jared Leto brings life to this latest incarnation of Batman’s iconic nemesis and he presents an eye-catching single beat side show to the main plot. The Joker’s new gangsta quasi-parody aesthetic has already been dissected but it’s his relationship with Quinn that presents the real novelty as he is angled as the king of Gotham’s underworld incomplete without his queen. Aside that, Leto’s Joker is just plain proper crazy, almost like the animated versions with his unnerving laughter and unpredictability.
The other members of the Suicide Squad include the weasely Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who is used quite sparingly but to solid comic effect. A lot more could have been done with Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and his grungy one-liners. The pyromantic, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a tortured soul of his own making given his history of violence but his character arc lands with a corny thud. Then there’s Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who toes this similar tortured soul line and she carries her burden in her sheath.
There are layers to the most of the characters here, I will give this film that, but that doesn’t mean much when the screenplay is too overpopulated for the layers to be explored. Some of these characters could have done with previous films to serve as their launching pad. With every sub-par team-up superhero film that comes along I am reminded and shamed by how I underrated Joss Whedon’s first assembling of the Avengers. But of course he had four years’ worth of character building to work with, something Ayer is deprived of in this blockbuster arms race.
Ayer however has no excuse for how he films his action which is mediocre at best and in a post-John Wick world, mediocre might as well be crap. There is no sense of time and space during action sequences. Ayer gets a little too cocky with his visuals especially in the final showdown where characters are silhouetted in thick smoke and frankly, the choreography is just drab accentuated by the insipid slow-motion. The one stellar action sequence in this film involved some great gun play from Deadshot and it comprises smart editing, no gimmicks, nice wide takes and a backing score to match.
Suicide Squad is heavily flawed but it is interesting how a second viewing without the burden of plot and focus on character provides the illusion that this film is quite close to some Tarantino-esque brazen popcorn movie fare. It is funny and uniquely stylized but even then, not as irreverent and nihilistic as it ought to have been. This film reminded me of Smokin’ Aces, a film I very much like, warts and all, because of a certain insolence it provided. Suicide Squad lingers in a similar way.