Suicide Squad (2016) Review
David Ayer's Suicide Squad feels like Zack Snyder's Suicide Squad during its second act. But we'll start with the first, which is gloriously energetic and colourful. It throws the headline villains straight at us with a perfect blend of upbeat music and colourful text accompanied by spot-on introductions to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), and the rest.
I say "and the rest" not to undersell the remainder of the cast, but the above two are certainly the leaders here. Robbie is a standout out as Harley Quinn, a blend of crazy and achingly tragic, the character couldn't have been given a better live-action debut. I have to pay credit to Ayer for refusing to over-sexualise the character. Barring one single (quite funny) scene, the character's attractiveness is rarely played up, and it's great to see. Smith is as good as ever as Deadshot. The actor is always guaranteed to hook his audience despite who he's playing. And he is very clearly Harley's only rival for most sympathetic villain in the cast.
Make no mistake though. The film does not shy away from the fact that these are villains, even if their government recruiter Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) turns out to be just as, if not more, villainous than anybody else. Waller is cold and crafty, a woman to despise though also a woman who wants to do good (whether that's more-so for her career or for humanity, that's less clear).
Jai Courteney as Captain Boomerang is America's view of Australian culture, and it isn't far off the mark. Caught with a beer in hand on more than a few occasions, Boomerang is less vital to the plot but a ton of fun. The greatest challenge of the film is utilising its cast, not all of which are meta-humans, against a supernatural threat. For the most part, Ayer pulls it off, and his climax is perfect because he emphasizes this group of characters that we've spent the previous two hours with.
But the plot's near cave-in during the second act is a result of an over-abundance of action (yes, I'm aware that this is a superhero film). This high-octane romp through an under-siege city only pauses briefly for chances to allow its cast to bounce off of one another, and those are the best moments. A sequence in which the characters take up residence in an abandoned pub is filled with both humour and heart that makes the time spent with them all the more worth it. Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg does the job well, and his shaky relationship with Deadshot is plenty of fun.The aforementioned cave-in also comes somewhere around the time that the film gets very weird, very quickly.
But as its central plot is starting to kick into shape, so too is the Joker's plan to rescue Harley from her band of trapped villains and paid soldiers. Jared Leto's turn as the iconic character has been enormously publicised, but as hard as I tried, his work here didn't work for me. His demeanor felt unnatural, and while I have no doubt that Leto threw everything into the role, it may well be the case that an accurate depiction of the comic book character doesn't transition well to the screen. This Joker diverges into crazy at random moments, and its at these moments that it shows a sparkle of potential. But all in all, the character almost felt like a forgettable member of the film, and one that could almost have not been in it at all.
And I say almost because without it, Harley Quinn would not have been so perfectly portrayed. It's a polarising battle in my head, my disinterest in the Joker's role versus the joyous relationship between the two. While I often didn't enjoy the Joker's screen-time, I ached for Harley's love for him, which is captured so naturally and so effortlessly that I absolutely bought it. Her origin is offered throughout the film with a couple of disparate sequences, the second of which is marvelously captured. Ayer throws everything into this, and his editing is frequently a marvel throughout.
There's less philosophizing to be found in the latest DC film. While Suicide Squad offers moral grays amidst Ayer's intent to make it clear these are villainous people, it doesn't dip its toes into the kinds of questions Snyder posited in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. And that's no criticism. Suicide Squad is a good time, all in all.
Despite being a touch laborious through its middle stages, Ayer comes out on top with his latest film. With a dynamic opening and a fulfilling closing, there's satisfaction in that this could be the last time we see this group of characters in this kind of film. And that's fine, but if we get to see them again, there's plenty more fun to be had. Ayer balances a lot in a considerably shortened amount of time comparatively, and it almost gets to be too much. Thankfully, it's not, and while it isn't game changing, it's a joyous film worthy of anyone's time.