The Suicide Squad, the eponymous team of DC Comics villains press-ganged into doing the government’s dirty work, is the very definition of a motley collection: simultaneously badass, sexy, loopy, monstrous, emotionally unstable, guilt-wracked, and mysterious. So it should really come as no surprise that Suicide Squad the movie is just as incongruous and contradicting in tone and presentation. But unlike the initially misaligned team itself, who eventually get their act together to become an effective unit, writer/director David Ayer struggles to reconcile the movie’s conflicting, uneven moving parts, giving you a movie that seemingly has no idea what it wants to be.
What many fans probably expect it to be, is DC Comics’ answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And why wouldn’t they expect that? The film’s full-throttle advertising campaign sold us an off-the-wall spectacle about colourful wise-cracking misfits, set in an almost standalone corner of this shared universe where the weird and wacky is wholly embraced, embarking on an oddball adventure set to a foot-tapping, head-bopping contemporary soundtrack. Just like the upcoming Justice League, it was supposed to be tonal course correction from overly morose previous DC Comics movie offerings. But – big surprise – the advertising misled you.
While all of those previous elements can still be found in Suicide Squad, they’re almost haphazardly dumped on top of what is a surprisingly self-serious movie. It’s not quite as grim and dark as Batman v Superman, but anybody expecting the gag-a-minute riot from the film’s trailers is going to walk away sorely disappointed, as those zingy soundbites don’t quite work as well when not edited in rapid-fire fashion. The film certainly tries to live up to those promotional promises though, mostly with a constantly shifting soundtrack trying its damnedest to turn up the catchy fun factor. And in places it works gangbusters, especially in the early goings as Ayer introduces his cast of scoundrels through snappy vignettes, complete with tongue-in-cheek on-screen rap sheets, but for most of the film’s second and third acts we get an unexpectedly grounded and sombre affair despite the fact that several of its characters are cartoons brought to life.
Said characters in this case being Deadshot (Will Smith), a hitman with unerring aim; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), erstwhile psychiatrist turned manic squeeze of the Joker (Jared Leto) who fights like a homicidal cheerleader; El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a pyrokinetic gangbanger with a guilty conscience and a potentially huge powerset; Killer Croc (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje), a hulking, leathery monster who lives in the sewers; Slipknot (Adam Beech), the “man who can climb anything”; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Aussie boomerang-throwing criminal with a string of bodies in his wake; and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a modern day samurai with a sword who traps the souls of her victims.
Wrangling this crew is govermental meta-human watchdog ARGUS’s Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), ruthless and unflinching in her extreme measures drive to protect the United States from superpowered threats in the wake of the events of BvS. Waller has also assigned two of her own assets to the squad in the form of team leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), an elite spec ops soldier who has no love for the criminals he has to keep in check with a microbomb implanted in their skulls, and June Moon aka The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a scientist possessed by a near 7000 year old magical demigod whose evil ways are held at bay purely because of the leverage Waller has over her.
And I’m sure that just on that description alone many of you will be able to predict where the film’s story will go. It’s not hard at all seeing as it just goes one way: straight-forward. Ayer gives us a pared down, simple mission for the Suicide Squad’s first outing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, after the hopelessly clumsy and convoluted narrative of BvS, I was actually appreciative of Suicide Squad‘s lack of unnecessary plot machinations. But straight-forward doesn’t have to be uninspired, which is unfortunately what this often is as we get another lame duck villain whose plan involves a portal in the sky yet again (seriously, DC and Marvel, just stop it with this nonsense now), and waves of faceless, blandly designed foot soldiers for our crew of “bad guys” to mow down sans consequences.
Ayer, famed for his R-rated anti-hero dramas like Training Day, End of Watch and Fury, seems robbed of his trademark grittiness, as he plays in the PG-13 mainstream world for the first time. He’s certainly a more than capable enough filmmaker to make sure it all looks good – in fact, really good at times – but the action almost never seems to have that wow factor, that eye-popping, comic book splash page spectacle that even cinematic misfires like BvS nailed.
I did say “almost never” though as Smith gives us a brace of scenes so intensely badass that I would happily pay good money to see a solo Deadshot movie. In fact, Smith owns this movie. He’s the fist-pumping action hero standout as well as often its heart, spinning out charisma as easily as he does emotion. So too Robbie does a fantastic job of bringing to life fan favourite Harley Quinn – she is a Bruce Timm animation personified, pumping out crazy non sequiturs through the character’s trademark twangy Bronx accent. Ayer also makes sure that there’s a deep tragedy underpinning her cartoonish zaniness, especially in her relationship with Leto’s Joker.
Unfortunately, despite being in several scenes scattered throughout the movie, the latter just doesn’t have enough of a presence for me to render a full opinion on this new take on the Clown Prince of Crime. He’s certainly unsettling with his nerve-jangling cackle and exaggerated line delivery, but really only the surface of the character is scratched here. I can say that I’m intrigued to see more though.
Hernandez’s Diablo also gets given a surprising amount of love, despite the character’s C-list comic book status. Ayer develops a reasonably good backstory for the tattooed firestarter, giving him an actual emotional arc with a solid payoff in the end. Which is waaaaaaaaay more than can be said for anybody else in the cast whose main jobs appear to be to just show up. Davis gets to be severely stern and Kinnaman and Delevingne have some emotions injected into the mix, but for the most part these characters are as faceless as the cookie cutter enemies they shoot down.
In the end, itrrespective of their fleetingness, there are enough moments of Suicide Squad‘s many different tones, textures and ideas actually coalescing successfully that it can’t be declared an outright terrible movie – an infectiously pumping soundtrack, polished presentation and standout individual performances from Smith and Robbie make to sure to drag it out of that territory – but it’s also not a great movie. Most disappointingly for me though, this is not the movie fans were sold, which suddenly makes me view that unexpectedly fun trailer for Justice League with a whole lot more suspicion.
Last Updated: August 3, 2016