Suicide Squad Review

Posted: August 17, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

suicide-squad-movie-2016-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s been pretty obvious for a while now that DC has been trying to catch up to Marvel in regards to building a shared superhero cinematic universe. Man of Steel would serve as their Iron Man, a self-contained story that works as our first glimpse into their universe. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is their Iron Man 2, an over-bloated effort more concerned with cramming as many characters and universe connecting elements into the film than actually telling a coherent story. After Iron Man 2, Marvel made solo films for Thor and Captain America before slowly building to their Phase One climax; The Avengers. DC on the other hand has decided to skip all that entirely, at least for now, and go straight to their version of Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Marvel’s off-beat success, Suicide Squad is all about an eccentric team of misfits forced to come together and defeat a greater threat. The main difference being that with Suicide Squad the team’s members are not just misfits, but full on murderers and supervillains.

The film picks up shortly after the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. With Superman “dead” there is concern over who can protect the world from other super powered threats. With that in mind, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has decided to assemble a team of convicted super villains as a sort of “Dirty Dozen” for black ops missions. The team includes the master assassin and marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), the insane former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Australian bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyro technique former gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the mutated Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), American soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), and the extra-dimensional witch The Enchantress (Carla Delevingne). Things quickly go awry when The Enchantress escapes Waller’s control and hatches a plot to destroy mankind, prompting the “Suicide Squad” to come together and bring her down. This is however complicated by the group’s general villainy, and the fact that Harley’s boyfriend, a fella named The Joker (Jared Leto), is trying to take her back.

It would be fair to say that Suicide Squad gets off to a shaky start. There’s a lot of heavy exposition in the first act, whether it be introducing us to a character, explaining their backstory/general information, or setting up the nature of the team itself. There is also a lot of repetition in this section, like back-to-back scenes of Amanda Waller convincing government suits of the need for her plan or the fact that multiple scenes feel like character introductions for characters the audience has already been introduced to. It’s also odd that while a huge chunk of the first act is dedicated to just introducing audiences to the team (multiple times), two more members are haphazardly thrown in right before they formally start their mission. I’m not sure if all of these storytelling issues are the result of the rumoured re-edits of the film which allegedly occurred shortly before the release or if they were always present in the script, but either way the end result is that the first act of the film feels awkward and clunky.

What’s perhaps more frustrating is the main plotline that emerges, which is problematic in a number of ways. First, the fact that Amanda Waller is basically responsible for The Enchantress’ reign of terror which makes Waller look like an idiot and her whole plan misguided from the start. Second, I don’t think an evil sorceress from another dimension is the right of villain for a team like this. Most of these villains are pretty low-key in their powers and would seem more at home doing “off the books” black ops missions (which, from what I know, is basically how they’re portrayed in the comics). The final and biggest problem is that the whole story devolves into yet another tale of a CGI being with an army of mindless drones shooting a blue laser into the sky who needs to be stopped. Sweet holy god am I tired of seeing this trope used over and over again in superhero movies and it feels especially inappropriate here.

To the film’s credit, the mindless drones used here at least have a pretty cool look. In fact generally speaking, Suicide Squad actually has a very strong visual style. There’s a certain ugly grit to everything, but it’s exaggerated in such a way that it’s also clearly not meant to be taken too seriously. In that sense, David Ayer, a director I’m usually not a fan of, actually turns out to be the perfect choice for this film. Most of Ayer’s previous films have attempted to be authentic crime dramas of sorts and while they definitely brought the grit, they also felt silly and very unrealistic. However when dealing with a story of supervillains which include a psycho clown girl and a crocodile man, “dark, silly, and unrealistic” is quite fitting. The film’s visuals go a long way to keep things interesting, and there’s an especially cool scene involving Harley, The Joker, and some chemical vats. There’s a dark twisted beauty to it all which does a good job showing how Harley sees her relationship that’s also well-aware of how toxic it is. Ayer’s style here is also really in your face, almost punk at times. It’s a smart approach and while I can see it alienating some, I admire the film for really putting its foot down and defining itself rather than acting as some homogenous entertainment. If there’s one stylistic choice that I found to be off, it’s the soundtrack. While absolutely jam packed with music, the approach is more quantity than quality. Not that the songs themselves aren’t good, but they’re often the obvious choices and I don’t know if any cues really stand out.

The thing that works best here is actually the cast and the clear stand out is clearly Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Quinn has been a fan-favourite since her debut on “Batman: The Animated Series” and Robbie brings everything that fans love about her to the screen in amazing fashion. She’s still a fun/funny personality with a knack for chaos and an element of danger, but she’s also someone who the audience can be easily sympathetic too as she is also another victim of The Joker’s abuse. There is one element of her backstory as presented here that I was not fond of, but it’s sort of a minor point within the film itself. More importantly, Robbie herself brings the perfect amount of energy, humour, and physicality to the role while also bringing a new level of sexuality to Quinn that feels completely appropriate. Will Smith is also in really good form as Deadshot, coming off cool and calculating while also providing the heart of the film. Another stand-out, who I worry might be overlooked, is Viola Davis, who is pitch-perfect as Amanda Waller. Davis brings the right professionalism and no-nonsense attitude to the part and her sense of control is felt throughout. Even in a room full of bigger personalities and more physically imposing characters, Davis stands tall in a way that is quiet and powerful. The rest of the team is filled out nicely and even the lesser developed characters still add some flavor.

Of course I think the real million dollar question is how is Jared Leto as The Joker? Well, he isn’t really the focus here, in fact his role is actually very minimal in terms of screen time and impact on the plot. However, given that The Joker is the most iconic comic book villain of all any interpretation is gonna deserve major discussion. So, is Leto good? The short answer is no. The basic take presented here is that this Joker draws less from the classic gangsters of the 1930s, and more from the modern, hip-hop inspired gangstas of today. That’s not exactly the worst idea I guess, but it doesn’t really work here. The main problem is that Leto and Ayer lean too heavily into the gangsta elements, to the point where the other aspects of the character are lost or drowned out. This feels a lot less like The Joker and a lot more like Alien from Spring Breakers. From the ridiculous looking tattoos, to the grill, to his clubs and henchmen, to his swag, to his general demeanor; all that stands out when I think of this Joker is those elements. And just to be clear, this is not a case of Leto and the film simply falling short of Heath Ledger’s iconic work in The Dark Knight. The fact is there are a bunch of great interpretations of Joker, from Jack Nicholson’s turn in Batman, to Mark Hamill’s voice work from “Batman: The Animated Series” to the “Arkham videogames, to Cesar Romero’s work in the Adam West show. All of this adaptations of the character worked in their own right in a way this one didn’t. Given Joker’s role in this is ultimately minor, he by no means kills Suicide Squad, but a really killer take could have definitely elevated the film.

There are a lot of problems here. A lot. The storytelling is very jumbled, the actual plot is lame and uninspired, the villain is poorly chosen, The Joker is a letdown, and the fact that it all ends in a big dumb CGI punch out is disappointing. However there’s also a lot here I really like, namely a lot of the characters, the film’s visuals and general attitude, and the action scenes are generally quite fun. If nothing else, I think Margot Robbie and Viola Davis belong in the pantheon of perfect comic to film adaptations and Will Smith also makes for a very fun presence. I do understand why a lot of critics are down on this film and I do think there’s a lot of missed potential here, but there’s certainly merit too.

C

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    I’m glad you said it has merit because while agree about the all-over-the-place script in the first 1/2, in the second 1/2 it started coming together for me and I liked it. Every movie has things it could improve upon. I think this film just needed a strong mire singular vision. It tried to be all things to tough villain gang members in the audience and we are not easily pleased.

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