Accompanied by a perfect collection of pop music, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad delivers on its promise to bring DC’s antihero super team to life.
This film is probably the biggest release of the summer, and after the disappointment of Batman V Superman, the DC film universe has a lot riding on this. Suicide Squad is also now impossible to discuss without recognising the critical backlash that has come with the film’s arrival. However, please do not despair, this film is nowhere near as bad as you have been led to believe. Firstly, it is a better film than Batman v Superman. Yes it has flaws; the antagonist that the group of villains take on is slightly weak with a nondescript world-destroying plan leading to a CGI heavy finale, but the journey there is a lot of fun. The film boasts a unique colour palate that echoes the comic book origins, and you are rewarded with movie experience the trailers sold, complete with a great jukebox soundtrack.
The real heartless villain of the piece is government hard-ass Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who wants to assemble Task Force X to protect national security from meta-human threats. The film’s opening launches into a collection of introductions for the members of Task Force X aka the Suicide Squad who are currently inmates at Belle Reve.
There is Deadshot (Will Smith), the world’s greatest assassin; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), an ex-psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who fell for her patient the Joker (Jared Leto); Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), whose drone devices return to him; the fire-conjuring Diablo (Jay Hernandez); the sewer dwelling man-beast Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient force who takes over Dr. June Moone and boasts a creative visual aesthetic.
This ramshackle team are led by ace military man (and Dr. Moone’s boyfriend) Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). After their assembly they are quickly choppered into a burning and evacuated Midway City to fight an unspecified, world-threatening evil, and to retrieve the mysterious HVT1.
The main characters, Smith and Robbie, are garnered with more than one introduction. Some may find the quick set-up tonally jarring but I really enjoyed it. They are like mini-music videos and despite so many characters the process of assembly is entertaining. Predictably the character that doesn’t get a proper introduction might not last too long but it does provide a great comic moment.
Many reviews have claimed to see grubby studio fingerprints all over the film, but director David Ayer has reassured us this is his cut. He further revealed the lighthearted and comic moments weren’t added after the Batman v Superman reaction. I tend to believe Ayer as the ludicrous nature of the premise and the characters would be difficult to sell in an all-out dark and gritty tone. Harley Quinn is the best example of this as an almost perfect interpretation of a famous comic book character finally making her debut on the big screen. Her energy and quips allows Margot Robbie to steal the show whilst not overtaking it. Killer Croc has some fun one-liners, but the character of Captain Boomerang is the comic highlight. I never thought I would say this, but Jai Courtney gives a great performance that I wanted to see more of. There is nothing about this character’s portrayal that would fit into a dark and gritty film. Boomerang is anarchic and his self-preservation make him a proper hoot to watch. The film may borrow the use of a pink unicorn from Deadpool, but it still produced a big laugh at the cinema.
Finally Will Smith has finally rediscovered his star power; let’s be honest when was the last good film by the former Fresh Prince? The suicide squad are villains, but as an audience you have to want them to succeed. The film has suspect methods of humanising them, especially Smith’s background regarding his daughter, however, there is never any denial of the fact he is a bad guy. He enjoys killing people, he is good at it, he enjoys earning money for it and he enjoys firing guns especially in one lovely scene of demonstration. We are reminded these are not nice people and they revel in their acts of violence unlike heroes, which is what makes them more fun to watch as a team.
Many have compared it to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which is unfair as this is not a space romp and has many more characters to introduce. Also Guardians was hardly the first film to use a successful jukebox soundtrack. Yes, James Gunn’s film is better, but there is still plenty to enjoy in Suicide Squad. The opening third with the hyper-styled writing during the introductions has a high level of comic sensibility and fun. The characters are really allowed to enjoy the violence even if the film fails to properly capitalise on its brutality in the closing act. Diablo does try to avoid using his violent power due to his past actions, but it looks spectacular when he does unleash it. Part of the villain’s arc within the film is to accept their past villainous actions, which produces mixed results.
The new incarnation of the Joker hangs on the periphery of the film and there is little more of him than what was shown in the trailers. The Harley Quinn connection is fun, but her origin is not completely satisfying. Leto does play him as an unhinged gangster pimp that couldn’t be further removed from Ledger’s unsettling portrayal, but it fits into the sensibility and tone of the film. His brief scene with Batman is fun, but we haven’t quite seen enough of him to properly pass judgement. Hopefully he will appear in the Batman stand-alone film that is rumoured to be set in Arkham Asylum.
Crucially, director Ayer shows a better understanding of Suicide Squad’s comic book origins and character motivations than Snyder in his misjudged Batman V Superman. DC does villains much better than Marvel and unlike its rival comic book giant has avoided repeated origin stories. This is a fun summer blockbuster that works well as a standalone film but also fits into the extended universe. The Marvel universe generally produces quite similar films, but DC so far is not afraid to let its big screen adaptations have their own stamp. Both approaches have their positive and negative aspects.
I would recommend seeing this as there is plenty to enjoy. I can understand people thinking it is just okay, but the score on Rotten Tomatoes is nonsensical and so was the fan response to try and close the page. However, just compare the score to other films released this year, apparently The Legend of Tarzan, Independence Day: Resurgence and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows all score about 10% higher. For me this does highlight a collective flaw within the critical community. The urge to be “part of the conversation” will drive many people to the cinema to see it and I hope they do.