Let’s be honest, DC Comics haven’t had the best time when it comes to the big screen. A few Batman films have been deservedly well received over the years, whilst 1978’s Superman the Movie is still a quintessential benchmark of quality within the superhero movie genre. But unlike Marvel, who seem to have had a huge success with every major property they own, DC has always struggled to translate their lesser known properties to film successfully (2011’s Green Lantern still remains a sore point for many DC fans, this critic included).
Suicide Squad has always had a lot riding on it, even before the tepid reception of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice threw a spanner in the works. DC’s attempts to produce a cinematic shared universe akin to the mighty world of Marvel has always been scrutinised more then it’s rival, simply for being the second one out the gate. When Marvel Studios produced their first couple of Phase One films, there were of course doubters and naysayers, but it was an experiment, one in which there was nothing of the same ilk to compare results with. Fast forward to now, and with every DC movie release it’s getting difficult to not draw comparisons with the MCU and how successful that has turned out.
The idea and plot of Suicide Squad is practically ripe for a movie franchise – super villains and bad-guys with a particular set of skills, hired by the government as a covert team to take down high level threats in exchange for less-jail time. Everyone loves an anti-hero, and the fresh appeal of Suicide Squad‘s basic premise is very tempting in a year where superhero flicks have already dominated most cinemas and multiplexes.
Sadly, David Ayer’s take is lacking from the off, all style and cinematic bravado, but at times rather empty on the inside. The opening 20 minutes introduces everyone in a long, drawn-out and haphazard manner as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) pitches ‘Task Force X’ to her government employers. The team is assembled, before being sent out on their first mission, when an ancient witch spirit awakens a supernatural villain that threatens to turn people into zombies and make random debris float around the city skyline.
The visuals for the most part are great, Ayer’s dark cinematography clashing with brightly coloured graphics and moments of random colourful imagery (the only major misstep being a drawn out and laughable slow-mo shot in the film’s climax). But the plotting is all over the place, with the story jumping back and forth in awkward fashion, character motivation switching in the blink of an eye, and moments of poignancy falling flat on their face. Important plot developments are told to us, not shown to us, which feels frankly lazy, as if the movie thinks it has better things to do then to trifle with something like coherency.
The characters don’t fare much better to be honest. Will Smith is a great actor and an all round wonderful human being. Sadly, he’s just not convincing as a villain, especially a cold-hearted killer like Deadshot, here neutered somewhat by a need to give him an emotional backstory and a purpose. Joel Kinnaman as fearless leader Rick Flagg is cursed with an atypical one-note character, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s dialogue is near incomprehensible thanks to a heavy layer of Killer Croc prosthetics, whilst Cara Delevingne is uncomfortably OTT as the main villain Enchantress, despite a strong, creepy introduction. That said, Jai Courtney’s comedic turn as Boomerang is an enjoyable high-point.
Of course, all eyes will be on Oscar-winner Jared Leto, taking on the character of the Joker (last seen portrayed by the amazing Heath Ledger back in 2008) and Margot Robbie as deranged Harley Quinn, the popular character who’s only now making her first live action film appearance.
Suffice to say, Leto’s performance is pretty uninspiring thus far, though he is only in the movie for about 15 minutes in total. The look of the character here is entirely unique to other versions, but Leto fails to provide anything unique in his performance, aside from a weird and creepy laugh. His delivery is very Ledger-esque, whilst his Joker is never really allowed to do anything too twisted or terrifying in his oh-so-brief appearances. Perhaps we’ll get to see him open up new aspects and facets of the character in future DC movies, but for now, its not exactly the kind of performance that sticks in one’s mind.
Which brings us to Harley Quinn. In recent years, her character in the comics has developed in many interesting and multi-layered ways, painting her as a recovering victim of spousal abuse, an anti-hero trying to make amends for her past crimes, yet still quite insane. Here, she’s simply a one-liner spouting nut job, pining for the Joker whilst clad in an unnecessarily revealing costume (why the heck is she dressed like this whilst most of her male co-stars are dressed in tactical, practical armour?!). Robbie is well-cast as the character, and plays her well, but there’s no getting around the fact that there’s no attempt to dig deeper and understand her character or her fractured state. It could have been worse, but it’s not exactly the best take on the character either.
Despite everything above though, Suicide Squad’s biggest problem is its tone. It’s common knowledge that the film went through multiple reshoots to lighten things up once reviews of BvS bought to light that film’s lack of lightness. So now, the film awkwardly veers between jokes and grim, violent reality at breakneck speed, juxtaposing itself in a manner that is frankly jarring. It’s as if someone made Batman Begins and then tried to change it to be more like Guardians of the Galaxy midway through production. The humour feels so forced and out of place. Some witty one-liners and moments of absurdity work, but many just feel like an awkward afterthought. The only scene that benefits is the bar scene, a moment with real genuine humour and pathos displayed throughout. However, by then, it feels like way too little, too late.
Suicide Squad should have translated successfully to film. Its concept is original, interesting and open for a fun and lively interpretation. The characters are flawed and anarchic. The stories are dark, ridiculous and engaging. But muddled scripting, bad casting and awkward reshoots pretty much rob the film of credibility early on. An overstuffed and intrusive soundtrack plays out, as bit-by-bit, the film sinks further and further into the realms of mediocrity.
“Outside, you’re amazing. Inside, you’re ugly,” says Boomerang to Harley. That line pretty much sums up Suicide Squad in a nutshell.
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