Director: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman
Watch Suicide Squad online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
What a curious state DC Comics’ movies are in. After Man of Steel’s uneven reboot, the DC-verse jumped straight into a Bats-Supes face-off, which was a mess, but had some fascinating, bold ideas about fallen gods that qualified it as an interesting entry in the canon. Then, for some unknown reason, DC decided to use that as the cornerstone upon which to build its entire big-screen franchise. It was a decision that skewered Dawn of Justice’s plot on its own over-ambitious spear. But rather than stop and think about continuity or logic, the studio has sped up, throwing more dubious decisions after the last ones in the hope it will all eventually correct itself. It might well yet. But until then, we have Suicide Squad, a spin-off from a sequel to a reboot that swaps good guys for bad guys and ends up all over the place.
The show sees government officials assemble a squad of not-very-nice people – because they need something that can stand up to the aliens and meta-humans that are crawling out of the woodwork. Complete a deadly mission and they get time off their jail sentence. Fail and, well, at least they don’t die in prison. The suicide squad is made up of crack assassin Deadshot (Smith), The Joker’s girlfriend, Harley Quinn (Robbie), fire-wielding El Diablo (Hernandez), sewer monster Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an architect possessed by a witch, called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and Captain Boomerang (Courtney). He throws boomerangs.
We meet all of these people in a nifty montage of introductory sequences, summing up their characters in a witty snapshot, each accompanied by a wryly chosen pop song. It’s so desperately cool that it swings all the way from slick to superficial, but it soon becomes apparent that Suicide Squad can’t even do surface-level fun quite right; 15 minutes into the film, sinister agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, enjoying herself way too much) sits down with a general to explain her idea, producing a Top Secret folder that contains each character. Then, we’re treated to another montage introducing all the characters again, one that doesn’t tell us anything new and only makes the first one feel redundant.
It’s messy, it’s illogical and it’s not the first time the word “redundant” springs to mind while watching the film, which leaves plot threads dangling and characters undeveloped at an almost superhuman rate. Take Flag (the always-excellent Joel Kinnaman), the officer who leads Task Force X, who is in a relationship with Enchantress – a relationship that Waller set up, but for no obvious reason. (The idea of Enchantress blacking out and losing control is a good one, especially when tied with romance, but it’s only briefly addressed and remains curiously unengaging.) Or samurai-sword-wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and climbing-expert Slipknot (Adam Reach), who both join the squad late on and have no impact upon the group dynamic at all.
The prize for most redundant character, though, goes to The Joker. Played by Jared Leto – who, as everyone knows, went full method for the role (which basically means he was a prick to everyone on set) – he’s a world away from the Heath Ledger incarnation that still lingers in everyone’s minds. While that’s not an inherently bad thing, it is bad that his take on the character is far less interesting, feeling less like a force of chaos and more like a gangster concerned with bling. When we meet him, he’s with Harley Quinn, which gives him a new dimension – we’ve never seen The Joker in love on screen before – but even that feels sadly squandered. Flashbacks to his and Harley’s relationship, detailing her transformation from his psychiatrist to his neon, objectified plaything, doesn’t give us any insight into their characters and merely reinforces her as a neon, objectified plaything.
Margot Robbie goes for broke as Harley, and her mind games with her fellow suicide squaddies are some of the best bits in the film, but her troubled back-story only becomes more troubling the more we see, never tackling what The Joker is doing to her and instead sugar-coating it with gloss and glamour. After all, why do something substantial with her character, when she can wander around in hot pants and wink at people? There’s potential for an intriguing spin-off, which could really give them a chance to be explored, but it’s a sign of how poorly handled the pair are here that you could remove The Joker from Suicide Squad entirely and it wouldn’t really affect the plot.
The biggest flaw, though, is the movie’s choice of villain, with a motivation and plan for world domination that is never fully explained, never excites and is carried out by a team of anonymous, faceless henchmen, who also remain a mystery. Why do their heads look like mutant blackberries? Did someone get bitten by a radioactive bramble somewhere along the line?
Ayer shoots some of the action with aplomb, but even that becomes largely repetitive, something not helped by the fact that only one of our group actually has powers – El Diablo – so the fight sequences swap any potentially unique choreography for set pieces involving guns. The only one who really benefits from that is Smith’s Deadshot. Smith brings the most depth to his troubled hitman than any of the other bland leads, as we learn that (of course) he has a daughter back home. He’s wasted with such slim material, though; think Hancock, except but closer to Hancock’s 15 minutes than Hancock’s half hour. El Diablo’s back-story, on the other hand, is as heavy-handed as Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s crocodile prosthesis, while Captain Boomerang is nothing more than an Australian stereotype on legs.
The result wants to be somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool, but Suicide Squad lacks the characters and banter of the former and the dark humour of the latter. At no point does anything surprising, shocking, subversive or even enjoyably evil happen – which is a shame when your entire film is based around evil antiheroes. The extended edition does little to remedy this, with the lengthy runtime feeling padded, thanks to a mid-film rescue mission that achieves absolutely nothing. The word is that the people who edited the film’s popular trailer were brought in to piece together the end product. If that’s true, it’s cruelly ironic, because all the movie does is make you want to watch the trailer instead.
Suicide Squad is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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