[All pictures courtesy Warner Bros.]
Written by David Ayer
Directed by David Ayer (based on John Ostrander’s comic book)
Any film with the amount of pre-release hype that surrounded Suicide Squad is going to have to work hard to live up to the marketing department’s promises. A film that is part of a franchise that recently took a beating thanks to Batman v Superman is going to have to work even harder. If the online hype is anything to go by, Suicide Squad has not only failed but may be the most hated film of 2016. Considering Ayer’s film made around $135 million (US) during its domestic opening weekend and a further $132 million (US) during its international openings, there must be a LOT of really annoyed folks out there.
To be perfectly honest, there are some very real issues with this film. The film has been legitimately criticized for a messy plot and uneven timing, with many critics using words like chaotic, manic, and just a general lack of cohesion. There are also some very legitimate criticisms leveled at the film for the portrayal of Harley Quinn, but none of these actually stopped the film being a whole lot of fun to watch. In fact, I’ve come to think of it as a guilty pleasure — like a second Margarita or caramel corn. I know I shouldn’t like it but … I did.
Poor plot, creative casting
The thing that saves Suicide Squad is fantastic casting. The actors all appear to embrace and enjoy their roles and it shows — especially once the Squad actually comes together as a team. Set in the days following Superman’s death in Batman v Superman, we follow Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as she manipulates those around her into creating — and then having to control — an elite squad of killers who can be sent in to do the dirty work the good guys just don’t want to do. Because it’s, you know, dirty.
Waller is deliciously devious — her goal may be the greater good, but she uses every means possible and not once shows a flicker of guilt. Davis plays the character brilliantly, giving her enough self-righteous patriotism to be understandable if not acceptable and more than enough coldness to be believable as the master manipulator she is. Waller is happy to use any means necessary — manipulating the good guys, blackmailing the bad guys, or simply just killing anyone unfortunate enough to have insufficient clearance. It is Waller’s Machiavellian behaviors that have you actually cheering for the Squad — if only in the hopes that she will get what she deserves one way or another.
Leading the Squad itself, Will Smith’s Deadshot is difficult to fault. Smith’s usual charm is channeled into a chilly charisma making him entirely believable as the cold and calculating hitman whose one soft spot is his daughter. Smith is almost unrecognizable in some parts and if he hasn’t completely destroyed his ‘nice guy’ image, he does show he could step up and play a bad guy convincingly.
Placed opposite him, Margot Robbie’s mesmerizing Harley Quinn is the standout star of the show. The chemistry between these two, presented as polar opposites in almost every possible way, drives a lot of the dialogue. In fact at times, they are more of a couple than Quinn and The Joker. Quinn pirouettes her way along a tightrope of insanity that you just can’t look away from. And herein lays one of the issues many critics have: whether or not Quinn is simply a pretty, somewhat psychopathic, little pawn to be used by the men around her and incapable of any independent thought. Leaving aside the social or feminist arguments for the time being, not to mention the argument around whether she is a psychopath or has Stockholm Syndrome, the comic character is a pretty, willing, little killer and her film incarnation is fairly accurate — thanks to Robbie. There are rumors of a stand-alone Harleu Quinn film, and I for one think it’s a great idea as long as they can get a really good director who won’t turn it into a two-hour parade of booty shorts and bubble gum popping.
The real bad guys
Which brings us to Jared Leto’s Joker.
Considering much of the marketing for this film hinged on his presence, he is not quite as central a character as you would expect him to be (how was that for not quite dropping a spoiler?). There is a lot of talk out in cyberspace — and in fandom — about whether he was anything more than mediocre in the role, but personally I felt he was, if anything, too believable as a psychopath. I found him very disturbing — and I’m not easily disturbed. It was not his make-up or his laugh I found unnerving, but his unrelenting, yet understated, obsession with Quinn. Unfortunately, the plot and timing issues mean that Leto’s scenes could easily be removed from the film, not only creating a smoother watch but losing nothing of the story. Anecdotally, Leto tried to base his performance on the original comic book character and invested a lot of energy into the performance, staying in character even off camera. If the film shows only a tiny amount of which he was capable of, they wasted a great talent, a great character, and the potential for a great film. What’s more, if Leto’s claims that many of his scenes were cut are true, I’m inclined to wonder if their inclusion would not have helped this film have a smoother passage.
Also wasted is the villain. The Enchantress is so weak it feels as though she was added as an afterthought and the effects in her major scene are cringe worthy. They were so bad they yanked me straight out of the story and back into the movie theatre. For a film that supposedly had around $750 million spent on it, there is no excuse for effects that look like they are straight out of the 1970s.
If Warner Bros. and DC were hoping that Suicide Squad was going to finally put them on an even footing with Marvel, they have missed the mark in a resounding manner. However, for an action packed afternoon, with an engaging cast that can have you cheering for characters who are essentially sewer dregs – Suicide Squad delivers. Grab your caramel corn, put your feet up and enjoy the ride, puddin’.