Batman V Superman? Crap. Man of Steel? Dour crap. My expectations for Suicide Squad were low, but I was genuinely surprised to find it…good! I enjoyed quite a lot of it, though some of the cast are – how do I put it sensitively? – naff.
After Batman V Superman, shadowy government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together ‘Task Force X’ – a group of imprisoned villains (some are “metahumans”) that can help deal with situations armed forces can’t handle. One duly crops up, connected to freaky witch Enchantress, trapped in the body of archaeologist June Moon (Cara Delevigne).
Waller, with the help of stoic army bloke Rick Flag (Joel Kimmerman) and enigmatic swordswoman Katana (Karen Fukuhara), assembles the squad, including: gifted shot and super-assassin Deadshot (Will Smith); Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the deranged girlfriend of the Joker (Jared Leto); Australian bank robber/walking stereotype Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); fire throwing gang-banger Diablo (Jay Hernandez); and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a cannibal that looks like a crocodile.
So let’s start with the plot – director and writer David Ayer, with the help of editor John Gilroy (and uncredited mystery editors – there were behind-the-scenes shenanigans) has put together a Dirty Dozen-style caper within the DC Movie Universe. Given Ayer’s gruesome, violent and brutal films (Fury, End of Watch and Sabotage), this is incredibly restrained, though still unmistakably gritty. However, we’re rooting for the bad guys, but it’s hard to think of much this lot does that really makes them supervillains (from what we see). The Joker, probably the worst of the bunch, isn’t in the squad and is barely even a villain here, sidling in and out of the story as required, with the two antagonists and their plot to rule the world very depressingly familar.
It would have been better setting the squad up in a previous film so we appreciate the change from bad to good. What we get is montage-upon-montage, how they got caught (hello, superhero cameos) and then the inevitable move to becoming anti-heroes. The film feels rushed, with a naff central plot, and it’s only thanks to the (hit-and-miss) humour and its novel approach to a comic book film that set it apart.
Some of the writing is your standard blockbuster crap (one character asks if “this is some kind of suicide squad” at one point), and some of the humour fell flat (this could again be the US/UK humour split, but it killed some scenes dead). The effects are pretty awful when the film requires CGI, and at times it felt more like a video game. so a less CGI-minded focus might have been a better decision (especially given Ayer’s down-and-dirty grit in prior films), but the plot demands it and we have to put up with it.
Will Smith ends up basically being co-lead with Margot Robbie, and without these two Suicide Squad would be awful. You remember why Will Smith used to be the world’s biggest film star – his charisma – and he enjoys playing an anti-hero with a harder edge. His interplay with Robbie, who’s just the right side of annoying, endears you to the two murderers, and Robbie successfully adapts the dangerously unstable Harley (yes, even down to the “puddin'”). Of the rest of the squad, not much good can be said, beyond Jai Courtney and Jay Hernandez, who give us comedy and drama respectively.
Courtney is pretty mediocre in most of his movies, but plays a great Aussie stereotype using boomerangs as weapons, always with a can of beer stowed in a pocket – he’s the most reliable comic relief. Hernandez’ fiery criminal is the moral heart, a man whose power ruined his life who refuses to use it unless absolutely necessary – and as a result gets the best character arc. Viola Davis does also deserve a positive mention for being the absolutely stone-cold female version of Nick Fury, showing a steely determination to achieve what’s required however necessary.
The rest of the squad and Leto however are pants. Fukuhara is mute, behind a mask or both, and serves no purpose in the story other than being another weirdo; Kinnaman joins the hallowed ranks of acting charisma black holes as the boring Flag; Delevigne is saddled with a ridiculous accent and costume alongside the disadvantage of not being able to act; and Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is thanklessly saddled with prosthetics and an impossibly audible accent, which is a real waste of a great actor.
But yes, the vitriol is mostly spared for Jared Leto. His Joker is crap – a modern-day gangster joke, with a ‘Damaged’ tattoo on his forehead and a metal grill in his mouth, his voice a crap impersonation of Heath Ledger’s unbeatable predecessor and a laugh so deliberately drawn out as to make you wonder how nobody killed him on set. He saunters in and out of the plot in pursuit of Harley, and while his henchmen are fun (look out for the one in a Batman mask), he’s barely intimidating, let alone the criminal mastermind that we know the Joker to be.
The actor is clearly talented, but for all the Method work that went into this (pretending to be the Joker off set, sending cast members dead rats and used condoms), the performance is a real disappointment.
The original score by Steven Price is OK for the most part, but in another sign of over-editing is completely overshadowed by popular music. Queen; Rolling Stones; Kanye West; Eminem – just a few of the artists whose songs you’ll hear blaring out. It felt like a deliberate imitation of Guardians of the Galaxy, minus the point – in that film, the main character has all the songs on a tape, which is why we hear them (plus they’re all songs he liked as an ’80s kid). Here, it’s like Ayer wrote the most obvious song next to each plot point or character and used it.
So many little things could have made this really good, but as it is Suicide Squad is only good, and just about thanks to its humour and a select few members of the cast. Though good is better than what I had expected!