When Superman’s death leaves a power vacuum, the ruthless government employee Amanda Waller takes advantage of the new born fear of aliens and “meta-humans” to assemble a task force of extremely skilled, partly supernaturally gifted villains who are forced into participating with all kinds of physical and psychological means. Unfortunately, one of the members, the thousands of years old witch “Enchantress” goes rogue and occupies Midway City. Now Waller has to activate the “Suicide Squad” prematurely to cover up her blunder. The squad members have their own plans though…
Suicide Squad is, following Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the third movie of the so-called DCEU and the second one that is setting up the “shared universe”, unless you count the Wayne Corp.- satellite in Man of Steel.
The third movie could be seen as the one that has to prove the viability of the concept, the trial period being over for good. Does it succeed or fail at that? Well, one could say both in equal measure. And that’s a bummer.
A lot has been written and said about the behind-the-scenes turmoil of Suicide Squad. Even assuming that we would not know about all this, it would still be obvious that this is a movie that has been meddled with heavily though.
One signifier for the prolonged tinkering is the disrupted flow. Some scenes seem to be cobbled together, with parts in between missing and while the plot wondrously still makes sense overall (mostly), it doesn’t exactly feel like seamless storytelling. The rumours about Warner Bros. adding “levity” in re-shoots in a misguided reaction to the fan backlash to Batman v. Superman‘s dark tone seem to be all too true, sadly. Especially the first half of the movie is cluttered with Pop- and Rock- songs on the soundtrack, apparently in an attempt to generate associations to the successful Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studio’s probably most overrated output. And what a trite selection of songs it is at points – I was ready to leave my seat during a dress-up scene accompanied by Eminem’s “Without Me”. Also, “Seven Nation Army” has now officially reached the level of “We Will Rock You”, i.e. a once great song that became unlistenable due to its overuse as stadium anthem. It’s a baffling decision, as the music seems to be tacked on as an afterthought and doesn’t always correspond with the visuals, turning a good stretch of the movie into a slightly dissonant (if still entertaining) patchwork. Another questionable (re-)editing decision resulted into the blunder of every team member getting an origin story in the shape of a sweet short vignette… except one! What the hell?
Then there are the villains…
The Enchantress is a great character and Cara Delenvigne plays her with gusto, but the longer the movie is going on, the more her role is getting blown out of proportions. Considering that this movie is a neon-coloured riff on Dirty Dozen, filled with low down and dirty characters, I naturally expected a low down and dirty adventure. Which it is at the beginning, but at the end it’s all about giant laser beams to the sky, total destruction and world dominance again. I was under the impression that this kind of “epic” stuff was reserved for the “god-like” heroes like Supes and by using it inflationary it loses a good chunk of its impact, rendering the last act of Suicide Squad as superhero business as usual. It reeks of yet another tacked on element that was added in a panic reaction to ensure maximum audience compatibleness. Hopefully, Disney doesn’t make the same mistake with its Star Wars spinoffs, even though some details that emerged, disturbingly point into that direction.
…but very watchable
So is there anything good to say about this movie? A lot actually, which also makes it kind of frustrating as it makes you ponder about the wasted potential.
Again the DCEU delivers when it comes to creating a unique, engrossing atmosphere. A wicked sense of anarchy is permeating the candy-coloured scenario, a very calculated one admittedly, but undoubtedly effective. David Ayer is a solid, yet not great craftsman in my eyes, but his unremarkable directing style is compensated by the outstanding production and costume designs, giving us trashier, grittier versions of Gotham’s cities Worst that are comic-booky yet cinematic at the same time.
The major strength of Suicide Squad, the one quality that single-handedly saves the movie, can be witnessed in the depiction of its characters and the performances of the actors/actresses who fill them with life.
As the trailers already indicated, Margot Robbie reveals to be pitch-perfect as Harley Quinn, making the role her own with a very faceted performance, convincingly turning from girlish to manic to melancholic and back. Viola Davis is adequately chilling as the sociopathic Amanda Waller, while Jai Courtney, hitherto known as nondescript stand-in when more talented actors proved to be unaffordable, is unexpectedly funny in a self-deprecating turn as the living caricature of an Australian that goes by the glorious name “Captain Boomerang”. Because I am not a fan of the “Big Willie” style at all, I was most surprised by the dark charisma Will Smith shows as “Deadshot” and no, he doesn’t turn Suicide Squad into his ego show as some rumours suggested.
While I am conflicted about the use of the “Enchantress” as the villain (see above), I totally dig the character and the actress who plays her -Cara Delevingne, on the way to become the new Christina Ricci- who is still confusingly sexy in her feral, coal-smeared incarnation. Speaking of, it’s worth a mention how consequently the DCEU is handling super-natural and “magic” parts, avoiding detours into the regions of corny pseudo-quantum mechanics and alien tech, thereby solidifying the mythological approach that was initiated with Man of Steel.
Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje unrecognisable behind a great make-up job), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Katana (Karen Fukuhara, not enough screen time) are all great, even Joel Kinnaman is pretty good in the comparatively boring part of the “regular human” Rick Flag.
Time to talk about the fair-skinned elephant in the room, namely Jared Leto as the Joker. He is probably the second biggest surprise in the character and acting department. Forget about Leto’s on-set antics, his diva behaviour and his latest claims – he does a great job as Batman’s arch enemy, who is now depicted as a less philosophical, more self-aware and straightforward, yet nonetheless pretty crazy “Scarface”-inspired gangstah. His silly tattoos and wardrobe, which sparked a heated debate in the net months prior to the movie’s release and also left myself with many doubts about the new approach, make much more sense in context, as the new Joker is a warped caricature of a modern gangster stereotype. It’s almost as if the Joker wanted to insult his competition by adapting and parodying their style, which totally fits the original character.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the DCEU, whose first two entries represented a darker, more energetic and daring alternative to the MCU. Some of that spark is still tangible in Suicide Squad, but the rushed reshoots turned it into a messy experience that lands on the top of this year’s giant pile of “What could have been”- movies. This is doubly disappointing as this gutless attitude was, apart from the idiotic edits to ensure a shorter running time, still absent during the production of BvS, which was, despite the lukewarm to negative fan reaction towards MoS, a consequent continuation of its predecessor’s tone and themes. Here is hope that the prevailing negative view on BvS will continue to change slowly towards a more positive perception (the extended cut might be helpful) and bestow the WB executives with more confidence in their creatives again. A man can dream.
Still, on top of all the questionable song choices, confusing edits and rushed CGI, there is a movie with enough energy, weird atmosphere and gaudy style to entertain. Let’s hope we can see Ayer’s original version(s) one day on DVD/Blu. Maybe in a 6-7 disc box set?
Not convinced? Bop offers a less favorable opinion Suicide Squad in his review.