It’s apparent after viewing ‘Suicide Squad’, the newly released, tonally messy but well-cast, mildly diverting WB/DC film, that it was never meant to be the center-piece of the world-build initiated in this past March’s ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ Designed to be a side-piece revolving around villains forcibly indentured into government service, based on the periphery DC comic of the same name, this film and its’ characters would resonate more if the overall universe was better established before dropping it on the masses. As is, the film takes on a jarring mixture of bright color palette and comedy on a backdrop of darkness, a conflicting tone that wants an audience to root for a disparate group of criminals and psychopaths while the DC film series is still looking for a true hero to rise up and inspire (let’s hope for Wonder Woman!).
Writer/director David Ayer, a filmmaker whose mediocre-to-good creations (‘End of Watch’) are fueled by solid characters in gritty, grounded action settings, struggles to set a consistent vision for the set of rogues featured in the film. The film opens with an extended series of introductions to the various characters that will make up the expendable team. These vignettes are artfully shot with a comic-book aesthetic, but also seem a bit lazy in storytelling technique, as they are conveyed by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, managing to convincingly convey both steely resolve and oily manipulation at once, a difficult feat for most actors) to what amounts to basically an unnamed suit. In fact, much of the movie relies on exposition by characters who seem to only serve this purpose, a fact that hurts it overall.
Rightfully featured heavily in the marketing for this film are the characters of Harley Quinn and the Joker. They are played respectively by Margot Robbie, in a performance that surely will propel both the character and the actress into the stratosphere, and Jared Leto, putting his own unique stamp on the oft-adapted villain. Robbie brings the gum-snapping, Jerwsey-girl accented, flirty psychopath to gleefully murderous, yet extremely charismatic life, and one can imagine the studio itching to feature her in future films. Leto’s Joker is a different but interesting take as compared to all past incarnations, making him more of an unhinged gangster and less of a whimsical, psychotic force of chaos. If the intent was to step out of the shadows of Romero, Nicholson, Hamill, and Ledger (who received a posthumous supporting Oscar for his incredible work), Leto does a great job, but his role never takes on more than an extended, if compelling cameo, only hinting at any potential for this rendition. Speaking of cameos, Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne shows up here, but yet again, as the character was portrayed in ‘BvS’, his superhero gets unknowingly manipulated by others, making him less master detective and more a tool for others to point in their direction.
In what may be the most surprising move, some characters such as Will Smith’s Deadshot and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress provide roles that are contradictive to the marketing. As a comic-book enthusiast, it was hard to understand why a megastar like Smith would accept the role of the sharpshooting assassin, a C-list character in the source material. Once the movie begins however, it is clear that he is the defacto leader of the group, at odds with both his internal struggles to be a good role model to his daughter (a treacly and over-used concept in bad guys going straight stories) and the appointed leader of Team X, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman in a soggy doormat role who provides much of the aforementioned clunky exposition). Smith does bring his charm to the part, and his chemistry with Robbie’s Harley is palpable, but at the end of the day it is hard to root for, as one character aptly puts it, ‘a serial killer who takes credit cards.’ Delevingne receives both the best and worst special effects in the movie as Enchantress, a witch that possesses her human host (providing the best fx shot in the movie), but who also serves as the source of the non-descript computer graphic blobs and floating clouds that make up the overarching, poorly developed threat.
It may not be appropriate to hang social mores on a summer blockbuster, but one can’t help but wonder if ‘Suicide Squad’ represents a jaded populace looking for the bad to take on and defeat real evil. The heroes of this story, if you can call them that, are all psychos, murderers, thieves, and cannibals, the Hot Topic versions of characters in a movie that at times seems to be trying too hard to appeal to today’s teens. ‘Suicide Squad’, despite its’ many flaws, is not a bad movie, it’s just too bad that Warner Bros. / DC can’t seem to make a superhero film that appeals to all ages and inspires, like the best iterations of their iconic characters have the potential to do . . .
Directed By: David Ayer
Written By: David Ayer
Running Time: 123 min.
* * (out of 4 stars) -OR- C