Suicide Squad

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Film reviews
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Directed by David Ayer. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Jai Courtney.

suicide-squad

No matter how hard they looked a decent script was nowhere to be found.

In the aftermath of the events of Batman Vs Superman US intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes building a team of super villains, who she will control through various means from emotional blackmail through to explosives implanted in their necks, to fight any meta-human threat that presents itself. After demonstrating the viability of her plan at a meeting of senior military and intelligence types— by using Dr June Moone (model Cara Delevingne who is surprisingly not terrible) an archaeologist who is possessed by the spirit of an evil force that transforms her into Enchantress—Waller gets the go ahead to create the team.

The squad will comprise Enchantress, hitman Deadshot (Smith) a man who never misses, Harley Quinn (Robbie) who was once the Joker’s psychiatrist before she fell in love with him and then fell into a vat of chemicals, Captain Boomerang (Courtney) whose ‘super’ power is bloody obvious, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) an LA gangbanger who has flaming powers, Killer Croc  (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a criminal with a skin condition that make him look like a reptile, and Slipknot (Adam Beach) a man who can climb anything! The team is to be led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) the US’s best special forces operative, who also happens to be in love with Dr Moone. The final recruit is a volunteer, Katana (Karen Fukuhara) a martial artist who wields a sword that can steal the souls of those it kills.

When a supernatural force begins destroying Midway City Waller orders the Suicide Squad into action, but can this disparate band of immoral criminals ever find a way to work together, especially when the force they’re up against is so powerful, and just how will they handle the involvement of The Joker, who wants his girlfriend back.

If you want an idea of how much of a mess this film is don’t worry, you’ll probably figure it out in the first fifteen minutes or so (if not sooner). The film opens with a clandestine meeting between Waller and various intelligence types in a restaurant where she lays out her idea for the squad, throwing a TOP SECRET file on the table before providing a snapshot of some of her recruits, most notably Deadshot and Enchantress. Don’t worry if you miss this bit, because in about five minutes or so Waller will attend a larger meeting where she’ll lay out her idea for the squad before providing a snapshot of each of her recruits. Yup that’s right, this is a film that has so little faith in its audience that it feels it has to explain everything twice…if not three times. By the time the story goes anywhere we’ll have been introduced to most of the squad members at least twice, and in Deadshot’s case about four times! There’s an axiom in writing of show don’t tell, as far as Ayer (who wrote the script as well as directed) his axiom seems to be show and tell, then show and tell some more…

Thankfully the film does get better as it goes along, but that’s not saying much given how lousy the opening section is. Yet again what we have here is DC cutting corners (just like they did with Batman Vs Superman) in an attempt to jump cut to Marvel levels of success, and as such the film has to introduce, well everyone as we’ve met none of these characters before, even the Joker is an all new Joker. Of course plenty of team based films have introduced characters cold and made us care about them in a short space of time (take The Dirty Dozen which is one of many films Suicide Squad desperately wants to be) but Ayer’s script isn’t nearly good enough to do this. Captain Boomerang gets barely a thumbnail character sketch, whilst Killer Croc doesn’t even get that. Meanwhile Deadshot’s love for his daughter and Harley’s love for Joker and shoved down our throats repeatedly, and even then neither of them get much personality beyond this. Flag is just a generic honourable soldier with a tragic romance subplot tacked on, and Slipknot and Katana are added to the team as an afterthought. El Diablo is potentially the most interesting character given he’s one of the few with genuine super powers and, despite his cliché look, is perhaps the most philosophical of the bunch, but when we get his backstory it’s as ham-fisted as Deadshot’s.

The trouble is Suicide Squad isn’t quite sure what kind of film it wants to be, in tone or in plot, and it isn’t confident enough in its characters to let them truly be bad guys, so rather than a truly anarchic (wo)men on a mission war movie, what we get is a bunch of misunderstood scallywags, none of whom are quite as bad as they’ve been painted, and no worse than Waller in the final analysis. This despite the fact that Deadshot’s killed hundreds, Harley is a psychopath, Croc may be a cannibal and El Diablo didn’t get to be leader of a gang by being nice to people. And so each character is undercut; Deadshot doesn’t kill women or children and he loves his daughter so he can’t be all bad, Harley’s fantasy is just to be a normal woman (which, and bear in mind she was a highly trained psychiatrist, apparently involves being a housewife and mother—how progressive).

Everything about Suicide Squad screams that it’s a film that thinks it’s way cooler and more anarchic than it actually is. Take the soundtrack replete with songs that were antiauthority back in the day, but now have slipped into mainstream cliché (Sympathy for the Devil ooh how daring). Nowhere is this ‘look at how rad we are’ view more apparent than in Jared Leto’s Joker. His craziness is all surface. The metal teeth, the tattoos, the outfits, it’s all external and his performance leaves much to be desired. I appreciate that a lot of his scenes apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, but maybe there’s a reason for that? He just never comes across like the Clown Prince of Crime. Heath Ledger made a fantastic, and very original, Joker with just some facial scarring and a kooky walk. He was scary. By contrast Leto’s Joker seems to have been designed within an inch of his life, which given we’re supposedly talking about a genuinely crazy, genuinely chaotic individual, kinda misses the point by several miles.

The rest of the cast do their best. Smith is probably the standout, because we are talking about a man with genuine star quality, the trouble is that you can never really buy him as an emotionless killing machine, he plays the part more like the good guy who’s just happened to fall in with the wrong crowd. Robbie is great as Harley and she owns the role, and the outfit, from the first moment you see her. She gets plenty to do and many of the film’s best lines, and however sexualised she is she never feels like she’s just there to be eye candy. Really the only problem with Robbie’s portrayal is the same as Leto’s, in that I don’t buy that Harley is genuinely batshit crazy.

It comes to something when there’s an argument for Jai Courtney being one of the best things in a film, but despite getting little to do Captain Boomerang is genuinely funny. Killer Croc could be anyone, so it’s a shame when you realise this is the guy who was Mr Eko in Lost. Kinnaman tries but has little to do aside from act tough/vulnerable as the script demands. Delevingne is genuinely creepy as the Enchantress, but convinces far less as Dr Moone. Davis seems to have mistaken just being monotone for being a sociopath but, as I’ve said, kudos to Hernandez for imbuing El Diablo with so much pathos.

As seems to be the default colour pallete for DC movies actual darkness is seem as a suitable substitute for emotional darkness, and the fight scenes tend to be generic gun/sword/baseball fights with nebulous creatures who are never really introduced, and are just there to be cannon fodder for the ‘good’ guys. The actual head bad guy is terrible. His sister is better but even so when you get to the final battle all you can think of is how much like Ghostbusters this is. It’s a weird tonal shift and sadly it doesn’t seem to be coincidental given that, once the fighting’s over, the film shamelessly lifts a moment from the end of the original Ghostbusters.

But then it’s hardly surprising given this film clearly wants to copy other films, and no more is this evident than in its aping of Escape from New York. Don’t get me wrong, EFNY is one of my favourite films, and there’s nothing wrong with homageing a classic every once in a while, but having tiny explosives inserted in everyone’s necks is just a little too on the nose, plus by drawing comparisons with Escape from New York you just make Suicide Squad’s flaws all the more telling. Carpenter made a truly dark and anarchic film, he and Kurt Russell gave us a real genuine antihero and never needed to sugar coat him in order to make him engaging.

Suicide Squad is a film that wants to have its cake and eat it, to be subversive yet also multiplex friendly and thus falls between two stools and succeeds in neither aim. If you want a subversive comic book film featuring lots of violence and a lead who doesn’t fit the standard superhero template go watch Deadpool which is everything Suicide Squad isn’t.

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Gratuitous Harley Quinn pic because…look I don’t need a reason ok!

 

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Comments
  1. Yup, if you’re going to make villains, make them villainous. Not misunderstood naughty boys/girls. Marvel still makes heroes who, while flawed, make you believe in MORE. Too many of DC’s characters simply make me cynical. I’m afraid this one doesn’t grab me at all.

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