Suicide Squad | Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz | Writer & Director: David Ayer
You could have been a contender.
Suicide Squad would have been a great thrill ride. It has all of the right characters, an action-oriented director who excels with dark themes, and a fantastic cast to boot. Regrettably, most films even in this age remain effective with some semblance of a plot, or at very least a singular vision that remains undeterred by studio influence. Truly, the unique concept of villains being leads in a major comic book adaptation should be given greater regard by Warner Bros. This lofty proposal would be an arduous venture on their part due to a lack of diligence and insight outlining a legitimate shared cinematic universe.
The greatest downside for the hyper violent semi-supernatural actioner is its inability to be itself, which severely diminishes its potential as a series. Suicide Squad has the bones of a R-rated film but feels stripped of the danger and explicitness that’d be associated with hardened, powered felons flung back into the big bad world. David Ayer does his best with the plethora of talent at his disposal, however Suicide Squad doesn’t feel like its own movie. Rather, it was given the Frankenstein treatment while it still writhed with life. What could have been a distinct film was pulled apart and pieced back together as a vehicle to promote the next slate of DCEU films.
In signature Ayer fashion, he shoves audiences in the thick of things at terminal velocity, providing a brisk look of a world without Superman before introducing the formidable lowlifes, miscreants, villains and monstrosities that’ll overwhelm our lives for two hours and ten minutes. Even with the hard-as-nails, imposing presence of Viola Davis, the perennial showman that is Will Smith and rising star Margot Robbie, the remaining squad all shine in their respective ways without compromising their ignoble temperaments.
While Deadshot and Harley have likely drawn the most interest for moviegoers, they’ll be pleasantly surprised the lesser known members of Task Force X – particularly El Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez – providing the heart and soul in Suicide Squad, qualities many wouldn’t expect to be shared in the middle of an urban war zone. Hernandez’s performance is the linchpin that guides the motivations of the Squad; Diablo’s penitence for past crimes gives his newfound partners-in-crime the hope and determination to turn things around in their respective hells. Or in Harley’s case, double down on being a psychopathic loose cannon. If only they weren’t so good at being bad.
For those not in the know, Superman is currently taking a dirt nap (SPOILERS) so the United States government decided the best way to neutralize potential meta-human threats is to exploit the abilities of meta-human and specially trained bad guys. Enter Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the architect of Task Force X and without a doubt a heartless bitch of the highest order… and that’s meant as a compliment. Serving under her is Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) who was coerced by Waller to lead “the freaks” due to his relationship with Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne). By the way, Dr. Moon is also possessed by a centuries-old witch. AND THE MOVIE HAS BARELY STARTED.
After a few plot lines are thrown against the wall like wet spaghetti, Task Force X is put into immediate action to eliminate a pair of otherworldly evildoers from destroying Midway City and rescue a key asset in the process. Now, it’s best if you forget the narrative entirely because, like Batman vs Superman’s oft-complained slight, there’s too much going on to follow in Suicide Squad. Nearly every character has a flashback and fantasy sequence that isn’t entirely relevant but hey, who cares! It looks cool so throw it in there! Hell, a few of the earliest events of the film are a forethought mere minutes after they occurred. This isn’t typical Ayer – who has directed films with thin plots yet always ties up loose ends – however it is becoming a through line for DCEU films. If one were to really think about it, DC isn’t skewing the Marvel Way as they are transplanting the Michael Bay formula into their connected franchises: less fuss, more explosions, and a splash of style that tears through at full throttle.
Now let us examine the crown jewel of Suicide Squad’s marketing campaign, Jared Leto’s oddly introspective, stylistically divergent rendition of The Joker. I could be nice, but I’d rather be honest: he was underwhelming. Like the rest of the film, Leto’s take was style over substance. A bombastic display that didn’t lead us anywhere. For all the supposed pranks, oddball behavior, and method acting on set, not much of it registered in this particular cut of Suicide Squad (you know they’ll be more than one released in the near future). Essentially, The Joker is nothing more than a glorified cameo, an irrelevant plot device that’s immaterial to the progression of the film.
For a character so iconic, it’s difficult for anyone to not compare past performances. Still, it’s an involuntary action like sneezing in a field of dandelions or wincing after a shot of 180 proof whiskey. Instead of a cold, cruel sadist like Nicholson’s or the mad dog anarchist by Ledger that left an indelible impression in “The Dark Knight”, Leto’s Joker rests on his laurels as seen in a flashy neon-splattered dossier. The audience is to assume that he’s a criminal mastermind because every equally intimidating (and heavily tattooed) rogue submits to his demented reign. Less madman and more clothes hound, in nearly every scene The Joker never wore the same wardrobe twice as he slunk into the bedlam. Simply put, it was weird. Imagine if Tony Montana fell into a vat of chemicals, went insane then spent most of his day watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous while shining a gold plated AK-47.
Honestly, it’s a match made in Heaven to have Leto’s penchant for the weird and luxuriant sync with Snyder’s overarching vision for the DCEU so seamlessly. Whether this Joker’s bite will eventually match his bark in the future remains to be seen.
It’s unclear exactly which scenes needed re-shoots but it’s quite apparent when certain folks behind the camera had greater say than the director. Anyone who has a mild awareness of Ayer’s minimalist, rapid fire action and moody exposition will easily distinguish his style from Synders’ flighty designs for a shared DC movie universe that, at the moment, resemble a jigsaw puzzle with pieces hammered into the wrong place.
Short of Leto and Kinnaman, the performances from the cast are competent at least and memorable at best. The crux of the matter is Suicide Squad‘s turbulent pacing and disjointed narrative. If anyone were to hazard a guess, the anticipation of the film got the better of the studio and they decided to make it even more connected to Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. The result of which lessens Suicide Squad’s luster. What could have been a subversive super-villain film became a side-project Zach Snyder lorded over, morphing what could have an offbeat, engaging late summer blockbuster into a shameless tie-in for his next big summer tentpole.
Sadly, Task Force X will likely be snuffed out twice… once in this film, and again from the DCEU schedule. Unless someone, be it Snyder, Geoff Johns or another exec, loosens the reins and allows the bad guys to raise holy hell along the edges of an increasingly stodgy and joyless universe.
Suicide Squad = 7.3/10