SUICIDE SQUAD – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Will Smith (Men in Black), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop), Viola Davis (The Help), Jai Courtney (Terminator Genisys), Jay Hernandez (Hostel), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (The Bourne Identity), Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), Scott Eastwood (The Longest Ride), Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns)

Writer/Director: David Ayer (Fury)

Runtime: 2 hours 3 minutes

Release Date: 5 August (US, UK)

Of all the DC Comics properties to be made into a feature film, Suicide Squad is certainly not one I think even diehard comic book fans expected to happen. The concept is simple and provides a lot of ample opportunities for badass fun, but it’s still a little weird to see these villains get their own movie when half the DC pantheon has yet to be even mentioned in one of these films. What it does potentially offer, most importantly, is a shift from the typical superhero dynamic we’ve all come so accustomed to into something a little more subversive; not deconstructive like Watchmen or parodic like Deadpool, but certainly something with a more twisted viewpoint. Suicide Squad does ultimately deliver that aberrant experience, but it’s also unfortunately an inconsistent one.

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The film ultimately plays out like a comic book version of The Dirty Dozen, with the first act focused on assembling the titular squad before they are sent on their impossible mission. It’s in that initial portion of the film where it really shines, delving into obscure places in the DC universe and having fun with all the toys it gets to play with. It integrates itself with the previous and future films without calling too much attention to it, ultimately making the world feel more lived-in. However, once the team finally heads out into battle, that’s where things start to fall apart. The film quickly becomes a conveyor belt of action sequences broken up by exposition and quips, leaving very little room for effective character development and ultimately making the pacing feel a little stop-start. The actual plot is a pretty self-explanatory “stop the bad guy from destroying the world” story, but the film keeps acting like it’s complicated and stops to have characters explain what’s going on instead of devoting that time to character beats. By the film’s climax, it feels like its blown its load way too early and haphazardly rushes its way to a conclusion, leaving behind lots of wasted opportunities that can hopefully be followed up in a sequel. The film is at its best when its not taking itself too seriously in a Guardians of the Galaxy way, letting the characters’ personalities bounce off each other during and between the action, but whenever it becomes about the story the film’s seams become incredibly apparent.

Thankfully, the characters of Suicide Squad are the real stars here and they manage to shine bright even when other parts of the film are struggling to. Screen time isn’t spread evenly, with certain characters getting elaborate flashback sequences to explain their origins whilst others only get a quick verbal introduction (one suspects there is a lot of material on the cutting room floor), but they all provide unique personas to what is already a very eclectic film. Will Smith’s interpretation of Deadshot is a change of pace for both the actor and the character, allowing Smith to play a little seedier than usual whilst still utilising his trademark sense of humour. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is an absolute joy, perfectly capturing the essence of the character whilst also adding a darker sense of humour and just a dab of tragedy; she is true heart of the movie and I’m sure her popularity will only increase afterwards. Viola Davis manages to capture the unforgiving brutality of Amanda Waller without it becoming unrealistic, Jay Hernandez is a surprising revelation as the redemptive Diablo, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is easily the actor’s most charismatic performance he has ever given. Jared Leto’s Joker will probably split opinions, and he certainly doesn’t come close to topping Heath Ledger, but he’s probably the most accurate to the comics portrayal of the character personality-wise and he fits the tone DC are going for with the universe perfectly; I look forward to the inevitable day when Ben Affleck punches him in the face. There are some weak links however. Karen Fukuhara and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are great as Katana and Killer Croc respectively but don’t get much screen time, whilst Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag gets plenty but lacks personality as the de facto straight man of the group, but it’s Cara Delevingne as June Moon/Enchantress that flops hardest. Despite being a major character in the plot, neither of her personas gets much development and her performance mostly comes down to flailing her arms around as CGI engulfs whatever screen presence she has.

Mixing David Ayer’s panache from grittiness with the hyper-reality of DC Comics makes for a glorious mix in Suicide Squad, adding some much needed personality that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were lacking. The design of the film from the sets to the costumes is a mishmash of cultures that makes for a vibrant and unique look for a superhero movie, giving the movie its own identity whilst still still sitting comfortably with its brethren. The music of the film constantly steals the show, with both Steven Price’s score and the vast array of soundtrack choices ranging from rock classics to contemporary hip-hop perfectly accentuating the movie’s flavour. Effects work both practical and digital is also top notch, with Killer Croc’s make-up and Diablo’s fire effects being particular standouts. Where the spectacle disappoints, however, is in the action sequences. They’re all choreographed and filmed perfectly fine, but there is a serious lack of standout moments. There’s never that moment where a character whips out their trademark move at a crucial point or uses one of their weaknesses to their advantage. It’s mostly just a barrage of gunfire and slicing that ultimately congeals together after the movie is over, and for a movie that sells itself so much on style that’s kind of an underwhelming result.

Suicide Squad is thankfully a fun and unique time at the movies, but rarely ever is it coherent. It manages to constantly get by thanks to the overabundance of personality from its cast, but underneath it all is a simple story that doesn’t hold up under the pressure of its ambition. It’s certainly an encouraging step in the right direction for DC, just about setting the right balance between grit and fun, but it does suffer from many of the same ailments their films have had since the beginning. This is all initial gut reaction at this point, as I have an odd feeling this is the kind of movie that might improve with age in the vein of Fight Club, but as of right now I can only call Suicide Squad a pretty decent movie rather than a damn good one. Regardless of the quality, the potential for future adventures with Task Force X remains strong and I hope the film is successful enough for this creative team to take another shot with more freedom and more confidence to do something truly spectacular.

FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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