After the turgid mess that was Dawn of Justice, the last offering from DC/Warner which was widely divisive, Suicide Squad couldn’t fail to be better but is seemingly no less divisive. This film has been subject to an unavoidable marketing campaign and the now standard endless amount of opinion articles pulling it apart and putting it back together again even before the film had even been released in cinemas. After being unsurprisingly torn to shreds by critics (which it should be said are proven time and time again to have pretty much zero influence on Box Office, Exhibit A the Transformers franchise) resulting in a 26% percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes someone somewhere apparently outraged at such hubris (although it may have been a joke) started a petition to get Rotten Tomatoes taken down, despite the fact it’s actually owned by Warner Bros, the studio bankrolling Suicide Squad, because internet.
Suicide Squad from David Ayer ,the man behind Training Day and Fury, could’ve been a hard edged tour de force, a take on Robert Aldritch’s The Dirty Dozen with super villains. Conceptually it’s a no brainer – in a world of metahumans Government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a deniable and expendable black ops team. A team made up of unhinged deadly villains to go on deadly missions no one else can deal with and coerced into service by the threat of immediate death by explosive implants and the promise of time off their sentences for services rendered.
Only it doesn’t really live up to The Dirty Dozen idea. I expect this is likely due to Ayer being caught in the vice like grip of a studio still desperately playing catch up with their competitor rather than concentrating on actually making good films. A studio that is still utterly clueless when it comes to tone having just delivered a dark dirge of a film featuring one of the most optimistic hopeful characters in the history comics superheroes. Paradoxically they’re now delivering a much lighter film, shot through with a variety of recognisable songs, centred on a cast made up of mentally unhinged villains, which really makes no sense at all but somehow it works.
According to various sources David Ayer’s film suffered from reshoots after test screenings, and numerous scenes were left on the cutting room floor. This combined with a scattershot editing approach that re-ordered scenes and the narrative. According to Ayer the original cut ran at around 3 hours, the theatrical cut is just over 2 hours. That’s a pretty big difference. Some have said that Suicide Squad seems like it’s been thrown into a woodchipper the resulting film being incoherently messy but, and it likely seems like false praise, this is the best of the recent cinematic offerings set in DC’s world, not amazing , but definitely not the absolute car crash many are calling it.
The internal logic of the films premise doesn’t really work in the context that Waller lays it out . The idea that the Suicide Squad , a team which is largely made up of characters which don’t actually have powers, would be a match for General Zod for example , is a bit ridiculous but then the comic the film is based on suffers from much the same problem.
Interestingly Suicide Squad seems to subvert the action film norm, namely the women here are generally kicking ass and the men are mainly in the thrall of their emotions. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller utterly nails it and reveals herself to be one of the coldest most villainous characters in the whole film which is interesting. Meanwhile Cara Delevingne’s June Moone/Enchantress is the most powerful character to feature in a DC film yet, she’s integral to the film and gets some pretty cool visuals even if somewhat predictably things descend into CGI overload by the conclusion. Which is seemingly a standard for comic book superhero films by this point and doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
The main problem Suicide Squad suffers from is having to introduce so many characters in one film, which is really a catch 22 situation, either spend half the running time on introductory scenes setting up characters with backstories and thereby leaving no room for any actual story or plot or just omit half of the introductions to make way for the story even though half the characters haven’t been fleshed out and this film kind of does both .
So the likes of Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is basically just there for a few comedic beats that don’t really work, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje seems a little wasted as Killer Croc, a character who barely gets any lines at all and is seemingly just there to look menacing (which he does so kudos for the prosthetic approach) and there’s Karen Fukuhara’s Katana who is basically there to balance out the cast a little more, appearing out of nowhere some way into the proceedings for no real reason but she definitely seems like a cool character.
Will Smith’s Deadshot is as charismatic as expected veering more into anti-hero rather than being an outright villainous sociopath and he takes centre stage (along with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) whilst butting heads with Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag who is playing scout leader to the squad. One of the real surprises is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo who gets some of the best scenes in the film and goes from “who’s he?” obscurity to actually being a major part of the story.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a character widely derided for being there for no reason other than being a sexy lamp, actually impresses with her quirky unhinged mannerisms and one of the best comic to screen portrayals in a DC film yet. Her character has been singled out by many as being masturbatory fodder for horny teenagers because no woman would ever willingly wear such an outfit. Turns out Harley’s outfit was one of several potential looks and this one was actually decided by Robbie herself and costume designer Kate Hawley based on a photo of Blondie singer Debbie Harry in the 70’s and also inspired by the characters look in the more recent Suicide Squad comic. One of the key traits of Harley’s character is not really caring about what people think, which seems to have gone over a lot of people’s heads when it comes to her outfit, especially the scene where she picks it out.
Robbie’s dynamic with Jared Leto’s Joker, a wild eyed blinged out Mobster, actually works well largely omitting the inherently abusive element of their relationship rather than glorifying it and making them seem more like a real couple, albeit a twisted one. One of the things that seems to be confusing people is the Joker, and equally Batman, not being major characters in this film, despite it being pretty obvious that they aren’t supposed to be because this isn’t their story or their film. They feature mainly in flashbacks because this is a film set in a shared universe and this establishes that fact and it works brilliantly.
One of the best scenes in the whole film is in the third act when the weary group end up basically giving Flag the finger and going into a bar and just talking over drinks and it’s a glimpse into how this film could’ve been a lot better because it’s a moment that slows everything down and goes for real characterisation which adds a lot to most of the characters and makes you wish it didn’t come so late.
There are a lot of darker themes that could’ve featured in Suicide Squad, Rick Flag and Deadshot essentially being the same despite Flag’s moral grandstanding, Killer Croc essentially becoming a monster because that’s what people expected him to be , etc, but they’re never really explored. This is reminiscent of Dawn of Justice which basically dodged all the darker themes. There’s a sense that this film could’ve had much harder edges in line with Ayer’s previous work but they’ve probaly been sanded off by the studio .