7.0 out of 10
Will Smith as Deadshot
Directed by David Ayer
Suicide Squad Review:
Suicide Squad is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This seems like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. Suicide Squad doesn’t have the scope of BvS, but it makes up for it with characters that are fun, tough, and even at times poignant. Marvel Studios is playing a longer game than DC Studios, so DC isn’t wasting much time throwing us into their cinematic universe, but I consider it to be the studio’s faith in the audience to keep up with all the plot and these heroes and villains. It’s a good thing these characters are so enjoyable to spend time with, because the film surrounding them gets rough and shaggy. Some scenes make no logistical sense, and the threat of the main antagonist mostly involves the same flying debris and glowing “magic” lightning that we saw in the climax of Man of Steel. DC’s aesthetic, by the way, is quite ugly and grey, and one can’t help but compare it to the brighter, less cluttered Marvel films.
But I don’t want this to be a referendum on the DC/Marvel rivalry, because even though Suicide Squad is disorganized, there is still an awful lot of fun to be had. It may be baby steps for this DC universe, but these characters are compelling enough to take us past the jagged parts. I’d happily see a movie about Deadshot (Will Smith) or Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Even after all the behind-the-scenes rumors and mischievous behavior of Jared Leto, his Joker isn’t bad. It’s nowhere close to Heath Ledger’s iconic work, but it works for Suicide Squad and the larger cinematic universe, because this is a Joker that’s going to be around a while. Frankly, Leto isn’t doing much more than channeling James Cagney’s gangster film work. And there’s nothing wrong with that – if you’re going to play a bad guy, emulating one of the most iconic actors in film history is probably the smart play. Leto’s Joker is a wiry, coiled-to-strike snake, but he’s missing that elegant chaos that Ledger seemed to exude from his pores. It’s a good start, though. The real test is to see how Leto’s Joker plays opposite Ben Affleck’s Batman, but while his screen time is limited, Leto makes a good case that he will be a formidable opponent for the Dark Knight Detective.
Suicide Squad wastes no time going big and mystical as an evil spirit, the Enchantress, possesses the body of Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne). In a world after Superman, the United States needs someone to be able to punch back in case something else comes along that could do serious damage to the planet. To that end, Amanda Waller (a very good Viola Davis) forcibly recruits dangerous criminals who might get the job done and are completely expendable. For Deadshot, the world’s most successful assassin, it means a chance to see his daughter again. For Harley Quinn, it’s an opportunity to get back with her one true love, her “puddin’” the Joker. And for the rest of Task Force X, it may mean a reprieve from their sentences. But when Task Force X is sent to Midway City, they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Much of Suicide Squad serves as a reminder of why audiences fell in love with Will Smith in the first place, and Smith seems to be having a great time twirling the mustache a bit and being a bad guy. But he’s also got an emotional range and a pathos to his performance that gives Deadshot much needed depth. Same goes for Robbie’s Quinn, who shows us the wounded, haunted woman beneath her insanity. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo, a fire-wielder, refuses to kill again, and his backstory is satisfying and passionate. All the actors do good work, including Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, in love with Moone and conflicted about his mission.
The problems with Suicide Squad are almost entirely with the over-jammed story and David Ayer’s direction, which showcases just so much of the action but is shot so badly, with almost pitch black backgrounds and a lot of shaky camerawork. While Suicide Squad throws us into the deep end of the pool of the DC Universe, it doesn’t give much time for explanation. Again, DC has a lot of trust in the audience in navigating the various plot pieces and the action, but perhaps a slower approach would have been a better way to go. The action, at times, is shot so fast that it’s difficult to make out who’s punching who. The ending feels straight out of the original Ghostbusters, and not in a good way. Once these characters are unleashed and fight to the fullest of their abilities, it’s entertaining, even while not making a lick of sense at times. The pacing of the film is strange at times – it moves in fits and spurts, and sometimes stops completely when it makes no sense to do so.
It’s the character work that pulls us through. All the actors manage to inject emotion and humor into them, even when the plot insists that they color in the lines. This is important, probably the most important aspect that DC must get right. Even through all the spectacle and explosions, if DC can’t deliver characters for us to relate to and to root for, then these films simply aren’t going to work. Ben Affleck’s Batman is a great take on the character, but he can’t carry all the weight. We need heroes to cheer for, motivated villains to root against, and a story that moves us. Batman v Superman failed in a lot of ways in that respect, but Suicide Squad doesn’t. More than the other two films, Suicide Squad gives me hope that this might actually work. Zack Snyder has an intrinsic misunderstanding of these characters and why we see these movies. David Ayer, although sloppy at times, understands. Suicide Squad isn’t pretty, isn’t elegant, and not very graceful, but it gets the job done, and that makes all the difference.