In the wake of Superman’s demise, Government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gets clearance for controversial project Task Force X, in order to protect the world from any “meta-humans” or alien threats we may encounter. Task Force X - or the Suicide Squad - are a band of criminal misfits led by military hotshot Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and consisting of ace assassin Deadshot (Will Smith); former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist - and now loopier than any of her patients - Dr Harleen Frances Quinzel a.k.a. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie); pyromaniac meta-human Diablo (Jay Hernandez), scuzzy bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Killer Croc, a man-crocodile creature (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). With occasional interjections from Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevigne), an archaeologist who has been possessed by ancient witch Enchantress, and the aid of grieving widow and Samurai master Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the Squad are dispatched by Waller to deal with a non-human threat in Midway City.
Once again we find ourselves at the centre of a bizarre critical shit storm as venerable members of the press beat their chests in OTT despair and anger over a DC Comics property on the big screen. Quite what DC or Warner Bros. have done to deserve such vitriolic collective frothing is a mystery. Certainly since Christopher Nolan completed his superlative Dark Knight trilogy the studio have struggled to repeat the critical acclaim of their DC output but do some critics have it in for them now. Since the first reviews of this highly anticipated anti-hero flick emerged online this week one would think director David Ayer has spewed forth the anti-Christ of comic book flicks. This is largely due to the press picking up only on the negative reviews where, in actual fact, reactions to the film have been more balanced than those reported. Still, everyone loves a good gawp at a car crash don’t they?
But car crash Suicide Squad isn’t. When it gets things right, it gets them very right. The first half of the film is an anarchic blast, shot to look like day-glo graffiti, it’s awfully pretty and the introduction of the characters is fun if not a little clunky in its flashback-heavy sequence with Davis left with the task of exposition. We even get gifted a couple of future Justice League cameos which are welcome if only for their comforting familiarity in this largely cinematically unknown collection of comic book characters. The pretty rubbish villain is a disease of many of the summer’s big blockbusters and that’s no exception here. With a vague reason for taking over the world, the big bad guy is a big dud and so it’s left to Davis’ amoral agents to provide the true nastiness.
Those excited by the well-documented tales from the set of Jared Leto’s extreme method lengths to capture the malevolence and lunacy of the Joker will be disappointed that his efforts largely amount to a series of empty tics and posturing that looks less unhinged and more mannered in his execution. Looking like a lipsticked pimp he fails to capture the terrifying dead-eyed madness of the Clown Prince, with Heath Ledger’s perfect portrayal still the benchmark. His paramour Harley Quinn fares better with Robbie putting in a cutesy yet creepy turn as the crazy-in-love criminal. Baseball bat swinging and skipping along like a kid at Christmas, Robbie nails it but doesn’t quite steal the show as the trailers would have us believe. Letting her mask drop briefly from time to time, her Harley is nuts but sometimes displays a conscience, something the Joker would never have.
Will Smith unsurprisingly gets the lion-share of action given his star status but is clearly enjoying being part of an ensemble. His Deadshot is ruthless yet cool and he sure does love his little girl, while Jai Courtney finally looks like he’s found his niche playing a beer swigging reprobate. Ayer unforgivably wastes the excellent Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje burying the actor in layers of prosthetics and giving him literally nothing to do while Cara Delevigne displays an alarming lack of screen presence and looks far too young for the part, although admittedly her role is shamefully underwritten. Kinnaman proves to be a reliable hero once again but it’s Jay Hernandez’s conflicted and intense Diablo who stays long in the memory with Davis, whose steely-eyed performance is an exercise in understated ambition and ruthlessness.
Considering the brilliantly edited trailers it’s somewhat disappointing that the editing here is so pedestrian. Perhaps we’re an audience spoilt by the incomparable choreography and editing of the Russo’s brothers action scenes. Captain America: Civil War proves that you can have an ensemble of characters and give them all decent service, the genius of the airport scene and the Bucky/Cap/Iron Man dust up shows that savvy audiences can still be wowed by action. And while the soundtrack is frankly brilliant, peppered with the likes of Black Sabbath, Eminem and the Rolling Stones it is alarmingly constant and somewhat jarring.
Pleasingly one of the largely unfounded criticisms that has been levelled at Suicide Squad are accusations of sexism and while, yes, Harley Quinn’s hot pants are tiny, Ayer’s camera never lingers too long, making it less voyeuristic than some have claimed.
Is Suicide Squad a success then? Yes and no. Flawed it may be, disappointing given the high expectations perhaps, but a disaster? Far from it. There’s much to recommend here and it’s a treat to see Smith enjoying himself again. In short, go have fun, just don’t expect the second coming of DC just yet, that particular baton is now handed to next year’s Wonder Woman.