“That is a whole lot of pretty. And a whole lot of crazy.”
As I write this, it’s 3am on Suicide Squad release day. I’m absolutely exhausted and I’m in desperate need of sleep. The problem is, I’m fresh back from the midnight screening of my most anticipated movie of 2016 and I’m all hyped up on the pure adrenaline rush that I just saw.
I promise, I’ll try to be as coherent as possible.
The Skwad‘s story is a dead simple one. Seven or eight criminals, all varying degrees of nasty-bastard or crazy-nutbag have been brought together by the powers that be to form Task Force X: a literal suicide squad that the government can throw in at the deep end with complete deniability if something goes wrong.
And wouldn’t you know it? Just as they’ve wrapped up the back stories, along comes a shifty looking supernatural thing that means to destroy humanity and rule the world. Fitted with explosive low-jacks and threatened with imminent death, the squad are airlifted into Midway City. Their mission: traverse the ruined streets to rescue and evacuate a high value target, and take out the apocalyptic threat in the heart of the city.
Adding to their woes is world-famous psychopath and world creepy laugh champion, The Joker (Jared Leto). Caring little for the squad’s mission, the crazed maniac just wants to be on the same side of the prison walls as his sweetheart and Task Force X member Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). As such, he is inserting himself into the squad’s lives whether they want him their or not. It’s all fun and games if you’re a bad guy.
This is still early on in DC’s extended cinematic universe, but my biggest fear going in was that I’m not a comic book reader. I had the same issues when we started getting invested more in the MCU and I had no more than a passing acquaintance with some of these characters. It’s the same with DC. Outside of Batman, The Joker and the many and varied Batman villains from the films, the only knowledge I have of a lot of these characters comes from playing the Arkham video games and DC’s TV universe.
So when poor reviews (the only time I’ll mention those) poured in this week and director David Ayer – a real long-time favourite of mine – came out and gave the infuriating “I made it for the fans” quote, I was concerned that I was gonna be left out in the cold, not knowing what the hell was going on nor who anyone was.
Luckily, this wasn’t the case at all. In the opening minutes, we are introduced to the ragtag group of criminals in a way that you might expect from an Expendables movie or Borderlands video game. Each member of the team gets their own little over the top vignette to give us a look at who they are and why they’re here. And man, what an impressive cast we get.
A quick rundown I reckon, but you don’t need much more. Impressively, the film gives you everything you need and you came here for a review, not a bullet-pointed list.
Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most prominent character. The man that never misses is a killer-for-hire, but is easily manipulated into doing as he’s told by the powers that be; and man does that make Mr Smith mad! Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker are the King and Queen of Gotham City. With one of the pair of psychos in prison and the other trying to free them from the government’s clutches, their story (and their chemistry) is, as expected, a highlight of the film.
Theirs isn’t the only exploited relationship here. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is a decorated special forces colonel who is dragged in as Task Force X’s on-the-ground leader. Whether or not he agrees with them, he always follows his orders. In no small part because of his relationship with Dr June Moone. Cara Delavingne plays the good doctor, whose body is inhabited by the eons old Enchantress; a character deserving of her own horror movie she’s so spooky. Jay Hernandez gets to sink his teeth into Diablo, a pyrokinetic former gang member haunted by the deaths that he’s caused. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s reptilian Killer Croc is the muscle of the group. A sewer dwelling monster that seems almost unstoppable, Croc is a product of the way he’s been treated because of how he looks (absolutely NOT a political statement, I’m sure). Jai Courtney is almost unrecognisable as thief and killer Captain Boomerang; and Karen Fukuhara brings up the rear as Kitana, a deadly martial artist with a soul stealing sword and close friend of Rick Flag. Like I said, ragtag!
Running the show though, is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. A ruthless, heartless woman who can manipulate anyone to to what she wants. Compared to this vicious bitch, Task Force X are a Boy Scout troop.
This massive ensemble can lead to problems, especially for a film this early on in a universe that we are expected to invest in. Everyone has a backstory and only a small percentage of the cinema going audience are going to know it before the opening titles roll. It means you have to get me, a film lover but a comic book virgin, invested in your characters without sacrificing too much screen time or turning your film into a PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, I think Ayer (who was also on writing duties for our anti-heroes) gets the balance just right. Mixing in an occasional flashback with a little dialogue-driven exposition during the lulls in action to make sure that by the time the credits roll, we are all caught up and more or less on an even footing with the comic book lovers that came with you to see the film.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have problems. In fact, I’m almost – ALMOST – feeling a little forgiving of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice after watching Suicide Squad. The film has many of the same problems as its predecessor and I’m starting to think that a large part of it is studio interference and not just director incompetence. I mean, Bats Vs. Supes definitely suffers from having a rubbish director and, in my humble and slightly David Ayer fanboy opinion, the Squad doesn’t have that issue. But the film has been edited down into a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, not by any stretch of the imagination, but there are very obviously bits missing and evidence of chopping and changing that messes with the film’s pace a little.
Luckily, a competent writer and director has led the charge for this film and he’s clearly taken a hands on role in the editing of this film so it’s not been shredded to within an inch of its life like the previous entry in the franchise has.
While I thought he was probably the weakest character in the film, Leto’s Joker was interesting to watch. He bounced almost incoherently between quiet psychopath and feral monster. Both iterations are fun to watch but he gets woefully little screen time to build the character. That said, it’s not his film. It’s his introduction to this Extended Universe and I am looking forward to seeing his character grow.
On the other side of that coin though, Harley Quinn is portrayed brilliantly by Robbie. In a role that could be easily overplayed and annoying (or worse, over-sexualised and used simply as teenage masturbatory material) she’s been written so well and portrayed so brilliantly that every flash of that typical hyper-sexualisation, that would be simply gross in most instances, is owned by Quinn. It’s her doing it and she’s not just the daft doll she pretends to be. Every overtly sexual act is empowering for her – and I bloody love her for that!
Everyone stands out though. Every character is fun to watch. Smith’s Deadshot is pretty much just Will Smith; wise-cracking, smart-talking and always cool to watch. Delavingne’s Enchantress is creepy and scary. I would love to see DC break the mould and do a full on horror film prequel for the 6000 year old witch. The same goes for everyone. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Rick Flag; the whole bunch are fun to watch. I would love to see more of Kitana, but that’s my love of watching great martial arts on screen talking. And a part of me that thinks she needed just a little bit more screen time.
I would kill for some more Diablo. Jay Hernandez blew me away as the gang leader that is trying desperately to live in peace, regretting every life he’s snuffed out with his gift. His quiet and reserved demeanour, juxtaposed with what happens when he lets himself fight with his new team is a beautiful thing to watch and I will queue up for every single film that DC want to put this man in. He’s amazing.
The film is such a tremendous amount of fun, you just can’t help but smile your way through. It’s certainly helped by having one of the most fun “various artists” soundtracks this year. The music compliments the film brilliantly.
Ok, there is one jarring section at the beginning of the film where, and I didn’t realise this was even a thing, but the film somehow smash-cuts the bloody soundtrack together giving us three very different tracks in just a few minutes, one after the other. Overall, though, a very good effort on the licensed music front.
I still think DC has a long way to go to be able to solidify this Extended Universe they are trying for. In the hands of lesser filmmakers these films could fail miserably. Batman Vs. Superman is testament to that.
Like I said, Suicide Squad shares many of the same problems, but competent filmmaking helps a lot. However, you know what helps it more? The film is fun. It’s non-stop, guilty pleasure style action. Roll on the blu-ray release, it’ll take pride of place on my shelf right next to Punisher: War Zone.