Film review: Suicide Squad - Will Smith, Margot Robbie in flawed supervillain adaptation
Perhaps the best you can say about this overstuffed, off-key ensemble piece is that is nowhere near as bad as Batman v Superman
With the deluge of superhero films showing no signs of ending, Suicide Squad sounded like it would be a breath of fresh air: instead of telling yet another story of do-gooders in tights, this would be a dark and gritty film with supervillains as protagonists.
That Warner Bros. brought in David Ayers – who’s made a career out of films centring around really bad people – to write and direct, and chameleon actor Jared Leto as the Joker – added to the promise of this DC Comics adaptation. But much like Batman v Superman , this movie is tripped up by a jumbled narrative and corporate machination: Warner Bros. is desperately chasing the highly successful Marvel film universe, and the only way to get there is to rush.
Consider how the Avengers came together in the Marvel films. By the time Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and others united as a team in 2012, they had each starred in at least one solo film, and had been known to audiences (in real time) for anywhere from two to four years. Their unity felt organic. Suicide Squad, on the other hand, introduces every one of its core player in the first 10 minutes of the film, via a montage with a voice-over explaining who they are and exactly what they do.
There’s the assassin-for-hire named Deadshot (Will Smith); Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the psychotic girlfriend of the Joker; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a stereotypical Los Angeles Hispanic gang member with unexplained pyrotechnic superpowers; and a few more forgettable baddies with lame names like Captain Boomerang (guess his weapon of choice).
The film begins with these colourful miscreants already captured and behind bars; they’re set free again because high-level government agent Amanda Weller (Viola Davis) wants a team of expendable operatives to undertake dangerous secret missions. Imprisoned criminals are the best people to blackmail for the job, she reasons, because they have nowhere else to go, and the public wouldn’t care if they die.
It’s an interesting premise that evokes the US government’s use of trigger-happy private military contractors in the Middle East. Ayers’ script paints Weller as a despicable character (she threatens each member of the squad with instant death if they fail to follow orders) with possibly ulterior motives. And it promises much: imagine other bad-guys-vs-even-badder-guys classics, such as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, or Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, but with superpowers. However, for all the characters’ talk of nihilist camaraderie, we rarely see any evidence of it.
Part of that is due to the fact everyone here, save for Harley Quinn and the Joker, are D-list characters in the books. Even the most hardcore comic geek might not know who Slipknot or Katana are. Another reason is that Suicide Squad is too overstuffed with plot points and subplots. Of everyone mentioned, only Will Smith’s Deadshot gets any semblance of a character arc (he wants to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter).
Even Harley Quinn, who gets second billing and plenty of screen time, is presented with little depth. One can’t help but suspect that her inclusion (she wasn’t part of the original squad in the books) is for much-needed name recognition and to pave the way for a convenient Joker introduction into this film universe.
About the clown prince of crime: making comparisons to the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal in The Dark Knight is pointless and unfair. This new DC film universe is a complete departure from Christopher Nolan’s more grounded Batman trilogy, and Leto’s portrayal is closer to the over-the-top, murderous psychopath depicted in recent comic storylines than Ledger’s calculated schemer.
Besides, this story isn’t about the Joker, who’s relegated mostly to flashbacks (featuring a cameo from Ben Affleck’s Batman) and is unimportant to the main plot. There’s so much going on, in fact, that the same could be said for several of the squad.
As an example of how all-over-the-place this film is, the oddly eclectic soundtrack jumps from classic rock by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival to mainstream hip hop from Eminem and Kanye West to modern-day garage rock jams by the White Stripes. These songs come one after the other, usually accompanying a montage. It’s like a pop culture assault on the senses.
There are a few things to like about Suicide Squad: seeing The Dark Knight from the point of view of villains is a fresh take on the 70-plus-year-old superhero; Davis, Smith and Leto are all strong performers; Ayer’s visual flair makes for some intense action scenes; and most important of all, this is nowhere near as dreary and pretentious as Batman v Superman. For some viewers, the last point might be enough of an attraction.
Suicide Squad opens on August 4
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