If I could sum up David Ayer’s anti-hero romp Suicide Squad in a nutshell, it would be “style over substance”. Loosely based on the DC Comics team of the same name, it feels like Warner Brothers’ attempt at a Guardians Of The Galaxy-style story where a gang of misfits come together and prove to the authorities they’re capable of actually doing some good. Unfortunately, that element of the movie is constantly clashing with a consciously gritty, yet oddly colorful atmosphere. If it’s somehow possible for a film to come off as insecure, this would be a perfect example.
I can’t say the same for most of the characters, though. Played with menace and self-assuredness by Viola Davis, underhanded government agent Amanda Waller firmly agrees with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck, solid in his brief cameos here) that the metahumans of DC’s film universe need to be kept in check, and a team of some of the worse creeps ever sketched is her method to pull it off.
Overseen by the tough-minded colonel Rick Flag ( Joel Kinnaman, laying on a thick country drawl that kept giving me flashbacks of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper), Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton emerges as both the team’s de facto leader and arguably the most sympathetic of our screwed up protagonists. After being apprehended by Batman, he agrees to follow Waller’s orders in the chance he’ll get to see her again.
With the aid of Joker’s main squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the rowdy Australian Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, finally showing some personality), a tormented and tattooed ex-gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who specializes in prokinetics, Flag’s blade wielding assistant Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and the BET loving reptilian criminal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje), it’s up to them to take down an ancient super villain known as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who Waller had initially hoped would be an asset to the team, but decided that destroying the world would be a better use of her time. But Joker’s gotten word that Harley is out of prison, and is in hot pursuit of the Suicide Squad to get his boo back.
Will Smith is his usual charismatic self and he seems to be enjoying himself as Lawton, but one of Suicide Squad’s issues is how rapidly it hops between the various narratives. Because of the film’s rapid pace, even the major characters feel a bit thin. Their stories only get so much time to gel, and watching it I kept wondering how much more impactful it would come off were the movie told primarily through Deadshot’s perspective.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the other Squader who gets a major focus, and most of her scenes with the rest of the team and Jared Leto’s Joker are enjoyable enough, but neither of their roles are given much in the way of depth. They’re certainly crazy, and I actually thought Harley’s punk rock attire and Joker’s garish mafioso looks were visually interesting. But with limited focus to work with, we only get over-the-top hammy performances from them, which is a shame because Leto and Robbie are both versatile actors. I can only imagine how much more memorable they could have been with a less cluttered script.
When Suicide Squad is being wild and irreverent, it’s pretty enjoyable, but its attempts at adding a sense of heart in the later parts of the film fall flat. It can’t seem to decide how cutting edge or sympathetic it wants the title group to be. Between the action sequences, which are actually pretty well done for the most part, we get a number of scenes where one of them feels they have to remind the audience that they’re, in fact, bad guys.
And I hate to keep making Marvel comparisons, but the result is a band of outlaws who seem pretty confused about their identity, and unlike the Guardians don’t have a very convincing bond, nor come off like the kind of rogues you’d like to hang out with. Rocket was far from a goody two shoes, but his evolution into a hero was more believable than any of the Squaders. His film knew when to dial back his machismo and showcase his vulnerability.
It’s that lack of vulnerability- and patience- that I think holds Suicide Squad back from being a truly great superhero film. From an aesthetic point it’s anything but boring, and there are a few funny parts when the cast is just being snarky or mugging for the camera, but overall the film tries too hard to be badass and outrageous within the confines of its PG-13 rating. Were it geared more towards adults, I don’t think it still would be perfect but there would at least be more room to push the content and make more of a visceral impact. But for what it is, there’s some dumb fun to be had. Thumbs firmly in the middle.