Aha, Suicide Squad begins, Suicide Squad assembles. Channelling Joan Allen’s Pam Landy in the Bourne films, Viola Davis stars as Amanda Waller, the bad-ass boss of a secret government agency, who recruits an anti-hero strike team of incarcerated, Death Row super-villains to execute high-risk, black-ops missions in exchange for commuted prison sentences.
Most striking among these is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, channelling Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in the Avengers movies. Though arguably there is too much of both actresses Davis and Robbie in writer-director David Ayer’s 2016 movie, theirs are the most successful creations here. The two create actual characters you can relate to and almost feel you have gotten to know, rare in a comic book movie. They prove the movie’s star turns, no doubt about that. Well done, ladies!
Joel Kinnaman also lands a huge role as Amanda’s action man, Rick Flag, and he characterises him well, though again there seems to be too much screen time for him in a film with too many characters to cope with easily. Scott Eastwood, on the other hand, has f all to do as Rick Flag’s oppo Lieutenant GQ Edwards that you have to assume he’s been cut out.
Ayer really is struggling in his final cut to know who to give how much screen time to. And he doesn’t get the proportions and balance between the characters right. Maybe in a shorter cut, ten minutes shorter and tauter than its current 123 minutes the balance would be better.
[Spoiler alert] And Ayer feels it is necessary to introduce us to the characters, like he’s an old-time polite host at a dinner party, using Amanda talking to Bruce Wayve over dinner at a restaurant. This is how the movie ends too, with the two of them plotting. But what?
Writer-director Ayer says that DC Comics has the ‘best villains’, so that would be good, and here we have a whole big fat team of them, like the bad version of The Magnificent Seven or the evil version of Ocean’s Eleven. Star billing goes to Will Smith and his Deadshot, haunted by memories of being about to kill Batman but stopped by his daughter, and thus apprehended and incarcerated. So this bad-ass has a human side after all.
Smith does his best with what he’s handed, but neither his character nor he are especially memorable. He’s no Yul Brynner or George Clooney holding the movie and team authoritatively together. Maybe he’s too one-note grim, but that’s the part. It’s a thin comic book character. Maybe no acting is required, there’s not much room inside Deadshot for Smith to manoeuvre.
Actually, of course, that’s the same with all the characters, as Ayer leaves it all up to his quirky team of actors to bring personality and power to characters that he can’t, or didn’t, as writer. Up to a point, with these actors, it works.
But Ike Barinholtz as Griggs, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Common as Monster T, Jay Hernandez as Diablo, Adam Beach’s Slipknot, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Karen Fukuhara as Katana and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc don’t really make enough of an impression, enough of a splash. In a beefed-up sequel, maybe they could. Some of them are menacing enough, but few of them come over as the crazy bad-asses we need.
Then there are the film’s actual villains, Jared Leto as The Joker and Cara Delevingne as Enchantress. Leto must have a good agent to get second-billed. He has very little do, hardly any lines, seemingly just there to look a attractively weird style object.
Leto fills the bill precisely, but the man is a proper actor, not a poseur, so give him some acting to do! He’s no competition for Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger. These are tough acts to follow, but he’s just not. Delevingne is also pretty much there just to look an attractively weird style object, and she fits the bill too, though her acting is thin and the extended CGI climax involving her is a big ‘I don’t care’ moment.
Now, please don’t get me started on the plot. In common with so many comic book movies, there isn’t one. That obviously doesn’t upset the fans. Lots of flash, action, guns, and pace, along with sexy and menacing characters, are enough for most of us.
But I like a story, and Ayer forgot to write one, so we just go from moment to moment, scene to scene, with the overview puzzling and confusing. I get that the film is just the must-see first act of a hoped-for long-running franchise story, but it feels incomplete and unsatisfying.
I have to fess up. I an a huge Batman and Joker fan and a lot of my favourite actors and actresses are in this movie too, so maybe I’m judging it harshly as I feel it hasn’t always found the best way to show the characters and the actor’s talents. Too much gun violence and knife/sword violence apart, (there’s plenty of all this on the News every day), the film is good, brain-in-neutral fun, and passes the time smoothly and easily, with the two hours rushing by quickly, though it doesn’t always look or seem the best value for its $175 million budget.
It follows Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
Incidentally, there is a previous, unrelated movie with the same title, Suicide Squad (1935). They beat DC Comics to the title by 24 years as the first version of DC’s Suicide Squad debuted in The Brave and the Bold #25 in 1959.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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