By Chaz Lipp
I really want to love the DC Extended Universe films, the latest of which being Suicide Squad. The reviews have been mostly unkind and the box office (so far) seems heavily front-loaded in favor of its opening weekend. That sounds like a rerun of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC’s bold first attempt at merging some of its most iconic characters in a live-action film. Dawn of Justice succeeded in many ways (especially in the expanded “Ultimate Edition”), but Suicide Squad is a decidedly mixed bag. (Spoilers follow below.)
The Dirty Dozen of superhero movies, Suicide Squad features a group of ruthless, dangerous villains covertly employed by the government to fight “meta-human” and future extra-terrestrial (read: Superman and Zod) threats. The film, written and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury), starts off strong. In quick succession, scored with perfectly selected rock tunes, we meet marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), boomerang expert Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human flamethrower El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), sewer-dwelling Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and more.
That includes Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, the psychiatrist-turned-psychopath who enjoys murderous joyrides with boyfriend Joker (Jared Leto). Herein lies some of Suicide‘s problems. Robbie is initially sensational as Harley, mixing sex appeal with a scary unpredictability. But as the movie progresses Ayer backs off on the scariness. Harley becomes endearingly likable and sympathetic. The same actually goes for most of these so-called “bad guys,” especially Smith’s doting-dad Deadshot (his real goal is providing an education for his young daughter). As for the Joker, if you leave the theater for a couple ill-timed restroom and/or concession stand breaks, you might just miss Leto’s entire performance.
As the Squad, recently released from jail to help Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and government honcho Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) battle a world threat, trudges forward we’re teased with what should’ve been an epic confrontation with the Joker. He’s determined to “rescue” Harley and continually texts her that he’s on the way. Once he arrives, he’s quickly disposed of and never returned to again. For all the effort Leto obviously invested in distinguishing his Joker from previous incarnations (including equally brilliant turns by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger), there’s no getting around that Ayer has utterly, completely, and (for some viewers) unforgivably wasted the potential of this character.
Central to the Squad’s struggle is Colonel Flag’s girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevingne), who happens to be possessed by the eternal spirit of an ancient witch. While the official Squad members are implanted with tracking devices that can explode, causing fatal injury to anyone who tries to escape, June (aka Enchantress) is spared this inconvenience. Why? Ostensibly because she’s Flag’s gal and therefore trusted by Waller. But really it’s simply due to plot convenience. Waller and company know June can be overcome by Enchantress at any time, so leaving her completely free and clear of control makes no rational sense. Delevingne (a talented actress, see Paper Towns) is saddled with an embarrassing role that requires her to writhe around awkwardly while possessed by the witch.
Besides the fast-moving, character-establishing first act, what else works about Suicide Squad? Actually, it’s the two non-meta human, non-supervillain/heroes who steal the show. After his exemplary work on the police procedural The Killing, Joel Kinnaman has struggled to find an equally-compelling lead role in a film (the less said about the Robocop reboot, the better). He’s great here, leading the ensemble (along with Smith and Robbie), as the committed-but-conflicted Squad leader. Viola Davis is ice cold in her ruthless role as the mastermind behind the Squad. Ben Affleck nearly steals the show with his brief appearance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, whetting our appetite for the upcoming Justice League film.
So again, mixed bag (Jay Hernandez is also a standout thanks to his sensitive handling of El Diablo’s tragic back story). Personally I don’t care about the PG-13 rating. Would Suicide Squad have been better with more explicit violence and language? I honestly don’t think that was the issue. The unimaginative story, totally un-scary central villain, and disconcerting shift of the Squad members from dangerous outlaws to lovable quasi-heroes all contributed to make this something less than a total success.
Suicide Squad Images: Warner Bros. Pictures