Another summer, another superhero movie – only this one’s different. This time around, it’s the bad guys who get the chance to shine in Suicide Squad. I’ve talked before about how in the last few years seemingly every major blockbuster has botched its main antagonist. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice managed to take a good actor in Jesse Eisenberg, making him goofy and doubled him up with the worst CGI monster in years. Elsewhere, Star Trek Beyond took another talented performer (Idris Elba), and wasted him on an underwritten wax work.
Ask pretty much anyone, and they’ll tell you DC have better villains than Marvel. Now with rival cinematic universes, DC are attempting to play to their greatest strength by filling their movie with them. Sort of. See, unless you’re well versed in comic-book lore, you probably don’t know who Killer Croc or Deadshot are. The answer to this is to crowbar the Joker in (intended) to give audiences a selling point beyond Margot Robbie in fishnets and Will Smith playing Will Smith – more on Joker later.
The premise involves ruthless, amoral, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis having fun and almost stealing the film) bringing together a team of meta-humans to combat supernatural threats in Superman’s absence. The team, codenamed Task Force X, are also implanted with a kill switch to dissuade escape. The majority of the film’s opening act involves layer upon layer of exposition. The exposition is less objectionable by fairly swift pacing in its character introductions and a sense of sarcastic fun.
When Waller loses control of the most powerful member of her team, the rest are sent in with bland Special Forces commander Rick Flag (a thankless role for Joel Kinnamon). What follows are fairly stock action sequences involving lifeless and uninteresting zombies and ugly CGI demons (a shame given the superb prosthetic work done on Killer Croc). Things are kept interesting mainly by Harley Quinn and Deadshot, the two characters afforded a proper backstory. Deadshot is a hitman, but he doesn’t kill women and kids, and he’s got a kid, so he’s fine. It’s telling that halfway into this review, I’ve not even talked about Joker yet. Without a film built around him to develop his mythology, Joker has limited screen time that he needs to accommodate for. Perhaps with this in mind, Jared Leto overeggs all his scenes, riffing on previous iterations but never quite making it his own. Conceptually having Joker as ironically materialistic (he listens to trap music and drives a Lambo) is an interesting deviation. Unfortunately, the character and performance feel very superficial at this point.
However, predictably, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is the star of the show here. She’s an interesting comic-book character (actually conceived in the animated show) in her own right, and is given enough life here to elevate proceedings from bad to OK. She has good chemistry with the other team members, and Margot Robbie shares all the best one-liners with Will Smith.
Suicide Squad frustrates by being a unique spin on a superhero ensemble film, but failing in many aspects. The team themselves are fairly well draw and varied, but the threat they face is as boring thematically as it is visually. In a film about villains, I needed more nastiness; an uneasy transition into heroism undoes the fun nihilism and selfishness that preceded it.
As with Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, there is definitely something here, which makes it all the more frustrating that yet again DC has managed to fluff its lines with such a great canon of characters and story.