DIR/WRI: David Ayer • PRO: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle • DOP: Roman Vasyanov • ED: John Gilroy • DES: Oliver Scholl • MUS: Steven Price • CAST: Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Will Smith
I approached David Ayer’s Suicide Squad with an attitude that can be best summed up as “cautious excitement”. I was curious to see whether or not the film could live up to its string of promising trailers. However, following Zack Snyder’s hulking, lifeless Batman v Superman (with which Suicide Squad shares a burgeoning D.C. cinematic universe), I was not sure this would happen. Comic-book movie fans, of which the majority appear to be in the same boat as me, can now rest easy. I am happy to report that Suicide Squad is a significant improvement over its lumpen predecessor.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Snyder’s movie and Ayer’s is that the latter is so much more fun. Perhaps, this is down to the original premise of John Ostrander’s comic: violent criminals with abilities are recruited by a shadowy government organisation to take down a more sinister villain. In return, the anti-heroes get time in prison reduced. It’s a plot that has been around many years (see Dirty Dozen or Inglorious Bastards – the original) for a reason. It’s oddly satisfying to see typical bad-guys reform for a good cause, putting their badassery to good use. Often, the best comic-book films are genre pieces that happen to feature superhero characters (the space-opera of Guardians of the Galaxy, the heist movie that is Ant-Man). Suicide Squad falls into this bracket. It does not try, like Batman v Superman, to cram the plot of five movies into one in order to lay the groundwork for impending releases. Instead, it tells one self-contained, genre story, which hints at what is to come in the future.
Like many superhero movies, the early passages of Suicide Squad are the best. As government official Amanda Waller (the always brilliant Viola Davis) explains to her colleagues her plan to recruit smaller time crooks to fight greater threats, we get a small origin story for each member of the team. On paper, this is a sequence that should resemble that horrendously clunky moment in Batman v Superman where Bruce Wayne finds the footage of each future Justice League member and we watch it in its entirety with him. Yet, Ayer throws so much information (gang wars, world-class hitmen, Australian bank-robbers and an Amazonian adventure) at the viewer at such a speed that it’s hard not to get swept up in the movie’s fast, propulsive pace. These sequences are also the funniest (Jai Courtney, against all odds, is the best Australian low-life on-screen since Ben Mendelsohn in Killing Them Softly) and the most stylish, recalling movies such Sin City or Dredd.
As the film continues, it does begin to fall into the same trappings of Batman v Superman and of superhero films in general. As Cara Delevingne’s personality-less villain (a pagan God who attempts to prove she is all powerful by destroying the world a la X-Men’s recent Apocalypse) becomes more prevalent, Suicide Squad lags in pace becoming just one set-piece after another. Also, because it is well known that future movies such as Justice League are on the way, the final battle is stake less – Enchantress’ plan will clearly fail. Although, this is the case with practically every other superhero movie too, Ayer drops the ball character-wise with his key-players. For instance, although Harley Quinn is a fun character, she is completely psychopathic and Ayer skirts past any chance to give her real depth (what attracted her to Jared Leto’s Joker, making her kill for him – we never learn). Also, the other character’s motivations such as Will Smith’s are bland and clichéd. As a result, one does not become invested enough to care who lives or dies.
In terms of the performances, despite charismatic turns from Will Smith and Jai Courtney, Viola Davis steals the show. Her Amanda Waller is cold, cruel and commanding. One never questions for second that she is the most powerful in the film, even in the face of people with actual superhero abilities. Davis effortlessly exudes strength in a role that would slip easily into Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. In contrast, Margot Robbie is far showier but that suits Harley Quinn, as the character is always acting, trying desperately to appear wild and effeminate. As her lover, Jared Leto’s take on The Joker is far more random and sexual than previous takes on the character, as evident by his incoherent babblings regarding the “heat of his loins”. Yet, I think this suits Ayer’s “gangster take” on the character. If a Joker was to exist in real-life, he would act like this.
D.C. are still far from rivalling the behemoth that is Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. However, with Suicide Squad, they prove that they are capable of producing an overall successful blockbuster. David Ayer’s movie gives a little hope to fans anxious for the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Suicide Squad is released 5th August 2016