Suicide Squad, DC’s attempt to inject a little black humour into its superhero universe, in trying to be all things to all men fails to be very much of anything.
The setup will be familiar to anyone who’s seen any — there have been several, as the endless hype ground on and on — of the trailers: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, out-acting most of the rest of the cast and who must be wondering what led her to this point) is a CIA high-up who wants to put together a team comprising the very worst criminals she can find, a team that would do her bidding. With Superman dead, goes her pitch, who knows how benign the next superhero might be? And so she assembles her team, and then puts them to use to fight a monster she herself has unleashed, appropriately enough (although the film neglects to point this detail out), in the process of putting her team together.
The film starts agreeably enough with Waller’s pitch, which allows her to dwell on the back-stories of some of the individuals concerned. Will Smith plays Deadshot, an unnaturally accurate marksman/assassin with a fully-developed story. Then there’s Harley Quinn, the centrepiece of the film, monstrously and entertainingly over-acted by Margot Robbie and hand-in-glove with Jared Leto’s Joker. Oh, and then there’s a couple more, Diablo and Killer Croc, and that other one, tossed into the mix almost as afterthoughts, as though writer/director David Ayer decided he’d spent far too much time on Deadshot and Harley, and couldn’t be arsed to do much with the rest of his characters.
So it falls to Waller and Rick Flagg (an annoyingly and relentlessly intense Joel Kinnaman) to dispatch them on their mission, which involves defeating Enchantress, a witch who shares a body with June Moone (Cara Delevingne) and whose heart Waller keeps in a briefcase and stabs occasionally.
So the story’s bollocks. Of course it is. But, sadly, much of the rest of the film is equally bollocks. It should have been so much better; DC, having seen Guardians Of The Galaxy, and Deadpool, decided it was time for a little comic relief in their universe, and the result is a heavily stylised, intensely violent, but ultimately sloppy and unfocused thing, a film that had so much potential but which goes nowhere.
A successful film needs both story and characters; Suicide Squad struggles on both counts. There is a story, but it’s internally inconsistent and possibly even self-contradictory. But the real disappointment is the marked lack of character. Robbie has fun with Harley, the character the trailers emphasis and who is clearly meant to be the focus of the film. Her performance is a pleasing exercise in excess, her Harley enjoyably manic, her Aussie accent thoroughly transformed into something out of Brooklyn or the Bronx. Will Smith plays, well, Will Smith, but manages to infuse just enough heart into Deadshot to make the character work. Deadshot and Harley, then, the two most well-drawn characters, have the nearest thing to be found in the film to a meaningful relationship.
Certainly, the relationship between Harley and The Joker is meaningless. Yes, it makes sense to depict them together during her setup, but Leto’s Joker struggles to stand up against the obvious comparisons with Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the character; indeed, he manages to come across more creepy and grating than evil and charming. And his prominent billing — he’s second only to Smith in much publicity material — is odd given not only the disappointment that he is, but also the fact that he’s on screen a mercifully-short ten or so minutes.
The camera lingers more on Harley Quinn’s arse than it features The Joker, and this is one of the biggest problems with Suicide Squad. Much, much more should have been made of the characters who make up the Squad, but by the end of the film we know little more about them than we did at the start. Diablo’s back-story, a potentially meaningful and engaging history, is saved until ninety minutes into the film, by which time we hardly care. We have no idea how Killer Croc came to be the creature he is, and Jai Courtney’s Boomerang is, apparently, a jewel thief and thrower of things, but little of his motivation is revealed. Instead, the film focuses on Harley’s arse; Ayer includes entirely more shots of her walking away from the camera than would seem entirely necessary, the lens staying right around the level of her knickers. At least she also got a character to sink her teeth into when they weren’t gums-deep in the scenery — Cara Delevingne just gets to dance in a metallic bikini like a bored stripper. And Katana, a potentially intriguing character — a Japanese woman with an whose eponymous sword contains the souls of those it kills, including her late husband, presumably Mister Katana — is, for reasons no attempts are made to explain, Flagg’s personal enforcer, but we learn almost entirely nothing about her and her soul-containing sword.
Suicide Squad is, then, a mess of a film. It’s an everything-turned-up-to-eleven nonsense that has, apparently, been edited and re-edited and re-shot and re-hashed, but still manages to remain half-baked.