The disappointment of Batman v Superman put a lot of pressure on the third entry in the DC Extended Movie Universe to restore fan faith in the franchise. I would love to tell you that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is the shot in the arm that DC needs, but while it brings some much-needed fun it still has the same problems that plagued Zack Snyder’s previous DC movies.
After more than eight years of connected Marvel movies, the standard for superhero adaptations has risen dramatically and fans’ expectations along with it. The formula for making a successful superhero movie isn’t an exact science and every once in a while a Fantastic Four or Batman v Superman comes along that polarises opinions.
I’ve enjoyed some of Ayer’s movies, End of Watch, Fury and his script for Training Day are all hard-edged genre pieces, and I admire his efforts in trying to make something more than an Avengers knock-off. Taking the structure of an old school ‘team on a mission’ war movie, the first act is a breezy affair with Waller (Viola Davies) rounding up her team of glorious bastards. We’re given a brief history of the members of the team, and before you can say, Waller has her team in place led by war hero Rick Flag (a miscast and underused Joel Kinnaman).
Despite the choppy editing and poorly timed flashbacks, the first 50 minutes still promises to deliver the fun, but it all begins to unravel when the squad is sent on a pointless mission that sets up a messy third act. Warner Bros and DC have yet to master the art of the cameo, BvS couldn’t work out how to fit its metahumans into the main story and resorted to showing QuickTime videos and dream sequences. The same haphazard approach is applied here; The Flash appears in a super-quick cameo that Zack Snyder directed from The Justice League set. The scene in question isn’t subtle and is so brief it renders the cameo redundant. Affleck drops by for a couple of bits here and there as Batman, and the mid-credits scene is a sloppy way to shoehorn in some Justice League set up.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Jared Leto’s take on The Joker, an iconic role that for a generation belongs to the late Heath Ledger for his Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight. For the best part of a year, we’ve been told that Leto went full on method acting with reports that he sent a wild range of inappropriate gifts to his cast members and refused to break character. So, after all, that hype it is a big disappointment that The Joker’s appearance feels a bit like an afterthought. Even with the ten minutes of cut Joker footage Ayer recently commented on, Leto’s screen time is limited and his pimped out Joker is merely serviceable opposed to groundbreaking.
More importantly, The Joker isn’t really part of the main plot with the majority of his scenes in flashbacks and [SPOILER ALERT] he never comes face to face with the Squad. The cynic in me says that Warner Bros needed a well known comic book character to help sell the movie, as I find it troubling that DC’s greatest villain is introduced into this iteration in such a weak storyline. He might look the part, but the script doesn’t allow The Joker much depth and in a movie that centres on bad guys it’s a huge oversight that Suicide Squad’s big bad is so undercooked.
The lack of depth isn’t restricted to The Joker, the script goes to great lengths to humanise the Squad via cliched backstories. Deadshot has a kid, El Diablo is remorseful about accidentally burning his family, Katana is avenging the murder of her husband and so on. Killer Croc could have been Suicide Squad’s Drax; instead, he’s a bland addition to a group that we’re utterly uninvested in as individuals. For all the attempts to make us care about the main characters, there is simply not enough time in the script to forge any lasting connections.
For all it’s narrative issues, there are some bright spots with Margot Robbie nearly stealing the show as Harley Quinn (even if the camera does linger longer than it needs to on those hot pant).
Will Smith is allowed to unleash some of his famed charms, but all the members of the squad pale in comparison to the real badass of the movie, Amanda Waller. Viola Davies brings some much-needed authority to Waller and In lesser hands she could have been a one-note antagonist. Waller is a stone cold professional who will do unspeakable things in the name of national security.
It gives me no pleasure to say this, but there is a small chance that I might owe Jai Courtney an apology as I’ve said some pretty mean things about his ‘acting abilities’ over the years. To be fair, his oak based performances in Terminator, That Awful Die Hard Sequel, and two of them Divergent films were a far cry from his earnest performance as Varro in Starz’s Spartacus. So imagine my surprise that his antics as Boomerang offered a few moments of comic relief. May God forgive me.
Marvel showed us how to take a lesser known comic book property of less than heroic characters and made Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn and his band of misfits did it so well audiences didn’t care that the plot and third act were recycled from the Marvel Playbook. Superhero movies don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time, Ant-Man, Deadpool, Civil War, Days of Future Past and many more all follow a simple structure, and it’s the creative flourishes that make them feel fresh.
Regardless of the week’s of additional filming (standard practice for studio movies), Suicide Squad’s uneven tone does seem like a knee jerk reaction from a nervous studio. I was genuinely surprised when the 15 certificate appeared at the beginning, for a moment I thought we might be getting Deadpool levels of violence; unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Added violence wouldn’t have changed the end results, and it just feels like these crazy bandits are being held back from realising their full potential.
An improvement on Dawn of Justice and injects a shade of colour into Snyder’s bleak DC landscape, but Suicide Squad is more of a missed opportunity than a creative win. Perhaps its biggest sin is the promised anarchic tone that the trailers heavily implied didn’t show up.