Suicide Squad (2016) (Review)

Suicide Squad is the film on everybody's lips, it would seem, and arguably the most anticipated film of the summer blockbuster season. It's both on the front-foot and the back-foot in terms of what it means to the wide DC Extended Universe: it seems the marketing campaign has done wonders for the film's financial success and word of mouth has been at fever pitch all season long, while on the other hand, the film is acting as a follow-up to the critically-panned Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which in itself was born from the ill-received Man of Steel). Is Suicide Squad the film that will finally put them on the right track?

Suicide Squad was the name on everybody's lips heading into the summer blockbuster season this year. After an underwhelming slate, many assumed, hoped and anticipated that Suicide Squad would inject the life into the season that it so desperately needed. It also had the weight of the DCEU on its shoulders, with the critically-panned Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, itself borne from the ill-received Man of Steel, deeply underwhelming. However, it seemed that Suicide Squad would break the DC curse, with a killer ensemble cast, exciting characters, insanely good marketing and chart-topping soundtrack. Then the reviews rolled in. I never let impact my own personal judgment of a film but they were pretty catastrophic - somehow even worse than Dawn of Justice. Still, I go in with an open-mind.

Following the 'death' of Superman at the end of Dawn of Justice, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X, a group of imprisioned and deadly supervillains who will execute dangerous black ops missions and save the world from powerful threats, in exchange for leaner sentences. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) are led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who is personally motivated to save his girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevigne) from the evil supernatural entity that has taken over here, Enchantress to undertake these missions. Oh, and the Joker (Jared Leto) is around too.

The ensemble cast is pretty game here, but three people steal the spotlight; Davis plays the ambitious and devious Waller with confidence, realising that what she is doing is immoral and as such, works on a number of ways to protect herself from the backlash. Like most, she is underused but promising; Will Smith's Deadshot is more conflicted in his criminality and gets some of the more touching moments of the piece, which he mostly sells, despite how predictable it all is; the film's true saviour, of course, is Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn; dysfunctional, flawed but scarily endearing (or manipulating, whichever way you spin it), Robbie brings her to life with a fire-cracking and rip-roaring performance, offering humour by the bucket load with a touch of tenderness as we see her spiralling addiction to the Joker. It's not explored nearly enough and she is certainly underused and underserved, but she makes the best of the material she has and will likely be one of the sole reasons I return for a sequel. Of the Joker, once again, Leto's performance seems nothing short of intriguing, but the jury is still out on this one, as he feels either shoehorned in for the sake of 'added value' or given poor material to work with. It's disconcerting that arguably the most infamous villain in comic book history is so underwhelming in his first re-invention since Heath Ledger's acclaimed performance in Nolan's trilogy.

Other than the aforementioned Quinn (and, to an extent, Deadshot, but that's simply down to Smith performance), I couldn't care less about these characters - the biggest cause for Suicide Squad's failure. The filmmakers fail to take the time to craft these characters, aside from a few perfunctory flashbacks that, in a nutshell, explain that these supervillains aren't all bad, ironically denying the audience the fun of the 'all-bad' squad. When it is turn for them to demonstrate their bad sides though, they never truly are, and leaves the audience pondering on how you should feel towards them. It's uncomfortable balancing act spectacularly fails and results in the audiences simply not understanding the purpose of this film (well, outside the financial purpose, of course). Further collapse is down to glaring structure issues, with the film managing to feel both over-bloated and unfinished, and I imagine (as Leto confirmed) a lot was left on the cutting room floor. With all the editing and post-production additions, it leaves the film very unbalanced and the editing is all over the place, leaving it very flawed - technically and tonally. Those reshoots, requested in the shadow of Dawn Of Justice's complaints, seem to have done more damage than good.

In all the thrills of Suicide Squad, it's unfortunate that the fun is lost in the process. Margot/Harley aside, everything else is damningly flat, and the film takes itself way too seriously. The majority of the one-liners and humour are stale by the time they come around and a little too forced or unnecessary, the obvious victim of Dawn of Justice's backlash and subsequent costly reshoots. The guns and the explosions and the special effects are all well and good (they have a lot to be desired, especially those surrounding Delevingne's character in the final act, but they are assable), but become nothing when you can't invest in anyone or anything involved. Bizarrely, its the quieter moments where the film comes to life, including the flashbacks between the Joker and Quinn (revealing the toxicity of their relationship), the bar scene that bookends two of the more dramatic scenes, and my favourite, in which Quinn sits on top of a car, heartbroken and shattered, only to leap up when attention comes her way. It's this subdued side of the story where the biggest character building and characterisation comes into play and really helps develop these characters beyond the two dimensional 'bad guy' image they all parade around.

Suicide Squad is the best DC of the year, but that says more about its stablemate than the film itself. In the same breath, its the worst film of the summer since the other film. Perhaps Suicide Squad is even more of a disappointment because of the wonders worked by the marketing team, crafting an incredible campaign that duped audiences into thinking DC had pulled it out of the bag with this one. That is a testament to them I suppose and they do deserve all the profits from this one for doing so but the saying goes that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Too many cooks (elements) spoil the broth (film) and I truly kick myself for believing they could win audiences around with this one. Still, even by the smallest sentiment, Suicide Squad is somewhat of a progression, so at least they're moving upwards...


Summary: Suicide Squad is the summer's biggest disappointment and isn't the win for DC that many hoped for, even though Margot Robbie is a delight and tries so desperately to save the day as Harley Quinn.

Highlight: Robbie's Quinn. The scene in which she springs to life after being so heartbroken is some truly incredible stuff, as is her "normal is just a button on the dryer, sweetie" and her tender 'desire' granted by Enchantress.