Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis
When New York becomes under attack from a powerful and mysterious entity, a Government official (Davis) as part of a secret Government program, assembles a team of deadly, incarcerated villains to defeat the enemy, with the view that they are all expendable anyway. However, in order to defeat this enemy and potentially gain back their freedom, they must learn to set aside their differences, and somehow work together.
I know that many people absolutely slated Suicide Squad when it was released, and though it is certainly a film with many, many flaws, I really would like to know what kind of film these people were expecting it to be. Don’t get me wrong; some of the film’s flaws are unforgiveable and deserve to be torn apart, but the basis of some the film’s criticisms that have led to it receiving completely damning reviews do seem to originate from slightly deluded expectations. Suicide Squad was never going to be The Dark Knight, especially with David Ayer not only directing but also solely writing the thing; this is a filmmaker that has never even heard of words like subtle or understated, and the concept of character development is a rather alien concept to him too.
If taken at face value, then Suicide Squad is an entertaining, often very funny but completely shallow and vacuous experience that is loud, big, but certainly not clever. Basically, everything I expected it to be. For me, Suicide Squad is on a par with Batman Vs Superman in terms of coherent storytelling and narrative structure, but at least Suicide Squad is far more enjoyable as it never really takes itself seriously and is always having a bit of fun.
Of course most people have now seen Suicide Squad and so it is not really a secret that the plot and antagonist are completely different from that strongly implied in the trailer, and what we do actually have is a plot that is essentially X-Men: Apocalypse meets The Raid/ Dredd, but nowhere near as good, thought-out or interesting as any of them. Of course the film’s tendency to not take itself seriously along with the very lazy plot means there is never any real sense of danger, especially as there is a total level of inconsistency with what Harley Quinn’s mere baseball bat can do compared to machine guns, but never mind!
Sympathetic antagonists or anti-heroes can be far more interesting and engaging than straight forward goody-goody heroes, and so there was certainly potential for Suicide Squad to take on this notion and produce some interesting characters. However only Will Smith’s Deadshot and Jay Hernandez’s Diablo emerge as slightly sympathetic or interesting, but this is more due to the performances than Ayer’s storytelling. Will Smith in particular is on top form; getting the film’s best lines (that was probably contractual), he oozes charisma and swagger in what is one of his best performances for a long time. Other performances are very good; Viola Davis provides unnerving intensity as Amanda Waller, Joel Kinnaman is solid and as intense as ever as Rick Flag (though I doubt he will ever appear in a rom-com) and Jared Leto is suitably unhinged and genuinely menacing, though criminally underused as The Joker.
There is no getting away from the fact that the inclusion of The Joker in this film feels like unnecessary filler, but also that all they are doing is just setting up future films instead of focussing on this one. There are a fair few scenes devoted to the ‘back story’ of Harley Quinn and her relationship with The Joker, but these moments and the whole subplot involving The Joker fill pointless and add nothing to the film. In fact every aspect of Harley Quinn’s character feels misjudged, as Ayer just seems to focus on making her as sexy as possible. Margot Robbie herself just overacts as Harley Quinn and really does not convince at all, which is a real waste.
However, despite its plethora of flaws, Suicide Squad is still enjoyable enough to render it watchable. David Ayer may well know about the gangs of Los Angeles, but he only knows one writing and directing style, and it is obvious that it was his intention to make Suicide Squad as loud, as colourful and as funny as he possibly could. There does seem to me to be a certain level of passion for the subject matter in Ayer’s writing and directing, but from producers, to studio executives, to film critics; when you have a film written and directed by David Ayer (superhero or otherwise), how can you even possibly entertain the notion of the film having any degree of substance or actual well thought out plot, let alone any degree of subtlety?
If entered with the right expectations, then Suicide Squad is a very loud, very silly, and very forgettable, but ultimately enjoyable romp. Though Ayer may not generally do subtle, there are a few tantalising (and occasionally subtle) elements in this film that provide a potentially intriguing springboard of what this franchise can offer in the future, despite its stuttering start.