In a year that, for many, has been a bit of a downer- what with the deaths of many influential faces and hateful politics- the summer movie period had a lot to do to raise spirits. Sadly, many are of the opinion that summer 2016 has abjectly failed at that task, so we bring the summer to an end with arguably one of the most anticipated films of the year in Suicide Squad. After the polarizing (to say the least) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel, the hopeful DC Cinematic Universe has got off to a rough start. A lot was riding on Suicide Squad, which has for sure been the best promoted film of the year; with the trailers painting a kind of neon attitudinal take on the lesser-known comics originally by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru. Sadly in the last week, the hype has taken a nosedive thanks to, frankly, some of the worst reviews for a comic book film in recent memory, with comparisons to toxic capers The Green Lantern, Catwoman and Marvel’s Elektra. So is Suicide Squad really that bad?
The film sees ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) try to get her Task Force X initiative approved. This task force would ambitiously assemble some of the world’s deadliest villains, control them and use them as problem solvers for the fights that the ordinary military are “unequipped” (or too sane) to handle. Needless to say one of those very problems soon arrives and this “Suicide Squad” is sent in to ensure victory, or, to die. As concepts go Suicide Squad is an exciting one and upon viewing the most talked about film of the year- for good and bad reasons- this reviewer had his own conflict of heart vs. head. As Suicide Squad is not a perfect dose of anarchic action but, much like Pacific Rim or The Expendables, it is a film made with huge affection for the source material and - like other past critical duds turned classics – ambitions that stand out.
Whatever critics watched must have been different to what this writer witnessed because – at the risk of earning my colleagues scorn - for fans of the material, grins will be forming aplenty for those witnessing this wowing, wonky and widespread warzone that reflects the shift of cinema culture. Studio interference (and editing issues that come with it) is never something to be recommended (see the abysmal Fantastic 4) but in regards to this film, it strangely adds to the deranged whacked out edge to what is essentially many genres tossed into a meat grinder. David Ayer, under stress and pressure and at the behest of a modern audience wanting something different, seems to have helmed a new age punk rock movie and like that particular music movement, one wonders if Suicide Squad will be re-evaluated in a few years or even inspire a particular pop cultural kick of its own.
From the start of the film, Ayer’s $175 million B-Movie blended superhero flick, is different, reverting the flash of the genre to a visual mosh pit with a Guardians of the Galaxy esque use of the perfectly eclectic soundtrack and a retro score by Steven Price. The film feels like flicking through a comic, with the opening quarter basically consisting of a barrage of backstories, character splash outs and references. The narrative itself is relatively simple but seems to take a turn into more formulaic territory as it progresses but unlike the usual third act syndrome, this film is rescued from that fate by the consistent characterization, charisma and a finale intercut with flashbacks that denote an intriguing idea of supervillain aspiration. It also helps that, contrary to many others readings, these characters always remain bad. True they are tasked with saving the world but when one dreams of shooting Batman in the mush, you know these are far from charming chaps and chapesses.
The main antagonists, while raising ideas of the evolution of humanity and our shifting allegiances from gods to technology, do feel tame but in this supervillain playbox, you have multiple choices when it comes to the baddies. Will Smith hasn’t been this appealing in years and as assassin Deadshot, lends the film a real leading swagger, while Margot Robbie is literally perfect as Harley Quinn, channeling an unpredictable madcap malice in this flawed wonderland of bullets, knives and explosions. So good is Robbie that you crave a sole outing for the character and her interactions with Jared Leto’s drip-fed role as The Joker is like a throwback to Batman: The Animated Series, especially in one chase flashback that had this writer grinning like Mr. J himself. Leto’s portrayal is polarizing, like the movie itself, but his gangland psychopath that blends Hamill and Ledger’s previous incarnations with Ziggy Stardust and Marilyn Manson, grows on you to the point you look forward to the next snippet of Leto’s arachnid mannerismed madman.
Viola Davis is also a scene stealer as arguably the film’s real villain, Amanda Waller, and the accusations of sexism are slightly undercut by the fact that the baddest character here is not only a woman, but one with unshakable will, ruthless efficiency and no time for weak ass bad guys. There are many characters to take in but like Avengers Assemble (a film it bares similarities with regarding the finale and villains facing the Squad), the film is carried along nicely by the characters interactions and comic book owing developments. With Jai Courtney being actually fun (shock horror) as Captain Boomerang, Jay Hernandez enjoying his own arc as the New 52 influenced El Diablo, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) proving mostly silent but intriguing and Joel Kinnamen striking a very interesting element to the film as Rick Flag, the military man with a romantic connection to the Enchantress’s human counterpart Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne).
Not swallowed up by world building and with many messages about the corruption of the establishment, the nature of wish fulfillment, rightist politics and a comment on the deranged nature of The Joker and Harley (which critics have attacked as sick but, lets face it, The Joker’s abuse has never been anything but sick, likewise this twisted Stockholm syndrome like relationship that the regular person is rightly distanced from). Suicide Squad is an unhinged and messy approach to filmmaking, this is not a neat film concerned with professionalism but it is a thoroughly fascinating artistic statement. Providing 80s action film motifs (with Escape From New York influences to the plot and dialogue straight out of a macho actioner) and punk aesthetics, this antithesis of the comic book caper, should not work but against all odds does.
Did Ayer intend the film to be so ideological? Perhaps not but as Geoffrey Cocks said in Rodney Ascher’s delightful Room 237, “we all know from postmodern film criticism that author intent is only part of the story of any work of art. Those meanings are there regardless of whether the creator of the work was conscious of them.” In many ways this is a changing of the times, as music video culture, promotional storytelling and comic book mythology marry together before our eyes to create a film that is not a masterpiece but is a bloody good time, with more vibrant characters in one scene than Batman v. Superman had in 3 hrs. A cult film if ever there was one, or should that be cult of personality, chock full of risks and unpredictability. DC done good this time, why so serious?
SUICIDE SQUAD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER / SCREENPLAY: DAVID AYER/ STARRING: MARGOT ROBBIE, WILL SMITH, JAI COURTNEY, VIOLA DAVIS, JOEL KINNAMAN, JARED LETO, CARA DELEVINGNE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 5/10