In the build-up to this film, I was never quite able to decide whether I was excited for it or not. While the Suicide Squad comics have always been pretty interesting, and some of the trailers made it look fun, I could feel my excitement for the film draining away every time another story of Jared Leto's tryhard antics surfaced. But I did enjoy Batman v Superman, so I thought I would at least give this film a fair chance - after all, I did want to enjoy it.
Set in the aftermath of Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad sees ruthless government operative Amanda Waller gathering a team of elite criminals to act as a government task force, kept in line through the use of microscopic explosives in their necks. On the team are Deadshot, a gun-for-hire who wants to see his daughter again; Harley Quinn, an insane criminal and the Joker's partner; Captain Boomerang, a boomerang-throwing criminal who had previously tangled with the Flash; Killer Croc, a burly metahuman with scaly skin; El Diablo, a Los Angeles gang member with the power to create and manipulate fire; and Rick Flag, a Special Forces operative who acts as the team's field leader. When one of Waller's assets - a lunar witch named Enchantress - escapes from her control and begins terrorising Midway City with a horde of monsters, the team are mobilised to stop her.
Let's start by talking about the Joker, since much of the film's press attention has been on him. He's got a tiny role, with a few scenes in Harley's backstory segment and a tiny subplot that ultimately goes nowhere, and what a blessing that is. It's fair to say that most actors who play the Joker bring something new to the role: Mark Hamill's rendition is nothing like Heath Ledger's which is nothing like Kevin Michael Richardson's which is nothing like Jack Nicholson's. Jared Leto brings nothing to the role, because all he's actually doing is half-arsed impression of Heath Ledger.
|The gang. Minus El Diablo.|
It's frankly irritating to watch, as Leto goes through his scenes poorly mimicking Ledger's inflections and body language, but with none of the menace or unpredictability Ledger brought to the role, while being consistently outperformed by every actor around him.
The rest of the film is better, but not by much. With a central cast of seven people and an hour and forty minutes to introduce them to us, set up a conflict, resolve that conflict, and convince us that they've all undergone character development and become a tight-knit family, the film's pacing crashes and burns. Thirty minutes - over a quarter of the film - are spent introducing the cast before the plot ever actually starts making moves towards kicking off. Character development moments and important pieces of character motivation are relegated to jarring, out of place 'telling not showing' moments, such as when, three quarters of the way through the film, a character offhandedly mentions that Katana's husband's soul is trapped within her sword, and she wants to die because of it. You know, no big deal, definitely not something it would have been useful to know - or at least have had foreshadowed - earlier.
(It also means that when we're given emotional character moments, they fall flat. When we learn that El Diablo murdered his children, it has no weight behind it, because all we know about El Diablo is that he sets things on fire. When Rick Flag is tormented over possibly having to kill his girlfriend, I didn't care, because I knew neither him nor June (who has about six seconds of screentime before she gets taken over by the Enchantress), and didn't care if they both died, let alone one of them.)
|Harley and Croc.|
Because of this, most of the characters are reduced to two-dimensional caricatures. Deadshot and Harley are the only ones out of the bunch that get any sort of depth, and even then, you could still probably sum up their characters in two or three sentences without missing anything.
Their development also veers off in odd directions: In a scene where Enchantress is showing each of them their deepest desires, Deadshot's desire (and bear in mind, we've already had his motivation set up as being 'wants custody of his daughter') is to kill Batman, despite very little indication prior to that point that Deadshot much cares about Batman. If more time was spent exploring the dissonance between what he says motivates him and what apparently actually motivates him was explored, that could have been interesting, but the film ignores the idea that there even is any dissonance.
Harley gets some nice moments - she has a moment where, when talking to Deadshot, she sighs and labels him as 'just another textbook sociopath,' and I think in that one line Margot Robbie managed to perfectly encapsulate Harley's character through her inflections and body language - but her character ultimately goes spiraling off into bizarre directions as well, and her arc suffers from the occasional unwelcome intrusion of the Joker subplot.
|While not quite the right build for Waller, Davis is in every other respect the perfect|
I'm spending a lot of time talking about character because this film was always framed as a very character-driven film, and because as far as the plot goes, there's not a lot to actually talk about. It's a pretty boring plot about the Enchantress making an evil lightshow and the gang having to fight their way through a city to get to her, and the pacing problems means that it doesn't so much progress as it does fling itself bodily from set piece battle to set piece battle. There's nothing to talk about there, because there's barely anything resembling a plot at all. If the Enchantress was a more compelling villain, this might not be the case, but she doesn't actually do anything: She just sort of stands in place and does a weird dance, and briefly torments the protagonists with visions of their deepest desires.
From a technical standpoint, this film does have some good things going for it. The special effects are nice. The soundtrack is full of lovely renditions of classic songs. The acting is generally very good, with a special shoutout going to Viola Davis, who steals every scene she's in as Amanda Waller. The Batman and Flash cameos are handled much better than Batman v Superman handled its cameos.
Hopefully, the DCEU has its best films still ahead of it, because Suicide Squad is definitely not one of them. It's a shame, because done right, this could have been a really interesting, fun film. Still, we have various Justice League films and Birds of Prey on the horizon, so I will tentatively look forward to those.