Friday, 5 August 2016

Suicide Squad (Film Review)

Suicide Squad is one of those films which brings many emotions to the forefront of your mind - Excitement, extreme tension, humour and the joy of seeing a comicbook saga brought to the big screen. However, all of this is unfortunately tinged with the sense it could have been so much more, so much better, were there not quite so many cooks spoiling the broth.

The story to this one is fairly simple: It's an attempt by the struggling DC Cinematic Universe to kick-start their successes with a Guardians of the Galaxy of their own. Oh, both films certainly have their own identities and personal qualities to keep them from being clones, but it's pretty clear this was the objective. You have the B-list criminals trying to be (somewhat) heroic, the use of classic music in the trailers, the promise of something not taking itself too seriously while toting guns. That said, Suicide Squad has a bit more of a hard edge thanks to its premise - Supervillains fighting to free themselves by acting as a government wetworks unit. They complete near impossible missions so shave time off of their sentences. There's a serious chance of multiple deaths here, and that helps it to stand out from the crowd.

The actual focus of Suicide Squad is remarkably narrow despite its scale, as in many regards it's set up like a heist of sorts. You have the target, you have the team of experts being assembled, you have the situation and you have the plan. You know from the start it's going to go wrong, but the thrill comes from how the protagonists resolve the key issues. The overall structure reflects his, first introducing the audience to just enough of the specialists to get to know them, before unveiling their target: The Enchantress.

Given Warner Bros' reluctance to allow its films to embrace the more overt or unusual elements of its setting, having a demonically possessed woman as the villain seemed at first like an odd choice. That said, it definitely pays off, as it not only helps the film to stand out a little more from both Marvel and DC, but gives suicide squad a tinge of darkness it definitely needed. When she's first introduced, the film makes it clear she's not a force to be opposed, single-handedly besieging an entire city and ripping apart crowds at a time. It's a strong first impression and it's a lasting one to be sure, and the sheer range of her abilities keeps you guessing what will happen next in each scene. The same also goes for the Joker himself, bent upon a single goal and letting nothing get in his way. While some will argue that Heath Ledger still hangs over this role, Jared Leto puts in one hell of a performance for what little time he's given. While it's largely just a promising start, it does look like he'll be a solid choice for films to come rather than another Eisenluthor.

The actual combat scenes themselves prove to be fast paced and pretty damn dynamic, taking a few moments to show off each villains' abilities. While some are more questionable than others at times - Deadshot going full auto just never looks right - the cinematography is solid, the editing is relatively tight in these moments and damn if the film doesn't have fun once the bullets start flying. No matter the character, you can guarantee there's one distinct moment which will make a character stand out in the film, and Ayer nailed the money shots which will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

So, what are the problems here exactly? For starters, the casting/writing is hardly all that great when it comes to the squad itself. There certainly are a fair number of hits, but a few misses stand out ahead of others. So while you have Viola Davis' Amanda Waller, Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag, and Jay Hernandez's El Diablo standing out strong, the others are decidedly more mixed. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc is well performed and the animatronics look fantastic, but he is given precious little to do throughout most of the film. The same fate befalls Karen Fukuhara's Katana, and while entertaining the film doesn't quite seem to know what to do with Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang outside of a few genuinely funny gags. Oh, and Will Smith is playing himself as usual, so you can expect a solid performance but good luck trying to envision him as Deadshot at any point. Really, it's a darker turn, a well played one at that, but it's hard to see the character past the actor.

This conflicting direction is evident more with Harley Quinn more than anywhere else; as Margot Robbie certainly has the energy, enthusiasm, flirtatious charm and insanity for the role, but the writing (and costume design!) falls short. It's as if the script was partially working off of a handful of Batman: The Animated Series episodes and little else, as it lacks the establishment and support the original incarnation benefited from. As such, many of her already tricky character elements conflict harshly with one another, especially how she's presented both as a strong character, but insanely devoted to the Joker at the same time. It never manages to balance out the disturbing and entertaining qualities of her role, and this actually becomes true with the group itself. On their own they work fine, but together the script keeps trying to build up some comradely alliance, when the simple fact is they're all backstabbing scum.

The film is further hit by some alarming tonal shifts from scene to scene. This isn't simply the film moving around, so much as wild, sudden changes at the drop of a hat, where the direction and focus of the film's prior scenes will be abruptly forgotten in favour of something else. Sometimes this can lead to complex plots or dynamic storytelling, but here it reeks of a distinct lack of a controlling vision over the film. This notably tends to come into play just about whenever Suicide Squad is either forcibly tied into the bigger universe, or it tries to distinctly play up the overt and extremely wacky elements the trailers promised. On their own they work fine, but the moment you try to mentally join them up with the rest of the film, they stand out like a sore thumb. You can't quite link up Spirit in the Sky with a criminal angsting over his dead wife and child after all.

Finally, the Suicide Squad is definitely at its weakest during the final act, at least in terms of storytelling. While the visuals and violence still hold up well, the story almost feels pedestrian at times in its execution, and there are few real surprises which arise from the final sequence. You'll probably already have guessed who lives, who dies and how it will all pan out by the end, which means you're not nearly as engaged as you should be during this final climactic sequence. This is also without getting into some of the more character induced moments of stupidity, especially one distinct moment of pointless rebellion which almost gets the squad killed.

"Muddled" really is the best term to describe Suicide Squad. While Ayers certainly made his fair share of mistakes here, there's no hiding that Warner Bros' usual interference weakened the film as a whole. The end result could have been so much stronger with just a bit more time, focus and planning, proving to be a massive leap forwards for DC's film outings. Instead, it's just a few steps in the right direction; proving itself to be decently entertaining and certainly worth a watch, but it's unlikely to dethrone any Marvel property any time soon. 

Okay, some of you might be wondering where this went and why it turned up twice. Well, there's a slight reason for that. I accidetnly deleted the original when going to edit it, and like a moron I lacked any backups. As such, this has been pieced together and re-written as best I can from the original. Sorry for the loss of comments, especially grdaat, but there's no real way around that now.


  1. Well since this is the edited version I might as well repost that comment so the older version can be re-deleted:

    This honestly sounds like it has a lot of the pros and cons that Batman: Assault on Arkham had, which isn't too surprising given how the bare basic plot seems like it was just a find-replace version of that plot (though granted there was not a city in lockdown by virtue of their target, so it did diverge quite a bit).

    If you've seen it, how would you say it compares to something like Assault on Arkham (which in my opinion started off really strong and then fell extremely flat) or even the much older episode Task Force X from the Justice League cartoon? Not exactly a fair comparison since one was made on a limited budget and the other's a Hollywood blockbuster, though out of the suicide squad stuff I've seen (haven't seen the movie yet though I plan on it) I can honestly say I've enjoyed Task Force X the most.

    Feel free to re-post the reply.

    1. Yeah, the main reason I didn't bring up any Assault on Arkham comparisons is because i've not seen that one unfortunately. What little i have heard does make it sound more focused and direct, but it's driven by a seriously stupid decision in sending the Suicide Squad after their target in the first palace.

      That said, yeah Task Force X is probably the best of the adaptations thus far. It focused more upon a Mission Impossible theme after all, and honestly seemed much more tightly written in terms of the core plot and character dynamics. Personally speaking though, the New 52's early run of the comic is probably the best version in the modern era.

  2. I'm actually saddened by how lukewarm reception to this movie has been; just the premise, Dirty Dozen with DC Villains, makes it sound like it should be home dinger.

    Why is it that DC can't seem to break this streak they've been on since MoS?

    1. Well, two things - It's a streak which has been going on since Green Lantern, and it's mostly because of Warner Bros. in my opinion. From that film onward, the studio has been relentlessly interfering, making demands and ordering changes, trying to jump start their own cinematic universe. Problem is, they want a short-cut, so they're cramming as much as they can into a few films rather than letting them be somewhat self-contained events. Some of the stories coming out of this are pretty bloody insane, but i'll admit the directors have had issues with these as well.

      That said, honestly, the film is better than a lot of the reception it's getting. A lot of people are classing this as a 3/10 when in honesty it's at least a 6/10 if not a 7/10. Not going to deny it's deeply flawed in places, but damn if it's not fun.