Warner Bros. pictures have well and truly entered the realm of superheroes this year as they aim to establish their unique DC Comics cinematic universe. Suicide Squad is the third film to be released by Warner Bros. as part of their so called DC Extended Universe, following the recent release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this year and Man of Steel in 2013.
Based on the graphic novels of the same name, Suicide Squad is best described as DC Comics' answer to The Dirty Dozen. The story follows a motley crew of DC's peripheral villains who have been imprisoned for their heinous crimes upon humanity. Against their will and at the threat of death, they are recruited to take part in suicidal missions due to their rare abilities and ultimately due to their expendability. The caveat to their plight is the explosive device implanted in their necks to ensure their cooperation. The team's roster in the comics for the most part has been extremely interchangeable and highly expendable. This was at least until the addition of the incredibly popular Harley Quinn, who was first introduced in the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series initially as the Joker's sidekick, then later in the comics.
DC's Suicide Squad - Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
The architect of the film's premise is the infamous Amanda Waller played magnificently by Viola Davis. Her reputation precedes her as one of the most formidable antagonists in DC Comics, as she uses her influence to lobby the government to form her covert team of dangerous criminals. Waller's ultimate desire in the film is national security, following a world fully aware of individuals with the abilities of Superman and the dangers they pose to society. However, her ruthless methods seem to indicate more personal motivations that are not well defined. Her motives are also quite inconsistent at times, which seem to be due to bizarre editing and story choices rather than Davis's powerful performance.
Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad
For the most part, many of the imprisoned villains that Waller recruits are directly from Batman's stellar rogues gallery, with the exception of Captain Boomerang who was one of the original archenemies of The Flash in the comics. Aussie Jai Courtney takes on the role of the campy Australian criminal, with a unique modern interpretation that is sure to create new national stereotypes. Courtney is surprisingly well suited to the role, providing much needed humour and levity. However, it has to be said that the character of Captain Boomerang is inconsequential to the overall narrative.
DC's Suicide Squad - Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as The Joker
In spite of essentially being a team-up movie, Suicide Squad makes the highly unusual choice of focusing the majority of its story development on one main character, and that is Deadshot. The masterful marksman and hired gun with a soft spot for his estranged daughter, is played admirably by Will Smith. On first impressions Will Smith appears to be incredibly miscast, however as the story progresses the strength of his personality proves that his presence is much needed in the movie. His character is by far the most well developed, at the unfortunate expense of the rest of the crew. This is possibly a byproduct of Will Smith's stellar contract negotiation skills. However, the character's development doesn't necessarily serve the overall story, with precious screen time better focused on other characters including the Joker.
Margot Robbie is dangerously delightful in the role of Harley Quinn. Her manic personality and flirtatious nature are captured brilliantly in the film, all in spite of her unique modern and edgy interpretation. She is undoubtedly the best character in the movie, and quite well developed right from the beginning, utterly defined by her crazed relationship with Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker. Suicide Squad's deranged sense of humour seems to come entirely from her direction, which is unbelievable considering the Joker's looming and eerie presence. At times her highly irregular relationship with the clown prince of crime is incredibly disturbing, as she appears to suffer from a bizarre form of hypnotic Stockholm syndrome that audiences will find difficult to understand. This process seems to happen even prior to her physical torture, which is poorly conveyed and not well established. For the sequence to make any sense, the audience has to assume that she already has some level of undiagnosed insanity, due to her completely irrational attachment to the Joker. Unfortunately this is also not well established, in spite of a series of flashy exposition filled sequences that are abruptly edited together. In short, the dynamic nature of their manipulative relationship is much better conveyed in the original Harley Quinn "Mad Love" comic. Many of these ideas are neglected in the film, in favour of an odd stylistic approach that disturbs the narrative drive of the movie. In addition to this, the delivery of Margot Robbie's irregular yet enjoyable personality traits do seem to become inconsistent during particular sections of the film. Again this seems to be due to weird editing and story choices rather than a result of her sensually psychotic and entertaining performance.
Jared Leto's performance as the Joker is a polarising predicament. While his screen time is limited, he does leave a lasting impression that conveys a unique psychotic and menacing persona which unfortunately seems to have no real sense of direction. He is undeniably the most fearsome looking Joker to have appeared on the big screen, at the sacrifice of many quirky characteristics that originally made the Joker so unique and popular. His frighteningly disturbing nature is a completely new take on the character, much to the credit of Jared Leto's extensive and yet odd preparation. However, his character is poorly scripted and his motivations are ill-defined. His vital screen time is also essentially wasted with his introduction being the epitome of poor filmmaking, not really leaving the audience with any sort of memorable moment. The character also lacks identity, which will leave audiences unsure of where he fits in DC's newly fashioned universe.
If this updated version of the Joker does have a motivation, it is undoubtedly his love-crazed obsession with getting back his girl Harley Quinn. This new direction for the character doesn't necessarily serve the story and adds nothing to the Joker's character arc, in effect making him weak and predictable in spite of his perceived fearsome nature. Leto's incarnation of the Joker also lacks the humour and charisma found with the performances of Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson. Even Mark Hamill's voiceover work for the animated version of the character emanates elements within the Joker's personality that are severely neglected with Leto's take on the character. The Suicide Squad edition of the Joker seems to fully focus on aesthetic at the unfortunate sacrifice of substance. It has to be said that limited screen time may be to blame. However, Leto's interpretation doesn't even come close to establishing what Health Ledger's performance created in less than 2 minutes of screen time, during the Joker's stellar introductory sequence in The Dark Knight.
Fans of DC Comics however will be delighted to see the film's screen accurate homages to the various incarnations of The Joker, with particular tributes to the artwork of Alex Ross and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. However Jared Leto's performance is essentially unrecognisable as the Joker, with the exception of the purple trench coat, green hair and closing title credit. This particular Joker's crazy lovesick nature completely contradicts his comic origins, disregarding the utter apathy and ferocious indifference to consequences that made the character so famous and dangerous. Unfortunately the performance is nowhere near as effective or entertaining as the calculated and formidable portrayal by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Fans of the character will be disappointed due to the the fact that they expect and deserve so much more. Fortunately Ben Affleck and DC's Geoff Johns are penning the script for the new Batman movie, which is sure to restore hope that these incredible character flaws can be rectified.
The rest of the Suicide Squad team, for the most part, is underdeveloped, with Killer Croc played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Katana played by Karen Fukuhara both feeling as though they are more on the periphery. The exception here is El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez, who is surprisingly entertaining and quite interesting. However his character development does feel like an after thought when it eventually comes around, which is prior to the third act. Some of this development is at least done through dialogue, with the other members of the team getting flashback sequences accompanied by a greatest hits soundtrack. This is at the expense of much needed internal conflict among the team dynamic, which worked so well in films such as The Hateful Eight and The Avengers.
The character of Enchantress played by Cara Delevingne is surprisingly quite alienated from the group, seemingly on a quest of her own which doubles as a bizarre plot device to carry the story forward. Delevingne does the best that she can with the part, offering an emotional range the viewers will appreciate. However, poor story choices take her character in directions that some audience members will find utterly comical. Her involvement with the team is inextricably linked to the character of Colonel Rick Flag played by Joel Kinnaman. Flag is essentially the patriarch in charge of keeping the squad in line and well behaved at the request of Amanda Waller. Kinnaman is passable in the role, however audiences will forever wonder what the original casting Tom Hardy would have brought to the table following his premature departure from the project.
Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang in Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad includes a carousel of amazingly odd choices that can only be attributed to the involvement of Director David Ayer and the creative department at Warner Bros. David Ayer has always promoted the film around the idea of finally featuring "Bad Guys verses Evil", with the perception that "bad guys" posing as anti-heroes are superior and perhaps more interesting. While this may have been the initial idea during the film's conception, the delivery of this premise falls flat and never quite follows through on the concept. In addition to this, the movie goes to painstaking effort during the first act to establish the main villainous characters as victims of their incarceration, in effect making the act of incarceration the ultimate evil and the prison guards the bad guys. The first act also goes to a lot of effort to establish vulnerabilities and tragic past experiences for each character as it should, but this essentially makes their badness an irrelevant issue. The unfortunate byproduct of this character development is that the "bad guys" are just not that good at being bad guys. This completely contradicts all the promotional material and trailers prior to the film's release.
David Ayer's fancy premise would also lead you to believe that the Suicide Squad concept is unique, making the anti-heroic characters the heroes. But the fact of the matter is that the concept is not unique. It has already been done before with The Dirty Dozen, and it must be said that what they achieved with that film worked incredibly well. Logic would dictate that the studio replicate what worked so well with The Dirty Dozen, only this time evolving the interpersonal conflicts among the prisoners leading to the ultimate team-up movie. This blatantly obvious concept is nowhere to be found in the story or the script, opting instead to focus on a formula that is difficult to comprehend especially considering the insatiable hunger Warner Bros. has for DC Comics' cinematic success.
Suicide Squad also has an amazing number of tonal shifts throughout the film that feel as though each actor and actress is periodically slipping in and out of character. On initial impression, it seems as though the character continuity is inconsistent due to fluctuations in performance. However, in reality it seems as though reshoots have been abruptly spliced into the original cut of the film with the goal of shifting the tone. This was no doubt a reaction by the movie studio to all the negative press regarding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The end result gives the film a feel of inconsistency that is distracting and difficult to ignore. The plot to Suicide Squad also deteriorates quite quickly from the middle of the movie. This is primarily due to structural weaknesses within the story and the script, leaving the narrative with no legs to stand on.
In summary, Suicide Squad is calamity of errors, with its occasional highlights reminding audiences of the franchise's immense potential which is yet to be fulfilled on the big screen. The film can't deliver on what it promises in its premise, mainly because the narrative is at conflict with the inconsistency of its characters. Ultimately Suicide Squad is unsure what genre it fits into. The film begins as a prison movie swiftly transitioning into its subsequent kamikaze mission. However, by the time the movie has transitioned into its second act the film quickly becomes something resembling the zombie apocalypse. This incoherent jumble eventually morphs into the final act of the first Ghostbusters, only without the marshmallow man and without the vital comedy to fall back on.
It is quite remarkable that a film studio like Warner Bros., responsible for projects like the critically Batman: The Animated Series, could allow as many inconsistencies in a tent pole film such as Suicide Squad. They clearly respect the source material, but apparently only under a certain context. Logic would dictate perhaps a live action edition of the characters and storylines found in the Batman Animated Series. However, the unlimited potential of ideas like this are yet to come to fruition, much to the dismay of graphic novel fans. In short, the movie is worthwhile seeing at least to keep up with the continuity of the DC Extended Universe. Just make sure to keep your expectations low, because the film never reaches its full potential. On the positive side, audiences will be supremely pleased with key members of the cast, particularly Margot Robbie, and the unique entertaining interpersonal team dynamic. Suicide Squad is at cinemas everywhere from August 4th.