Suicide Squad, 2016.
Directed by David Ayer.
Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jay Hernandez, Adam Beach, Jim Parrack, Ben Affleck, Karen Fukuhara, Common, Ike Barinholtz and Scott Eastwood
A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency.
“They’re bad guys” we’re constantly reminded in David Ayer’s DC Extended Universe entry Suicide Squad. It’s a movie that has had an incredible amount of hype following some well-received trailers, and was a golden ring for comic book fans to grab hold of following the disappointing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But can the bad guys be good?
Taking place after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has decided the best course of action to protect the country is to create a task force made up of the most dangerous people they have in their captivity. She enlists hitman with a heart of gold Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy lady and Joker lover Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), literal pyromaniac Diablo (Jay Hernandez), human crocodile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Australian stereotype Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), red shirt Slipknot (Adam Beach) and dual-personality witch Enchantress (Cara Delavigne), but when Enchantress turns bad(der) and starts tearing apart a nondescript city, Task Force X (or the Suicide Squad) must come together and save humanity.
What’s funny about the above paragraph is that its not the only one plot line of the movie, and Ayer felt that multiple threads were needed to make a full sweater. There’s also subplots involving Jared Leto’s Joker trying to save Harley, Deadshot’s desires to be a good father, Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his relationship with Enchantress’ alter ego June Moone, there’s a rescue mission that takes up the majority of the second act, and several other elements that don’t amount to much. There is so much to digest in Suicide Squad that its impressive Ayer managed to get them all in the two-hour timeframe. That’s not to say he did it well, but they’re all there.
The problem with too many plot threads is that nothing is ever given time to develop. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are the only two characters in Task Force X who get anything to do character-wise (which makes sense as they’re Smith and Robbie) which is then made very awkward when they haphazardly try to develop a backstory for Diablo in the final third. The opening twenty minutes of Suicide Squad is a rip-roaring dance through several origin stories. But because there are so many characters to establish and twenty minutes isn’t enough, the movie has to stop every now and again for back story flashbacks that plug up any missing points. It gets pretty messy.
What’s also messy is Ayer’s horrendous use of music. Unlike Tarantino, who chose music in Pulp Fiction to convey theme and character, or James Gunn, who used Awesome Mix Vol. 1 to further Star-Lord’s character development, Ayer just opened iTunes and picked out his favourite songs. It doesn’t matter if those songs fit the scene, he likes The Rolling Stones so “Paint It Black” is going in. They’re also so over-bearing that when Steven Price’s score kicks in during the third act it feels very out of place. You can see what Ayer was going for with his Suicide Squad mixtape, but it doesn’t work.
And neither do his attempts at humour. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was lambasted by critics and fans for being incredibly dour with no levity whatsoever, and it’s nice to see a DC movie that attempts to make you smile amongst the carnage and drama. But, like Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters, there are a large number of jokes made and virtually all of them fall flat. Most of these jokes rest on the shoulders of Smith, Robbie and Courtney and it’s – remarkably – Courtney that does the best. Smith is doing is usual Will Smith performance that we’ve seen him do since Independence Day, and Robbie is a victim of Ayer’s desires to make her the star of the show. Courtney, on the other hand, has a fun character to play with (even with no development) and the few moments he has to shine he grabs hold of.
So let’s talk about our first big screen version of Harley Quinn, a character comic book fans have been desperate to see since she debuted in Batman: The Animated Series in the mid-1990s. Robbie not only looks the part, but she also gets Quinn’s crazy demeanour right from the get go and is a real treat in the movie. Sadly she’s hampered by a script that gives her little to work with, and there’s an over-reliance on her to steal every scene – even ones she’s not a part of. There will be scenes between Deadshot and Flagg that Quinn will show up in right at the end to make an unnecessary remark. It feels like Ayer was worried we’d forget she was there if she didn’t do something at every turn.
And Ayer’s script really is problematic. It reads like a first draft that went into production with no time to develop. As such, the villain is weak, her plan for world domination makes little sense, Task Force X’s mission is unclear and everyone’s motivations are muddled. Smith easily has the majority of the dialogue, but it usually amounts to him reminding the audience that “we’re the bad guys” or “I love my daughter”. Similarly Harley Quinn’s dialogue is there to remind us she’s crazy, and anyone talking to her or about her also has the same set of lines. “She’s crazy”, “she’s all kinds of crazy nuts”, “she’s beautiful, but crazy.” What’s frustrating is that there is a good movie in Ayer’s draft that just need ironing out. The idea of Waller being a bigger bad guy than the Suicide Squad isn’t new or inventive, but it could play out so well thematically. The problem is that the script doesn’t allow us to just enjoy how bad Waller is compared to the literal bad guys, and instead we have Will Smith standing there and saying, “and I thought we’re supposed to be the bad guys.”
There has been a lot of praise for Smith and Robbie’s performances, but the real star of the show is Jay Hernandez as Diablo. He gives an incredibly great showing, and he gets more out of his character with a tiny amount of development than Joel Kinnaman gets with Rick Flagg who has 50% more screen time. Surprisingly, Jai Courtney – who has been dreadful in just about everything – is also great. He’s clearly having a blast as Captain Boomerang and that shows in his performance. It’s a shame that the make-up hampers Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc and the poorly recorded ADR dialogue dampens down what could have been bigger moments for him. Cara Delevingne is fine as both June Moone and Enchantress, and Viola Davis is her usual brilliant self as Waller. Kinnaman, on the other hand, is all kinds of terrible. The role of Rick Flagg was initially supposed to be played by Tom Hardy, and Kinnaman is no suitable replacement for Hardy. With that said, not even Hardy could have pulled out a show-stopping performance with what Kinnaman was eventually given to work with.
Sigh. It’s another stumbling block for the DC Extended Universe, but it’s at least step up from the snoorefest that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is a great film in Suicide Squad desperate to get out – and it almost makes it – but poor pacing, a bad script and a dreadful dreary second half stop all of its momentum. The action excites at first, but becomes very samey very quickly. The characters are fun and the performances match, but the mess around them holds them back. A real shame.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.