(Originally posted 18th August 2016)
It should be pretty clear by now that I'm not the biggest fan of superhero nonsense so I must admit I went into Suicide Squad with pretty low expectations. Maybe that helped, because I came out being entertained by a solid if flawed film.
The problems mostly arise from them trying to do too much in one film. There are too many characters and with next to no previous backstory for them, it gets a little exposition heavy at the beginning. They handle this about as well as possible and do it as a roll call style intro to all the main players. It gets away with it by charging the flashback cutaway scenes with some flashy visuals, which frankly, was a nice change after the staid darkness of recent Batman offerings.
The whole concept is, of course, fatally flawed, just like The Avengers, in that this team of people are completely imbalanced and really shouldn't be existing in the same story world. How can you have a demi-god that is capable of pretty much anything and a hell-spawned fire demon working alongside a girl whose only superpower is being a bit kooky and hitting people with a baseball bat? It's like having a raging green beast who can jump over buildings working alongside someone whose special skill is running in heels.
And yes, it is the female characters who are mainly hamstrung by this. But that's what comes from adapting 30 year old material that is mainly aimed at 14 year old boys, I suppose.
It was, of course, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn that was getting a lot of attention pre-release. Unfortunately, both the character and the performance felt a little desperate, with not quite enough substance to offer. There were a few flashes of what will be a much more interesting (and fucked up) story dealing with Quinn's and the Joker's relationship. As Sol alluded to in our podcast, that's a really damaged relationship and could either give us a very deep and moving story or be exploited for horrific titillation. I'm not holding my breath.
Incidentally, Jared Leto's Joker seemed completely on point. Used sparingly in this film and only there to serve Quinn's character arc, the shorter screen time probably works to his advantage as such an extreme character. A different enough take on a well established villain to give us something different while staying true to the source. I have hopes for the future here.
As for the rest of the Squad, Will Smith stands tall as the leader and does his Will Smith thing. He is in fact a much larger role than the Harley-heavy trailer suggested. Jai Courtney I think was supposed to be the comic relief; that didn't work. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is completely unrecognisable as Killer Croc and unfortunately the character is completely irrelevant to the entire story and you can't understand what he's saying (but he only has three lines so never mind). Cara Delevingne just looks way too young and her character strays too far into the supernatural for my tastes, which derails the whole film. As I've already said, bringing characters together from vastly different story worlds just doesn't tessellate comfortably. Joel Kinnaman is completely forgettable but Viola Davis puts in a perfectly pitched performance as the government overseer of the Squad. If you're going to make the bad guys into anti-heroes, you need a real cunt pushing them around and she does it beautifully.
The plot gets a little messed up and spends so much time setting up the team that the actual story feels unexplored and forced and never quite adds up. The supernatural stuff makes it seem too silly and it's also limited by the fact that this team of terrible bad guys can never do anything really bad because they have to become sympathetic for the audience. Deadshot is a ruthless assassin but has a rule of no women, no kids. Fire Boy can burn a prison to the ground but he just wants to be back home with his wife and kids. All that kind of bullshit. They don't even swear for fuck's sake. Even all the henchmen who have to be brutally killed to give us a significant bodycount are faceless goons so it doesn't feel like real murder. Harley Quinn and The Joker are the only ones who seem like truly bad guys, and again that sets up their future film as one to watch.
All that sounds like quite a lot of negativity so what kept me going? The film was visually entertaining, the action stuff didn't drag out too long. The characters, imperfect as they were, had chemistry and the actors were generally charming and likeable. I think I've got to put this one on the director. David Ayer has taken an impossible proposition and made it greater than the sum of its parts. He's got the heritage in his back catalogue that suggests he knows how to make engaging character driven action and he was a great choice for this kind of film. And it's to the benefit of us all. God only knows what sort of stinking mess Zack Snyder would have made of this.
I'm still not converted to overblown action films but this is an entertaining watch.
Okay, upon second viewing, unfettered by the allure of the cinematic experience and in the cold light of day, I really can't hold on to my positive feelings here. I don't need to go against anything I said in my original review about the individual parts, it's just that it doesn't come together as a whole in the way that I previously saw it. The chopped up edit and nonsensical plot is too much of a drain on the few elements that did work and ultimately kept me going throughout. It was entertaining but needed more focus and an actual sense of what it was trying to achieve.
We discuss all this in our Batman episode that can be heard here: