There’s a general view amongst fans that DC struggle to match the cinematic quality and integrity of Marvel, and since Marvel initiated their ‘Cinematic Universe’ DC have been running to catch up. If you’re unaware, ignorant or indifferent to the world of comics, then all of that DC/Marvel jargon won’t mean a thing to you, and that’s okay, because I also come to the party with a modicum of ambivalence.
DC began their ‘Extended Universe’ with Man of Steel (2013), followed by Batman V Superman earlier this year, and their latest chapter is the highly anticipated anti-hero blockbuster Suicide Squad. With a casual reference to the events of Batman V Superman, the film presents a new assortment of characters that go about saving humanity, and sets the scene for a weave-work of future films. Ultimately, the question is whether Warner Bros. can start steering the ship in the right direction with Suicide Squad. The answer will no doubt be disappointing to many.
The Suicide Squad is made up of a motley crew of villains, who are all serving consecutive life sentences in maximum-security prisons. With Superman unable to swoop in and save the day, the government creates a work-release program to utilise the skills of its most brazen and psychotic inmates. With a kill-switch holding them captive, the squad is released into the world with orders to rescue a high-ranking government official from the midst of a super-villain attack.
Let’s start off with the positive. Boasting a wonderful production design, the film looks incredible. Director David Ayer has presented a sinister world that recaptures the darkness of the comics and returns the DC cinescape to the type of raw grittiness that Christopher Nolan envisioned over ten years ago in Batman Begins. Furthermore, much of the action is executed skillfully.
The screen is peppered with an assortment of characters that make up a quirky, demented and often-terrifying ensemble. Will Smith is adequate as Deadshot, a deadly assassin who leads the squad, and he’s supported by a strong lineup of players including Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Jai Courtney as Boomerang and Jay Hernandez as El Diablo. The on-screen presence of the cast is certainly impactful and their commitment to the characters is undeniable. Robbie is particularly effective as the spirited psychotic femme fatale who flaunts her sex appeal across the screen with a wry sense of menace.
And then there’s Jared Leto as The Joker. Following two particularly effective portrayals throughout the years, he comes to the film with his work cut out for him. His interpretation of The Joker lies somewhere between the portrayals offered up by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, and he gives the character a much more reckless and unhinged persona. His screen presence is confronting and his energy is anarchic, yet while trying to push new ground Leto steps over his mark and often ventures into try-hard territory. While he is at times terrifying, there are moments when we can see Leto inside the character, emitting obvious effort behind the character’s over-the-top antics.
So, at this point Suicide Squad is sounding pretty good, right? Sadly, this is where any sort of praise ends. What’s the point of having a well crafted atmosphere and interesting characters if the story they’re dropped into is so insipid and sloppy? Much like Batman V Superman before it, the film suffers from a misplaced need to fast-track the action and the narrative.
Rather than taking the time to establish proper subtext, we are given a mix tape of songs (which don’t always suit the visuals), a line-up of slow-motion sequences and one action scene after another with nothing to buffer the mayhem… and don’t even start me on the bloody awful super-villain, who I assume is supposed to remain anonymous until viewing. I wont drop any spoilers, suffice it to say that this foe undermines any credibility that the movie had going for it and takes things to a very kitschy place.
This reviewer subscribes to the view that, for the most part, superhero movies work better with stand-alone characters, and they are susceptible of losing a whole lot of impact when they’re forced into an ensemble arrangement. A congestion of personalities, abilities, back-stories and an ill-conceived antagonist can result in a bloated mess, and as far as I’m concerned, Suicide Squad is precisely that.