More noise than signal

Suicide Squad

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

As one of the few people willing to mount at least some defence of Batman vs Superman, I suppose I was looking forward to Suicide Squad more than most, although I think the early teaser trailers combined with Deadpool‘s then recent success had most convinced of the potential of the idea of the bad guys taking over the asylum and having a bit more fun that Zach Snyder allows any of his characters to have. However, the closer we’ve come to the release date, the more cloying and forced the marketing has become to the point that it was starting to turn me off from watching it.

As I have the bravery of a million lions, I nonetheless charged forth into a multiplex to bring you, dear listener, the truth, and the truth is… meh, it’s okay, I suppose.


If you’ve somehow missed the saturation press for the film, this takes some of the DC universe’s most dangerous criminals and compels them, through threat of death via implanted explosive, to perform good, dangerous works in return for time off their sentences. Headed up by Joel Kinnaman’s Special Forces operative Rick Flag and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, they wrangle uncannily accurate hitman Headshot (Will Smith), Joker’s violently insane squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), bank robbing thug Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), fire-wielding ex-gang leader trying to go straight Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and monstrous crocodile thing Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in to their first mission, after a suitable period of exposition to introduce these folks and their abilities.

The mission winds up, in a sense, being to clear up their own mess. Puppet master Amanda Waller (Viola Davis)’s other member of the squad was intended to be an ancient mystical magical being of incredible power, the Enchantress, currently timesharing the body of June Moon (Cara Delevingne), awkwardly enough Rick Flag’s love interest. However their method of controlling her is soon thwarted, allowing the Enchantress to release her equally powerful brother to start ripping apart downtown Midway City, so it’s up to our dysfunctional team to somehow pull together and save the day.

Now, the first hour or so had gone a long way to putting my misgivings to one side. There’s a lot of energy to proceedings, and while the narrative structure for introducing the characters and their abilities is a little bit direct, shall we say, it’s quite effective, and the throwbacks to how they’ve been captured allows for a number of nice world-building cameos from the likes of The Flash, Batfleck and notable Jared Leto’s Joker. Crucially, the opening stretch has a great deal of the fun that the trailer promised present.

Then it abruptly vanishes, and doesn’t return, making for a very flat last half of the film. It turns from a vibrant, relatively light hearted given the context romp into a boring, dark, grindy slog. The main canon fodder enemy thrown the squad’s way are identikit minions, unfortunate citizens turned into featureless knobbly black annoyances that look abysmal and repetitive, and sadly Cara Delevingne’s not really up to the task of convincing as the film’s ultimate evil. Come to think of it, she’s not much better as the primary love interest either, leading to a finale that’s really tough to care about.

Which means we get to sing the same song that’s afflicted so many films of late, comic book adaptations in particular – too long, too many characters. For so many of these films I wish there was a director’s cut that removed half an hour rather than added it, and there’s a much tighter 90 minute version of Suicide Squad in here somewhere that’d be more enjoyable than this.

At least Suicide Squad makes some nod to this by largely ignoring some of the characters. Jai Courtney gets a few comic relief lines in to good effect, but plot wise he and Killer Croc could be removed with little impact. Likewise Leto’s Joker, who’s running a sub-plot to get Harley back that’s not focused on enough to be a significant part of the film, and ultimately could also be removed without touching the main story at all. I’m not altogether down on Leto’s portrayal, and indeed there’s potential for him to appear as a decent, interesting villain for Batman down the line, but his presence here is ultimately an extended cameo that doesn’t impact the central narrative at all and should really have been trimmed greatly. Even if that would mean seeing less of his wonderful goon squad including the guy in the panda suit.

For the rest of the cast, Kinnaman’s fine enough, although he’s got much better chemistry with Will Smith than Cara Delevingne. Smith carries a good deal of the film’s weight, and he shows a charisma that I’ve not seen from him in many of his more recent (and more serious) films. Perhaps unexpectedly Jay Hernandez comes across as the most impressive performer here, although I expect much of that comes from having the only character that develops in any real sense. Much as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn should wind up being obnoxious, as due to the ‘fan favourite’ status she’s pushed into the centre of things even when some of the other characters are much better placed to solve the problem at hand, she more or less makes the character charming enough to keep the teeth-grinding to a minimum.

The major failing of the film is to an extent one of tone – there’s a solid argument for saying that it’s trying far too hard to be quirky in the first half of the film. That’s not my issue with it, though. It’s the complete fall off of quirkiness in the second half, which aside from the tonal whiplash just makes the film a flat lifeless, borderline boring experience for that time. Taken as a whole, I suppose it struggles its way up to mediocre based on the more entertaining early running, and I think it’s not quite as bad as the critical mauling suggests, but it’s also not one that I can recommend braving a cinema trip for at all. Unlike Batman vs Superman, there’s no attempts at asking any interesting questions about heroism. This was just intended as a fun romp, and on that basis it’s a much greater failure than Snyder’s film.

It’s not horrible, but I’d still be giving this one a miss.