This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Sam’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Under the direction of David Ayer, Suicide Squad is the third consecutive film in the DC Extended Universe. In yet another ambitious effort from Warner Bros, the film takes a relatively unknown property and set of characters in order to broaden and alter the tonally grim nature of the cinematic universe.
I'll preface this review by saying that I love the premise of Suicide Squad. The comic series is a blast to read, and is probably one of DC's best intellectual properties. Therefore it should be no surprise that the film was my most anticipated of the year.
The question currently on everyone's mind is if Suicide Squad is any good. For me, yes and no. Truth be told, I had a great time with the film, and it was probably the most fun I've had in a theatre since The Nice Guys, or maybe even The Force Awakens. That being said, it is still a disappointment, as it should be so much better, but is instead riddled with issues in nearly every department.
David Ayer is a fascinating writer/director. With End of Watch, Fury, and now Suicide Squad, he has become notorious for his heavy focus on character and performance; which is perfect for a concept concerning an array of colourful characters with a great team dynamic. At certain points in the film, his skill in this area really does pay off. The film has numerous great moments, and in some cases brilliant characterisation. However, it is not at all consistent in this regard, and there is frequently a sense that certain scenes have been altered or cut altogether in post production. This is likely due to the tone of the film, which is incredibly turbulent, and to me screams 'studio intervention'. There are persistent hints to a darker version of the film which is reflective of Ayer's style; yet they are juxtaposed by odd song choices and out of place humour. For example, the lighting in almost every scene is either dark or washed out, which is consistent with the attempts of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to make a grittier and more 'realistic' comic book universe. In this film, however, it is contrasted by bright colours and music which does not fit the scenes it plays over at all. In Ayer's favour, the film does boast some truly incredible imagery which makes up for some of its pitfalls.
A huge point of critical backlash in relation to the film is the 'muddled' and 'pointless' plot. While this has been the case for some Suicide Squad stories in the past, this has been made up for by the excellent characterisation of the team members. Unfortunately, this isn't really the case here. While Deadshot, Harley Quinn and (eventually) El Diablo have an extent of depth, the remaining Squad members are essentially paper thin and offer no real importance to the plot overall. There is no real character arc to speak of; the characters remain completely unchanged after their death-defying mission. While there are points of conflict at which the supervillains contemplate over themselves, they never really amount to much in the overall plot. Harley Quinn's fascinatingly complex relationship with the Joker, for example, could (and should) have been a major plot point as she attempts to become her own person. Instead, it is briefly mentioned and subsequently forgotten about.
Also, despite the brilliantly original concept, the film is at times shockingly generic and full of comic book movie conventions. For example, we have yet another one-note villain who wishes to destroy the world (although ends up staying in the same place and doing nothing of note), a giant blue laser shooting into the sky, and an army of disposable, faceless foot soldiers who provide no tension whatsoever. This unfortunately results in some very sub-par, forgettable action sequences which serve no purpose to the plot overall.
Stylistically, the film is completely and utterly bizarre. There are times where it feels as though two different versions of the film -a dark, gritty affair and a hyper-stylised disaster- have been smashed together to form this confused mess. Like a bewildered child, Suicide Squad never seems to know what it wants to be - sometimes an edgy, unique spin on the genre and others a generic, colourful frenzy. Much of this comes down to the editing, which to me is by far the film's greatest flaw. There have been rumours surfacing of several different editors working on the film simultaneously to form different cuts which were then merged together... and it shows. The film's first act consists of a series of flashbacks and montages to introduce our main villains. While this approach would inevitably form a messy product given the extent of characters who needed to be explained and the complexity behind them, in the editing department these scenes have been cut incredibly short and (particularly in the case of Harley Quinn) filled with colour and quick cuts to give them a sense of blockbuster fun, which was clearly not the original intended effect. Consequently, the characters gain minimal depth as this is sacrificed for either stunning visuals or unnecessary humour. This isn't helped by the fact that these character montages are set to the most obvious song choices possible. Clearly the intention was to provide a light-heartedness in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy, but instead the music feels out of place and borderline offensive. The song choices are so ridiculously obvious that it felt as though Warner Bros. were talking down to me like a self-impressed schoolteacher.
Following the jumbled first act, the Squad are sent on their first mission; to enter the abandoned Midway City and extract a target - who turns out to be team leader Amanda Waller. What ensues is action which some might describe as mindless popcorn fun, but I consider to be repetitive. We see a series of fight sequences in which the Squad fight off the aforementioned faceless zombie army, but there is nothing particularly significant or remarkable about them. Later on, after a couple of genuinely interesting character beats, the Squad face off against the formidable Enchantress and her brother who (dare I say it) looks like something from Gods of Egypt. While the CGI was acceptable leading up to this point, the final battle is complete schlock and looks pretty substandard.
Many people went into Suicide Squad with the expectation that Harley Quinn would be the standout character, but in actual fact, Will Smith's Floyd Lawton/Deadshot blew me away. While he doesn't have a ton to work with, Smith sells the anti-hero very well, as a reluctant mercenary with a dangerous past who just wants to be with his daughter. He gives just enough charisma to be enjoyable, but without detracting from the villainous nature of the character. It's great to finally see him in a less stereotypical action hero role, as Smith is the heart and soul of Suicide Squad.
Onto Harley Quinn, while some of her lines fell flat, I did find myself really enjoying Margot Robbie's performance. She embodies the role perfectly, however I think we really needed to see more of her backstory and volatile relationship with the Joker to give the audience a better understanding of the character. Harley Quinn is very complex, and while we receive glimpses to the idea that she is more than just the Joker's tipsy plaything, they could have been extended to have a more effective impact.
Speaking of whom, it's difficult to formulate an opinion on Jared Leto's Joker as he was barely in the film. In all honesty, he should have either been the main antagonist of the film or featured in it even less, perhaps only alluded to. It is certainly a unique spin on the character as a Godfather-type gangster, but to fully appreciate whether it works or not we'll just have to wait and see. I will say, however, that I didn't find him menacing as his design is so over the top, which gives the impression that he cares about what others think of him, removing the sense of unpredictability and terror which should emanate from the character's presence.
Alternatively, the utilisation of Batman in the film is perfect. This is comic book Batman; he doesn't kill, he doesn't hurt the innocent, he fights for justice. He even arrests Deadshot with handcuffs. While the character was used sparingly, his brief appearances certainly made an impact.
El Diablo was the only other Squad member given development beyond his initial introduction. While he rarely has much to do, Jay Hernandez sells his tragedy with heartbreaking poignancy in the film's best scene. Shame they had to make him a giant CGI monster.
Viola Davis gives a solid performance as badass Amanda Waller (she fires a machine gun, for God's sake). However, she is let down by the poor dialogue and character motivation she is given. For example, why shoot all of her assistants since they know about the operation? Wasn't the entire point of the Suicide Squad to blame them for whatever happens and claim no involvement?
The remainder of the film's characters are one dimensional. Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag is the generic action hero, Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang is the comic relief, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje's Killer Croc is the muscle, and Karen Fukuhara is an underused badass. While they were entertaining, they needed more development to fully understand them, as otherwise the viewer won't care about what happens to them.
As for Enchantress... what a disaster.
Suicide Squad is a huge mess. However, like Batman v Superman is does have its redeemable features, and I'm sure there is a great film in there somewhere. The film also benefits from the fact that it doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as Batman v Superman, and some of the comedy really does work, especially from Captain Boomerang. The film is probably Warner Bros' most entertaining entry into the DCEU so far. However, it is also the franchise's most problematic film. While it has great characters (even those who are thinly written), investing interaction between them and several memorable moments (Deadshot's introduction, the bar scene, everything Batman-related, etc.), this isn't enough to prevent the film from being a disappointment. David Ayer attempted to make a daring comic book adaptation, but it falls into the overused conventions of the genre and has been profusely meddled with by producers and studio executives. This raises a question of why Warner Bros. continues to hire directors and writers with a creative voice such as Ayer, Patty Jenkins, Rick Famuyiwa, James Wan and even Ben Affleck if they are just going to confiscate that voice in post-production.