Film Review: Suicide Squad (M) (USA, 2016)

The DC Comics Extended Universe (aka DCEU) has a bit of catching up to do if it wants to level up to its competitor Marvel. Even though DC has some of the more renowned superheroes in its deck of cards – Superman and Batman being two aces – it hasn’t had as much luck with its film adaptations recently of those characters. So taking a gamble, they opted to go with showcasing some villains instead. The result is Suicide Squad, a film about the worst of the worst who thankfully turn out to be the best choice.

As with any origin type film, we begin with some situational setting followed briskly by expository backstories for each of our members of the Suicide Squad. Guided by their “boss” Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), and Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who is their “handler” and in charge of keeping them in line. Meet the Squad; Deadshot (Will Smith) an assassin/hitman who never misses his target. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist assigned to The Joker (Jared Leto); she ends up falling in love with him and going crazy. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) an Australian thief who doesn’t play well with others. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a metahuman that can create and control fire. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) another metahuman that has the skin and strength of a crocodile with a penchant for cannibalism.

The Suicide Squad (or Taskforce X as they are officially known) were selected as they are some of the worst criminals but also with very select skills, and abilities that could potentially defeat a “Superman-type” who might be hostile. Considered expendable by Waller, should they try to escape or defect or not adhere to their mission they would be killed via an implant in their neck. With nothing to lose and only a sliver of respect to gain, they’re forced into a mission to defeat an alien threat that requires this ridiculous bunch of evil misfits to work together.

Written and directed by David Ayer (Fury) with this being a comic book originated, ensemble cast, origin story film it’s hard to not see the similarities and/or compare it to The Avengers or Guardians Of The Galaxy. Structurally it’s very similar, we have our characters, we are given introductions and backstory or motivations for each, they are forcibly teamed up, and it’s only when they manage to work together as a group can they defeat their adversary. But the similarities don’t detract from the film but rather give it a comfortable feeling and Ayer’s script and direction steer it clear of anything that feels too super-hero-y. Stylistically though I would liken this more to The Watchmen with even touches of Frank Miller’s Sin City. It prefers to mix dark twisted characters with contrasting splashes of graffiti street art colours. And squeezing the moral ambiguity out of our characters and challenging their ethics by pushing the limits of what they are prepared to do. We are presented with a bunch of villains who are anti-heroes because of their circumstances. The first act where we are introduced to our characters is its strongest as we see all their various character traits come to the fore. As the film progresses it does feel a little obvious and playbook but by this stage you’re already on the ride so you have to wait til it all wraps up.

It’s hard to go past Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn, and it’s hardly a surprise that she manages to steal almost all her scenes. Harley is that sort of character who is fearless as well as clinically crazy. She is also surprisingly strong and able to completely hold her own amongst the Squad, the rest of whom are all men. Not to mention that every time she calls them “pussies” or goes headfirst into the fight before anybody else, it shows not just her physical strength but mental resolve (or she just really is that batshit cray cray). All the other members are taken aback by her and rarely have any comebacks or put downs toward her so in the end she is accepted as an equal.

Will Smith of course gets to portray the character that has the most obvious onscreen redemptive arc and he also gets to deliver some of the sassiest quips in the film – no surprises at all on any of those. Whilst Jai Courtney gets to turn his Aussie up to 11, it’s hard to not see it as him basically putting on an OTT bogan accent but the funniest thing about it is that international audiences probably think that’s what we really sound like. As a character and member of the Squad though, he does seem a little useless.

For those who had reservations about Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker, they need not fear. We are given just enough of him onscreen to get an understanding of his character, but not so much that it’s an oversaturation of an unnecessary character. Leto’s Joker is more of a power hungry crazy gangster, what we see of him and his behaviour is unpredictable and manic but not enough to really shape him or understand his motivations (if he has any). He is there merely to play muse, motivation and exposition for Harley Quinn, so his onscreen time feels warranted but never overdone. Viola Davis’ Waller is fierce with a capital “Don’t F with her”, she really stands out particularly in the first act and it will be exciting to see more of her and her character in the future. But as with all ensembles though we see a little less of Killer Croc and Diablo mainly since our more well known characters get the screen time.

Visually this film plays with both darkness and colour and is streaks ahead of any of the other DC films thanks to cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (Fury). It’s also littered with very artistic shots, particularly those that feature The Joker, that also break up the more standard type shots we see. The soundtrack to this film is also A++ featuring a slew of classic rock songs but then dropping in randoms like Eminem, Skrillex and Rik Ross, and Twenty One Pilots, to name a few. The music helps to maintain the pace of the film, and in moments where it feels like it might lag, is lifted by dropping a great song like “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. The bizarre eclectic nature of the soundtrack marries up well with its absurd characters.

Suicide Squad has managed to put DC back into the game by playing its most unpredictable card yet. This film is both stylish and audacious and never feels forced. It suffers like all origin ensemble films with obvious structure and difficulty in evenly balancing out character screen time. The fact that it’s wild and crazy and manic but in a good way manages to outweigh the negatives. For once it’s nice to see the bad guys getting an opportunity to shine and anybody who doesn’t love Margot Robbie in this film and role can fight me.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 123 minutes

Suicide Squad screens in Australian cinemas from 4 August 2016 through Roadshow Films and Warner Bros Pictures