Suicide Squad review (non-spoilers)
After the incoherent mess that was Batman vs Superman, the pressure was on for Suicide Squad to turn the DC Comics franchise around. This was always going to be a tough challenge. And it doesn’t succeed. But it’s not a complete disaster either.
This is mainly because of the quality of the three leads — and while it’s an ensemble piece, make no mistake, there are three leads. And sensibly, the movie allows them to do exactly what they do well. Will Smith is second only to Dwayne Johnson in terms of sheer charisma and his Deadshot is so easy to watch, Margot Robbie is enormously fun as Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller is able to stare down every cast member in the film in a convincing way with her sheer bad-assery.
There are also some inspired visual touches (even if you’ve seen most of them already). Harley Quinn’s dive into the vat of chemicals, in particular, is a shockingly gorgeous moment that doesn’t look like anything else you’ve seen. The damage done by the villains has an unusual quality to it, that made me think of the kind of thing I wish the Fox movies did with Magneto’s powers but never have. And while the lurid colour tones are a nice, unusual touch, they’re not so overused that they overwhelm (in fact, they could have been used more).
While the tone is a bit uneven, most of the humour does land. Will Smith reminds you why he’s so good at this kind of thing and Jai Courtney gets most of the laughs — and the film is well enough directed to support this well. The timing holds up, which isn’t always easy.
And the cast gel well together. The best scene by a mile is the quietest and slowest in the film, allowing the characters to get to know each other and speak more. As a result, despite all the special effects and noise, that bar scene is likely to be the one that sticks in your memory.
This is partly because nothing else in the movie is given enough time to breathe, so there’s no time to care. And the simple reason for this is that Suicide Squad was a terrible choice to adapt into a movie. It so clearly should have been a TV series.
In a TV series, the setup alone would have been given a double-length episode roughly the length of this film. It would have introduced the characters, shown their backstory and then moved onto the formation of the squad itself. We would have had time to see how the squad is intended to function before everything goes wrong, while the characters have time to interact and evolve. Then, the plot seeds would have time to grow, building to the finale where there are payoffs and twists.
Without taking the time to do this properly, everything feels bullet-pointed. Deadshot’s relationship with Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is a perfect example of this. Almost every line of dialogue they share changes their relationship from dislike to respect in an incredibly perfunctory way.
The biggest problem with this is that most of the rest of the cast barely gets anything to do. And almost nobody has any sense of a character journey. This is a big reason why some critics have felt uncomfortable with the portrayal of minorities in the film — they’re so bullet pointed that they don’t feel like anything more than their ethnicity, and a lazy version of that as well. And Jay Hernandez’s Diablo and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc feel uncomfortable to watch as a result.
Meanwhile, Karen Fukuhara’s Katana is just a baffling addition to the film, with her character being required to do entirely nothing throughout other than end up leaving a sword in the right place, despite a convoluted backstory that feels crammed in for no reason. And by mentioning Adam Beach’s Slipknot, I’m spending about as much time on his character as the movie does.
On the other hand, Cara Delavigne’s portrayal of The Enchantress probably benefits from the bullet-pointing and would have benefited from even more. She appears to struggle when she doesn’t have any dialogue and appears completely out of her depth when she actually has to deliver any. It’s an incredibly poor performance, as much as the camera enjoys leering over her (almost as much as it does over Margot Robbie, but she rises above it in terms of performance).
With more time, maybe Jared Leto’s Joker might have impressed more. And while he’s perfectly competent, he just never does get an opportunity to impress. There’s none of the immersion in character that Heath Ledger’s performance showed and it ends up feeling cartoonish and unthreatening as a result. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this latest portrayal, but it certainly wasn’t this underwhelmed.
The concept’s home is clearly a boxset. There’s a reason why Agents of Shield wasn’t a movie. Imagine an entire season crammed into two hours and all the problems that would create. A reasonably enjoyable two hours, sure. But a frantic and unmemorable one. And that’s basically Suicide Squad.
By the end of the movie, not a single character has felt like they’ve changed in any way from the beginning. And because they’re so sketched in, we’re really not given a reason to care. And it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of potential in there.