By: Anthony Zangrillo
David Ayer’s artistic action ballad brings high levels of intensity in a frenetic pace that zips past plot points yet manages to create compelling characters that keep audiences engaged in the team comprised of villainous scum. In the film, a secret government agency recruits imprisoned super villains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for their (eventual) freedom in order to save the world from a powerful threat.
Ayer is an interesting director. I have been a strong advocate for many of his films (End of Watch, Training Day), but some of his decisions in this film leave me unsatisfied. A particular example was the popular scene featuring Deadshot (Will Smith) unloading his dual wrist gun clips on top of a deserted car in the middle of a street alley. This shot had graced many of the trailers, and that snippet of a chaotic fight had me salivating for the proper payoff within the film. While the film delivers on providing us with a Deadshot against the world, the scene is somewhat sullied by a questionable camera angle. To my shock, the unloaded bullets were for a different frame earlier in the scene. Rather, Ayer pans the camera out and gives a video game “knock ‘em down” feel, which somewhat marginalizes a defining moment for a main character. This is a mere example of how the film consistently misses the potential for greatness.
The director’s true strength is action scenes. While the targets have no character or meaning behind their presence, the mortality rate is high even if the casualties are mutated humans. Some of the action is a bit too fast paced, yet overall, the choreography is beautiful and masterfully synchronized. An orchestra of bullets and flaming helicopters rain down the streets of the city set to a soundtrack of popular songs.
While the film fails on providing a nuanced plot, it works as a contained character piece. Will Smith decently restrains his own Hollywood star power, preventing it from dominating his comic book persona. This villain of circumstance wins over the empathy of the crowd early on. Even though Deadshot is portrayed as a murderous individual worthy of society’s contempt, Deadshot’s “code” merits a degree of honor, which results in a rich character full of multiple layers of complexity. The film smartly plays on Deadshot’s “weakness” multiple times in the film. While some may deride this characterization as a cliché, it is sufficiently developed throughout the course of the film, and gives the team some heart within the squad of killers.
The most redeemable quality of the film is Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn. Margot does not hold back her undying love for the character. She is the quintessential version of this animated character. There are glorious callbacks to the character’s past, including a glimpse at an alternate universe look for the Queen of Crime. Margot is zany and quite vexing as Harley. While the plot places her in too many convenient spots to shine, Harley’s constant demeanor is a shining spotlight in the film. One of the best jokes is the depressing fact that all Harley really wants in life is to settle down with an Ace Chemicals-free Joker (Jared Leto).
The other members of the squad don’t fare nearly as well in character development. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is borderline incomprehensible and is given almost nothing to do within the film. Croc does have a memorable line within the bar, but save for that one punchline, the creative team did not do this character justice. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is fine as a wacky drunk, but most of his scenes are relegated to the background of the action. The character’s high points revolve around his utter reluctance to be a part of the team. Surprisingly, Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is given a strong arc in the film. The tragic nature of the character will be a shock to most audiences and is definitely a twist from the snippet of his presence in the trailer. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is a total waste and just eats up corners of screen time with barely anything to say.
On to the “good guys” of the film, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is truly the devil herself. The corrupt government official is borderline insane and undoubtedly power hungry. Davis plays the character with a serious yet cocky personality in order to convey her unending control in every situation. Her lackey is the Commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who has an interesting dynamic with many members of the squad. There is nothing particularly memorable about the character except for his presence to constantly remind us of the Squad’s ever-present mortality. Thankfully, the film does not side-step the consequences of disobeying an order on this team, as one of the members discovers the hard way.
Now, it wouldn’t be a DCU film without an attempt to make cameos to the greater overarching narrative. Thankfully, these easter eggs flow within the film and provide some of the more interesting backstories for our protagonists. The case file biography flashbacks are a bullet to the pace of the film, but it is the audience’s gateway to Batman and Joker. The film’s utilization of the vigilante against Deadshot is phenomenal. Within a quick scene, eerily reminiscent of Murder Alley, Deadshot is made into a formidable villain, while Batman is given a softer presence. Furthermore, the scene humanizes the ruthless mercenary, which is essential to the climax of the film.
In all honesty, the DCU is starting to come together nicely. The events of BvS have significant impacts on this film. Without the rise and death of Superman, the Suicide Squad would not even exist in this universe. Seeing the continued worship of the meta-humans has caused the government to invest in their own nuclear arsenal of troublemakers. While the marketing campaign for this film was tremendous, its refusal to properly manage expectations may have a negative impact on audience reactions.
The real villain is a mix of Davy Jones and Gozer, which the DC Universe calls The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). You may think I’m exaggerating, but her literal weakness is a palpitating heart in a briefcase (the equivalent of a treasure chest) compounded by a queen ghost appearance full of dazzling comic book colors. Now, to be fair, the opening and closing scenes of this character are creepy and delightfully dirty. The witch moves with the intensity of a feral animal and has the powers of an ancient goddess. It’s one of the few comic book characters that can double as a horror figure. Unfortunately, the final conflict between this unstoppable force and the Squad is messy and confusing. For some reason, a fog covers the battlefield making the experience disorienting for the viewer. There are some bright spots in this conflict but the film gets in its own way all too often.
Saving the least (amount of screen time) for last, is the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime is back, but only for flashbacks and a small diversion when the plot starts ratcheting up. Jared Leto’s heavily hyped performance leaves much to be desired. This interpretation of Joker is radically different than anything most audiences are used to seeing. The gang lord menace who operates strip clubs in the seedy underbelly of Gotham could work, but too much is thrown at the audience at once to fully comprehend the new position of this classic villain. However, the film definitely understands the twisted and tormented relationship between Harley and Mr. J. More scenes involving this abusive and demented affair would’ve significantly helped the film.
There is a mid-credits scene that does a nice job of world building, but seems a tad bit pointless in the context of Batman v Superman. And now, here’s a ballad to describe this interpretation of Suicide Squad (set to Ballroom Blitz): Like lightning, this movie is frightening, and all the Harleys were moving, but the Jokers weren’t grooving.