Review: Suicide Squad (Paul Shirey's take)
Since the first trailer dropped at Comic-Con a year ago, SUICIDE SQUAD has been on the radar of comic fans and non-fans alike. It was a risky move, taking a ragtag team of lesser-known characters in the DCEU zeitgeist and putting them together in their own tentpole superhero flick. Of course, this was pieced together before the tidal wave of division with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (my review of the Ultimate Cut HERE), the film that was meant to be the battle cry of the new DC Cinematic Universe. Once the tide went back out, all eyes turned to director David Ayer (END OF WATCH, FURY) to “save the day” with what appeared to be a more promising venture than the one WB was initially counting on to lead the charge.
And, now it’s here. You’ve no doubt already read a cavalcade of reviews, soaked in the aggregated percentages of opinions, and taken a deep breath, hoping that it’s not as bad as many are selling it to be. Well, from the perspective of a guy that’s been reading comics and watching movies like they were the bread of life for more than three decades, I can tell you simply: I loved it, unabashedly and with a genuine heart. The film delivered on so many levels for this fanboy that I left the theater perplexed at the negative backlash that’s seemed to pervade the interwebs over it. Worst of the summer? Did these guys see INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE?
The film opens like the first issue of a comic, giving us a quick breakdown of the key characters in a stylistic rundown that makes ample use of the film’s excellent soundtrack (from new songs to old favorites) and intermingles characters and settings from within the DCEU, firmly establishing that this is a “universe” film. It’s something I really love about the direction of the DCEU so far, in that we’re entering a world with a rich and invested history, which plays far more akin to comic-book storytelling than anything. That may be an issue for some, but for others I think it will be one of the film’s better attributes.
Ayer, who has played mostly in the dark, gritty, and violent side thus far in his career, lightens things up a bit in terms of style, but doesn’t stray far from the attitude and energy that he commonly employs, particularly with the interactions of the key players. Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn are given the most love here, with the rest of the team easing in pieces of back-story that give them more to deal with than just being a stand in with a costume. It’s balanced better than you might think, but of course you can only get so much out of an ensemble in just under two hours.
I think they chose the right people to focus on, but that doesn’t mean others don’t shine. Joel Kinnaman was way more engaging as Rick Flag than I anticipated and Viola Davis is downright awesome as the ruthless and manipulative Amanda Waller, who makes Nick Fury’s team-building measures look like a Cub Scout meeting in comparison. Davis owns the role and brings a good balance of strength and fear to the character, who I hope we see reappear in many more films. Jai Courtney plays it more for laughs than any of them as Captain Boomerang, while Jay Hernandez's El Diablo is a particularly dark (and powerful) character with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc being there mostly for show (which is pretty much how he's used in the comics as well).
Smith has more fun than he has in a long time and while he’s still another shade of the Fresh Prince here, he’s still got the energy, charisma, and physical prowess to put anyone else in the role to shame. Robbie’s Quinn will likely be the most memorable and endearing hot mess of crazy from the film and rightfully secures her legacy as the first live-action incarnation of the violent lunatic-in-love. Robbie could bring the phone book to life, so it’s no stretch that she “gets” Harley. She’s a blast, for sure, but there’s still some gaps missing in her overall persona that I think we need fleshed out before it’s a complete knock out of the park. (Also, keep an eye out for the onscreen text during her intro, which gives her a dark connection to Batman).
The story is fairly straightforward (and nowhere near as convoluted as what BVS attempted) with the primary villain emerging as Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress, who is basically an ancient meta-human God, who is seeking to rule the Earth by building something that humans will worship (and that can destroy them); a machine. What kind of a machine? Well, that’s not made entirely clear, which is where things get a bit fuzzy in terms of execution of her plan, but Delevingne is downright creepy and cool as the character, making her ambitions a little less important then her actual pursuit in achieving them. It's also worth mentioning that there are tons of Easter Eggs here, from other DCEU characters to nods to the comics, including SUICIDE SQUAD creator John Ostrander and artist Alex Ross. Keep your eyes peeled throughout and see what you can spot.
Once the team is assembled and set upon their “suicide” mission under the guidance of Flagg (complete with exploding devices injected in everyone to keep them in line), we see them put to the test against Enchantress’s minions, as well as their own moral standing and personal dilemmas. Each character has something they’re desperate for, be it a reunion, redemption, freedom, love, or some mixture of them all. It’s not just a bunch of oddball characters acting odd for odd’s sake and with no direct motivation. Everyone has something at stake, even if some characters get a brighter spotlight than others.
Speaking of the spotlight; you can’t ignore the elephant in the room that is Jared Leto’s Joker. His role is a tall one to fill, following in the footsteps of giants, and he brings a healthy mix of homage, style, and crazy that makes for a uniquely different Joker, but not entirely fully formed. His screen time is minimal, but it’s a wonderful tease and introduction to the character that resides in this new DC world. While I can see many being disappointed in his lack of presence, it’s to note that he was never supposed to be front and center; more of an ominous shadow, both of past deeds and future potential. If given the chance to shine in a bigger role (Affleck’s solo Batman film, most likely) then I have little doubt that Leto could eat this part alive and leave a lasting signature to the Joker legacy. As it stands here, it’s an appetizer, albeit a delicious one.
There are certainly some pacing issues intermingled throughout, but it mostly moves along briskly and is sprinkled with way more character moments than I anticipated. The action is frenetic and chaotic, reminding me very much of a Tony Scott film, for better and for worse, right down to some great slow-mo and macro shots, as well as an editing style akin to the late, great action auteur. That said, I think some extra care to develop the action scenes into a more creative and cohesive endeavor would’ve served the film better. Steven Price’s score is a more heroic and straightforward affair than BVS’s and it was nice to hear something that wasn’t just a bunch of pounding drums in a DC film. As much as I love Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the DCEU hasn’t found their “theme” yet, but Price’s work feels like a step in the right direction.
For me, SUICIDE SQUAD represents a risky venture that ended up being a great sell with a mixed reception. While it’s not a perfect knock out of the park, it feels like a perfect fit to the world it inhabits and has an unshakable energy that keeps you invested from start to finish. I judge most movies by whether or not I’d ever want to watch them again, which is, in my mind, the true test of a great film. I walked out ready to see it again and hoping to see more of these characters pop up in this bold, divisive, and unique new cinematic universe. I love that it challenges and angers some, while inspires and excites others. It’s a great time to be a nerd and SUICIDE SQUAD is a fine example of that.
As for a score; I don’t have one this time. You’ve heard me out and I thank you for doing so. Now, I’ll leave it to you.
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|Extra Tidbit:||*This review was paid for with leftover swag bags from Point Break*|