SUICIDE SQUAD: A WATCHABLE MESS
Director: David Ayer Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne Run Time: 130 minutes.
There are reviews out there that would have you believe that this film is a travesty; something to be avoided at all costs. Thankfully, it’s not quite that bad. Ok yes, if we’re being honest Suicide Squad is a complete and utter mess of a movie, but there’s still a lot to enjoy about it. For all of its flaws it’s surprisingly entertaining. The premise is somewhat original, the cast give it their all, and at the end of the day the whole thing just kind of works despite itself.
Writer/Director David Ayer has a lot of characters to juggle. There is a ton of back-story to deliver for each one of them if we’re to feel in any way invested in their story. He struggles on both counts. In fact, for someone who has proven himself in the past with gritty action scenes and ensemble casts, he seems to struggle with just about everything here. The action is frantic but muddled, the team dynamics are lacking, and many character arcs are absent or ill defined. In his defence, Ayer was apparently given only six weeks to write and prep this film before it started filming. That’s not a lot of time. He clearly shows enthusiasm for the material, but the end result speaks for itself.
After introducing us to a couple of the main characters in the opening minutes, the film launches into a seemingly endless montage of flashbacks, voiceover, colourful graphics, and dynamic onscreen text that re-introduces those very same characters, along with most of the rest of the Squad. It’s a fun idea, but also over indulgent and entirely unnecessary. The tone and style of the sequence is at odds with the rest of the film, and it plays like a collection of post-credits scenes stitched together, or a “previously on” for a bunch of prequel films that never existed. It’s an unusual way to start a movie to say the least. Interestingly enough it’s also the only time the film really resembles the one sold to audiences in the trailers.
Twenty minutes later the movie starts for real, and we’re given a bunch of scenes that establish the setting and the characters all over again (some of them for the third time now). The difference being that this time around the scenes work naturally in the context of the movie we’re about to watch. This could easily have been the starting point. Somewhere along the way someone behind the scenes panicked and decided it wasn’t enough. The audience apparently needs to be beaten over the head with character details multiple times upfront, instead of being allowed to discover them organically during the course of the film.
The marketing for Suicide Squad was great. Its trailers portrayed a film with a twisted sense of fun, and didn’t seem to give away too much of the story. As it turns out, there’s a pretty good reason the film’s plot remained so vague and mysterious – it doesn’t really have one. Like many blockbusters of late we’re treated to a collection of great scenes and exciting moments strung together with a handful of lines resembling the vague idea of a plot. The problem being that none of it ever adds up to a particularly compelling or coherent whole.
There are moments in Suicide Squad that hint at potentially greatness. Unfortunately, whatever that version of the film may have looked like, it has been second guessed by committees and edited to within an inch of its life. The structure, continuity and pacing are all over the place. Scenes are inserted seemingly at random. Characters appear and disappear with little to no explanation. We get set up that lacks pay off, and moments of apparent pay off that lack any meaningful set up. What little humour there is feels tacked on and often forced. Lines that are for all intents and purposes delivered perfectly well by the likes of Margot Robbie, fall on deaf ears. Characters barely react. Many of these “jokes” may have been added in the widely reported re-shoots that occurred a few months ago. If so it would explain why they land with such a deafening thud.
As mentioned earlier, the cast do good work. They are the film’s saving grace. Margot Robbie’s energy as Harley Quinn is infectious, despite having very few actors to bounce off. Will Smith brings his natural movie star charisma to the role of Deadshot. He manages to come across as being particularly likeable and even heroic, despite playing a hardened criminal that murders people for a living. Jay Hernandez, unrecognizable under extensive facial tattoos, deserves special mention for bringing surprising depth to the character of Diablo. His scenes are an unexpected highlight.
Along with decent performances from Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and even Jai Courtney, the actors carry the film almost entirely on their backs. With one notable exception – Jared Leto’s take on the Joker is bland, uninspired, and occasionally insufferable. Instead of being a menacing presence hanging over the film he ends up feeling like an afterthought, appearing in only a handful of scenes, most of which are entirely irrelevant to the main plot. As for the actual villain, the less said about their role, and the dodgy early 2000’s CGI henchman who looks like he stepped out of The Mummy Returns, the better.
Warner Brothers have a lot riding on this film. After the disaster that was Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice they are in desperate need of a hit, both critically and financially. While Suicide Squad isn’t nearly enough of an improvement, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s certainly not as bad as BvS. Structurally it may be every bit as big of a mess, if not even more so. Unlike that grim, joyless film however, there’s a lot to enjoy here. If nothing else this film’s cartoonish plotting indicates the studio is finally willing to have a bit of fun with their DC Comics properties. While it never fully succeeds, the fact it even attempts to approach the superhero genre from a different angle makes Suicide Squad worth checking out.