Presented as the fun alternative to dour, super-serious superheroics, David Ayer’s self-consciously punky anti-hero movie has a lot riding on it. While reports of reshoots and studio interference are as prevalent in blockbuster cinema as superheroes, there’s a jarring mash of tones and clumsy editing that suggests that someone felt that something wasn’t quite right on Suicide Squad.
The result is a film that comes frustratingly close to being a damn good time, but loses the plot around the halfway mark and can’t find it again.
With Superman gone, hard-ass government stooge Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has set up Task Force X: a group of villainous metahumans strong-armed into doing some good. There’s master assassin/loving dad Deadshot (Will Smith), mad ex-shrink and ‘Joker’s girlfriend’ Harley Quinn, remorseful pyrotechnic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), boozy jewel thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), man-croc Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and rope expert Slipknot (Adam Beach).
But her crown jewel is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a 6,373-year-old goddess who shares a body with unfortunate archaeologist Dr June Moon, and is kept under control by a fantastically flimsy plot device. When she goes rogue in the worst possible way, Waller deploys Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his soul sword-wielding bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara) to lead these misfits and stop the end of the world. Can they get the job done? And will Joker (Jared Leto) make good on his threat to get Harley back?
Ayer loves his heroes to be anti. He’s got a soft spot for aggressive misfits on a mission, but he also loves them to be tragic. Suicide Squad is a lot of fun in its opening half hour, delivering on its promise to cut loose and embrace the mash-up of comic-book storytelling and dark chuckles. All the best dialogue is here, and while the humour is hugely welcome, it’s also nice to see a bit of weirdness and visual flair in a comic book movie.
We get Smith and Robbie acing the one-liners, Killer Croc’s unique… physique, and splashes of neon colour in Katana’s back story. We should also give a big shout-out Ike Barinholtz, who steals a number of scenes as the spineless shitheel head prison guard.
But the plot has to kick in at some point, and ultimately it’s not up to it. Ayer is clearly a big fan of The Dirty Dozen, Escape From New York and Ghostbusters, which sounds like a fun mix, but once the first couple of solid action set-pieces are done and dusted, the film’s engine dies. The wit and energy dissipates, leaving us with increasingly terrible editing and plotting, Arkham games-inspired murky visuals and only very occasional moments of flair. Ayer then decides to crowbar in a lot of mournful reflection and the possibility of redemption, so we can kiss goodbye to the fun and the thing that made Suicide Squad unique in the first place.
The heavy-handedness doesn’t do the cast any favours. Smith ends up carrying the moral burden, but he’s consistently watchable. Robbie flips between being the spark of energy that keeps the whole thing going and enduring some woeful dialogue and the kind of bum-focused cinematography the trailers hinted at.
She’s got decent chemistry with Leto, but while his pop-up Joker is intriguingly sensual, he’s never particularly scary, and as such struggles to make an impact. The rest of the cast are game, but are at best fairly entertaining bystanders, while Delevigne struggles with her Zuul-esque business, with some of the worst lines of the film and some dodgy effects. Still, at least Viola Davis is consistently excellent; we definitely want to see more of Amanda Waller.
The film can’t make this clash of grit, self-aware dark humour and the ridiculous work, most notably in the way El Diablo’s clunkily brutal back story smashes into the wobbly CGI nonsense of the final action sequence. This, combined with muddled storytelling and a terrible big bad, means that the good will from the first half hour simply runs out. A grand finale is needed to send us out on a high, but we do not get it.
There’s a good movie lurking somewhere in Suicide Squad, but it seems to be locked up with the villains in Belle Reve.