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Suicide Squad

D: David Ayer / 123m

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Ike Barinholtz, David Harbour, Common, Alain Chanoine, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller

At the beginning of 2016, DC Comics fans had two movies to look forward to in the coming year: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad. Anticipation for both these movies was almost stratospherically high. But Batman v Superman proved to be a messy affair that lacked coherence and couldn’t even give audiences a rousing showdown between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel. Critically pounded, and causing a division between fans that in some quarters got way too heated, the movie fell short of making a billion dollars at the box office, and was judged a disappointment. Earlier this month, an extended cut of the film was released on home video, and though the extra footage tidied up a few things left adrift in the theatrical cut, the general consensus was that the additional thirty minutes didn’t make it a better movie.

Fans quickly turned their attention to Suicide Squad to save the day, and the hype began all over again. In development since 2009, the movie arrives now with all the fanfare of a Second Coming. Promoted and advertised and pushed for all it’s worth (IMAX screenings feature a new, Suicide Squad-inspired countdown that’s a nice but unnecessary gimmick), this was Warner Bros.’ chance to prove that they were listening when critics and fans alike said Batman v Superman was too dark and sombre. Director David Ayer promised there would be humour, and the tone would be lighter. Has he delivered? Predictably, the answer is yes and no.

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Suicide Squad is, first and foremost, just as messy as it’s DC Extended Universe predecessor. Its plotting is murky and frustratingly lacking in detail, character motivations vary wildly (sometimes in the same scene), there’s the usual over-reliance on a surfeit of destruction-porn, and no one to root for or care about, even though the script does try its best to make Deadshot (Smith) and El Diablo (Hernandez) at least halfway sympathetic. What fun there is to be had can be found in the opening twenty minutes as we’re introduced to each member of the squad, from the assassin who never misses with a gun, Deadshot, to meta-humans such as Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and El Diablo, wicked witch Enchantress (Delevingne) and her human host June Moone (also Delevingne), thief extraordinaire Captain Boomerang (Courtney), and brain-fried Daddy’s Lil Monster, Harley Quinn (Robbie). Watching these characters interact with and defy authority at every turn gives hope to the direction the movie is heading in, but that hope is short-lived.

Assembled by government spook Amanda Waller (Davis), the squad is a fail-safe option if someone were to come along with Superman’s abilities and use them for evil. With explosive devices implanted in their necks to stop them absconding, the squad, led by Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnaman), are tasked with a mission in Midway City when Enchantress and her brother Incubus (Chanoine) begin building a machine that will destroy all other weapons on the planet and – well, this is one of those plot points that sounds great but is actually quite lame and badly thought out. With Flag and the squad further augmented by expert swordswoman Katana (Fukuhara), escape specialist Slipknot (Beach), and two teams of soldiers, they venture into the randomly destroyed city in search of a High Value Target to rescue. But Waller and Flag have been less than honest about the mission, and the squad must decide if working together is a more appropriate way forward than going their own ways.

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It’s clear from the start that Suicide Squad wants to be edgy and smart, caustic and irreverent, and provide a great time for its audience. But as the movie progresses, and once the introductions are over, it soon becomes clear that these so-called supervillains are going to be trapped by the demands of a script that wants to show that, deep down, they’re all really good guys at heart. As a result, this leads to a watering down of the original concept – Worst.Heroes.Ever. – that should be revised to read Best.Antiheroes.Ever. Yes, they’re largely antisocial, and yes they have their issues with authority, and yes they haven’t got a problem with killing people (mostly), but by the end they’ve all bonded and are like one big happy dysfunctional family. It’s enough to tug at the heart strings.

And then there’s the Joker (Leto). Much has been made of Leto’s insistence on staying in character for the duration of the shoot – Smith has quipped that he didn’t meet Leto until after filming was completed – and the Joker’s heavily tattooed look. But it’s all immaterial as Leto is on screen for around fifteen to twenty minutes in total, in a subplot that sees him try to rescue Harley Quinn from being part of the squad. With the Joker reduced to a supporting role it’s hard to qualify Leto’s performance. Yes it’s mannered, heavily so, and completely different from any previous interpretations, but the script depicts him as a lunatic gangster figure rather than the Clown Prince of Chaos. The character has room for development, then, but right now his need to rescue Quinn keeps him working to a standard plotline and any antic diversions seem forced.

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In what is fast becoming the one area in which Warner Bros. seems unable to act on the recommendations of others, Suicide Squad ramps up the destruction on offer, with endless gunfights and property devastation the order of the day. It’s all accompanied by one of recent cinema’s more overwhelming and intrusive scores (courtesy of Steven Price), a blaring cacophony of dramatic musical cues and declamatory passages that reinforce just how much the movie is like being hit repeatedly over the head (and by Harley Quinn’s mallet at that). Ayer can’t stop things from getting too overwrought in the movie’s final half hour, and inevitably any subtlety is made to hide in the shadows where it can’t interfere with anything.

Against all this the cast do their best, with Smith atoning for some recent poor choices by making Deadshot likeable and charismatic. Robbie has the most fun, and is the most fun to watch, but after a while the chirpy attitude and cheesy wisecracks begin to grate, and Ayer does away with any development the character has made as if it never happened, leaving her no different from how she was at the start. Davis essays the real villain of the piece, but once that particular “surprise” is established the character stops being interesting, as does her motivation, and she’s wisely sidelined. Kinnaman does stolid with ease but fails to make Flag memorable, while Hernandez makes El Diablo a surprisingly well-rounded character, less of a supervillain, and more Hulk-like in terms of his anger issues.

The movie is further hampered by Ayer’s insistence on giving the movie a noir feel instead of a comic book feel, and John Gilroy’s haphazard, wayward approach to the editing. Other odd moments/decisions stand out: Deadshot looking like a pimp when he’s out with his daughter; Enchantress swaying like a woman trying to keep up an invisible hula hoop; several flashbacks that slow the movie’s rhythm; a scene where El Diablo reveals a tragic consequence to his ability that feels out of place; and an origin story for Quinn that involves falling into a chemical vat for the sake of it.

Rating: 5/10 – slightly better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (but only slightly), Suicide Squad still has enough problems to stop it from becoming the first DC Extended Universe movie to overcome the series’ usual pitfalls; shedding its claim to being edgy and different with every minute that passes, the movie is further proof that Warner Bros. and DC need to work harder on their game plan, and that copying Marvel isn’t necessarily the right idea.