Are bad guys the antidote to superhero fatigue? Film’s George Griffiths goes to find out
‘WORST. HEROES. EVER.’
That’s what one of the trailers for Suicide Squad warned us and, if you were to take into account the critical backlash facing the just-released film, you’d be inclined to agree with that statement.
The film sees Amanda Waller (played with relish by Viola Davis) recruit an incarcerated group of super villains to carry out a covert mission for the American government. The odds are against them, they have nothing to lose and no distinction between right and wrong. What’s the worst that could happen?
The bad news? Suicide Squad isn’t the much-needed redemption of the DC Cinematic Universe. The flaws that existed at the heart of Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice are – sans Zack Snyder – still very much present. There’s an imposed sense of gravitas that just doesn’t mesh with the events of the film and its partly motivation-less Big Bad. But more importantly, there isn’t a strong narrative strand nor enough fleshed out characters to maintain the momentum of a two-hour feature film that – despite a strong yet decidedly rushed start – sags considerably as time ticks on and the plot is eked out.
There is a massive flaw at the heart of Suicide Squad and it is that, quite simply, writer-director David Ayer has just given himself too many characters to juggle. Will Smith’s jaded assassin Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s coquettish psychopath Harley Quinn lap up the lion’s share of the screen time (Smith on fine leading man form, Robbie having a whale of a time giving Harley Quinn her big-screen debut, taking on the bad guys in high-heels and hot pants) which leaves the remaining members of the squad floundering in the background until the plot calls upon them to be utilised. This leaves the film in a slightly under-baked form, the characters are all introduced in a fast-paced and haphazard fashion and just plonked in the centre of the action, begging to be cared for by an audience that, for the most part, doesn’t know the first thing about them.
These flaws are certainly evident throughout the course of the film, but they are in no way a distraction in the way they were for Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice. Those movies’ flaws were amplified by an increasingly self-important and self-indignant style of film-making at the hands of Zack Snyder. Ayer learns from Snyder’s mistakes and crafts an anti-superhero, superhero film where the mission statement is clear from the off – make DC fun. And Suicide Squad is, no doubt about it, a fun film. There’s an inherent sense of anarchy and chaos to the proceedings (perhaps a contributing factor to the film’s ebbing narrative flow) that is best portrayed by the film’s off-kilter couple; Harley Quinn and the Joker, heralding Jared Leto’s much-anticipated turn as the Clown Prince of Crime.
Is Leto a good Joker? That would be an unfair judgement to give, since the arch-villain is sidelined for most of the film and never given the time to breathe as a character. It’s impossible to separate the Joker and Heath Ledger’s (I would argue) definitive interpretation in The Dark Knight so in that sense, Leto could never live up to the hype, but in the space he’s given, he gives it a good go. His Clown Prince of Crime is a manic and feral gangster, all grills and bad tattoos. The sense of anarchy is still there, but this a more measured performance of insanity that never quite tips over. But Leto and Ayer have successfully put a new spin on the Joker – he’s in love. Harley Quinn is the obsession of the Joker, from her initial plunge into acid in the name of love (‘Would you live for me?’ the Joker asks her) to his efforts to rescue her throughout the film. It’s an interesting place for the Joker, and one that could be explored in a fascinating manner in films to come. There is time for Leto to prove himself, but this serves as a satisfactory introduction that whets your appetite for more.
Amongst the chaos, there are plenty of good performances at hand here from one of the most talented blockbuster casts we’ve seen in quite a while. Will Smith is on fine leading man form, lending a pathos and jaded bitterness to the wise-cracking Deadshot, Viola Davis is a force of nature as the truly unpredictable Amanda Waller but the true star of the show is Margot Robbie. Her Harley Quinn is fire and ice; a serial-killing psychopath in stilettos that, in the end, just wants to be loved. Ayer never truly lets Robbie steal the show, but she comes pretty close a few times. Also coming in hot is Cara Delevigne, while never given that much to do as the Big Bad, you can’t fault her enthusiasm.