Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Worst. Heroes. Ever.

With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) somewhat under-performing at the global box office (failing to reach that $1 billion mark) and leaving disgruntled audiences with a sour taste in their mouths (myself not included, I actually enjoyed the aforementioned), all eyes have firmly been fixed on the Suicide Squad (a strike team of super-powered anti-heroes) to marginally resuscitate the late-blooming yet budding DCEU — kinda funny how the ‘weight’ of the entire DC world now rests upon the rickety shoulders of a bunch of baddies, huh? The Suicide Squad, sometimes referred to as Task Force X — who made their DC comic book debut all the way back in 1959, and were later revived by writer John Ostrander in 1987 — marks the third picture in the extended DC Cinematic Universe, this ‘wild-card’ flipping the ‘hero-centric’ formula over on its head by focusing on the bad guys as opposed to the good.

Time for a little therapy

Time for a little therapy

If you haven’t been following Comic-Con (or all things DC) over the last couple of years and need a bit of a refresher, the Suicide Squad are a troop of imprisoned gangsters, murderers and nasties assembled by a covert government agency, named A.R.G.U.S., to fend off future alien threats (think Superman), the team rallied to execute desperate and dangerous black ops type missions in exchange for personal clemency and reduced prison sentences — this operation headed by steely, high-ranking U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who’s no Nick Fury, despite being the connective fibre that weaves together much of the DCEU.

The film itself opens up on a clenching intro, complete with gritty yet morbidly rich candy-colored visuals — these reminiscent of The New 52 DC revamp — establishing the twisted band of incarcerated do-good up-and-comers. Here viewers become acquainted with gifted contract killer Deadshot (Will Smith) — aka Floyd Lawton — who carries a personal vendetta against Gotham’s very own Caped Crusader (Ben Batfleck, I mean Affleck), and sexed-up super-freak Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist doctor for the criminally insane, previously known as Harleen Quinzel, whose mind was poisoned and hijacked by her most notorious patient, the Joker (Jared Leto) — the alluring, wildly toxic Harley-Joker romance instantly grabbing viewers by the jugular, making its mark as one of the movie’s principal hooks. We also meet unhinged Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the roughneck with a short fuse; and on the topic of fuses, who can forget the fearsomely tattooed fire starter El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a tormented pyrokinetic with a vague past. And finally, making up the numbers is square-jawed reptilian sewer-dweller Killer Croc, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje under heavy prosthetics — a nice change of pace from those CGI motion-capped beasties.

'Please, I'm begging ya ... get some psychiatric help.'

‘Please, I’m begging ya … get some psychiatric help.’

Led by Waller’s second in command, Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the military man’s sole purpose is to hold this unstable group together, keeping ’em in check at all times — though Flag carries a torch for Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), a misfortunate archaeologist who’d previously stumbled on a damned artifact, causing the living-soul of an ethereal magic-user (known as Enchantress) to inhibit her own consciousness. See, when summoned, Enchantress transforms the petite, caramel-haired Moone into a fiery-eyed, raven-haired, barbarian-like sorceress, harboring all-powerful, world-shattering abilities. Coursed into babysitting this supervillain cavalry by the cold-and-calculating Waller — who (literally) holds Enchantress’ heart captive inside of a metallic briefcase — both June and Flag’s ‘freedom’ remains at the mercy of the bigwig official.

Thus, when an ancient and enigmatic enemy surfaces, wreaking havoc over the city and pawning its citizens, the Suicide Squad are officially called to arms, this crew of outlawed misfits put to the test, tasked with the prime objective of extricating and defending a chief government ‘asset.’ With these deadly mercenaries placed directly in harms way, will it be ‘every man for himself’ or will this mad mob band together side-by-side as a unified squad? As, to succeed (and quite frankly survive), there may be only one option: and that’s to overcome this insuperable foe together as a unified force.

First and foremost, one can’t disregard the silly notion that the Suicide Squad (perhaps) merely exists to re-ignite the DC cinematic flame, with snippets of footage that sees Batman, alongside other Meta-humans — yes, there’s also a full-costumed Flash in there (played by Ezra Miller) — shoehorned into the flick’s overstuffed narrative; while these titbits may sound a tad ‘vexing’ (or come across as DC’s attempt to play catch-up on Marvel’s universe-building success), they’re actually quite refreshing, playing out as lively little breathers, reminding us of the bigger picture while simultaneously giving a heads-up on the origin of several of our temporarily reformed villains.

'Gurl, you have no idea what you're gettin' yourself into.'

‘Gurl, you have no idea what you’re gettin’ yourself into.’

Written and directed by David Ayer, End of Watch (2012), Suicide Squad could’ve (and should’ve) been a little edgier and more willing to seize its nihilistic roots — think Deadpool (2016), a film that embraced its titular foul-mouthed anti-hero and delivered exactly what fans craved. Unlike Deadpool, the Suicide Squad mostly plays it safe: the plot is fairly stock-standard, and in parts seemingly scattershot, making it difficult to follow — there’s also a bunch of surplus ‘fatty stuff’ thrown into its wiredrawn second act — the late re-shoots possibly at fault.

As a result, Suicide Squad never lives up to the high promise of its stellar opening, hinting that there’s maybe — keeping this gleefully murky side-world in mind — bigger and bolder stories to be told. The central conflict also seems to lack the right amount of urgency, with our high-attitude all-star B-team casually stopping over for a drink (and a bonding pep talk) amid the chaos and carnage. Rubbing the salt into the wound even further, the film’s villainess Enchantress, whose outer shell can be likened to a charred steam-punk version of bikini slave-Leia, is criminally underdeveloped: the Enchantress is a complexly malefic she-devil who could’ve done with way more fleshing out. With all this in mind though, the film is still a sickly loaded fun time — well, that’s if you surrender to its warped lunacy — even if the supposed rule-breaker winds up feeling a tad generic overall. At least Suicide Squad gets its tone right; it isn’t overly hammy yet it’s lighter than those doom-and-gloom Superman flicks and much darker than the typical tired Marvel fare.

Squad Up

Squad Up

The central performances are without a doubt the winning card up Ayer’s sleeve, the offbeat dynamics sustaining interest over and above the haphazard, hackneyed storyline. The movie’s unofficial poster girl Harley Quinn totally steals the show — and so do those hotpants, exposing her pert derrière — Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), juggling the crazed sidekick’s peppy energy, deranged sense of humor and sheer desirability — Robbie nails the frisky ’30s Brooklyn-style lingo too, puddin’. Her partner in crime, The Joker, is conceivably the most comic-accurate portrayal of the chaos-driven loon to date, Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club (2013), (who doesn’t look a day over 30) fashioning a glistening modern-day gangster of sorts, mixing several elements from Mark Hamill’s toon incarnation and Jack Nicholson’s original take: either way, seeing this lunatic in love is both compelling and unsettling, it’s just a darn shame the maniacal menace only makes a mild guest appearance. Elsewhere, Will Smith’s, Men in Black (1997), marksman supplies the narrative with its emotional current, a fleshed-out arc centered around Deadshot’s daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon), the 47-year-old Smith humanizing the ruthless gunman in an all-round humble performance, whereas underwritten side players Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the face-masked Samurai street fighter — whose sword ensnares the souls of all its victims — and trained assassin Slipknot (Adam Beach), the master of ropes, hardly leave their mark and have little to no plot function.

Taking its cues from Tim Burton/ Joel Schumacher’s Batman (1989-97) over the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012), Suicide Squad boasts some impressive visuals — even if the majority of its middle-portion takes place in a dark, ugly deserted Midway City. From the hyper-stylized production design to the ghetto blingy getups, there’s no shortage of optical razzle-dazzle, these visuals falling in line with Ayer’s signature aesthetic. Production designer Oliver Scholl, Edge of Tomorrow (2014), costume designer Kate Hawley, Pacific Rim (2013), and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, Fury (2014), really go for broke here, creating a murky-quirky look that’s somewhat authentic and comic specific — so Suicide Squad looks pretty damn spiffy. And for those of you wondering: yes, we do get a fleeting glimpse at Harley Quinn in the iconic red-and black jester suit and clown-like face paint, even if the moment only lasts a second.

Jailbird

Jailbird

A star-studded vehicle standing as another key lynchpin for the Warner Bros. helmed DCEU, Suicide Squad succeeds as a steppingstone in building an expansive far-reaching world, one that’s populated by a plethora of eccentric individuals, setting the stage for (hopefully) more immersive and enthralling franchise installments. Despite its stellar cast, the Suicide Squad is weighed down by its muddled coherency and sheer ‘sameness,’ the reformed felon card slightly downplayed for something relatively routine with the renowned characters being (significantly) more excitable than the story itself. Given the talent involved, Suicide Squad is a bit of a let-down, and with two apparent cuts competing, I have a sneaking suspicion that the better lost out — come on Warner Bros. this flick should’ve been ballsier and the stakes more inventive and unusual! Love it or hate it, Suicide Squad is (at least) a step in the right direction for a studio whose mode is set on ‘course-correct,’ though I’d have to say, shove over Bats as (considering the film’s hype, anticipation and pre-ticket sale sum) I foresee a new box office king for DC comics.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

Suicide Squad is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia