REVIEW – ‘Suicide Squad’

After the swing-and-miss that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (or at least the theatrical version), DC takes another shot at stealing Marvel’s cinematic superhero crown with their hyper-coloured and hyper-charged extravaganza, Suicide Squad. Thankfully this time, they’ve managed to strike back with a flawed but entertaining piece of cinema.

Much like Marvel’s own “bad guys done good”, the Guardians of the Galaxy, DC faces the similarly daunting task of introducing a whole host of new characters to a cinema audience unfamiliar with comic-book lore. And not just introducing them – introducing them en masse in one film. While it may not reach the lofty heights set by Star Lord & co. (or Deadpool, for that matter), it still manages to give the now-overloaded comic-book genre an almighty good shake.

In a post-Superman world (yes, this does indeed take place immediately following BvS), the government is decidedly panicked. Who will protect us in the event of another catastrophic super-human attack? Enter less-than-scrupulous government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, giving Nick Fury a run for his money). It seems Waller has roped together a whole host of bad guy meta-humans (we’re not allowed to call them mutants…that’s a Marvel thing), enticing them to “do some good” in exchange for a few years wiped off their respective prison sentences.

So who do we have to form the so-called “Task Force X,” aka the titular Suicide Squad? We get a dead-beat Dad/hired-assassin with the heart of gold, Deadshot (Will Smith, basically playing Will Smith, yet again), a drunken Aussie larrikan jewel thief, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a desperately guilt-ridden and heavily tattooed flamethrower, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a giant-lizard creature thing, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the craziest blonde bombshell babe you’ll ever meet, Harley Quinn (a scene-stealing Margot Robbie), aka the psychotic sweetheart of The Joker (Jared Leto).

After some all-too-brief background filler flashbacks (some, like Deadshot’s, are far meatier than others), it’s already time for Task Force X to suit up, as another of Waller’s team members has ditched the squad and gone AWOL. Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), possessed by the spirit of the ancient and evil Enchantress, is threatening to end humanity’s very existence. With the help of her equally-evil brother, the wicked witch is forming an army of undead monsters in the heart of Midway City, and it seems only our band of merry villains can stop her.

Under the guidance of good-guy Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, perhaps the film’s biggest surprise), who also just so happens to be in love with Dr. Moone (a plot point expertly manipulated by Waller), and with the help of ninja warrior Katana (a shamefully underused Karen Fukuhara) and an endless parade of indiscriminate and disposable Navy SEALS (Scott Eastwood among them), the battle to save the world is on.

Now something may seem a little odd about this plot summary, given the posters and trailers you’ve likely seen all over the place. How exactly does The Joker fit into all of this? Well, folks. I hate to break it to you, but he doesn’t. Not really, anyway. And by that, I mean, he is not, I repeat not, this film’s main villain. He is, at best, a minor supporting character, whose only real purpose is rescuing his beloved Harley Quinn from the claws of Amanda Waller. His total screen time genuinely clocks up around the 10-minute mark.

Therein lies one of the film’s few disappointments. While Leto is menacing and unsettling as the psychotic Joker, his appearances are few and far between, never truly giving us a full sense of the character’s capabilities. When Leto is on-screen, he is captivating to watch, delivering a fresh take on the villain unlike any we’ve seen before. Leto’s line delivery and that pitch-perfect laugh are glorious to behold, as are his eye-popping costume and make-up design, but sadly, you’ll often find yourself desperately missing him numerous times throughout the film. If nothing else, it serves as a delicious teaser of bigger things to come for Mr. J in the franchise.

These superhero films truly live and die by their villains, and much like BvSSuicide Squad is let down by the lack of a great villain. Enchantress is visually stunning to behold, particularly in the film’s finale, but she is ultimately dull and flat, with some god-awful and ridiculously cliché dialogue. Her physicality is also confusingly bizarre, in what can only be described as part voodoo dance sequence, part bad acid trip. Delevingne appears to be giving it her all, but her acting inexperience is what really shines through, and leaves us with a genuinely disappointing evil menace, failing to either disturb or alarm the audience.

Thankfully, the film is mostly able to rise above these disappointments, namely due to the stellar casting choices for the film’s key roles. Robbie is a revelation as Harley Quinn, bringing much needed light and humour to an otherwise dark and gritty piece of cinema. Her accent is flawless and her chemistry with Leto is electric to watch. It’s impossible not to fall under Harley’s spell. Smith is equally impressive, giving it his absolute all and reminding us why he was once Hollywood’s most bankable star. And after a series of disastrous performances (and films), it’s nice to see Courtney finally get a chance to show us what he’s capable of. It’s a seemingly impossible feat to deliver such a stellar ensemble piece at the debut of a franchise, but DC have truly managed to deliver on that front.

While BvS may have sloppily handled the now-obligatory surprise cameos, Suicide Squad shines by mostly standing on its own two feet, yet still taking its place amongst a larger cinematic franchise. Yes, Gotham and Arkham Asylum are mentioned. Yes, Superman is referenced. Yes, there’s a surprise visit by a member of Justice League. And it’s no spoiler to tell you Batman swoops his way into this film at some point (actually *SPOILER* multiple points). But these are all genuinely delivered with perfection and brilliance, akin to any cameo or easter egg Marvel has ever given us.

Another key element of these films are the action set-pieces, and while Suicide Squad isn’t exactly overflowing with epic blockbuster moments, there’s plenty here to keep action fans happy. The climactic battle with Enchantress is wildly entertaining and beautifully choreographed, if not just a little too smoke-filled (it’s genuinely difficult to see what’s happening sometimes). And no spoilers, but there’s a sequence involving The Joker and a helicopter that may truly be the film’s triumphant moment.

While the film suffers under some dreadfully-poor editing in its first act, it eventually settles in for a wildly entertaining and slickly produced thrill-ride, even if it does leave you begging for more, while successfully delivering a tempting taste of what to expect next.

Unlike its DC counterparts, Suicide Squad never takes itself too seriously, and therein lies its seductive and sublimely entertaining charm. We may have finally witnessed the rise of the DC cinematic universe.

★★★☆☆

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