Suicide Squad (2D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 15 / 123 mins / Dir. David Ayer / Trailer
As regular readers will be aware, I'm not a DC-geek in any way shape or form. If anything, I bat for the other side. There's no agenda behind that, it's just the way my childhood/adolescence panned out, and that's the universe I'm at home in. As a result, I'm not familiar with the principle characters in this latest DC ensemble-flick. I know The Joker, of course, and I'm aware of Harley Quinn in the same way that a movie-goer who's never seen Star Wars still has a rough handle on who Darth Vader is*1. But the other members of the team and their assorted handlers, and hangers-on? Not a clue. I'll be honest, it's all I can do to ignore the fact that I'm quite looking forward to a movie that stars both Will Smith and Jai Courtney. That doesn't feel right.
So, with all this in mind, I decided to forego any frantic background reading/viewing in the run-up to Suicide Squad*2, since I believe a movie this early-on in the franchise should be introducing its characters properly to a civilian audience anyway. Also, I did read the faintly disappointing lead-in comic, Suicide Blonde, then decided the film could speak for itself ;)
As usual with a movie of this prominence and audience, my first review will be free of plot-spoilers. If the film really impresses me, we can get into picking apart the story another time…
And so, after the queue for much needed coffee-at-midnight, the ads, the trailers, and not one but two post-trailer ads, the BBFC card displayed the words Suicide Squad, and the very respectably-sized audience in Screen 5 exhaled, their (our) wait over.
DC's chronological - if not tonal - follow-up to Dawn of Justice finally swings into our cinemas with all the swagger of unwanted party-guests, but also with the reassuring fun that it's not your party they're trashing. In fact let's be fair: the party needed livening up a little. But I know what you're thinking: 'yeah, what music do they use to open the film though, eh?'
Well, what with House of the Rising Sun, You Don't Own Me and Sympathy for the Devil all making an appearance in the film's first five minutes, it soon becomes clear that all non-orchestrated soundtrack here is going to be the cinematic equivalent of a needy child repeatedly tugging on your sleeve as you try to concentrate on the movie. Ironically, the problem is made worse the more familiar you are with the songs being used, as the connection between on-screen events and the tongue-in-cheek audio accompaniment feels even more tenuous and threatens to pull you out of the film each time*3.
Jukebox aside, with the twin barrels of Viola Davis' narration and stylised flashbacks, the members of Task Force X are individually introduced with sequences whose length correllates almost exactly with the billing position of the actor in question. Will Smith's Deadshot and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn each get around three minutes of character-building exposition, Adam Beach's Slipknot gets a hurried four-word aside as he walks on-camera. Everyone else is on the sliding-scale between the two, their intro-scenes being a good indicator of how much attention the script is going to pay them.
But of course, the question on everybody's lips is how is Jared Leto's Joker? A mixed bag, frankly. Leto certainly brings a dangerous unpredictability to the character, but I'm not convinced that's what Joker really needs. He's less the scheming maniac here, and more an ADHD Godfather. The best moments with the clown-prince are his quieter ones; unfortunately, they're also the moments when he evokes The Spirit of Ledger. There's also been some concern online as to his share of screen-time. A fair way of putting it would be to say that Mista J is a recurring character here, but not a central one. This is his introduction to the timeline, it's not 'his film'.
And as much as Harley Quinn tries desperately to steal the show (completely in line with the film's marketing focus, to be fair), the most interesting characters here are Cara Delevingne's Enchantress and Jay Hernandez's Diablo. Both go some way towards developing throughout the film*4, both have backstories and motivations which aren't fully fleshed out, and both pay the price of trying to fight for screen-time with a cast this expansive.
Although the plot-mechanics of Suicide Squad are sketchy at best, and the central conceit makes little-to-no sense*5, the film is quite fun. It finally feels like DC are starting to feel comfortable playing by their own rules in the timeline (although the shadow of the Bat looms comfortingly over proceedings, too).
All in all, Suicide Squad is rather good. Although without the pop-soundtrack and misguided one-liners, it would be rather great...
Hang around at the end as there's a mid-credits scene, but there's no after-credits, so once the names start rolling up the screen you can make your way to the exits.
The film wants to be a cynical Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's closer to Batman v Superman meets The Expendables. Except better than that sounds, honestly.
If comic-book movies being big and loud is your bag, yes.
In light of the cinematically turbulent time DC's had of late and of the reported reshoots for Suicide Squad, I think it probably does.
No, but that only means the best could be yet to come.
I think there's one buried in the subway-scene, yeah.
Level 2: It's not too long ago that Margot Robbie appeared in About Time alongside old General Hux himself, Domhnall Gleeson.
*1 Not the best analogy, obviously, as the most direct comparison to Vader from an outsider's point of view would be The Joker, not Harley Quinn, but you get the idea. Some characters manage to seep into the mainstream (or at least, wider geekdom) consciousness by force of personality alone; others are General Madine.
*2 Partly because previous comics, cartoons etc wouldn't gel with the continuity of this movie so would probably just make things worse; partly because I've got a lot on at the moment and I just haven't had the time.
3 It's not like these are tracks that the characters can hear in-movie. Most seem to just be there because someone in the mixing department wanted to win a bet; a prime example being "$15 says I can get Eminem's vocally-heavy 'Look Who's Back' laid right over some dialogue!"
4 As much as I enjoyed Suicide Squad, there's little in the way of actual character development here. The film serves to introduce (some of) its players well, but by the time the closing credits appear, most are basically where they were to begin with. Literally, in some cases. It's basically stalling until Justice League comes along. Entertaining stalling, but stalling.
5 Because if you were putting together a black-ops task force designed to have the prowess to "stop a bad-Superman", why would you have it comprising of people who a) don't want to do what you tell them, b) are basically uncontrollable and c) are situated in a completely different timezone? It's hardly rapid-response, is it? Any evil-alien worth their salt will have gleefully committed genocide by the time these cats are scrambled to the chopper. You'd almost think it was a wafer-thin excuse to make a movie consisting largely of loveable villains since DC's heroes tend to be largely uninteresting…
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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