Directed by David Ayer
Written by David Ayer
Starring: Viola Davis, Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Ageaje, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, Karen Fukuhara, and Scott Eastwood with Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller
Runtime 123 minutes
They say a hero is only as good as his/her villain. What then is the measure of a villain? Often it’s their ability to outwit or out-plan the hero, but in Suicide Squad, the third installment of the DCEU (DC Extended Universe, their answer to the MCU), they’re measured against an even bigger villain: one that believes themselves to be a hero and an even more powerful villain that they’ve been recruited to dispatch. The concept for the Suicide Squad, a group of villains that are recruited by the government to be expendable heroes, dates back (in the comics) to 1985. The core group of the current version is comprised of mostly Batman (Ben Affleck)’s villains (Harley Quinn, here played by Margot Robbie; Deadshot, played by Will Smith; and Killer Croc played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Ageaje) but also includes one of the Flash (Ezra Miller)’s in Captain Boomerang, simply called Boomerang in the film and played by Jai Courtney, and one that isn’t really anyone’s villain: Diablo (Jay Hernandez).
These villains, who were either captured by their respective heroes or turned themselves in (Diablo), are forcibly recruited by Amanda Waller (excellently played by Viola Davis) to act as a countermeasure to super-powered individuals that act against U.S. interests or to combat foreign meta-human teams that could be put together by other governments (a meta-human is a person with super powers, a term first uttered in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Each of the ‘participants’ has been injected with a nanite bomb at the base of their skull that can be remotely detonated, thereby blowing their head off, if they go off mission. They’re called into action under the command of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a special forces commander that is only there because his girlfriend, June Moone (Cara Delevingne) who houses the entity of Enchantress (an ancient and powerful meta-human who can possess others) is under the control of Waller. After Enchantress escapes and frees her brother and builds a machine that will obliterate the militaries of the world and force people to worship she and her brother again, as in the days of yore, the Suicide Squad is brought in simply to extract a high-value person from Midway City (which does not have a DCEU established hero, though in the comics it is where Hawkman, Hawkgirl and the Doom Patrol), where the attack is taking place. Meanwhile, Joker (Jared Leto) is doggedly tracking down Harley Quinn so he can get her back at his side.
Writer/director David Ayer, primarily known for making cop films such as writing Training Day, Dark Blue, S.W.A.T. as well as writing and directing End of Watch and Sabotage, is clearly having fun with his script, relishing the opportunity to step away from law enforcement as his heroes. He makes a concerted effort to make his villains human while never condoning their actions and if not relatable, at least explainable. Where his script falters most is in the third act when the Squad has to fight Enchantress, and indeed the entire Enchantress subplot, which emerges as the main plot by the end. This portion feels tacked on and superfluous, as if the studio required Ayers to include a generic, fight-the-big-monster-at-the-end finale, because Amanda Waller is a more than capable villain in her own right. The entire rest of the film felt organic and purposeful, if a little over the top.
His entire first act revolves around introducing the characters individually, which provided vignettes for each one, which was nice as it gave us time to spend with them individually before seeing them work together but it also feels like it was lazy screenwriting, having Waller introduce each out of a dossier instead of following each one into captivity and then bringing her in to convince higher-ups of the need for the Squad. Ayer should have utilized the animated feature Batman: Assault on Arkham for a template to understand more fully ow to use this team. Still, even with these things working against the film, Ayer manages to make it entertaining, injecting more humor into the DCEU, and by more, I mean some. He also draws his characters well, at least many of them. Waller, Deadshot, Diablo, and Harley Quinn are fully realized characters, three-dimensional and vivid; Flag and Joker get some good filling out as well, but not nearly as much, while Boomerang and Killer Croc have little moments but are largely ignored after their introductions. The real sufferer of ‘oh, yeah, that person is here too’ is Katana (Karen Fukuhara). She shows up as Flag’s bodyguard, is explained in one brief flashback and an aside and has about two lines in English, maybe two more in Japanese. This may have been done by Ayer to create an air of mystery around her, but it feels more like he just didn’t know what to do with the character and added her because she was cool (which she is).
On the direction side, Ayer is again on point for about 2/3rds of the picture. His flourishes during the introductions, putting up each character’s information in bullet points, brings alive the exposition in an inventive way. His action scenes are a bit jumbled, but reasonably well executed. Where he missteps is his pacing, repeating images and sequences, namely showing the members of the Squad in their prison cells several times before being activated. It elongates the picture needlessly and messes with the flow of the narrative. The last third of the film suffers as much from Ayer’s direction as his writing, veering into standard superhero movie territory despite this being an atypical one. Another misstep is that Ayer focuses the camera all too frequently on Robbie’s partially exposed behind. Sure, Robbie is an attractive woman, but this is exploitive and reductive. Many will criticize the jumbled way the film is put together, but it feels more like it’s done on purpose to reflect the jumbled mess of a team this is. It gets a little out of hand at the end, but ultimately works in favor of the overall proceedings.
It’s really the cast that keeps the film alive, with each one giving good performances. The stand-outs are, of course, Smith, Davis, Robbie and Leto. Smith brings his once-ubiquitous swagger and charm to Deadshot, with the plaintive longing for his daughter. He is a primary source for the humor, delivering his brand of pointed one-liner while also punctuating his character with his sad eyes when he remembers his daughter. Davis is electric as Waller, stepping into big shoes after the iconic voice work done for the animated version of the character by C.C.H. Pounder. Davis brings some of the acidic quality of her How to Get Away with Murder persona mixed with a genuine love of country, though more love for her own career and reputation. Robbie inhabits Harley Quinn, giving her own take but also incorporating a little of Arleen Sorkin’s original voicing (unlike all of the other characters, Harley Quinn did not originate in the comics. Her first appearance was in Batman: The Animated Series and she became so popular, they worked her into the comics later.). Robbie is fantastic in the role and forcibly becomes the focal point. Leto’s Joker, the first screen appearance of the character since Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take, is a radically different approach. He treats Joker as crazy-calm, not off-the-wall crazy, but still just as terrifyingly sadistic. There’s a sequence in his hide-out where he’s sitting amongst knives, guns, computers and champagne bottles all neatly arranged in an OCD pattern that he likely partakes in to calm himself. Leto gives a relentless and exciting performance that sets the stage for his further exploration in the planned Batman films. It’s a shame that he and Robbie don’t get much screentime together, because the brief moments they are with each other are fantastic.
Suicide Squad isn’t the saving grace of the DCEU, that will likely be Wonder Woman next year, but it is still entertaining and if you liked either (or both) Man of Steel and/or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad is right for you. If you didn’t like either (or just one) of those films, Suicide Squad may still appeal to you, but it will be an uphill struggle. It’s a messy jumble of a picture that is a lot of fun and sets up an interesting sidebar for the DCEU, like the far superior Guardians of the Galaxy did for the MCU. Suicide Squad may not win over new fans to the DCEU, but those that are there will enjoy themselves quite a bit.