Arriving on a wave of hyperactive marketing and talk of reshoots and extensive cuts comes the third film in DC’s Expanded Universe (DCEU) after Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but this time the focus is on the villains. It’s basically a Dirty Dozen for the world of DC with a disparate group of criminals brought together by Viola Davis’ shady government agent Amanda Waller.
Many are inmates of a black site prison in Louisiana including the incredibly accurate hit man Deadshot aka Floyd Lawton (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a psychiatrist turned psycho, lover and associate of the Joker (Jared Leto), both having been brought down by Batman (Ben Affleck).
Joining them is the beast like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), pyrokinetic gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) known unimpressively as “the man who can climb anything”. Rounding off the team are Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who is seen being apprehended by the Flash (Ezra Miller).
The team is under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) a decorated soldier who has fallen for June Moone (Cara Delevigne) an archaeologist who has been possessed by the malevolent Enchantress, who is kept in line as Waller owns her heart, her only vulnerability. To keep them every member has an explosive chip in their neck and Flag is backed up by samurai sword wielding vigilante Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and some anonymous Navy SEALs.
The Enchantress betrays Waller and unleashes her brother, a towering powerhouse with whom she lays waste to Midway City. The Squad are airlifted into the city in order to retrieve a VIP, but their individual weaknesses and inability to function threaten their effectiveness. Can Flag get the job done with his ragtag team? Can he trust them? Can they trust him and Waller?
I enjoyed this movie but it has plenty of flaws and is definitely a case of style over substance. The major weakness that having a team thrown together so quickly many are underdeveloped and here Katana, Killer Croc, Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are all slightly underwritten. My feeling was that several scenes must have hit the cutting room floor as the team go from disparate strangers to what El Diablo calls “a family” rather too quickly.
But there are moments that work. Kinnaman and Smith do a good job of capturing their characters differing views and distrust, with a slowly developing respect as the film progresses. They are both good actors and Kinnaman does enough to suggest that Flag isn’t the clean cut All-American hero he’d introduced as. He nails the character’s toughness while letting the cracks of vulnerability show.
Will Smith is always reliable and likeable but his Deadshot feels like a missed opportunity, with too much heroism thrown in the mix which throws off his anti-hero status. As the biggest star Smith is the centre for the team in many ways and while he is a good anchor it unsettles the balance and he never fully convinces as the cold killer he thinks he is. There are a couple of moments where he is quite badass but it doesn’t quite come off for me. Also he takes the mask off far too early and far too long.
The only character who gets the same kind of background and focus is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The manic energy is oddly charming and quite fun, but the character is emblematic of the film’s inconsistent tone. There is a brief glimmer of vulnerability and moments where the cheery mask drops, but then the film reverts back to having her quipping and messing about. I have to admit my view was harder than MWF’s who found Robbie’s performance the major strength of the film and the best member of the team.
The worst part of the treatment of Harley is that the film botches the relationship between her and the Joker. In the cartoon and comics the Joker is extremely manipulative and cruel to Harley, the emotional clearly abusive and sadistic but the film bottles it softening these aspects and making the Joker seem to care for her in a way that undermines his psychopathic nature.
Leto’s Joker has limited screentime and it may be too early to judge but for me it doesn’t quite work, it feels like it’s trying too hard to be edgy and the actual jokes are thin on the ground. He might impress more in later Batman movies but here he disappointed me.
Of the rest of the Squad the only one with any development is El Diablo, who is introduced as a seemingly reformed character who no longer uses his powers. His tragic back story is a bit obvious, but Hernandez does a good job in making him human and at least he gets some kind of storyline, which is more than many of his teammates.
On the whole the movie has more misses than hits, with inconsistencies in tone, underwritten characters and an annoying habit of quick pop music blasts over scenes. But the action sequences are fast and furious and the script delivers a few laughs along the way.
The plot is predictable in places, and as with BvS I got the feeling that DC are rushing the DCEU and a few of these characters could have done with being introduced elsewhere first before being thrown into the mix here.
One of the aspects I liked most was Viola Davis as Waller. She gives a commanding performance as the hardened, calculating character with whom you don’t want to mess with and her moral ambiguity means her motives are never fully clear and it will be interesting how she works with the forthcoming Justice League, teased in a solid credits sting where she sits down with Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.
She makes a ruthless and cold antagonist for the anti-heroes, and Davis carries it off with a ruthless badassness which makes her utterly convincing as a no-nonsense woman used to getting her way no matter who opposes her.
On the whole it’s a fun enough action movie, but there’s very little beneath the surface and it struggles from having to introduce so many characters so quickly but if there’s a Suicide Squad 2 I’ll probably go see it as there they can just get right to the action. And I so look forward to seeing more about the Joker’s history with Batman, even if Leto’s clown prince of crime is my least favourite incarnation of the character.
Verdict: Riddled with flaws and underwritten in places the film looks good but lacks depth. Davis, Smith, Robbie, Hernandez and Kinnaman do their best but many if the actors have little to sink their teeth into. A decent introduction but you hope further adventures are stronger. The DCEU seems to lack the patience of Marvel’s universe building process. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.