“The world changed when Superman flew across the sky, and it changed again when he didn’t”, so says Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), as she gathers together a band of villains including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to form Taskforce X. To incentivise the bad guys to work together, they are offered clemency or death, and unsurprisingly, they choose to live, but just how cooperative they are going to be remains to be seen, even when faced with a worse evil than they.
After months of trailers, TV spots and a frank overuse of the song “Ballroom Blitz”, Suicide Squad is finally released in cinemas this week. Following on from the dark and muddled Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad promised to be a fun, funny and over the top action movie, and set up a whole new franchise to boot. The trouble is that while Suicide Squad is a marked improvement over Batman Vs Superman, there is a feeling of familiarity about the whole thing, and that’s nothing to do with the characters.
Margot Robbie leads the cast as Harley Quinn, former psychiatrist turned paramour of The Joker (Jared Leto), and while she does well with what she is given, there is the feeling that Quinn is not as crazy as the dialogue would have us believe, since there are times when the character seems more mischievous than mad. Will Smith takes on the role of Deadshot, a hitman for hire whose only weak spot is for his young daughter. Smith is fine, but again, there is the feeling that Deadshot is less a villain and more a man obsessed with making money and a family bond with his daughter. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje does well with the physicality of Killer Croc, but he, Jai Courtney and Jay Hernandez as Diablo have significantly less to do. Elsewhere, Viola Davis makes Amanda Waller tough, no-nonsense and often frightening in her coldness, Joel Kinnaman does fine with Rick Flag and Cara Delevigne gets the physicality of June Moon / Enchantress down, but once again does not have a lot to do. Jared Leto takes on the role of The Joker, and although his appearance has been long awaited, he does not get a lot of time to show off his version of the Clown Prince of Crime in the movie, but there is the feeling that this is a new cinematic version of The Joker. Just as the audience begins to warm to this new version of the character, however, he is taken off screen and out of the action.
As screenwriter, it really feels as though David Ayer is trying to take a page out of the uber successful Guardians of the Galaxy book, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it does give the film a strong feeling of familiarity. As well as this, the film is not quite as funny as it should be; Margot Robbie brings a lot of laughs as Harley Quinn, and Jai Courtney has some nice moments, but the comedy is left to just two of the crew, which means it feels patchy and uneven. The set up of all these new characters feels rushed at times – especially since we do not get a lot of time with some of them – and the overall story feels rather small stakes.
As director, David Ayer has made each of the characters strong in their physicality, but obviously spent more time on Harley and Deadshot than the rest of the team. The set pieces are fun but, as with Batman Vs Superman, are starved of light, making them feel a little muddled at times, and although the pacing works well, the feeling of familiarity throughout the film is just compounded by the admittedly great retro soundtrack, which includes Bohemian Rhapsody, Sympathy for the Devil, Super Freak and Spirit in the Sky. The use of these songs also makes the film feel episodic at times, as though we are watching a selection of music videos rather than a coherent film.
In all, Suicide Squad is a vast improvement on the dark and depressing Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, but in trying to be fun and playful, begins to feel familiar and much like any comic book film to date. Margot Robbie stands out as Harley Quinn, and it will be interesting to see where Jared Leto takes his version of The Joker, but while there is fun to be had with Suicide Squad, it ends up feeling familiar and too much as though it is trying to be fun and funny without a strong enough script.