**This review is slightly spoilerish, so if that matters to you, avoid reading it until you've seen the film**
(Dir: David Ayer, 2016)
(Dir: David Ayer, 2016)
In an excessive summer of sequels, there's something exciting about the prospect of a great, not yet seen concept. Welcome to Suicide Squad, twisting the now standard superhero ensemble to focus on a team-up of villainy. Okay, it's not exactly original in idea but it's fascinating enough to ooze fun. And fun is probably the best compliment that can be laid at the actual film's door, because it is mostly entertaining, despite being an encapsulation of "great concept, poor execution".
Let's start with the characters, as they're the core to making a film like this work. Two ostensibly take the lead – Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). The novelty of "Will Smith playing a bad guy!?" quickly dissipates when you realise he's essentially playing the same character he always does, except he just so happens to kill people. His unique set of skills never seem effectively utilised in the story, and he's just too nice (it is Will Smith after all!), but there could be potential for an interesting Deadshot film as his character introduction suggested. Robbie is clearly having the most fun here making Harley Quinn an enjoyable character to watch, although for virtually all the film she mostly seems devoid of depth. Choosing to focus more on her was a wise one (she is the most iconic of the group after all), but to the detriment of the film no-one else is given much of a meaningful back story. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) has clear motivations and there's a lot more you want to know, but he's glossed over until plotting demands his skills. The make-up on Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is excellent – he is by far the most visually interesting team member – but we're given literally nothing about him and his presence is irrelevant. Jai Courtney's Boomerang is just a terrible walking Aussie cliché, making an annoying/bad actor the most annoying he's ever been. Everyone else is barely introduced and thus disposable. The one good guy, Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who serves to keep everyone in check, is a totally vanilla character, on-board with the bad shit that needs to be done and possessing only very simple motivations.
The problem of trying to present so many characters at once is endemic in every ensemble film, and usually most likely to be it's downfall, but it's doubly challenging when these are all new-to-screen characters. A good, satisfying villain can ease some of the difficulties, but the two pronged attack of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the person whom the squad begrudgingly have to obey but who is just so utterly uninteresting thanks to being totally one note, and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), do not good antagonists make. There's something in the back story of Enchantress that could be intriguing, but as a villain she's just clichéd, and poorly acted by Delevingne. When you have villains stopping other villains the threat level needs to be ratcheted up high, and they have to be stopping something truly terrible, which never feels the case here. Then you have The Joker (Jared Leto). The problem with adding The Joker back into the mix is that the last two performances on film (Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson) have in different ways felt so damn definitive that it's hard to see what else can be brought to the table. Leto's iteration feels infinitely inferior compared to Ledger's iconoclastic fuck-the-world nihilism and Nicholson's crazed comic-book esque mania. He's just a skeletal, somewhat outré crime boss with a wild streak, but not given enough screen time to develop the character whilst serving no real purpose to this story (importance to Harley Quinn aside) since he's thankfully not the villain here.
From a technical standpoint the film doesn't really work either. The introductions are essential but imbalanced, and despite some good content feel forced in a way that quickly stalls the film. It then shifts into a boring structure of complete a mission with a little surprise twist, act annoyed for a bit then reluctantly save the world, whilst partly feeling like it's ripping off Escape From New York. Throughout the editing is too focused on short shots / scenes, likely due to the plethora of characters and to keep things moving, but it's wearying and gives the impression that there's plenty of (possibly better) film left on the editing room floor. Whilst the copious inclusion of recognisable songs jars, frequently not working in the context of their respective scenes. On the plus side there's enough humour throughout to keep things entertaining.
Due to the story/source potential there's many ways Suicide Squad could've worked, but it sits in that awkward position of great concept, poor execution. As both writer and director, blame for that has to fall squarely on David Ayer. One look at his filmography tells you that his best film, Fury, is nothing like his previous films arguably making that a fluke. Clearly it took three goes to nail the LA cop film with End of Watch, before throwing out the awful Sabotage. Ironically the hiring of Ayer may have been to give Suicide Squad the edge it requires, something his previous films defintiely have, yet it's sorely lacking here. With weak villains and our heroes being a collective of barely menacing bad guys – Deadshot and Diablo are just too nice whilst Harley Quinn is crazy but never really threatening – this is yet another superhero ensemble where seeing more of these characters individually would be much more satisfying, not least because group chemistry is virtually non-existent. It's hard to say its not an entertaining watch, but you just wish for so much more from it.