Around 18 years or so ago the perception of comic book/superhero movies changed, seemingly forever, from slightly naff, campy b-movies to genuine blockbuster contenders thanks to the likes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man leading into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the ongoing (now somewhat inconsistent) Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth.
Now, with Suicide Squad – the latest instalment in DC Comics’ attempt to set up their own ongoing series like Marvel’s, following Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – director David Ayer (of End of Watch and Fury fame) and the various shadowy studio figures behind him, seem fairly intent on taking us back to the superhero movies of the mid-90s.
Describing the actual plot of Suicide Squad is a challenge, but in broad strokes it deals with the formation of a new super team that, rather than being made up of heroes, is made up (mostly) of second level villains and, in its better moments, deals with them coming together and working together.
In it’s not so good moments the story follows them as they face off against an ancient evil force, supposedly with the ability to destroy the world, embodied by two rather un-inspired, at least partially CG creatures.
The first stumble the film makes is in trying to be an origin story for a number of characters. This is very inconsistent as Deadshot (Will Smith) gets about three versions of his origin story while Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) gets a very short montage.
Certainly this shows their relative places in the movie, but it feels imbalanced and the lack of exposure for a few becomes problematic as they have relatively pivotal moments later on.
Along with these we get the loose origin of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) threaded throughout, providing as much an introduction to her as to her ‘Puddin’, ‘Mr J.’ – Jared Leto’s new take on Batman arch-nemesis The Joker – during which the duo proceed to steal the show. Though Smith gives them a run for the their money.
It is these characters that are the film’s highlight – while the dialogue is fairly awful, the charisma of the performances and the essence of the characters that has made them favourites in the comic for, in some cases, decades, shines through.
Robbie is exactly the kind of demented fun that was promised, though I agree some of the more gratuitous camera angles smack a little too much of Michael Bay’s framing of Megan Fox, but aside from that she provides the nearest thing this film manages to emotional weight through her fabulously deranged relationship with ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’.
Smith’s Deadshot is far from the stone cold killer assassin he is built up to be as he provides some more emotion through his relationship with his daughter that plays as a pivotal motivation throughout, even if I couldn’t help but feel this kind of good guy/bad guy balancing act was added in to get a ‘name star’ such as Smith to play the part.
As is obligatory I should give a few opinions on Leto’s Joker… as he only appears relatively briefly its hard to have a full view but I liked what I saw with the modern ‘gangsta’ style echoing past versions who echoed gangster styles of their time – particularly Jack Nicholson’s version and the original comic book version.
Aside from that the relationship between him and Harley added a new dimension to the character and led to one of the film’s most striking images during a flashback involving the two and I can’t wait to see a more fully fledged version of the character, hopefully squaring off against Affleck’s Batman who was such a highlight of ‘BVS:DOJ’.
The rest of Suicide Squad unfortunately can’t escape feeling like it’s stuck in the mid-90s. A slightly poorly realised, special effects based, big bad with a fairly non-specific plan to destroy/rule the world is the epitome of this leading to a hugely unsatisfying denouement while being reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Russell Mulchay’s The Shadow.
Added to this is the fact that once again it has far from succeeded in establishing the DC comics universe on-screen in any meaningful way with a tone so different from the two previous films that, other than the presence of Affleck’s Bat and a couple of flashbacks, this could have been an entirely stand alone piece.
All that said I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun, certainly some could have been trimmed from the first third to up the pace and the apparent main villain was at once too much and too little, but as a fan of the aforementioned Batman Forever and The Shadow I couldn’t help but enjoy Suicide Squad on a similar level to them.
So, really it’s not a ‘good film’ but I still had a good time… make of that what you will, and I can’t wait to see more of The Joker and Harley Quinn.