SUICIDE SQUAD represents a massive jump forward for DC Entertainment. Where Marvel Studios has been very loudly building their cinematic universe over the course of more than a dozen films to date, DC has been largely concentrating on solo adventures in a series of false starts and misfires. Yet the boldness of David Ayer’s film comes from it being DC’s first live action team film, Watchmen and Vertigo’s The Losers notwithstanding, taking a leaf out of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s book by dancing on the antihero side of the disco.
Based loosely on various modern versions of the comic book team of the same name, the high-concept super-powered spin on The Dirty Dozen follows the dramatic conclusion of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. A secret government agency led by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) begins to recruit the worst of the metahuman villains to combat the next potential super threat. Starting with her own white hat field leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), she brings aboard expert marksman and killer for hire Floyd Lawton a.k.a. Deadshot (Will Smith), who is easily leveraged by the commitment he has to his daughter.
The rest of the group is made up of various criminals from across the DC Universe. There’s the crazed and beautiful Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the queen to the Joker’s (Jared Leto) king of crime; Australian crook Digger “Boomerang” Harkness (Jai Courtney); the reptilian Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and former gang member, Chato “El Diablo” Santana (Jay Hernandez), a metahuman who chooses not to wield his flame powers. They are joined by Flagg’s bodyguard and friend Tatsu “Katana” Yamashiro (Karen Fukuhara), a sword-wielding martial art expert; along with Flagg’s lover June Moone/Enchantress (Cara Delvigne), who gains great powers when possessed by an ancient entity. When a crisis strikes Midway City, the unlikely crew must band together to put a stop to it.
What’s instantly striking about SUICIDE SQUAD is just how fully-formed the world already is. Not wasting any time on exposition in the first act, the film asks us to accept that this dysfunctional group is being chased around the world by the likes of Batman (Ben Affleck), along with a few other heroes who might just make a cameo here and there. It’s a refreshing approach to the standard origin tale motif, even if the basic story is a fairly familiar one. Fans will have fun catching the plethora of Easter eggs, as backstory is peppered throughout the narrative via numerous flashbacks. Harley Quinn’s famous original costume, including shots lifted directly from Alex Ross’ artwork, give a sense of history to the universe, something Man of Steel and Batman V Superman was sorely missing.
What Ayer’s script lacks is a well-defined villain, choosing a more generic ‘big swirling portal’ as its nebulous threat. It leaves the film with no choice than to have a series of set-pieces circling around it, each designed to play up the characters. The more obvious bad guys of Joker and Harley are the standouts, the former crafted as a pimping mob boss who rules over the city’s crime with an unhinged fear. The relationship, as unhealthy as it might be, feels like a genuine one, as Leto cycles through the Ghosts of Joker Past to bring his own to life. Smith the most Smithy he’s been since Bad Boys II, embracing the over-the-topness of it all. Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Fukuhara are more perfunctory, frequently sidelined by the flashier cast, while Hernandez is saddled with cliché riddled sentiments of camaraderie.
Yet SUICIDE SQUAD is ultimately a stylish and fun romp, and the kind of entertainment the DC Extended Universe desperately needs to sustain interest outside of existing fan circles. With its on-screen text throwing up vital stats like a video game, and a constant playlist of pop music samples, it’s hard to escape the similarities with Marvel’s aforementioned antihero gamble. So is it something good, something bad? It’s a bit of both, although mostly good, as DC finally finds the balance between being comic faithful without sacrificing the sense of glee that comes with the funny books.
SUICIDE SQUAD released in Australia on 4 August from Roadshow Films, and in the US on 5 August 2016 from Warner Bros.
2016 | US | DIR: David Ayer | WRITER: David Ayer | CAST: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevingne | RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes | DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Films (AUS), Warner (US) | RATING: ★★★½