Directed by: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman, Jared Leto
Rated: PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
Where Marvel Comics landed square into their standard tone with “Iron Man,” DC Comics seems to be casting about. After a handful of increasingly gritty films, we’re now presented with “Suicide Squad,” which tries very hard to be both gritty and funny. That’s probably a necessity, in some ways – if you’re going to have a handful of supervillains as your protagonists, you need some humor or nobody’s going to empathize with them. “Suicide Squad” succeeds on some levels, but not on others, and whether someone likes it or not is largely dependent on which elements are most important to them.
The squad of the title is the brainchild of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Her plan: the US government uses imprisoned supervillains as black ops agents in exchange for reduction of their sentences. If things go badly, they can claim the bad guys escaped and were acting on their own. The idea is to fight fire with fire. The baddies include improbably skilled assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), former-psychiatrist-turned-sociopath Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and sewer-system monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), all under the supervision of highly-trained operative Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.
There are a bunch of things the film gets right. The fight sequences are fantastic, mixing up slow motion and high speed along with closeups and enough long shots to appreciate the wide variety of weapons our protagonists use. The banter around the fight scenes is solid. The special effects are pretty great, including the makeup used to turn Akinnuoye-Agbaje into a scaly humanoid crocodile.
The film gets a bunch of things, if not quite wrong, not quite right either. Jared Leto’s take on the Joker fits perfectly with Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn, but both are seriously askew from the source material. If you’re expecting a cartoony, mostly-innocent, sweet Harley, you are in for a barely-clad and fond-of-licking-things surprise. It feels like the filmmakers couldn’t quite decide whether or not Harley knows how much sexuality she’s putting out – is she a clownish killer stripper? Or a naive sociopath schoolgirl in a grown-up body?
Leto’s Joker defies description. He’s definitely put his own stamp on the character, but whether that’s good or not depends on the viewer. He wisely doesn’t try to mimic past renditions of the Clown Prince of Crime, but he also wanders far enough away from them that it sometimes feels as though he’s not even playing the same character.
Smith owns Deadshot, who is the central character with the most backstory and most significant character arc in the film. He’s a master of deadpan comedy, and often the straight man for his teammates’ comedic stylings. Smith makes Deadshot both likable and badass.
“Suicide Squad” is a film that makes it tricky to predict whether someone will like it or not. If you dislike DC’s gritty aesthetic, stay away – the humor here doesn’t overcome the (often literal) darkness. On the other hand, if you just want to watch some action, there’s plenty of it here. This is a strange flick.