At the New York premiere of the highly-anticipated, much-hyped DC comic-book based film, Suicide Squad, director David Ayer was rather boisterous. “Fuck Marvel!” he said during his opening remarks. (He apologized later on Twitter). What this comment shows is how the rivalry between DC and Marvel has propelled the superhero action genre ever higher: bigger budgets, higher profile actors (hell, award-winning actors), and better effects.
DC has fought to keep up with Marvel. The latter has shattered this year’s box office records with Captain America: Civil War – the highest grossing film of the year worldwide so far. DC’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is fourth on the list, despite being roasted by critics (including this one). Now, Warner Bros. pits DC’s Suicide Squid – with its super-villain anti-heroes – against Marvel’s other superb hit this year, Deadpool. Pre-ticket sales for DC’s hopeful blockbuster has exceeded Deadpool. We’ll see after this weekend.
In Suicide Squad, some of Marvel’s best-known villains are forced into a covert government agency called A.R.G.U.S. headed by the no-nonsense, I’ll-do-what-it-takes-even-if-it’s-underhanded, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). She selects the worst of the worst to help her take down a new threat posed by a powerful witch, The Enchantress, who’s taken up residence in the body of archaeologist June Moon (Cara Delevingne). What to do? Get the baddies to fight other baddies in exchange for lighter prison sentences.
This ‘suicide squad’ includes uber-assassin, Deadshot (Will Smith), demon-possessed human firelighter, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), no-description-needed Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Australian super-thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the batshit crazy girlfriend of villain of villains, The Joker (Jared Leto). Of course the group is less than happy about the idea of being ‘good’. But if you have an explosive chip in your head that’s controlled Amanda Waller, then well, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Suicide Squad is intended to be lighter and more fun than Dawn of Justice (which failed in its attempt at a noir-ish jab at the genre). The former is certainly flashy and quirky. But only Harley Quinn really gives the viewer the bit of wicked joy one would expect. The Joker is a severely underutilized character, lacking screen time, which is just bizarre considering how Jared Leto was punted in trailers and media conferences ahead of the release. Leto described in detail his method acting and the difficulties of filling the late Heath Ledger’s shoes in playing one of the most complex and interesting villains ever. Fair enough, The Joker’s not part of the squad itself, but aside from a few scenes in which he plans to save his twisted lover, he’s barely there. Why tease and promise a main course of this marvelous and complex character and then only give the audience an appetizer?
Many critics have nailed Suicide Squad to the cross, some going as far as saying it’s worse than Dawn of Justice. That’s a step too far. Suicide Squad is entertaining enough, but I struggled to take The Enchantress seriously. It’s not Cara Delevingne’s fault. It’s the character. And the attempt to create nuanced brigands with ‘softer sides’ is unconvincing and frankly, misplaced.
The visuals are interesting and the villains’ costumes and makeup are particularly good, so it’s worth watching on IMAX. The soundtrack is a great rock, hip-hop, alternative mix including “Purple Lamborghini” by Skrillex & Rick Ross, “You Don’t Own Me” (featuring G-Eazy), Panic! at the Disco’s rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Eminem’s “Without Me” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”.
Fun but unmemorable.
Writer/Director: David Ayer (Fury, Training Day, The Fast and the Furious)
Cast: Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Will Smith, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne
Rating: 3 out of 5
SA release date: 5 August 2016