Suicide squad is an odd choice for DC comics’ third shared universe movie. Marvel cleverly introduced all its marquee heroes one by one, building a fan base, before moving onto less well known properties like Guardians of the Galaxy. We've yet to have a solo Batman movie in this universe let alone a Wonder Woman or The flash yet here we are with a relatively niche DC franchise. It's even more of a risk considering the critical mauling Batman v Superman received earlier in the year. Whether or not it was a risk worth taking will be discussed later, but for now: who and what is the Suicide Squad?
Originally created by Robert Kanigher and Russ Andru in the silver age, the first incarnation was a fairly standard government ops team with no superpowers that dealt with world threats. Fairly unremarkable and none too popular it was pretty short lived. The version of the Suicide Squad, or Task Force X, that the film is based around is the second adaptation created in 1987 by writer John Ostrander. He envisioned a government run covert ops team made up of supervillains, deemed disposable and sent on missions deemed too dangerous or risky to be involved publicly. The idea was revolutionary for its time, taking C and D list characters and producing one of the most critically acclaimed comics of the time. The film version of the squad takes its cue from the most recent, ‘new 52’, line up which saw the immensely popular Harley Quinn take a central role in the team. I'd guess they went with this line up as Harley Quinn means Joker, which in turn means Batman, which equals ticket sales. It's a clever way to offset the risk of putting such a little known property on screen so early in the DC universes lifespan.
The plot is a fairly standard fare. A member of the squad goes rogue very early on which culminates in a world-ending threat that the newly formed Task Force X gets sent in to deal with. By world ending threat I mean giant non-descript swirly thing in the sky which we have seen time and time again (see The Flash, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Ghostbusters, etc, etc).
It's strange that a film revolving around villains should have such a poor one at its core, but that's what we get with Cara Delevingne as Enchantress. Honestly, it's Razzie level. Elsewhere the film is more successful in its casting. Viola Davis gives a note perfect performance of the ruthless Amanda Waller, often proving herself just as dangerous as the criminals she is dealing with. Will Smith's role as assassin Deadshot is strong, and is really the film's lead. His character gets plenty of moments to shine and is nicely fleshed out - he would be a welcome return in further movies. Margot Robbie and Joel Kinnaman are also good in the supporting lead roles as the crazy Harley Quinn and the career soldier Rick Flagg, who clearly resents having to work with criminal scum. Sadly the rest of the team are background players and have very little to do throughout the film. If they make a sequel to this and replaced three quarters of the team you would barely notice, or care. This is especially a shame in two cases. The first is with Suicide Squad mainstay Captain Boomerang. A cowardly nasty character who is constantly looking to test Amanda Wallers ability to keep the team in check even at the expense of his fellow squad members' lives…in the comics that is. This Captain Boomerang is constantly in the background and feels like a real missed opportunity to add something interesting. The other character in question is, sadly, Jared Letos’ Joker. It was always going to be a tough act to follow the late Heath Ledger, but he really hasn't been helped here at all. Either he didn't have many scenes in the first place or they've ended up on the editing room floor, but while it seems harsh to judge his performance given such limited screentime, it certainly seems like he won't be challenging either Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson any time soon as the definitive Joker depiction.
Tonally the film is all over the map. With critical discord still ringing in Warner Brothers' executives' ears about the dark and depressing Batman v Superman, reshoots were put in motion in order to add humour and lighten the tone of the film. Unfortunately this sticks out a mile with naturally dark scenes intermittently being broken up with a joke. It's hugely jarring. If it's not the jokes, it's the crowbarred music tracks that seem more geared towards shifting some copies of the soundtrack than progressing and bettering the film. The editing and film structure is also appalling in the first third with whole cities becoming half destroyed and evacuated in the blink of an eye without you having seen anything.
While certainly not “the worst of the worst” (...see what I did there?) , Suicide Squad is a hard film to love. DC has a lot of work ahead to improve the quality of their movies, which is a shame given they probably have the strongest back catalog of quality material at the filmmakers disposal. This is the type of movie you watch, semi enjoy but wouldn't want to see again.
VERDICT: 2 out of 5
RECOMMENDED READING LIST
Suicide Squad Volume 1: Trial by Fire, by John Ostander
This is where the modern concept of Task Force X is born. Taking throw away C list villains, John Ostander created one of the must have comics of the 1980s. A must read.
Suicide Squad Volume 4: The Janus Directive, by John Ostander
The fourth volume of the seminal Ostrander run. To be honest you really should be reading them all but that would make a boring list so I promise this is the last. Amanda Waller uncovers a conspiracy, code named ‘the Janus Directive’ and it becomes clear that another government agency intends to make Task Force X a thing of the past.
Deadshot: Beginnings, by John Ostander
Spinning out of the Suicide Squad series comes this dark tale spotlighting the main man of Task Force X. Deadshot gets sent on a solo mission to kill a crime boss known only as El Jefe, only to learn that the men who sent him have ulterior motives. A cracking read.
Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories, by Paul Dini
This is really all about the Joker's main gal, Harley Quinn. Introduced originally in Batman the animated series, Harley was brought into DC comics continuity by creator Paul Dini. This book has a fantastic selection of stories featuring Miss Quinn amongst the Joker, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and many more.