If Suicide Squad were bad, it’d be the final nail in the DC Extended Universe’s coffin. Man of Steel was mediocre at best. Batman v Superman was a trash fire without the excitement. Is the third time the charm?
I am happy to report that Suicide Squad is not bad. It’s easily the best thing to come from the DCEU thus far. That may not sound like major praise, but the highs are dizzyingly entertaining and the lows aren’t overly frustrating.
It’s a movie of two halves: the first is a colorful extravaganza that showcases great performances and a committed comic book tone; the second leaves all that behind to focus on the story and accidentally shoves cheaply written dialogue to the forefront.
Suicide Squad explodes onto the screen like the first pages of a gleefully vicious graphic novel: skating over the background details quickly enough to establish the characters and with a focus on sucking you into a layered world.
The movie has a better understanding of what it means to exist in a comic book universe than anything DC (or Marvel!) has done lately. The land of Suicide Squad is one of vibrant immediacy: it’s obvious that the battle between heroes and villains has been raging on for a while now, but in a “this is fun history!” way and without drowning in Batman v Superman’s dreary mentality.
The beginning of the movie is so busy that the rest might feel boring by comparison. Every thirty or so seconds, a snippet of a famous song plays before suddenly switching to the next, as if the soundtrack consists of the iTunes samples of a greatest hits playlist. It’s schizophrenic, but that tone fits.
The first act is chock full of interactions between members of the titular squad that are alternately hilarious or enrapturing — partly because of director/writer David Ayer’s admirable dedication to the ridiculousness of the material he’s given; largely due to the choice cast.
I wish the trailers didn’t give away Suicide Squad’s greatest asset. It should be no surprise to anyone that Margot Robbie is the electrifying, crazy heart at the center of the movie in her performance as Harley Quinn. This is the first time the character has been portrayed outside of animation and it already cannot be topped. From wide-eyed wonderment to her enthralling madness, Robbie shoots the role full of a vivacity that hasn’t existed so definitively since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Speaking of the clown prince of crime: Jared Leto’s Joker barely has ten minutes of screen time, so there’s not a lot to dwell on concerning his performance. His voice belongs to Ledger’s Joker and his demeanor to Hamill’s, but Leto manages to bring a few fresh takes to the classic villain. He seems more calculated than previous iterations — more criminal than crazy; more intentional than insane — and Leto’s electric chemistry with Robbie adds a sexually deviant side to the Joker than invokes a new type of terror.
Also of note are Will Smith’s Deadshot — Smith’s sensitive nuance legitimately makes you forget the big name behind the antihero — and Viola Davis’ firm turn as a government agent who is too obviously a “society’s real villain” trope.
Suicide Squad’s first half finds fantastic success in letting these characters bounce off of one another. But when the final battles ensue and the amusing interplay makes way for the narrative, the film’s bare bones are exposed: David Ayer’s insipid writing. And then Suicide Squad stops short.
I’ve been skeptical of Ayer since his underwhelming and offensive World War II movie Fury. The man just cannot generate genuine connection between characters through dialogue. Other than Harley Quinn and the Joker, who feel written with special care, everyone talks to each other like personality-devoid macho men grunting their way through a video game. Ayer tries to pass the villains off as a tight knit family, but on the foundation of his forced writing, Suicide Squad inevitably falls flat on its face.
Character growth moments are not effective when they’re clearly marked as character growth moments.
Ending on a whimper but starting with a bang, Suicide Squad is sure to please fans of DC Comics and pique the interest of newcomers, but don’t expect the thrill to last forever.
★★★½ (3.5 out of 5)