[Editor’s Note: This review contains minor spoilers.]
Director/Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Will Smith, Jared Leto & Margot Robbie
Amanda Waller brings together a group of supervillains as a contingency plan for meta-human terrorist attacks.
The greatest strength of Suicide Squad is its cast. Director David Ayer brought together a wonderful group of actors that have engaging charisma on their own and amazing chemistry together. The standouts are Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. They both have a natural swagger that makes them insanely watchable and they work well together which had already been proven in last year’s Focus.
Deadshot is the character that works the most. He has the clearest story and is the heart of the piece. Like in the comics, there is a duality of trying to be a good father contrasted with the side of his personality that, as Floyd puts it, is “a piece of sh*t.” That’s the appeal of Deadshot as a character and the film nails it. Smith adds his usual charm and acting chops to the mix and the result is a fun and interesting character that you actually care about and want to follow despite his tendencies to let his personality show through.
Harley Quinn is a tough character to write outside of Batman: The Animated Series. She could easily have ended up being the worst thing about the film but she works remarkably well. Ayer gives her a bit of agency in this that makes her story a lot more engaging. She’s not as much of a victim anymore. It’s implied if not outright stated that she is crazier than the Joker to the extent that I don’t think Joker had to push or manipulate her all that much. She already had a few screws loose by the time she met Joker. And she chooses to become Harley Quinn. Joker doesn’t trick her or force her in any way. He allows her to make the choice. There is also an interesting power play between Joker and Harley. Joker is just as infatuated with Harley as she is with him. He’s obsessed; he can’t seem to do anything without her. That is endlessly fascinating and I like this dynamic between them more than any that I’ve seen before whether in animation or in comics. Robbie is tremendous in the role with endless energy, a wonderful voice and sincerity. That last one is the key to Harley. She is crazy and evil but still a human being. Robbie adds those nice touches and it really brings Harley to life.
Cara Delevingne is wonderful as the Enchantress. She really has to play three characters. There is June Moon, a very shy archaeologist. And then there are almost two different versions of the Enchantress. One is what you see in the trailers. She’s almost animalistic and very unnerving. But there is also a more regal version of the Enchantress. She’s more commanding, charismatic and confident. Body language is Delevingne’s strength here. She has a distinct way of moving with all three versions that really sets them apart in a convincing manner and Delevingne is great in all three roles.
Deadshot describes Amanda Waller as gangster and there really isn’t a better word for her. Waller is ruthless, intelligent and Viola Davis gives a perfect performance. She has both the gravitas and the attitude to make this the scariest character in the movie.
Joel Kinnaman is very likable as Rick Flag. He has a natural presence that really sells him as a leader. Flag and Deadshot have a really fun dynamic in the film. They are very much two sides of the same coin. Flag is the Batman to Deadshot’s Joker.
I will try to be more brief with the rest of the cast. Karen Fukuhara plays Katana and is a stone cold badass and very convincing and believable. Fukuhara does get one emotional moment in the film that is a stand out for me and she plays it wonderfully. Jai Courtney is endlessly hilarious as Captain Boomerang. Jay Hernandez gives a very nice, understated performance as El Diablo that is not only a nice contrast to the others but a genuine surprise. I didn’t think the character would get much screen time but he is nicely characterized and I ended up liking him.
The film handles the universe building much more effectively than the previous films. The cameos and references feel natural and don’t distract from the movie in any way. They’re exciting moments but they make sense. The story also naturally builds from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and nicely sets up Justice League in a subtle manner that doesn’t hit you over the head with a sink.
The villain of the piece has a plan that I like quite a bit. The character aims to take out the military in order to rule the world. While the characters, mainly Deadshot, say that the villain is destroying the world, that really isn’t what’s happening. The character simply wants to rule and forms a plan using Waller to take out the military. I like that idea even though I think a lot more could have been done in terms of social commentary that would have made the movie much more interesting. The villain is very entertaining, though.
A lot of the movie is unexplained. Things are stated in a manner of fact that you just have to accept such as Katana’s Soultaker sword. There is no explanation for that; it just is. I think that’s awesome but it is going to bother the crap out of people. The big one for me deals with the villain. The character says the plan is to build a machine that will take out the world’s armies. Without spoilers, it is not a machine and I have no idea how it works or what it is doing. When the critics are complaining about the plot, I bet this machine is what they’re talking about because Ayer does not even try to explain it. Maybe he did and the scenes were cut. It actually doesn’t bother me that much. I am more interested in character than plot. If I like the characters, and I love these ones, I can easily forgive unexplained or nonsensical plot elements because I care about the people.
There is a romantic relationship between June Moon and Rick Flag that needed a lot more screen time. The actors needed at least one scene to just be a couple so that I could see why they were together. We are told that they are in love but never get to see it outside of weird dreams and a couple of really quick moments of exposition. The movie could have hit a lot harder if we cared about that relationship. As it stands, the relationship is only there to justify why Flag doesn’t immediately walk out on this crazy plan.
Some of the sound mixing is really off. There were scenes in which the music was so loud, I couldn’t hear the dialogue. The best example of this is a scene in a club between Joker, Harley and Common’s character, Monster T. I could not understand a single word that Monster T said and I only barely understood Joker and Harley. The music is overbearing in some scenes that distract more than help. It’s mostly okay but the moments where it is not really stand out.
I did not particularly care for Jared Leto’s version of the Joker. When I left the theater, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t like him but I think I figured it out. Leto’s Joker leaves absolutely no impression. He is not scary nor is he funny. As I said earlier, I do like his dependence on Harley but that’s all there is to him. This is the most boring Joker I’ve ever seen. I’m curious if scenes were cut for the PG-13 rating because I have no idea why Leto had to get so intense in the behind the scenes stories because his character isn’t remotely intense. It never even feels like the Joker which is a shame because Leto is a great actor and Joker is a great character. I can only assume that his better scenes were either cut or re-shot (hopefully).
At the end of the day, this movie is entertaining. I had a blast watching it and will gladly see it multiple times throughout my life because it’s a good time. There are things I don’t like about it and I hope that there is an extended cut that fixes some of the issues I had because it does feel like some material is missing. But, the characters are interesting and/or entertaining with wonderful performances that only make them better. The action is fun, Ayer and director of photography Roman Vasyanov give it a unique look and I was excited. I highly recommend seeing the film in theaters. I love this movie.