Movie review: Great performance bolsters ‘Suicide Squad’
–DC Comics is working hard to catch up to its chief rival, Marvel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe began in 2008, with “Iron Man,” and is now 13 movies deep. DC started its own universe in 2013 with the re-boot of Superman in “Man of Steel.”
Earlier this year came “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a clash of the two biggest heroes in the world and the expansion of what DC hopes will be its own cinematic universe. But the tone was grim, and audience reaction was mixed. In the wake of that, word came that the movies in the DC universe would be lighter and more fun moving forward.
Enter “Suicide Squad,” the next entry in this universe and the latest hope for a film that will deeply connect with audiences. Ironically, “Suicide Squad” has drawn comparisons to another Marvel film — “Guardians of the Galaxy” — that was noted for being about traditional bad guys forming a team, becoming the good guys and saving the day to a kicking sound track. There are elements of that in “Suicide Squad,” but like everything else in this new DC world it doesn’t live up to the hype.
The film is based on a famous comic in the DC world. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a brutally honest and unemotional government agent who makes a radical suggestion — use the biggest villains as a super team to safeguard national security. She’s already collected these villains at an off-the-books prison in Louisiana and simply seeks the go ahead to put her program into motion.
When that approval comes, she sets about creating a team out of a collection of vicious parts. Her team is led by Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a decorated Special Forces operative who Waller is able to manipulate into taking this assignment. Together, they make the pitch to this rag-tag group of criminals.
The team includes Deadshot (Will Smith), a deadly assassin, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a meta-human with a crocodile-like appearance and tendencies, Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gang banger with a fiery special ability, and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a brutal and vicious thief. But the secret weapon, and biggest wild card, is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker’s psychotic girlfriend.
While the team gets to know each other, and the deadly consequences if they don’t play ball, the world faces a new threat from The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient sorceress that Waller intended to use, but who managed to rebel. Also looming as a threat is The Joker (Jared Leto), who’s determined to rescue his lady love.
There is a lot going on in “Suicide Squad.” The film has to serve as a traditional origin story, but for a group of disparate characters that many audiences are not familiar with. But the film also carries an enormous weight of expectation. Fans have been excited to see this adapted for a while, and DC is desperate to find an entry in their new cinematic universe that really connects with audiences.
Before “Suicide Squad” was even released rumors began that the film was forced to undergo re-shoots and tonal shifts to make it more fun and light. Then came a wave of savage critical reviews and push back from the cast and crew, especially writer/director David Ayer, before the film’s release. So it was fair to go in not knowing what to expect.
What I saw in “Suicide Squad” was not as bad as the reviews suggest and certainly not as good as what DC and fans had hoped. The movie is OK, it’s entertaining and it’s arguably a slight step up from “Batman v. Superman.” But it’s not nearly as compelling or well crafted as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the film it’s most oft compared to. There are parts that drag, parts that don’t make sense and for much of the film it’s obvious that there was tension and re-working behind the scenes. I am hoping this film gets a director’s cut that, perhaps, will showcase a slightly different vision for the story.
But I haven’t come to bury this film. In a summer that’s been underwhelming in terms of blockbuster quality, “Suicide Squad” is hardly the worst entry. Again, it’s entertaining and, at times, quite fun. And a lot of that is thanks to one person — Robbie.
Leto got a lot of the publicity as The Joker because the last person to inhabit that role — Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” — won an Academy Award. Leto is sufficiently weird and creepy in the role, taking it in a new direction that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t in the film. But it’s his frequent screen partner, Robbie as Harley Quinn, that holds the whole thing together. She is nothing short of fantastic, is easily the best part of the film and might be the only reason the movie works.
I don’t say this lightly, but what Robbie does with the role — which completely elevates the performance above the material — should be strongly considered for Best Supporting Actress. If nothing else, I came away from the film hoping we get to see her Harley Quinn in another, perhaps better, film. The movie is worth seeing just for her crazy, compelling work.
“Suicide Squad” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.
Two stars out of four.