6 Aug 2016

Screen Time: SUICIDE SQUAD

SUICIDE SQUAD
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez
Director: David Ayer
Runtime: 123 minutes
Rating: 15
Release Date: 5th August 2016

James R: The latest comic book adaptation to hit cinema screens shares much in common with its DC Films predecessor, the much derided Batman V Superman. That movie arrived carrying a weight of expectation following an aggressive marketing campaign, and immediately fell foul of a critical battering, which certainly shook the suits at Warner Bros. It's been a similar story for Suicide Squad; it may have started life as a conceptually smaller film than Batman V Superman, but fan anticipation for the film was jacked up by some great trailers... and it has now received an equally large critical kicking too.

So I settled down to watch Suicide Squad with an open mind, but a real sense of trepidation - I was one of those people who felt that Batman V Superman was a car crash of a movie, with virtually no redeeming features, and I feared that history was about to repeat itself. Two hours and change later, I left feeling entertained, but aware that another DC movie has fallen short of what it could be.

As a concept, Suicide Squad should work perfectly - the trope is one which has been used across genres and mediums for a long time now: gather together a series of idiosyncratic personalities, force them to act as a team and then set them off on a mission. Cinema alone in the last decade has seen Inglourious Basterds, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven all follow this pattern. As a result, it's an idea that's tough to get badly wrong. On reflection, David Ayer doesn't get it wrong, but it's clear that reshoots, and interference from on high at Warners have left us with a movie that's very different from how it was originally envisioned.

Despite the reshoots, and the alleged 'two cuts' of the movie, David Ayer certainly gets some of the elements just right. I've seen it attacked in some reviews, but his introduction to the Squad via a series of TV-recap style vignettes worked really well for me - it gave the impression that there were a whole slew of movies that we'd missed out on, and set up the cast quickly and effectively. That's not to say it's flawless however: Harley Quinn's introduction - and our introduction to Jared Leto's Joker - felt off-key, and was thrown into sharp contrast by how she's portrayed from the start of the 'mission' part of the movie; she's virtually a different character, but I'll come back to that.
The other great strength of Suicide Squad was it's cast. Will Smith brings proper movie star gravitas to Deadshot, Margot Robbie does a fine job as Harley Quinn when finally given the chance to perform (she even captures Arleen Sorkin's vocal intonations of Harley from her original, Batman: The Animated Series incarnation). Jay Hernandez also impressed as Diablo, the Squad's most reticent member, and Viola Davis totally commands the screen and convinces as Amanda Waller.

It's also pleasing to say that - for the most part - the movie makes sense. There's no convoluted Lex Luthor-esque plot, nor (mercifully) is there a 'Martha!' moment. However, there are scenes, and a particular aspect of the plot, that stand out so much that you can really see how the 'filmmaking by committee' from Warners has affected this movie. Even though Ayer is credited as the sole scriptwriter, it's impossible to believe that the script was the work of one man - at various points in the movie, characters shift allegiances and motivations seemingly at random, and as mentioned, in the case of Harley Quinn, she is virtually two distinct characters. It's also disappointing that the Squad aren't given enough time together. Ayer has shown he does team dynamics extremely well in his World War 2 tank movie Fury, but there's no real occasion for the squad to bond. The one scene where they do something approaching it is arguably the best thing in the movie, and gives us a glimpse as to how good this it could have been.

The film was also let down by the central pairing of Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and June Moore/The Enchantress (Carla Delevingne). Before filming of The Revenant overran, Tom Hardy was cast as Flagg, and I couldn't help but wonder how much better it would have been with him as the military man. Kinnaman and Delevingne have scant opportunity to convince they're a couple, and so Flagg's dedication to rescue Moore seems forced.
Finally, a word on Jared Leto's Joker. I am a believer in the idea that some of DC's characters are so iconic, there's room to portray them in lots of different ways, much as each individual actor chooses to interpret the role of Hamlet in the theatre. Leto portrays the Joker not as a megalomaniacal criminal mastermind, or as a twisted genius, but as a straight-up gangster; he's neither scary or charismatic enough to leave his mark on the film, and rather than being an explosive element to the story, he's more an annoying distraction.

In fact, the Joker's involvement is a fine example of the problem with Suicide Squad as a whole - a great idea let down by the need to 'overstuff' the movie. That said, I can't deny that as a comics fanboy I enjoyed watching Suicide Squad (and that's certainly more than I can say for Batman V Superman) but given the potential and the talent involved in this, it's sadly nowhere near being the triumph it could be. After three movies the DC cinematic universe is still struggling to find the right tone and feel - all eyes are now on a certain Amazonian Princess to prove she's a cinematic wonder. Time will tell if the Suicide Squad get a second mission. I actually hope they do - I think the cast warrants another adventure, one with just a single commander calling the shots. 6/10

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