Is it too late to get writer/director David Ayer to take over Justice League?
In the aftermath of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world just got a lot more dangerous, and cooperative heroes are in short supply. Shady government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has been working on a solution: repurpose a team of known bad guys to secretly take down worse threats. There’s just three problems with this. First, Waller may not have as much control as she thinks she does; cue the sinister music. Second, her “suicide squad” is looking for opportunities to turn the tables on their overlords, preferring the leadership of villain Deadshot (Will Smith) over a designated military yes-man. Third, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is on the team, and the Joker (Jared Leto) doesn’t like to share.
In a summer season full of box office misses and underperformers, Warner Bros. is still holding out hope they can get their DC Cinematic Murderverse (DCCM) buzzing by showcasing their rogue’s gallery. Based on the comic of the same name, it seemed to be a good idea, but with complaint-heavy Dawn of Justice behind them and Wonder Woman still almost a year away, the pressure is on to not only make money but create a fan base as rabid as Marvel’s to ensure future feature films have a waiting audience. While early reviews may be savaging the movie before most DC and comic movie fans can sample the goods, Suicide Squad succeeds far more than it fails, especially when compared to its 2016 theatrical peers.
Waller, Deadshot, Harley, and Joker are the featured players here, but the entire cast revels in their villainy. Lesser bad guys like Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang contribute more to the group dynamic between battles than featured in any fight (which is a bit of a shame). There’s also some superhero action, too — hey, somebody had to catch these baddies, right? The banter between characters is effective and fun, an aspect sorely missed in BvS:DoJ. The key dynamic is between Waller, probably the biggest villain of all as a master manipulator, and Deadshot, a family man who justifies his assassin status being paid by bad guys to kill other bad guys (which is still against the law). While not as front and center, the relationship between Harley and her Joker is something we haven’t seen before on the big screen: they actually need each other, so it’s not just “The Joker Show.” It provides Margot Robbie the opportunity to play Harley with a range that some actors wait their entire lives for, but it also meant holding back the Joker to an almost guest-star role; the full-on Joker will probably turn up in the first Ben Affleck Batman film to follow in the near future, and Leto looks like he’s got a good take on the Clown Prince of Crime.
Unfortunately, a good chunk of the first act is spent introducing and reintroducing these characters, and that’s in addition to the flashbacks a-plenty strewn throughout; it feels like middle managers were demanding writer/director David Ayer make damn sure no audience member was left behind. Fortunately, the back stories and character wordplay distract us from a stock plot that is practically identical to the far-less forgivable X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. (quick: everyone stand in a badass pose for the entire second act!) Even the impending-world-destruction-effect is used mostly as a backdrop; the characters even pointed out where they’ll eventually end up one way or another to fight the boss monster — in true video game fashion.
If being jacked-up with a sub-dermal remotely activated decapitating explosive to force the villains to cooperate wasn’t enough (although the Deadlock exploding neck-popper trope is getting really tired at this point), the Joker turns up periodically to save his Harley, throwing another random monkey wrench into the proceedings anytime things look like they’re winding down. If all of this seems over the top, it actually is: a simple plot overcomplicated so the main character villains can be just as surprised as the viewers and wow us with one close call after another.
In the end, each villain gets a moment to shine as well as a chance to work together before the credits roll (and stay for an early mid-credit extra scene). So why all the early hate for Suicide Squad? It introduces actual magic into the DCCM — something Marvel keeps implying is merely “super-advanced science” — as well as suggests that many other meta-humans exist for both good and evil. The plot is nothing more than a reason to get these criminals together and have something to do, and it does that well enough. With only Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to serve as examples of what the DCCM considers a compelling storyline, all boss super villains apparently have a contractual obligation to destroy the world (or convert it or pummel it or whatever). Of the three films thus far, Suicide Squad is the most interesting: a nihilistic adventure comedy. Sure, it tones the violence down for the summer carnage to PG-13, but hey, that’s what director’s cuts are for.
(a three skull recommendation of four)