Directed by: David Ayer || Produced by: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Screenplay by: David Ayer || Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne
Music by: Steven Price || Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov || Edited by: John Gilroy || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 123 minutes
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad originated as a third-tier, off-beat project meant to bolster the burgeoning DC Extended Universe (DCEU), which started official development not long after Man of Steel (MoS, 2013) and the announcement of the DCEU label. After the divisive reaction to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) put the controversy of MoS to shame, Warner Bros. scrambled to hone their development team behind the franchise, going so far as to create an entire subdivision, DC Films, much like Marvel Studios as a standalone company within Walt Disney. Suicide Squad subsequently moved into the spotlight once pressure had shifted from Dawn of Justice, and after a whirlwind of wacky promotional material that would make Deadpool (2016) proud, the hype-machine went into overdrive.
This is not a post to discuss the possible fan, critic, or audience biases toward either Marvel or DC, nor will I comment on the philosophical worth of a website devoted to reducing critical consensus to a tomato; I could talk all day about the merits (or lack thereof) of those topics. All controversy aside, David Ayer’s Hot-Topic inspired gangster-piece delivers on the black humor, bizarre ensemble chemistry, creepy tone, and pop soundtrack promised in its extensive trailers. Comparisons to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) installment, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), are appropriate given both films’ off-beat source material and “lovable loser” archetypes, yet the tones of each film and their visual aesthetics couldn’t be more different.
Despite some rough editing here and there, as well as several misplaced flashbacks (I’m assuming another, less comprehensive director’s cut is on the way?), Suicide Squad feels like a full-fledged David Ayer auteur-project. In hindsight this makes sense, given how the project is both written and directed by him, and the marketing conveyed a tone consistent with his previous endeavors; still, I worried the “cinematic universe” pressures of Hollywood might squash his identity.
Depending on your stylistic preferences, this film could fly either way for you. Suicide Squad feels like a hybrid of the critically panned Sabotage (2014) and the critically beloved End of Watch (2012). The movie recombines various components of rural and urban American crime dramas, a kitchen sink-blend of everything from Blue Ruin (2013) to Training Day (2000) to Deliverance (1972). David Ayer’s distinctive style is nothing if not unique, but whether it connects with you is something else entirely. Again, sort of like Hot Topic.
The first thing to discuss is the cast: Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen), Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), and the Joker (Jared Leto) are all excellent. Everyone works well together and plays off each other’s one-liners. The cast and their endless humor (much of it visual) consistently save the film whenever its choppy editing or awkward dream sequences threaten to spoil the fun. Folks worried about another dour, nihilistic, existential epic in the vein of Dawn of Justice need not worry. Moreover, principle characters Deadshot, Quinn, and Flag all have respectable, if not emotional, arcs.
That being said, Suicide Squad is anything but standard-issue as far as humor is concerned. Ayer distributes his weird, dark comedy ad infinitum from the characters’ costumes and makeup to the grimy sets to the almost slapstick violence. Some of this falls flat, like much of Cara Delevingne’s June Moon/Enchantress, but the titular squad themselves are hilarious, as are Viola Davis’ almost crime lord-esque government agent and her numerous prison guard cronies. To be frank, this film’s idea of a “joke,” is Davis gunning down three underlings without warning and Will Smith replying, “Well, that’s gangster.” Much of the film’s running gags are character quirks and inane babbling, the best of which pop up in the well choreographed action scenes. If you are expecting standard dialogue-based jokes with loaded punch-lines, forced quips, random pop culture references, or bathroom humor, you are going to be disappointed.
Now for the negatives: The film relies too much on inappropriately placed flashbacks to illustrate character backstories and motivations. None of these backstories are uninteresting, but their editing within the greater narrative could use a do-over, and hint at substantial studio meddling. The film feels like it has certain chunks missing, most notably of the Joker’s subplot. Jared Leto is amusing when he’s on-screen, but his role in this film is ancillary at best. The film is lean and tightly paced at 123 minutes, which on the one hand, is appreciated given how so many tentpole blockbusters stretch themselves to 2.5 hours and beyond.
Suicide Squad’s other weakness concerns elements of its action scenes. While Ayer directs action well, and he continues the DCEU trend of shooting PG-13 violence without making it feel PG-13, he relies too much on close-ups and medium shots during the hand-to-hand combat sequences. The shootouts are chaotic and intense, and it’s fun to watch Harley Quinn beat faceless minions to a pulp with her baseball bat, but a decent amount of shots hide the choreography because they’re too damned close to the action.
Much has been made of the film’s soundtrack, but in my opinion, most of it used effectively. It fits the visuals and adds further energy to the action, the character moments, and especially the montage sequences. It’s an eclectic mix of alternative, pop, and hip hop, and stays away from the 1970’s for the most part. My only complaints have to do with the sheer volume of songs used, five or six of which are cycled through in the film’s opening fifteen minutes.
All things considered, Suicide Squad is vintage David Ayer and delivers on the dark, whimsical flavors promised in the dark, whimsical trailers. The film’s editing problems lend credence to the production’s alleged behind-the-scenes drama, but for my part, it doesn’t ruin the film by any means. You have no reason to be apprehensive about this film if the marketing hooked you, or if you enjoyed Ayer’s previous efforts.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: I’m a big fan of David Ayer’s stylized blend of redneck and gangster aesthetics, and that weird, fucked-up flavor returns in force for his latest feature. Suicide Squad boasts career-highlight performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, whose characters have emotional arcs to match. Ancillary performances from Jay Hernandez and Viola Davis are added bonuses, but it’s the soundtrack and gangster violence that are the film’s real treats. Altogether, the film is respectable in its love for Hot Topic-tackiness.
— However… the film’s editing issues should be acknowledged, and imply numerous scenes were retrofitted to serve as awkward flashbacks. Some dream sequences fall flat, as do several odd close-ups in action sequences and a handful of unnecessary song-choices. One can’t help but feel that Jared Leto’s performance is a carryover from another movie altogether.
–> ON THE FENCE: People who dislike Ayer’s style or are expecting a sizable Joker supporting performance may balk, but for all others, Suicide Squad’s eclectic audiovisual palette at the very least beckons a theme of originality that much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lacks.
? Skwad out.