HEAD TO HEAD REVIEW: Suicide Squad (P1 – Connor’s Verdict)

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Over the course of two feature length reviews, Connor Johnston and Mike Riviere will be going head to head and sharing their own views on one of the most anticipated and divisive films of 2016: Suicide Squad

“The world changed when Superman flew across the sky. And it changed again when he didn’t.”

For the second time this year and the third time since 2013’s “Man of Steel”, Warner Brothers and DC Films have released an eagerly anticipated film – only to have it met with an outburst of mixed and negative reviews from critics labelling it as anything from ‘the best comic book movie ever made’ to (more popularly) ‘a chaotic, messy and bloated disappointment’. It is unclear if the DCEU will ever escape this perpetual cycle of poor press, but what is clear is that if its opening weekend is anything to go by, “Suicide Squad” has found victory where it counts, both financially and in the eyes of the vast majority of everyday movie-goers and comic book fans. I’m not going to engage in any debates today about the value of critics, nor speculate about a supposed conspiracy against the DCEU – but simply emphasise the importance of forming your own opinion free from pre-conceived biases, and stress how critics are only individuals trying to do the same.

“Suicide Squad” reminded me of what it felt like to go to a film simply for the sake of enjoying it. Following a group of antiheroes assembled by US Intelligence Officer Amanda Waller, the movie is one of the first of its kind to feature a group of villains as the main protagonists – with an approach that feels remarkably unique among an ever growing mass of superhero films, while still acknowledging its ties to the cinematic universe it builds upon. “Suicide Squad” is not without its flaws, however it benefits greatly from a contagious energy that offers audiences the chance to divulge in pure, unadulterated joy.

“I want to assemble a task force of the most dangerous people on the planet, who I think can do some good.”

Without question, the chemistry and larger than life personalities that exist within the squad itself prove to be the film’s greatest strength. Leading the charge are Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who somehow manage to exceed the incredibly high expectations associated with the characters of Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Simply put, Robbie just is Harley Quinn – capturing the spunk, insanity, romance and horror of such an icon with ease. Her ability to simultaneously channel both Quinn’s violent madness, and her tortured soul to assert the strength of her character, is remarkably impressive and without question one of the highlights of the film. Smith too overcomes any pre-conceived criticism of his casting by portraying a Deadshot that is as every bit human as he is deadly. Morals and values are not things one would usually associate with an assassin, however Smith manages to ensure audiences connect and empathise instantly with his character without cheapening his presence and brutality.

Similarly, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is served well throughout the film; with a fan-pleasing backstory, a plethora of witty one-liners and an all round lovable attitude establishing him as a favourite among audiences. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo is also a surprise highlight, banking on a strong internal conflict to give his character a certain depth that one struggles to find in most supporting roles. The remaining three members of the squad each struggle to make as much of an incredible impression; with Adam Beach’s Slipknot essentially having not so much a role but more that of a glorified extra, while Karen Fukuhara’s Katana and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc both benefit from one or two memorable character moments, but mainly prove their worth in contributing to the scale of the larger action scenes. Finally, Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg form an almost unbreakable authority with which to control the squad, using a mix of intimidation and pure force to assert their dominance throughout the events of the film.

“If you want us to be together, don’t pull the trigger.”

One area where I’ve always felt that DC films have performed better than their industry counterparts is in terms of achieving a tonal balance that both entertains and stirs their audiences – and in this department “Suicide Squad” is no exception. It is no secret that the level at which “Suicide Squad” excels in terms of humour and action creates a new benchmark for superhero films, however, what is surprising is the fact that the movie also manages to be quite emotionally layered. From Deadshot’s relationship with his daughter, to Diablo’s heartbreaking backstory, Harley Quinn’s destructive yet ironically touching relationship with the Joker to Rick Flagg’s unwavering devotion to June Moon, “Suicide Squad” makes no sacrifices in terms of its own impact. This reaches its climax towards the end of the film in a stunning scene that sees the Enchantress tempt each member of the squad – who are all individually emotionally tortured – with their deepest desires, highlighting above all else their common humanity.

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“Talk about a workplace romance gone wrong…They became the King and Queen of Gotham City, and God help anyone disrespecting the Queen.”

One of my main concerns heading into the film was the amount of screen time that would be given to Jared Leto’s interpretation of the Joker, given how prominently he featured in the movie’s promotional material, and (logically) how little he should feature in a movie based primarily around the Suicide Squad. Fortunately, due to both the genius of Director David Ayer and the considered ability of Leto, we are presented with an interpretation of the Joker that makes such a strong and memorable mark on the film without an overwhelming amount of screen time. As I mentioned before, the many insights into his relationship with Harley Quinn are used incredibly well, and are only made more effective by how sparingly they are featured. Similarly, the references and brief appearances of Justice League members Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen work incredibly well to establish a significance and functioning relationship between the various films within the DC Extended Universe.

“If you have to choose between me and her…kill me.”

If there is one main area in which the film slightly loses its grasp, it would have to be regarding the film’s main antagonists: The Enchantress and her slightly less memorable brother, The Incubus. The issues with the Enchantress forming the main threat for the film stem from a few structural issues that exist within the movie’s narrative that don’t allow for enough explanation and build-up for her motivations, as well as a slight blip in the movie’s pacing which causes the scale and intensity of her earlier actions to be lost on the audience. Despite my initial thoughts that occurred during the movie, I don’t believe that Cara Delevingne was miscast as “The Enchantress”, however I do feel that it was a mistake to award the huge responsibility to both an actress and a character that the movie didn’t seem prepared to invest in. Physicality is where Delevingne finds most of her merit, with much of the success of the final battle put down to her presence and ability to serve as a threat to such a great number of anti-heroes at once.

“Don’t forget…We’re the bad guys.”

Being an individual who loves when films take the time to delve into the mindsets of its characters and embed striking political undertones, as well as being someone who absolutely adored “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice”, with only one viewing (as yet) to go on I would have to say that personally I did prefer 2016’s first DCEU movie to Suicide Squad – but only just. Ultimately, there really isn’t much merit in inciting competition between the three DCEU movies so far given that they each build off the success of each other – and make no mistake, regardless of the less-than-encouraging critic reception, “Suicide Squad” is an astounding success.

Main Positives:

  • Cast; notably Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez
  • Music
  • Energy
  • Direction
  • Tonal Balance
  • Relationship to the DCEU

Needs Improvement:

  • Antagonist’s Motivations
  • 15 chaotic minutes in the middle of the film that pose a threat to its pacing
  • Some characters requiring an increased amount of screen time/backstory to prove their worth

 

Connor Johnston

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