Suicide Squad begins with a montage of exposition. More specifically, it begins with multiple montages of exposition. Deadshot (Will Smith) is exactly what he sounds like: a hitman who never misses. But he also has a chip on his shoulder because he was taken away from his daughter. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is an ex-doctor turned Joker (Jared Leto) sidekick. And then there are a couple other baddies thrown in for good measure.
The United States government’s goal is to use these villains to provide some checks and balances against superheroes who could turn against mankind. For whatever reason, they feel supervillains rigged with failsafe bombs in case anything goes awry are more reliable than a Batman (Ben Affleck) who probably eats the bones of branded baddies for breakfast.
The best adjective to describe Suicide Squad is frenetic, and this is both a benefit and a detriment to the film. Songs change every two minutes. Shots jump cut to other, neon-colored shots. Action sequences are flashing lights of gunfire. It is a purposeful frenzy, sure, and it makes sense for the subject matter. Still, it can’t help but come across as grating as the film progresses, even if it initially works as an attempt at a live-action comic book feel.
In terms of embodying the pure anarchy of the characters, Robbie and Leto also do a good job at bringing that comic book feel to the screen. In a DC cinematic landscape where characters are portrayed on-screen as grim and dour, it is nice to see Harley Quinn and the Joker as comic book characters and not simply the next victim in the monochromatic DCEU.
This said, it is hard to truly judge the merits of Leto’s Joker performance given his cursory role in the film’s proceedings. The idiosyncrasies he brings to the character are new for Joker on film, but there is little meat here to dissect.
Smith provides the most interesting character and one of the better performances of the film. But it is Robbie who brings the most charisma to the screen, her gleefully nihilistic Quinn a welcome levity to the DCEU. It is hard to dive into the acting choices of much of the rest of the eponymous Squad given none of them really have characters, save for the thin thread that Jay Hernandez’ Diablo receives.
The action sequences are perhaps the least engaging aspect of the film, comprised of mowing down drone armies with uninspired choreography. What is more interesting is the interactions between the characters, but these relationships are merely established. Scenes of conversation are spliced in with the promise of creating a well-formed team through character building, but these scenes instead lead us to very little. What we are left with is a third act that is a blur of action with stakes that are hard to invest in given how little we care about the Suicide Squad as a unit.
Given its eclectic cast of characters, Suicide Squad could have been—should have been—a witty, action-packed Summer popcorn movie. Instead, it is a messy, slapdash attempt at such a movie. The acting may be worth noting, and it does bring forth wit at times. But the action is stale. There is an intriguing mythology hinted at throughout the film in terms of these characters, but what we receive feels like only an introduction, the tip of an iceberg with a good movie hiding underneath the surface.
Just as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) struggles with two identities, Suicide Squad is a frantic hodgepodge of a film with a good film trapped inside it struggling to get free. This duality accounted for, the film is still the best DCEU movie on a pure entertainment level. Its pacing and lightness makes it a more enjoyable moviegoing experience than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, even if it leaves desperately needed structure and continuity on the cutting room floor in order to accomplish this feat.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)