(Some Kind of) Suicide Squad

Director: David Ayer (2016)
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto
Find it: IMDB

A gang of murderers, reluctant heroes and psychopaths team up to (reluctantly) save the world from mysterious supernatural forces which threaten to destroy it, brooding a lot and constantly threatening each other in the process. But enough about Justice League, which isn't even out yet. Before that, another gang of murders, reluctant heroes and psychopaths team up to (reluctantly) save the world from mysterious supernatural forces which threaten to destroy it. But do they brood a lot and constantly threaten each other in the process? Well they do a bit - but mostly, they seem to like each other a lot more than the actual Justice League so far.

Task Force X, aka, the Suicide Squad: a ragtag band of captured supervillains, forced into collaboration with the government in exchange for mildly commuted sentences. Master assassin Deadshot (Will Smith, fun again), Joker's squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie nut Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), cannibal mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, so hidden under prosthetics that it may as well be anyone), human fireball Diablo (a literally unrecognisable Jay Hernandez) and, um, expert climber Slipknot (Adam Beach), who doesn't even rate an introduction until about twenty minutes into the film. Together with minders Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and sword lady Katana (Karen Fukuhara) the team are dispatched to save a mysterious VIP from the ground zero of a supernatural event caused by all-powerful witch Enchantress (Cara Delevinge) and her CGI brother. Plus the Joker (Jared Leto) for some reason.

If introducing all of that takes up a whole lot of review time, now you know how it feels to watch the first half of Suicide Squad, which spends so long setting up characters that by the time the Squad are set to their mission, it feels like the film should be half over already. "What if Superman had decided to fly in, rip the roof off of the White House and grab the President right out of the Oval Office?' asks scary suit Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), continuing the theme of a DC cinematic universe in which Superman is such an unknowable dickhead that Batman and the government have to create contingency plans against him. Turns out that it's not Superman she needed worry about, but rather one of her own recruits, as Enchantress breaks loose to wreak havoc upon the world, creating an army of faceless zombies upon the ground and a giant portal to... something... in the sky.

Such is the plot, which is Guardians of the Galaxy meets Escape from New York, with DC characters and negative reviews. But is it as bad as all that? Certainly not, disjointed and unsure of itself as it is. The characters are fun (and funny) enough to carry the film all by themselves, the one-liners and tunes coming thick and fast throughout - varying from Queen to Kanye West to Skillex and more, depending on how on-the-nose it wants to be (usually very). I enjoyed its soundtrack hugely, but it does feel as though Ayer and the filmmakers realised that they had something of a dull one on their hands, and decided to copy and paste music all over every scene. For the first half, it's more jukebox than movie, and completely unable to see any tune through to the end.

Largely though, it handles its characters properly, and well. For all the DC cinematic universe's faults, I'm living in a world in which I get to see Killer Croc and Deadshot in live action, and upon the big screen. And for that, one should forever be grateful.

Even Harley Quinn is several times less irritating than feared - and actually seems kind of rounded at some points - thankfully nowhere near the insufferable Deadpool clone she could have been. Like most of the squad, Deadshot is too heroic to ever work as a villain (and his mask is stupid) but feels authentic as the master assassin and de facto team leader. Jai Courtney is actually good as Boomerang - a thing I never thought I would be writing - getting all of the biggest and best laughs, with his unicorn fetish and beer chugging ways. Davis is perfect as the amoral asshole Waller, and even the more underwritten teammates (namely Diablo and Croc) get their little moments to shine. And, most importantly*, it gets Batman right. Not only does Batman not kill anyone in Suicide Squad, but he actively saves a criminal life too. And gets the most authentically 'Batman' line in a live-action Batman thing ever.

Admittedly, Batman not fucking murdering people is a low bar to clear, but following Batman v Superman, I'll take these small victories. The rest of it, however, ranges from ill-advised to flat-out horrible. The action is generic trash, all smoke, gunfights and Margot Robbie wrapping her legs around things so's you can get a good look at her ass. It's a disjointed mess, with the visuals of a David Ayer film (for the record, Fury is brilliant and I even liked Sabotage) married to a cutesy pop soundtrack and the sloppily inserted CGI colour palette of a Schumacher Batman. For a film in which Harley Quinn gives a guy a speech about 'owning' his being a murderous bastard, Suicide Squad is decidedly lacking in its convictions. Really, it's only the characters saving it from Expendables** level action movie mediocrity. And even then, Joel Kinnaman and Scott Eastwood are pretty damn mediocre.

Not mediocre: Jared Leto's much-vaunted Joker. Not good either: also Jared Leto's Joker. Less Ace Chemicals and more Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, this Joker, for all Leto's prophylactic pratting about, feels a lot like a sane man pretending (badly) to be insane. Never mind the tattoos or the grill, he quacks like a bad Jim Carrey performance and dresses like an idiot. I did like his lovesick mooning over Harley though, which is a better version of their monstrous relationship than expected.

Jared Leto's Joker.

Like everything else, it's been edited down to the bone. As red shirt Slipknot is no longer a serial rapist, so there's much less of Mister J than one might expect - a number of slimy, Quinn-torturing sequences said to be cut from the film so as to make it more palatable to grit-weary audiences.

Like the Squad itself, all of these disparate elements combine to make something which oddly works, but only just. A comic book curio of bad ideas edited into good ones (and vice versa), ADHD soundtracking and Jared Leto let loose, it's the most bizarre adaptation in years. Suicide Squad is not a good movie, but it is one I enjoyed nevertheless.

*To me
**The first one. The other two are alright