I’m laying my cards out on the table before we even begin. Jokers and all. I’m not really all that into comic books. I’m as nerdy as the rest of them and I know the basics, but I’m not a hard-core fan by any stretch. I’ve also had enough of comic book movies; the last time I went to see a Marvel or DC film I genuinely enjoyed was back in the time of the original X-Men trilogy (2000-2006). Ah, those were the days. For the most part, I’ve started to keep my distance from a genre of films which is doing, re-doing and re-booting itself to death and enjoyed the occasional graphic novel-inspired piece of loveliness every now and then instead. In terms of previous knowledge about Suicide Squad, the story arcs involved and the main characters, I knew enough about Harley Quinn to know she was always going to be my favourite comic book character and that was about it.
Despite my genre-orientated misgivings, I wanted to see this movie the moment I saw the first trailer. When the film started getting panned a bit by critics, I wanted to love it even more, because it’s always fun to go against the flow. For the most part: I really, really liked this film.
The plot was bodacious and horrendously far-fetched and the time spent characterising some of the more central bad guys meant you weren’t entirely sure who some of the others were (there was a sewer-dwelling crocodile-man and some Australian bloke and I never really got a handle on who they were…) It was hyperactive and silly and about halfway through, the pacing and exposition became muddled and rushed, but none of these things really mattered to me.
There is an attempt to clearly establish each character from the outset. Each of our anti-heroes are introduced to the audience in the style of a fast paced music video, each song intended to provide a short-cut summary of who these people are. Harley Quinn’s introductory song, for example, is Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’. Within the first few minutes, the film I was thinking of most was Sucker Punch (2011) and both films just about manage to keep the balance between style and substance.
The women in this film are phenomenal. I’ll be honest, I hardly noticed the male actors who were in it at all. This was the first film I had seen Margot Robbie in (I’m previously accustomed only to seeing her in Neighbours whenever I visited my parents for dinner.) Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was pretty darn fantastic, using the right combination of upbeat and down-and-out. Harley bounces off the walls, oscillating between depraved acts, relentless optimism and random acts of friendship. She holds her own against trans-dimensional ooze-beasts, but deep down just wants to set up house with The Joker and have his babies. She also reminded me a lot of singer-songwriter Emilie Autumn.
Karen Fukuhara is both kick-ass and tender-hearted as the Japanese Katana, though she is underused and never gets the chance to speak the same language (and therefore converse with) the members of the Squad. Cara Delevingne gives an innocent performance as June Moon and a racy turn as Enchantress, the Witch who takes possession of her. Now, it’s true, these powerful and dark-hearted women are often scantily (or at least tightly) clad. In the case of Delevingne, the Enchantress character could not be wearing any less clothes and she is constantly swaying and gyrating. I know a lot of women have not been happy about the fact that the female characters are very underdressed and the male characters look overdressed by comparison. As a female (hi! hello!) I didn’t feel that any of these portrayals were outside the reasonable bounds of what you might expect from each character. Viola Davis also gives a coolly spot-on performance as the sociopathic Amanda Waller: the woman who tries to wrangle this Suicide Squad and keep them all in line.
It is inevitable that Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker is going to be compared to Heath Ledger’s (for which Ledger won a posthumous Oscar) and it’s weird that it still feels ‘too soon’ to be making that comparison. My view is the performances are simply different. Both played The Joker in very different ways, as if both diagnosing their version of him with a different mental illness. Both leave an equally unpleasant impression and both are, I feel, very strong performances.
Will Smith’s character Deadshot easily falls into the cliché of a struggling father who above all else just wants the love (and custody of) his child. Think Robert Carlyle in The Full Monty (1997) but with shooting instead of stripping. Smith made the decision to do this film instead of Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) and, all things considered, I think it was a wise move.
The plot may have wandered into coherency occasionally but one of the things that helped to tie it together was the overarching theme of love. Awwww…. Let me explain. Deadshot is motivated throughout the film by the love he has for his daughter. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the Special Forces operative, falls desperately in love with June and the two of them must fight to stay together while she is torn apart by the Enchantress inside of her. Harley would die (and live) for The Joker and this is part of what makes her so likeable. When these monstrous and evil characters are depicted as capable of love and self-sacrifice, the lines between good and evil become blurred; the line which DC adaptations have been playing with for a long time. It’s a dark film, but it’s still a PG-13; dark like a Nightmare Before Christmas fangirl at Halloween. My favourite touch was when Batman (Ben Affleck, who gets seconds of screen time rather than minutes) pulls Harley out of an underwater car wreck. He has acted on the side of moral right, as you would expect, but the unexpected moment comes as Harley lies unconscious in his arms, he can’t help but kiss her.
The other noteworthy element of this film is its soundtrack. Before I even left the cinema, I wanted to be on Amazon and buying the album. The music choices go from the sublime to the ridiculous; Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ to Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’ – and of course the greatest band in existence, Queen and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ The music compliments, juxtaposes and underlines key moments, it’s used well and every new song that rung out made me smile. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like any of these amazing songs are on the official soundtrack. The album looks to be made up predominately of cover versions… and no one needs to hear Panic! At the Disco doing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Such a shame!
Suicide Squad started strong, it carried on well enough, yet became more shambolic and less well constructed as it drew to a close. This didn’t really upset me the way it does with a lot of other films. Despite its problems, I sincerely hope for more antics from the Suicide Squad and am thrilled that there’s already a Harley Quinn film in the pipeline. Silly and serious… big, bold and darkly beautiful, this film is like a twisted League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) or a bubble-gum version of Watchmen (2009). You should make time to see this film and, with any luck, the DVD release will herald an extended Director’s Cut which makes slightly more sense.