Over the last several months, the future of the newly-blossomed “DC Extended Universe” has had a pall of doubt cast over it due to the polarizing critical and commercial reception to this past March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With critics panning the film and fans split by their allegiances, the eyes of both BvS‘ defenders and detractors collectively looked ahead to August in hope.
Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer and starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, and many others, had an enormous amount of new pressure placed upon it to both pick up the creative slack from Dawn of Justice, while also gaining more scrutiny as perhaps the “true” launching pad for this new universe from Warner Bros. As someone charged with critically analyzing the film while also being a diehard fan of the characters, I can admit that I walked into the theater nervously before my screening.
So, what kind of a film is Suicide Squad?
Well, it’s a bit haphazard and difficult to follow in places, but honestly it’s a hell of a good time for one primary reason: the cast is stellar.
By saying that, the intent isn’t to take away from the immense amount of work that was obviously put into every level of this production. Virtually every problem I had with the final product was in the way the story played out, the somewhat bouncy timeline of the narrative, and the ways that the stakes were (or weren’t) communicated for the characters.
You’d be forgiven for scratching your head in a few places, particularly as it pertains to the film’s overall use of the character and mythology of the Enchantress, as played in the film by Cara Delvingne. It’s an odd choice around which to base a film about a government-sanctioned black ops strike team, even if many of them are metahumans with enhanced abilities.
Still, for all the issues I have in the narrative itself, I’m forced to conclude that this was ultimately a more satisfying film experience than its in-universe predecessor primarily because of the very real chemistry of the characters, and the actors and actresses charged with bringing them to life. As a unit, the Suicide Squad themselves almost feel as if they have more history together than the film explores just because this really strange motley crew jells into a group on-screen that I, for lack of a better phrase, couldn’t really get enough of.
Although the cast had some smaller and more surprising players, the one that I quickly attached to was Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, as played by the incomparable Will Smith. In the comics, Deadshot is largely depicted as a remorseless gun-for-hire with a sardonic personality, and an unmatched aiming eye. The cinematic version as embodied by Smith maintains virtually every aspect of what you’d expect from Deadshot, but also gives him a playful personality layer that is entirely informed by Smith’s own charisma.
A more direct character translation to the film, at least concerning her modern depictions, comes in the form of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Though outfitted in a more risqué fashion than some may be used to, Harley seems pretty untouched concerning the broad strokes of who she is, and what she’s about: her “puddin’.”
Another effective performance comes from Viola Davis as Suicide Squad handler Amanda Waller. While Waller has been played in a major motion picture once before in a somewhat throwaway fashion in 2011’s Green Lantern, Davis’ Waller will feel right at home with people who know her no-nonsense brutality from the comics, as well as the DC Animated Universe. Although she may not be able to bite someone’s throat off like Killer Croc, or hit a bullseye through another bullseye like Deadshot, Waller is hands down the most vicious character in the film. In a similarly truthful performance, Joel Kinnaman — as field commander Rick Flag — has a somewhat erratic temperament and disgust for the criminals he commands, which comes through pretty effectively from the comics.
Of course, the performance most likely to garner longstanding discussion is Jared Leto’s turn as arguably the most iconic supervillain ever created: The Joker. Leto’s Joker is a very different conception of the Harlequin of Hate when compared with Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in The Dark Knight, and though he has a totally different style and air about him overall, people will automatically find his unpredictability and violently swinging mood to be pretty well in-line with many celebrated depictions of the character in the comics, as well as animation. The tattoos take some getting used to, though.
Perhaps surprisingly, the character given the most human perspective is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo. Although it seems puzzling that he seems so dedicated never to exploit his undeniable power in the beginning, it strangely makes him perhaps the only character with a recognizable and substantive arc. When accompanied by Hernandez’s relatable performance, this makes El Diablo one of the most interesting characters in the entire film, and his inclusion only adds to the overall luster of the cast as a unit.
While other members of the team didn’t necessarily have a lot of depth, it was still pretty thrilling to see the likes of Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) as a part of a big-budget DC Comics movie. Croc and Boomerang may account for some of the bigger sources of the film’s laughs, and Fukuhara’s stoic performance as Katana may not get a very good explanation, but she does make for one of the better fighters on the roster throughout the film’s many action sequences.
If there’s a bottom line, it’s this: the cast for Suicide Squad is nothing short of magnetic, and is definitely worth the price of admission on its own. Whether or not the story of the film is a victim of a perhaps still-panicking Warner Bros. to the reaction to Batman v Superman or if the script really had as many problems of flow as it seems to in the final cut, it’s hard for me to say that you won’t have a good time watching all of these actors playing these parts.
Besides, even if the scenes are small, in what other movie can you go in and watch Batman take down both Deadshot and Harley Quinn, before seeing Killer Croc, Katana, and Captain Boomerang fight the forces of the Enchantress? The story should’ve definitely been better, but I’d be lying my mouth (or, in this case, my fingers) off if I said that I didn’t have a hell of a time when I went to watch Suicide Squad, and if you know what to expect, you probably will, too.
Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.