2016’s Suicide Squad was a film from a very different phase of the DC Extended Universe, coming, as it did, at the apex of Warner Brothers’ attempt to create a shared continuity to emulate the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If anything, it was emblematic of the failure to succeed. Rather than go for a producer-led series, where the overarching tone and story of the various constituent films were controlled centrally, DC seemed to be going for a series of director-led visions, but with the critical failures beginning to mount up they seemed to lose their nerve.
The original Suicide Squad suffered badly from this muddled approach. Although there was a good film in there somewhere, it was reported that there were nine edits of the film competing to be the final cut, and the studio appeared to lose its nerve, with an end product that was a strange mix of family friendly, and uncomfortably adult, for its rating.
READ MORE: The Sparks Brothers – Documentary Review
The story made no sense, with the ‘problem’ the squad were sent to solve one of their own making; our main villain seemed to spend most of the film twerking on what looked a little like the set of the final act of Ghostbusters, her henchmen looked like they had been tarred and then had Maltesers fired at them, and the whole logic of the film was bizarre: what do we do if another Superman comes along, but he isn’t benevolent? Send a slim young lady with a baseball bat, obviously! The filmmakers seemed, also, to think they were making the work for an audience of low IQ; what with continually having to explain things, and replay scenes we had seen only minutes before. In short, the film – in its final version – was terrible.
With DC now embracing its differences, and going for stories that don’t have to align, but are all canon – of a type – due to taking place in multiple realities, The Suicide Squad is evidence of this new policy. The original film remains in canon, but this is more of a one-off story, embracing the idea that the squad are not there to protect us from an evil version of Superman, they are more a black ops team, needed for those missions the more family friendly heroes could not be seen to touch. It doubles down on Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as a ruthless operator with a very loose sense of morality, and a willingness to do almost anything to complete the mission. Tonally, at least, this is far more along the lines of what a film featuring this IP should be.
In terms of plot, well, it really doesn’t matter. The least interesting part of the film is its McGuffin – until the final act when, according to taste, it will either make or break the film. In short, our protagonists, including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Peacemaker (John Cena), The Polka-dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior) are sent by Waller to an island to find someone who will help them get into a facility to find a hard-drive to destroy. During this they will find evidence of American complicity in a horrific experiment involving Project Starfish (and, yes, the first joke that came into your head when seeing that word is in the film). Honestly, none of this is of great interest, and any pleasure to be gained here is from dialogue and character interaction. The end plot of the film becomes like… well, imagine if a creature feature was made with an enormous budget, by the creative team behind Teletubbies.
So first for the bad: character designs are cartoonish to the point of taking us out of the film. Project Starfish was a mind-blowingly stupid design coming at the end of an overlong third act, where to be honest, the watch was being looked at often. Pacing can be a little odd, flashbacks to Ratcatcher’s father (Taika Waititi) with her as a young girl are intrusive and boring, at one point they are all in a bus sharing these sad backstories and, well, would anyone watching this really care? At only 132 minutes (far less without credits) the film still feels far too long. Just as with – the far superior – Thor Ragnarok – jokes are signposted to the point of it being exasperating, through camera choices (in Ragnarok, every time we go to a wide-shot there is a joke about to happen – it’s quite obnoxious once you notice it, and ruins every single gag).
Apart from this, there is not much wrong with any of it. Robbie continues to own the role of Harley Quinn, Cena and Elba have a nice chemistry, and all of the characters have quirks that are at least interesting to watch. Yes, Shark King is a little evocative of Groot, while Ratcatcher slightly evokes Peni Parker from Into The Spider-Verse, but, while nothing here feels truly original, it has been assembled by James Gunn with his usual sense of fun, great soundtrack, and colourful visual style. DC has – consciously – hired the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, and given him an R-Rated sandbox to play in. This is weaker than either of his MCU efforts, and the similarities in style are both a blessing and curse: a blessing, as it has all the signatures of his style to which filmgoers have responded; but a curse, as it is likely that many watching this will be thinking of a better film.
The Suicide Squad is suggestive of a freedom in the DCEU that wasn’t there back when purely aping Marvel product was the goal (though the choice of director indicates they are still taking influence). In some respects, this is DC’s Deadpool – the corporate shackles just loosened a little, allowing Gunn to let his more violent and crude sensibilities run a little freer. The result though, is a mix of the enjoyable and the deeply messy.
The Suicide Squad is out now in Cinemas.