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ZAK JOHNSON MOVIE REVIEW: SUICIDE SQUAD

2016
123 minutes
Action, superhero
Director: David Ayer

After the lacklustre receptions of both Man of Steel and its sequel-cum-crossover Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, a lot of pressure has obviously been placed on the DC Cinematic Universe to redeem itself in the eyes of cinema-goers with Suicide Squad, its latest instalment. And while it certainly is an improvement over the dreary, bleak portraits of the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader, Suicide Squad is still certainly not without its flaws.

After a calamity of earth-threatening proportions ravages Midway City, sociopathic government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gathers together an equally sociopathic crew of supervillains and criminals in order to combat the threat. If Task Force X succeeds in its mission, its members have their prison sentences reduced; if they fail, they die.

There’s a consistent awkwardness surrounding the film’s editing and structure. It feels as if director David Ayer set out to make a much more serious, gritty production, but following criticisms of Man of Steel and BvS for having those same aspects, significant alterations were made during post-production in order to give it a more light-hearted feel. As a result, Suicide Squad loses a lot of the dramatic tension and heft it could have certainly used and benefited from. Nevertheless, its sense of humour is able to redeem some of these pitfalls.

Being billed as a sort of “Guardians of the Galaxy with supervillains”, a large percentage of the film’s success would have to depend on the strengths of its ensemble cast. Margot Robbie’s deranged former psychiatrist Harley Quinn is without a doubt the highlight, being able to come off as hilariously unhinged as well as sympathetic and likeable. Will Smith’s Deadshot, while being a standard leading role for him, is fairly one-note and uninteresting. It’s billed as his first proper foray into bad guy territory, but his Floyd Lawton is essentially a moralistic hitman with a soft spot for his daughter. As for the other members of Task Force X, they all have their own individual quirks, which provide a few standout moments, but they aren’t really fleshed out enough for us to care about them as characters.

Another highly anticipated aspect of Suicide Squad is Jared Leto’s performance as the Joker, particularly considering the massive shoes he has to fill following Heath Ledger’s phenomenal take on arguably the greatest villain in fiction. The problem is Leto’s hardly in the film, which is a real shame. He exists largely to provide a backstory and context for Quinn and her warped mental state, and a large portion of his screen-time is relegated to flashbacks. What we do see of him comes off as an odd fusion of Ledger’s take plus elements of modern gangsta culture. It’s difficult to assess whether he’s a worthy holder of the Joker mantle until Leto’s given a more substantial appearance, which will probably happen with the inevitable Quinn-Joker spinoff.

Far from being the much-needed revitalisation for the DC Cinematic Universe, Suicide Squad is often messy and unfocused, which is disappointing considering the amount of hype that preceded its release. However, there’s still fun to be had, both through the unusual characters that splash across the screen, and some legitimately funny moments that arise from their interactions. If you manage your expectations, you’ll likely have a good time.

3/5

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