Film critics across all the most respected titles in the US are giving Suicide Squad a very hard time on The Internet. EW moaned the fact that “the stakes should feel higher”, The Hollywood Reporter said “[it was] a puzzlingly confused undertaking that never becomes as cool as it thinks it is”, Rolling Stone posed the question “who stole the soul of Suicide Squad” while Vanity Fair has called it “not even the good kind of bad.” Ouch.
And it is true, the film feels disjointed and like it was both pieced together off the cutting room floor and like it had about 30 minutes shaved off the running time, to the point where major plotlines like Cara Delevingne’s erratic transition from benevolent bad guy to uh, a malevolent ancient evil spirit cum belly dancer are shrugged away (“She bolted” we hear Joel Kinnaman tell his boss Viola Davis at one point, definitely contender for understatement of the year) and significant characters are introduced mid-movie with very little fanfare.
Should we care about the Ninja swordstress (Karen Fukuhara) who is aligned to the Navy Seals, yet dresses like a squad-member and who wields a magical sword containing the soul of her slain husband? What about Slipshot (Adam Beach) who turns up last minute, is a crack with ropes and then perishes spectacularly after about 10 minutes of screentime? Who knows? Who cares?
More importantly, who are all of these people? In a film that is both ostensibly and in purpose an ensemble piece, it is incredibly hard to find a connection to most of the characters, especially when most of them don't have compelling backstories. (My favourite? The LA gang member capable of burning down buildings with his fire fingers but who won't do so because of his conscience... And he's supposed to be a badguy?) All of which is rendered even more difficult in the final battle scene, which takes place in heavy, gritty rainfall meaning you can't actually see what's going on in the scene. Director David Ayer could have taken a leaf out of the Game of Thrones playbook, which not only keeps its squillions of characters visibly clear despite meteorological hurdles but also relevant and compelling.
So yes, there are characterisation problems. There are pacing problems and editing problems. Hell, there are even plot problems. We have officially reached peak Superhero Movie With Huge Pulsating Beam Of Light In The Sky Bringing Something Unspeakable Unto The World. (Exactly what that is, in Suicide Squad, you never actually find out. Great).
But having said all that, there’s still a compelling reason why you should see Suicide Squad. And that is Margot Robbie.
Since Our Margot first slapped Leo right across the face in Wolf of Wall Street she’s been waiting for the right narrative to propel her into the stratosphere. And in Suicide Squad, she’s finally found it. Forget the forgettable Legend of Tarzan, forget Focus, her previous film with Will Smith. In Suicide Squad audiences get to witness the birth of Margot Robbie: Movie Star. No wonder she got her own spin-off.
From the second she appears onscreen she commands attention. It doesn’t hurt that she gets all the good lines, has the best costume, is the only character with a bit of a narrative arc (once the Joker’s psychologist, she falls in love with him and after a bit of electro-shock therapy gets inducted into his wicked ways). And she is giving everything she’s got in the movie. You’ve all read the interviews and heard the stories – she had to learn how to hold her breath underwater for up to five minutes, she did almost all of her stunts, Jared Leto left a freakin’ rat in her trailer – you know she’s working it hard. But she makes it look so easy, all of it. And luckily for audiences, she gets the bulk of the screentime. The same can’t be said for onscreen boyfriend Leto, who despite being promoted as if he was the star of the film, is more of a glorified cameo, at best.
Alongside Our Margot, Our Jai Courtney also gives it a red hot go, bringing some Australian in-jokes and a beefy, brawny humour to his scenes as Grand Theft Auto Supremo Boomerang. Then there’s charisma-magnet Will Smith, still doing his same old brilliant thing, as deadly assassin Deadshot. Viola Davis is fantastic as the terrifying government agent who brings them all together. Joel Kinnaman does good work as a Navy Seal who’s also just a boy, standing in front of an ancient evil spirit, asking her to love him. In fact, the best bit of this movie is the first quarter, where you’re introduced to this loveable ragtag band of heroes in bursts of bubbly intensity. It’s all downhill from there.
But if there’s anything that can save this movie it’s Margot. Seeing her swing that baseball bat with unbridled glee is worth the price of admission alone. And at least they had a serious music budget (a delicious mix of Rolling Stones, Bohemian Rhapsody, Eminem and Aussie singer Grace's cover of 'You Don't Own Me' try and propel the action along nicely). But don’t say we didn’t warn you.