Considering it’s teeming with villains, bad could be a compliment - only it’s often bad where it should be good and good where it should be bad. Which is a shame, because there’s a real-world evil lurking beneath a messy storyline overwhelmed with subplots.
Two-time Oscar-nominee Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller, who poses the question: what if the next Superman is a terrorist? It’s an odd question as the Man of Steel has spent the previous two movies entrenched in that accusation. Regardless, she uses this premise to pitch Task Force X: a team of super villains utilised as deniable assets in exchange for reduced sentences.
There’s witchcraft, serial murderers, hitmen and thieves; but nobody in this movie is quite as bad as Amanda Waller. She shows it with a telling smirk in the Pentagon board-room, or by knocking shoulders with Killer Croc (Adeqale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). It’s an insidious confidence that reveal both her powers of manipulation and ruthless selfishness. She spouts nationalist rhetoric like a Jason Bourne bad-guy; spinning the threat of terror in order to further her own career and cover-up an abusive nature. Even Deadshot and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are surprised at one example of her brutality: the summary execution of men working for her because of their lack of clearance.
Unfortunately, the role of chief antagonist of the movie is forced upon Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who is the bland, bondage-clad Mesoamerican witch. She’s reduced to a fetish: transforming men into sticky super-soldiers with a kiss; sashaying across her WMD-in-progress like a belly-dancer; and turning inexplicably British when she lets out her inner-Lady Galadriel. This interpretation draws loosely on imagery of the mythical succubus, but her partner-in-crime is literally named Incubus—the male equivalent - and there’s nothing sexual about that CG mass of tentacles. Enchantress’s lazy love-story with Rick Flag robs both Kinnaman and Delevingne of an original storyline, instead letting them take it in turns to play damsel in distress.
So instead of facing an original threat, like the shady elitism of Amanda Waller; Task Force X are forced into the role of modern day superheroes, accepting the mantle of a third act brawl against a vague world-ending threat. Yet some of the squad are so underutilised that they hardly warrant the time it must have taken to mock up their zany introduction screens.
Slipknot (Adam Beach) seems like an afterthought, Killer Croc swims, but does nothing that the elite team of divers accompanying him don’t do. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is memorably funny and infested with tics, arguably a career best for Courtney. He just isn’t given enough time to develop beyond comic relief. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is the unusual moral compass of the group, but his late claim that the squad are ‘family’ comes across as so cheesy that it’s impossible to take the ensuing fight seriously. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) feels like she was left in the movie as an afterthought following the aforementioned cuts. Her only notable scene is entirely bereft of rationality or emotional weight.
This overall lack of characterisation might be forgiven if there was at least a concrete basis for the necessity of the Squad in the first place. The action sequences are mostly forgettable brawls, with Deadshot the only really standout as having a particular skillset consistently relevant to the battle. It’s great to see Will Smith as the sassy hitman, imbuing the role with charm and charisma - the problem is that he never feels like the cold-blooded killer he’s supposed to be.
Then there’s Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie proves the perfect choice to fill the fishnet tights of the Queen of Crime, owning the evil and insanity of her part in equal measure. Her toxic relationship with The Joker (Jared Leto) is partially revealed in flashbacks which begged a little more exposition. Yet it gives her the autonomy to act - in part - as his equal, enough at least to earn his begrudging affection. Although he remains murderously jealous, psychologically manipulative, and physically abusive so the part isn’t exactly progressive.
Harley’s physicality is as refreshing as her agency, baring a baseball bat and fighting with a sluggish weight rather than practicing some form of martial art like many female action heroes. She maintains a squealy femininity throughout her threatening behaviour and apparent psychotic breaks, but her potential for violence is never overlooked, nor does her overly-sexual attitude detract from her ability to smash skulls with consummate ease. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, she’s even given the opportunity to choose between her skimpy outfit and the more traditional harlequin outfit from earlier comics. There’s just too many moments where the camera lingers as she bends over, or gratuitously pans up her body as she undresses that prove this sexualisation isn’t simply an organic choice of the character. It’s a misogynistic marketing choice, albeit one that hasn’t harmed the film. Sex still sells apparently, and despite negative critical reception, Suicide Squad has broken records for Autumn release weekends.
The subversive film that was promised slipped somewhere through the cracks of editing and reshoots and a desperation to make money. If the movie spent more time with Amanda Waller as opposed to the vague threat of Enchantress’s magical WMD it might have played out as a fantastic allegory of corporate America. Early during the recruitment phase of the movie, Deadshot lays out his terms for joining the team, including the provision of his daughter’s academic education: ‘I need you to straight up white people that’. Levelling this claim at Amanda Waller touches on the subject of whiteness as a concept of suppression and elitism, and it’s as close to a discussion of class-warfare as Suicide Squad comes. But by the time the genre-cliché of the mid-credits scene comes around, Amanda Waller is drinking wine and claiming protection from non-other than Bruce Wayne. Proof that even in the world of superheroes, justice is privately owned.
Want to find out fourself? See Suicide Squad at the cinema this week and tweet us @FACT_Liverpool with your thoughts!