Even though they've seen a drastic uptick in exposure and popularity over the past couple of years, the Suicide Squad has been kicking around the DC comics universe for a long time. Devised as a novel way of explaining how some of the villains -- mostly in Batman's neck of the woods -- manage to get out of prison and continue doing their bad-guy thing, cutting their sentences with "good deeds", the group has naturally experienced a number of changes since the '80s. As of late, the most notable inclusion comes in Harley Quinn, the jesterly wild-card girlfriend of The Joker introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, who has enjoyed her own popularity since DC restarted their continuity with the "New 52", which made her a focal member of this Suicide Squad and gave her a jubilantly humorous comic series of her own. That's the world David Ayer aims to bring to life with his take on the Suicide Squad, and despite clearly grasping the characters and the attitude that hallmarks their antiheroic endeavors , he leaves a lot to be desired in the movie erupting and shattering around them.
Suggested as an initiative to build a resistance team against meta-human threats, the Suicide Squad -- actually called Task Force X -- takes shape through the maneuvers of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a high-level government operative with deep knowledge of the villains they've got under lock and key. From this rogues gallery, she sets her sights on a number of flexible, potentially neutral criminals to fill out the roster, a group of individuals she could throw into missions and ultimately blame if their dangerous objectives go awry. That includes Deadshot (Will Smith), a constant member of the team in the comics, whose impeccable abilities with firearms are accurately represented by his nickname. Others are also selected for their "gifts", from the flame-launching El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and the precision of Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) to the aquatic mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), yet they don't hold a candle the kind of power possessed by the dual-identity witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), under control by Waller. Then, there's Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), whose claim to fame amounts to ... uh, well, she's crazy. Trigger-happy and a crackerjack swinger of bats, but driven insane due to her experiences with The Joker.
Chances are pretty good that someone will read the above paragraph and say, repeatedly: "Who?" It's an obstacle faced by most writers tackling the Suicide Squad, and it's frequently addressed by fresh introductions at the beginning of their stories, often in point-blank, violent flashbacks that illustrate who they are and why they're incarcerated in the first place. Powered by energetic music and echoing how both recent comics and the animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham handled this, David Ayer's Suicide Squad sets aside the majority of the film's beginning to introduce these versions of the characters, from the melancholy mixture of Deadshot's assassination business and family ties to a start-to-finish portrayal of how psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel becomes the equally-pale, mentally-twisted minion of Jared Leto's Joker. Therefore, despite the inclusion of one of Deadshot's assassination attempts and a few run-ins with Ben Affleck's Batman, action isn't so much of a priority at the beginning as making the general audience give a crap about these lesser-known villains on a deeper level.
Does Ayer succeed in doing so? ... sorta. He makes it easy to sympathize with Will Smith's Deadshot through conversations between the character and his daughter, allowing Smith's gruff yet considerate magnetism to shine as a deadly assassin who's been separated from the one positive element in his life. This spin on Harley Quinn, on the other hand, is more complicated. Instead of going the route taken by contemporary stories of Harley, in which she's reluctantly pulling away from The Joker and discovering her own strengths, Ayer goes with a more traditional take on the character: she's obsessed with the abusive, exploitative bad-guy lover who made her insane. Thing is, there's usually a playfulness about them hinged on The Joker's volatile and calculated schemes, yet the more serious, tatted-up and abrasively flamboyant crime lord crafted by Jared Leto's peculiar Clown Prince of Crime sours this bond, not that he's given much scheming -- or screen time -- to work with in the first place. With a quirky New York accent, devilish glances, and impeccably animated body language, Margot Robbie shines as this raw projection of Harley Quinn's traits that stands apart from the oddness of her Puddin', enlivening scenes in her flashbacks that serve as the origin story for her warped attitude. "Mad Love" this isn't, though.
The rest of this Suicide Squad suffers a similar fate to the secondary team members in the books: aside from El Diablo, whose back-history possesses enough emotion to merit a lengthier flashback, each one gets reduced to shallow roguish traits, accompanied by cheeky title cards explaining as such. Writer/director Ayer has plenty of experience with personalities like this, from Denzel Washington's Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day to the ragtag soldiers in his tank drama Fury, which leads one to have a little faith in his ability to flesh out these types of characters and band them together in a short amount of time. He's able to toss Task Force X into the fray and relish their clashes in personality, but something's missing in how he maneuvers these villains from being at loggerheads to them weaving together into a unit, largely because of the size of the squad. David Ayer excels at handling characters and teams who are already lived-in, like the established squad in Fury who gradually bring one new guy into their fold, yet he struggles here with building connective tissue between numerous strangers in the midst of conflict -- even though he still tries to reap the thematic benefits of them eventually doing so.
David Ayer throttles the members of his Suicide Squad -- overseen by a staunch military wunderkind, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) -- into a gritty, crumbled corner of a metropolitan city for an assignment that conveniently emerges during their creation ... and the narrative that gets everyone there is incredibly patchy, steeped in cataclysmic formula and familiarity that goes to reckless lengths to elevate the stakes. Granted, most modern-era stories involving Task Force X don't boast terribly grounded or novel problems to solve, merely giving the bad guys something to do while >they're bickering with one another, and Ayer's story isn't without flirtations with ethical dilemmas, human emotion, and covert intrigue. For every step forward that Suicide Squad takes with its fusion of dark humor and somber reflections on the villains, it gets knocked back by drab, vacuous plotting involving boundless witchcraft and the machinations of Viola Davis' imposing Amanda Waller. Peppered with amusing quips and insistent interruptions from a gleeful Harley Quinn, this end-of-the-world scenario yields a tone that's unsure as to whether it should be zany and subversive or more aligned with the doom-and-gloom dramatics of the DC universe's other films, or both.
Suicide Squad culminates in a loud, vigorous charge through dilapidated streets and emptied buildings filled with energized action, but writer/director Ayer makes it difficult to have too much fun with the chaos of it all by relying on waves of generic, faceless enemies to shoot at within the unimpressive template of a Hollywood ending. The script expends so much energy trying to get the spirit of the squad right that it neglects to craft a rational threat for this Dirty Half-Dozen to conquer, producing a royal mess of an ending that doesn't mesh with the relationship-building and handling of the caliber of stakes that came before it. After the turbulent critical receptions that Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman received, this needed to stand out as the first indication that the DC cinematic universe had its sights on a dependable creative destination for its forthcoming entries. Despite all the potential within its subversive tone, casting choices, and David Ayer's renowned grasp on lending depth to rough-around-the-edges renegades, Suicide Squad doesn't quite succeed in its mission.
Note: Film Review from Theatrical Coverage: Here.
Theatrical vs. Extended Cut (Mild Spoilers):
Look, one could systematically go through both cuts of this movie and annotate the little additions here and there between the two versions of Suicide Squad: the Theatrical Cut which lasts 2:02:52, and the Extended Cut which clocks in at 2:14:32. Real talk, though? To be honest, none of the differences truly registered until about an hour in, and were equally as minuscule after that point. The difference that does stand out is the one fans have already seen in the extended trailer, a flashback featuring Joker and Harley in a verbal fisticuffs in the middle of a street, and, to be fair, it does add a new layer to the subsequent flashbacks featuring the pair, a new emotional element to the acid-bath sequence afterwards. In terms of how the other added bits enhance the narrative, however -- tastes of the relationship between Enchantress and Rick Flag, Harley Quinn conversing with the squad about a rebellious coup, Croc barfing and Katana taking off her mask -- there's very little overhauling going on here. The Ultimate Edition of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this isn't.
Suicide Squad drops into the Blu-ray fray in a fairly customary set from WB, though it comes with a twist involving the Extended Cut of the film. Each cut gets its own dedicated disc, both fully loaded with the special features, which arrive with nice black-and-white artwork reflective of the film's aesthetic. A DVD Copy of the theatrical cut has also been included, as well as a Digital Copy slip.
Video and Audio:
Folks were left a bit confused about the tone that Suicide Squad might take under the helm with David Ayer, especially upon seeing the myriad trailers that ranged from bleak and dark to more vibrant. The overall visual style, however, indicates the place that Ayer really wanted to take his anti-superhero film; inside the stony walls and bars of a containment facility, within the grit of a dilapidated city, and throughout mazy skyscrapers, this ends up being a very dark film akin to the director's work on Fury. Reflective of this theatrical presentation, the colors in this 2.35:1-framed, 1080p transfer are dim and grimy at most points, with flashes of Deadshot's aiming visor and Harley's cotton-candy hair service as bold interruptions to the shady palette. WB's Blu-ray struggles with some digital smoothness and muddiness during a few darker sequences, but the depth of shadows and the details found within are generally rather strong, further spotted in Croc's intricate makeup, close-ups that accentuate Harley and Joker's wild hair and makeup work, and the coarse textures of crumbled stone and weathered metal on assault vehicles.
As expected, there's a whole lot going on in the sound design for Suicide Squad. Fistfights, gunfights, even a few power-infused fights between meta-humans, which tackle the full range of responsiveness with the Dolby Atmos track (played as a 7.1 TrueHD presentation for this review). When it comes to high- and middle-range activity, the track remains exemplary from start to finish. Firearms exhibit a fierce pop, whether it's successive manual firing or automatic artillery, as does the swiping of boomerangs and the swirls and stabs involving Enchantress' magic. Smaller effects, like the sound of a baseball bat hitting the palm of a hand and the unsheathing of handcuffs, are solidly detailed and clear across the front channels, while dialogue stays reliable sturdy and conscientious of the surrounding effects. The energetic mix of urban music and bold action-movie scoring telegraphs plenty of engulfing bombast, too. That said, the bass channel ends up flexing a little too much muscle at certain points in the track, telegraphing too much rumble in creation of subterranean effects and when playing some of the heavier pop-music tracks, and the usage of the back-center channels is fairly sparse. Barring a few hitches, it's a heavy and potent track.
The extras for Suicide Squad -- all of which show up on both the Theatrical and the Extended Cut Blu-ray discs -- stay relatively straightforward and predictable in the content explored, but with added touches here and there that enrich the depth. Task Force X: One Team, One Mission (23:08, 16x9 HD) systematically charts through each of the characters featured in the film, paired with interviews with the actors and with director Ayer, but they also feature discussions with DC creative head Geoff Johns and classic Suicide Squad writer John Ostrander, elaborating on the characters's histories from the comics alongside concept drawings and clippings from the books. Similarly, Chasing the Real (9:37, 16x9 HD) zeroes in on David Ayer's focus on a quasi-surreal outlook on his universe, featuring sketches and plentiful behind-the-scene shots.
The disc then shifts its focus to the relationship between Harley Quinn and Joker in The It Couple of the Underworld (14:29, 16x9 HD), where Ayer and his crew discuss tiptoeing the line between strict adherence to the spirit of their relationship and "reinventing" certain elements ... namely the Joker himself. Jared Leto takes the spotlight in discussing the process of delving into the oft-explored psychosis of the character, while footage also revealed his aesthetic preparation for the role, including when he had his hair clipped and his eyebrows razored off, while Geoff Johns does a little confirming behind the rationale behind his metal teeth. There's some discussion about the responses from the crew on set and about the legacy of their characters, but it certainly could've gone farther with the dangerous nature of their kinship.
The other featurettes are a little more standard in their focus, but offer some really cool glimpses into the production: Squad Strengths and Skills (9:00, 16x9 HD) taps into the rigorous training regimens for the actors, as well as the stuntwork and choreography; Armed to the Teeth (11:48, 16x9 HD) explores the props and costume touches, elaborating upon Ayer's knowledge of weaponry and the language that went into Harley's iconic bat; and This Is Gonna Get Loud (10:54, 16x9 HD) expands on Ayer's desire for gritty and semi-realistic action, elaborating upon the alien-esque ghouls and the testing involved with them. Also included is The Squad Declassified (4:19, 16x9 HD), a cute in-universe briefing on the Suicide Squad, and a brief Gag Reel (2:04, 16x9 HD).
Suicide Squad made my short list for most anticipated movies of the year, largely because it's tough not to get excited about a superhero movie from David Ayer -- the guy behind Training Day and Fury -- focused on those members of DC's rogues gallery who team up to become the storied antihero group. His experience with the pathos and dialogue involved with that kind of character, not to mention the long-awaited appearance of Harley Quinn on the big screen, manifested into a lot of promise with the arrival of the film's first trailer, boasting dark tones and uniquely accurate representations of the characters. Further trailers, however, easily left some perplexed about the potential feel of the movie. Turns out, that's because there's a lot of crossed wires and oddities going on in Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is terrific, the introduction to her and the rest of the squad, especially Will Smith's surprisingly effective Deadshot, gets things off on the right foot, and it's great to see a few quick glimpses at Ben Affleck's Batman outside of brand-and-kill mode. Unfortunately, the end-of-the-world conflict that gives the squad something to do is stiff and wonky, the critical relationship between Joker and Harley ends up being a peculiar spin on their toxic dynamic, and the washed-out action blurring around them all tends to be quite dull.
WB's Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and it's got roughly and hour-and-a-half or so of featurettes worth checking out, but a second viewing didn't help those impressions ... not even of the slightly altered Extended Cut, which mostly feels like the same movie. Rent It.