Saturday 16 December 2017

Review: 'Suicide Squad is fun for the first hour... but the main enemy is bland'

Hotly- anticipated superhero turn has flashes of originality but loses itself in special effects

Squad goals: Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad
Squad goals: Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad

Paul Whitington

Warners and DC are expecting big things of Suicide Squad, which will open to huge fanfare in over 4,000 cinemas across the US and Canada today. Projections of a record opening weekend are being loudly touted, but probably in hope as much as expectation, because the DC franchise is reeling somewhat after the comparative failure of 'Batman v Superman'.

That film was intended to launch the new Justice League series, a possible Batman reboot and various other spin-offs, but after a strong opening week, it tanked sharply at the US box office, and earned some very hostile reviews.

Suicide Squad is one of those spin-offs, but has a very different tone. Based on a cult 1980s DC Comics series, it tells the story of a group of super-villains forced to work with the government, and is full of dark sarcasm and gleeful ultra-violence. It's as much a comedy as an action film, and will draw hope from the huge success of 'Deadpool', Marvel's jokey anti-superhero caper that was made for just $50million, and grossed almost $800million.

At the end of the day of course, Suicide Squad is just another superhero movie, but at least it looks and sounds a bit different, and David Ayer's film starts with great confidence, and flourish. It begins shortly after 'Batman v Superman''s conclusion, and with the Man of Steel apparently dead, humanity is exposed to the activities of a growing number of super-villains. To that end, an icily determined federal agent called Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) hatches a dastardly plan: to coerce a group of thoroughly nasty criminals into operating as a last line of defence against 'metahuman' enemies.

In an entertaining prologue, we get to meet them all. Will Smith is Floyd Lawton, a mercenary marksman with an infallible aim; Jai Courtney plays Digger Harkness, an Australian bank robber whose choice of weapon is a boomerang; Jay Hernandez is El Diablo, a gang member who shoots fire from his hands; and Ade Akinnuoye-Agbaje is Waylon Jones, a super-villain with a disfiguring skin condition that earns him the nickname 'Killer Croc'.

Waller assembles this group of ne'er-do-wells and reads them the riot act. They've all been given huge jail sentences, but time will be deducted if they cooperate in fighting crime. This depressing line-up is augmented by the arrival of Harley Quinn, (Margot Robbie) a beautiful but depraved associate of The Joker's who is alarmingly handy with a baseball hat. And in recruiting them, Waller leaves nothing to chance: she implants a tiny but deadly explosive device in their necks that can be detonated from her mobile phone - so it's cooperate, or else.

Joel Kinnaman plays Rick Flag, a soldier charged with keeping the Suicide Squad in line, and when they go to battle against an ancient enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who's taken over Midway City, trust is in very short supply.

Suicide Squad has none of the po-faced grandeur that characterised the otherwise excellent Christopher Nolan 'Batman' films, and its grungy, dirty production design makes it feel fresh and mildly edgy for a time. Cast against type as a remorseless killer, Will Smith struggles to shed his nice guy persona and doesn't seem all that dangerous. But Margot Robbie is very good as Harley: her performance is both cartoonish and grounded, and one senses a certain underlying vulnerability behind the wide-eyed histrionics. And Viola Davis brings gravity and menace playing the minder who seems every bit as reprehensible as her charges.

Most of the humour comes from Ms Robbie, and her interactions with Jared Leto's Joker. Mr Leto apparently did a lot of method work in preparing for the role, but his performance seems tinny and mannered compared to Heath Ledger's version. Suicide Squad is fun for the first hour or so, but the film's main enemy, an ancient sorceress who could do with a good bath, is bland and uninteresting. And once the Squad finally engage her, the story loses itself in a flashy and tiresome cgi battle.

Films coming soon...

Pete's Dragon (Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard); The Shallows (Blake Lively); Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Zac Efron. Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza); Valley of Love (Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu); The Confession (Moazzam Begg).

Suicide Squad

(15A, 123mins)

3 Stars

Irish Independent

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