In a year dogged by a whole load of fuss over the fact that a quartet of females replaced male actors in a, shall we say, new version of a much cherished 80s comedy blockbuster classic, it is kind of ironic that the highlight of 2016's summer blockbuster season is a female character in a movie that promised much, but delivered a whole lot less. Make no mistake, if it wasn't clear in The Wolf of Wall Street or Focus, Margot Robbie's portrayal of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad will be the one that people look back on as her star making turn. Robbie's performance is reminiscent of when Julia Roberts burst onto the scene in Pretty Woman, and akin to a Tom Cruise underwear dancing moment from Risky Business. It's really that good. With a mischievous vigour, and more charisma in her pigtails than most of the group, Harley Quinn transcends the material up several notches every time she is onscreen. I have no idea what Harley Quinn is like in the literary source, but I'm struggling to think of a better female celluloid comic book character since Michelle Pfeiffer also made (psycho)villainy sexy (sorry Anne Hathaway) in Batman Returns. It's the one thing that Marvel's movies don't really have yet (Black Widow aside) so I guess it's over to Captain Marvel. DC may yet have the upper hand on strong females if their Wonder Woman movie lives up to her scene stealing extended cameo in Batman Vs Superman.
Bringing a disparate group of individuals together (with only one thing in common), and having them reluctantly work together is, in film lore, as old as time itself. It was recently done rather well in that other comic book movie(s). And for the first half hour or so at least, it also works really well for Suicide Squad. Scored to songs so perfectly picked it'd make Tarantino jealous, the first act of the movie is really good as we are introduced to the main characters including a brief but effective back story. This is also where The Joker features most, and Jared Leto's incarnation is also a positive. Then it goes off the rails big time. Its a mystery as to what exactly happened - whether it was a result of the backlash to Batman Vs Superman or whatnot - but after the squad is assembled, it seems as though they made it up as they went along. At this point, the remainder of film becomes very tonally imbalanced and a tacked on, incoherent shambles - the narrative for the "even bigger bad" makes little sense in the events prior to and leading up to when the "grand evil plot" is unleashed (without spoiling, surely it's akin to walking around with a dodgy grenade in your pocket despite the 'insurance policy.'). Maybe something even an extended cut will find it difficult to fix?
The film may be a mess, but - in addition to the aforementioned Harley Quinn - Suicide Squad does at least achieve a small degree of success with its characters. As alluded to before, I really enjoyed Jared Leto's incarnation of the Joker. It was an incredibly difficult task to follow Heath Ledger, but Leto portrays him like a demented Al Capone on acid. I didn't find his screen time to be limited as his narrative is essentially a side story. Whilst it might be tiresome for Batman to face off against The Joker yet again, I am also not against seeing more of the character as essayed by Jared Leto. Elsewhere, Jai Courtney is amusing as Captain Boomerang, Viola Davis ruthless as Amanda Waller, whilst Joel Kinnamon makes more of an impression here than he did in the Robocop remake. The others have their moments, but not given a great deal to do. Less successful is Cara Delavigne's Enchantress. On paper, she's an interesting character but Ayer and co had absolutely no idea what to do with her.
Lastly, Will Smith has the usual Smith charisma as Deadshot, but his character has been clearly watered down to be as sympathetic as possible. He's no Deadpool or Snake Plissken that's for sure. For example, he has a young daughter, only kills other bad guys, and never women or children. He shouldn't really be in the Suicide Squad at all. As wonderful as she is, even Harley Quinn is not exempt from this criticism. In the opening third, her character is presented as a complete (although very charming) nut job, yet her resolve noticeably softens as the film progresses. By the final act, everyone is practically happily towing the line. That's the problem with having 'villains' as the leads, there is the temptation to make them more palatable for audiences. Deadpool showed that it's possible to have the likeable factor whilst staying relatively true to the character's convictions.
Whilst it might still be possible to repair an incoherent narrative with a longer edit of the movie, what is much more difficult to fix is that Suicide Squad is just not that exciting. The first act is good, but it completely fails to build on that, and everything that follows (action wise) is strangely vapid and uninspired. It's surprising considering David Ayer came up with the goods on the action front in Sabotage, End of Watch and Street Kings (I've not seen Fury yet). For all its supposed flaws, Batman Vs Superman delivered (and then some) on its action set pieces, but there's nothing in Suicide Squad approaching a tiny fraction of that. The only thing the two films have in common is the tedious, generic CG heavy adversary.
As someone who immensely enjoyed Batman Vs Superman: DOJ, I really want to also like Suicide Squad. The trailer had all the right ingredients but it feels like the head chef had to rush off a third of the way into preparing the meal. The result is a great appetiser but the rest of it is totally undercooked, leaving a bland and unsavoury aftertaste. If not for the entertaining opening act, Margot Robbie's scene stealing performance, and Jared Leto's Joker, Suicide Squad would be less Deadshot and more Dead On Arrival.