Sunday, 14 August 2016

"We're bad guys, it's what we do."

Cast and crew gave each other tattoos. Writer and director David Ayer (Fury), who served in the Navy, used military tactics to reduce his cast to a state of physical and mental exhaustion. A psychiatrist was available on set. Cara Delevingne (Anna Karenina), playing a witch, was told to use her nights off to dance naked in the pale moonlight  – which she did. Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher), as tinnie swigging Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang, went so deep into character he literally stubbed cigarettes out on his arm. And, as famously reported, Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), playing a version of the Joker that somehow needed to move out of Heath Ledger's shadow, sent co-star Margot Robbie (The Wolf Of Wall Street) a dead rat.

Never mind Deadpool, Suicide Squad is the bad boy of superhero movies, a film that is arguably as unhinged, twisted and insane as it's anti-heroes. It may not be quite as badass as you want it to be, but for a major studio summer release it comes pretty close.

It starts with the ruthless government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembling Task Force X, a team of misanthropic misfits who can help protect national security following the death of Superman. "In a world of flying men and monsters," she barks at her colleagues over dinner, "this is the only way..."

For those uninitiated with DC comics cult chatacters, Waller flicks through their files one by one as each Squad members deplorable backstory is sketched out. Deadshot, the most wanted hitman in the world, delivered with poise and a generous side order of swagger by Will Smith (I Am Legend), who couldn't look happier stepping back from his leading man dominance to join this motley ensemble and coolly put bullets in brains. Harley Quinn (Robbie), an ex-psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who first fell for her patient the Joker (Jared Leto) and then into a vat of toxic waste. Captain Boomerang (Courtney), whose drone devices return to him. Fire spraying meta-human Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the team's unlikely conscience. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man beast contained in a sewer based cell. And finally there is the aforementioned witch Enchantress (Delevingne), an ancient force who takes over Dr. June Moone (also Delevingne) when called upon.

Led by Special Forces operative Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), they are flown into a burning Midway City to fight an unspecified, non-human, world threatening evil, and to retrieve the equally mysterious HVT1.

It is certainly quite the roll call. And, despite the rich material, Ayer is a brave man to marshal this Dirty Half Dozen. Thinking he was making the funnier, smarter little brother to Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, he has instead found himself tasked with turning back the wave of negativity.

More used to a testosterone fuelled psyche with the likes of End Of Watch (2012) and Fury (2014), Ayer might seem an unlikely candidate to rescue a comic book blockbuster series, but, like his unpredictable, mismatched characters, he pulls it off with gritty aplomb.

Early scenes are shot in tattoo ink purples, gangrenous greens and electric blues, though much of the action takes place in a world leeched of colour and forever soaked in rain. Frames shudder, edits jolt, and several images scorch the backs of eyeballs, not least Harley Quinn's introduction – hanging upside down in a cage in the middle of a vast empty room.

Once busted out, Harley goes on to be Suicide Squad's best and brightest, with Robbie playing her coy and sexy, cute and crazy. Sure, it can be argued that Suicide Squad puts gender issues back by 30 years – with Harley squeezed into tiny hot pants and a tight T emblazoned with 'Daddy's lil monster' – but Robbie at least owns her sexuality enough to make fools out of the gawping guys.

Whatever the truth behind the reasons for additional shooting (standard procedure, or last minute humour injection?) you can't help but inhale the sweaty waft of studio interference in what proves to be a scrappy final edit. False starts, oddly placed flashbacks, clunky cameos – Ben Affleck's Batman and Ezra Miller's Flash – and a muddled chronology detract from the grungy, kooky fun, and it takes a good 45 minutes for the set-up to finally kick in. Also, in striving to find a threat deadly enough to warrant asking bad guys to save the world, the film's answer is less than satisfying. Instead we are given another posturing villain with vague plans for world domination via a big, swirling mass of digital debris.

Still, at least elsewhere there is a proper bad guy to chew on. Though only a wild card, occasionally capering in and out of the main plot, Leto's (Dallas Buyers Club) sadistic incarnation of the Joker is essential to its success. Where Heath Ledger's version was scarred, shabby and countercultural, Leto's has a smooth, bling covered gangsta swagger – a modern take on the way the original comic book creation riffed on 1930s mobsters. But it is not his swish, purring style and elegant, slow cackle that really hooks you, it is something we have never seen before – the Joker in love. Here is a fascinatingly jagged new angle (cinematically at least) that is both unsettling and compelling.

All of which suggests that there is clearly more to come, and judging by what Ayer has pulled off here, you can bet there will be. 

Don't listen to the haters. Ignore everything else you read. Suicide Squad is deliriously good fun and gives new life to the DC Expanded Universe.

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