Tired of good guys? The Captain Americas, ‘yer Iron Men or Wondrous Women? If their virtuous acts and heroic posing are wearing thin or not to your liking, along comes a crew of anti-heroes willing to bend the rules to protect the planet. “We’re the bad guys,” says Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), “it’s what we do.”
Based on the DC Comic of the same name, the Suicide Squad a.k.a. Task Force X, is a ragtag team of death row villains sprung from jail by a secret government agency run by ruthless bureaucrat Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). “In a world of flying men and monsters,” she says, “this is the only way to protect our country.” Waller’s counter-intuitive idea is to utilize their specific sets of skills—essentially creating mayhem—to quell large-scale threats against humanity. In return they are awarded clemency for their crimes. “I’m fighting fire with fire,” says Waller.
The all-star cast of baddies include assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn, a crazed former psychiatrist with a love of beating people with baseball bats and Joker (Jared Leto), deadly boomerangist Boomerang (Jai Courtney), fire-conjurer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and the reptilian Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
To keep the baddies on the straight and narrow they are led into battle by righteous team leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Also they are implanted with micro-bombs to encourage them to do the right thing. Complicating an already complicated situation is the Joker’s plan to extract Harley from the group and the appearance of Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist possessed by an ancient evil force.
For the first forty minutes or so “Suicide Squad” is loopy fun. Zippy, it rips along setting up the story and the characters in an extended origin sequence that gives us all the information we need to understand the rest of the movie. It’s a catch-up that non comic book lovers will appreciate. It is also the strongest part of the movie.
When it gets down to the nitty-gritty of the team in battle against “non-human entities” the C.G.I. kicks into high gear, covering every inch of the screen, and “Suicide Squad” becomes considerably less interesting. Set to a classic rock soundtrack the large-scale action scenes are muddled, dark and rather generic, especially given the special skills of each of the combatants.
About the Squad. For a group of psychopaths they sure seem to be OK people. The worst thing they do—minus the wholesale carnage the government allows them to create—is go temporarily AWOL for a drink in between battles. Over cocktails they discuss life, love and motivations. There are rom coms with more edge.
Much has been written about Jared Leto’s commitment to the role of Joker, and I’m sure the stories are true—he apparently sent a live rat to Robbie and a dead hog to the crew—but it’s hard to see the payoff in his method. His take on the character is weird but not as wild as you might want, and considerably less present on screen than you might think.
Smith makes more of an impression simply through the sheer strength of his charisma. Like the rest of the team he isn’t given much to do but he makes the most of it. Robbie makes an impression in a dangerous and flirty role but her New York accent comes and goes with the frequency of a rush hour subway train.
The rest are placeholders, not given enough to do to actually be interesting and even when they are in action, it’s so dark it’s hard to tell exactly who is shooting/stabbing/punching who.
On the plus side “Suicide Squad” doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as “Batman v Superman.” On the downside director David Ayer took a premise that gave him permission to go as far overboard as he wanted and yet the movie feels familiar, like it is trying to echo the very movies it should be an antidote to.
To prepare for his role in Suicide Squad method actor Jared Leto went full Joker.
“I had to be committed beyond belief,” he says. As the third Oscar winner to play The Joker, after Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, he said, “We knew we had to strike new ground. There had been such great work we knew we had to go in a different direction.”
An adaptation of the DC Comics antihero series, Suicide Squad sees supervillains like El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) as well as Leto’s Harlequin of Hate perform perilous black ops missions in return for clemency. Director David Ayer describes it as a “comic-book version of The Dirty Dozen.”
Leto immersed himself in the role to the point his cast mates didn’t know where the actor ended and the Joker began. Jai Courtney said, “Let’s put it this way. I haven’t seen him, since we started working, out-of-character.” Margot Robbie and Scott Eastwood, who is Leto’s friend in real life, both say the actor’s on-set behaviour scared them.
To create his take on the Clown Prince of Crime he mixed-and-matched influences from the Batman comic Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth along with shamans and Mexican cartels. “The Joker is fantastic because there are no rules,” he says.
The only rule Leto subscribed to was to never break out of character, whether he was filming or not. His conduct made headlines when it was reported that he gave the cast and crew some Joker inspired presents.
“He did some bad things, Jared Leto did,” said co-star Viola Davis. “He gave some really horrific gifts.”
Robbie, who plays the baseball bat-wielding villain Harley Quinn, received a love letter and a live rat in a black box. She kept the rodent, which she named Rat Rat, for the duration of the Toronto shoot because, “If Harley got something from Joker, she’d probably cherish it.” When filming was complete Guillermo del Toro adopted the rodent renaming it Vestuniano.
Will Smith, who plays sharpshooter Deadshot, was also sent a letter accompanied by a bullet and Killer Croc portrayer Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje received a “used” Playboy magazine.
Leto’s first day of the shoot gift was an eye opener. He missed the first few days of filming, so to let everyone know he was thinking of them he sent over a dead hog and a video of the Joker.
“Basically, what he said was, ‘Guys, I can’t be there but I want you to know I’m doing my work as hard as you guys,'” Adam Beach said. “The video he showed is in character. It blew our minds away. We realized that day, this is real.”
Viola Davis was spared Leto’s twisted gift giving. “I did not receive any personally, or else I would have got my husband, who was called ‘Headache Ball’ when he played football, and I would have said, ‘Take care of the Joker,’” she said.
Did his methods pay off? Seems so. Ben Affleck describes Leto’s performance as “genius” and Ayer declares, “I think it’s going to be hard for anyone to ever imagine anyone else as the Joker.”
Leto thinks his process was worth it. “Other people can show up and are genius but I did what I needed to do to deliver. And we had a good time with it.”