Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ★★★★★

For better or worse, Suicide Squad is best watched as a sort of visual exhibition made by comic book-inspired artists. Much of what makes comic books such an intriguing and compelling form of narrative is their subtle and creative use of visuals to create theme, atmosphere and character, yet so many modern comic book films get hung up on telling us these details purely through words. For whatever else you can accuse Suicide Squad of, it gets this. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, this is perhaps the most interesting comic book film I've seen since Persepolis.

The plot is nothing special, admittedly full of holes and often contrived, but I was ultimately able to dismiss this based on 1) The underwhelming stories of most franchise-set comic book films 2) The inventive ways Suicide Squad handles its visuals and characters and 3) The acting performances. Director David Ayer looks at how diverse his characters are in background, personality and abilities and uses this to blend all sorts of visual styles to pull us into this grandiose, trippy, but ultimately toxic and frightening, nightmare world that these colorful villains experience every day. Deadshot brings a more slick and clean early 2000s spy thriller aesthetic to his scenes, Enchantress heavy sequences feel reminiscent of a Renaissance artist, Diablo's moments are reflective of Aztec codex paintings. Even the much maligned Joker & Harley Quinn bring an art style straight out of West Coast tattoo culture. What Ayer does in allowing all these major players in his ensemble cast to bring their own unique artistic fashion to the film is, as far as I know, unprecedented in this genre. Furthermore, all of these visual styles are implemented beautifully. What Suicide Squad has that so many comic book films of today lack is atmosphere and personality. Suicide Squad has that in spades. Harley Quinn's birth at Ace Chemicals remains to this day the most visually striking and aesthetically gorgeous scene I've witnessed in a comic book film, feeling straight off the page of one of the best DC Comics artists. The visuals go far in making this film feel like a "comic book brought to life" and each of these styles does a wonderful job visually telling us more about these characters.

On that note, thank God we finally have a superhero team up movie where the screenwriter didn't feel compelled to have all of the characters hate each other for the dumbest reasons imaginable for the entire film up until the last 10 minutes. The Squad members here have genuine chemistry in a kind of "honor among thieves" sort of way, their experience out in the Hellish streets for which they've earned their notoriety has taught them the necessity of "bond to survive." (Also, as much as people want to harp on Harley Quinn becoming instant friends with Deadshot, this is hardly out of character. In Batman: The Animated Series, she makes instant buddies with her kidnapping victim. Being unexpectedly friendly to strangers who pose no threat to her, despite her chaotic and violent nature, has always been part of her charm.) It's an excellent subversion of expectations regarding how common audience members may expect these characters to react. Furthermore, it brings more weight and substance to Rick Flagg's character arc; how he begins the film with a very black & white view of morality, but begins to recognize the gray areas upon witnessing both the Squad's camaraderie and their eventual heroism and capacity for good.

Margot Robbie's acting performance as Harley Quinn is my favorite I've seen in any superhero film to date. She entirely feels like her antiheroine counterpart jumped straight off the pages of her literary source material. Her balance of sickly, sweet friendliness and unpredictable, manic insanity is perfection and she shows incredible emotional range here in both her facial acting and vocal delivery in an unbelievably transformative role for Robbie. Her scene at the bar scolding Diablo comes from such a place of emotional passion and energy, Robbie IS the Clown Queen of Crime as far as I'm concerned.

Viola Davis is an absolute force as Amanda Waller. She commands such power and such presence in every scene she's in that I had no problem believing this is the kind of person that could put A-list metas in line with nothing more than a hardened stare. As with Robbie's Harley Quinn, I can't think of a better and more commanding actress for the role.

While Jared Leto's Joker certainly didn't set the world on fire, I really enjoyed him. Leto works quite well as a more seductive take on The Joker, a Joker more representative of the appeal to the dark side of life that Harley finds so intoxicating. Even the romanticization of their relationship isn't nearly as awful as it's made out to be when you consider that almost all of Harley & Joker's interactions are told from the perspective of bias; Harley's skewed memories. It makes sense she would remember the good more than the bad.

Many critics have called the film thematically shallow and I would strongly disagree with this assertion. The themes of unconditional love and sacrifice are quite strong here in the journeys of Deadshot, Harley, Diablo and Flagg. These are characters who very much start the film quite self absorbed, but who must learn the value of sacrifice through the bonds they form amongst each other. To, if only for one day, become the heroes they could have been in a fairer world. To become worthy of both the love of others and the love of self. As much of a mess as the plot is, it's an emotionally resonant and thought provoking message that's well conveyed with its main cast.

The insane critical backlash for this film, while not depressing, is certainly frustrating. The performances are great, the characters are likable and have great chemistry and the visuals, and their usage, are unforgettable. This is comic book euphoria.

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