IN THE WEEKS preceding the release of Suicide Squad, things got bad. The Republicans and the Democrats staged their conventions. The RNC played out like free-association improv where the given word was always “terror”; the DNC offered more hope (or at least balloons), but not enough. Zika struck Utah. A rampage hit Dallas. A coup erupted in Turkey. And that was only July. The entire year has been like this, and there’s still so much more of it to go. Surely no one appreciates this more than writer-director David Ayer, who arrived at Comic-Con International wearing a “Make Mexico Great Again” hat clearly meant to mock Donald Trump’s foreign policy and choice of headwear.
That’s because no movie released this summer feels more of the moment than Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Not The Purge: Election Year with its on-the-nose title; not Jason Bournewith its buzzword-y Edward Snowden talk and inexplicably successful Internet companies. No, it’s Suicide Squad with its slightly upside down (or at least askew) moral compass and messy delivery that feels like the right movie for right now. Does opening up your Facebook feed feel like falling into fatalism? Suicide Squad is here to catch you—for better or worse.
This in no way is meant to suggest that a bullet-and-cameos orgy from DC’s burgeoning cinematic universe will make a ripple in the national conversation, let alone spark a substantive one. In fact, its obsession with firefights (an Ayer specialty) couldn’t come at a worse time. But if you’re growing bored of Pokémon Goand looking for a new distraction from the fact that 2016 has been simply atrocious, a movie about a group of ex-cons who turn out to be heroes might be what you need—and even if it’s not, it’s what you’re getting.
Suicide Squad does more than offer a things-could-be-worse diversion. It taps into the predictable 20-years-later nostalgia for the ’90s. With a soundtrack offering something for every generation since the boomers (shouts to K7!), it’s the kind of grotesquely energetic comic book movie that harkens back to, I dunno, Tank Girl maybe? (Before you yell “Deadpool!” in the comments: I know. But while the two share a certain level of not-kids-stuff, Squad has a graveness Deadpool doesn’t.) Remember when MTV played music videos and some movies felt like long videos? Well, here, just in time for MTV’s promise to bring back Daria, is a two-hour music video hosted by ’90s hero Jared Leto, starring as the dude who grew up into the kinda guy Angela’s mom worried he would. (Yes, he has a tattoo on his face, who cares?! God, mooooooom.)
Actually, let’s talk about the Joker for a second. Leto is now the third Oscar-winner to play the iconic villain, one of whom won his Academy Award for playing the Joker. The role’s been played so often and so well that it’s almost sacrosanct. So does Leto do it (ahem) justice? Yes, actually. He doesn’t eclipse Heath Ledger, who had much more to do in The Dark Knight, but you can sleep well knowing Margot Robbie (the Harley Quinn to his Joker) didn’t have to put up with live-rat delivery for nothing. Leto has the fully unhinged, vaguely pansexual, your-uncle-who-grew-up-on-Adam-West’s-Batman-won’t-get-it goods—even if it feels like a lot of it got cut from the final film.