Suicide Squad (2016)
Release Date: August 5, 2016
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne
Director: David Ayer
Studio: DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre(s): Superhero Action
Review Spoilers: High
Based On: Characters from DC Comics
Warning, this review contains major plot spoilers to the film.
Critics are trying really hard to dig Suicide Squad an early grave, and it’s not hard to see why. The biggest problem Suicide Squad suffers from is hype. That’s not it’s only problem though, the film itself has a good amount of problems, but this is a movie that’s been hyped for a long ass time. Some people compare it to The Avengers, or rather calling them the anti-Avengers, which might be giving the film too much credit. Remember, when The Avengers came out it was preceded by two Iron Man movies, a Thor movie, a Hulk movie, and a Captain America movie. It would be an unfair comparison, just based on the fact that out of all of the characters in Suicide Squad the general public probably has only really heard of Harley Quinn.
What Avengers had going for it, aside from Joss Whedon’s undeniable talent, was a strong foundation. You knew most of the characters and you were ready to root for them. The DCU has had a Superman movie and Batman v Superman. Now I enjoyed both movies when they came out, but I’m adult enough to admit that they weren’t perfect, and they did not meet my expectations. I am a DC fan through and through, but the DCEU has its problems. Since Geoff Johns’ promotion to president of DC Entertainment, we should hopefully see the movies slough off some of its unfavorable creative blocks from the studios in the future. Unfortunately Suicide Squad was made before this change, and so it retains some of the same weaknesses as the previous two films.
I obviously enjoyed the film, given my rating, and I’m not going to back down from that. However, Suicide Squad struggles with its plot, it’s chock full of characters that don’t all get the same amount of attention, it lost a lot of its jokes to promotion and trailers, and the editing was once again a crippling issue.
I feel a need to go on the defensive though, because despite these problems, Suicide Squad is a genuinely fun movie. Getting to watch Harley Quinn and Floyd Lawton and Digger Harkness and Tatsu Yamashiro come to life on the big screen, and to see them all on the same team, that was reason enough to watch the movie. As far as villains go, DC comics excel at churning out memorable fan favorites, and Suicide Squad is a grab bag full of them.
Before we get into the nitty gritty with the characters, let’s talk about Suicide Squad as a movie. The first half of the movie focuses largely on introducing our main characters, the protagonists of the film. It is where most of the more noticeable editing problems are shown, as the film jumps from character to character. Part of it reads like a music video, with well-timed musical cues and shots of the cast in their Belle Reve prison cells. This includes Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Their backstories are framed with the same neon, graffiti accents that are lathered on all of the promotional material; it’s unexpected, but not exactly unwanted. It adds to the tone and aesthetic in a way that doesn’t try too hard.
As Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), proceeds to introduce the rest of the squad, a couple characters are missing from the line up. We meet Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who has been roped into working with ARGUS because of his relationship with June Moone (Cara Delevingne), his archaeologist girlfriend who’s been possessed by a witch named Enchantress. It isn’t until the team is on their way into Midway City that we meet Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Their lack of substantiated backstories almost immediately push them into the background.
Waffling between Amanda Waller’s strong calculated evil and Incubus and Enchantress’s weak mystical evil, Suicide Squad lacks a solid antagonist for the team to face off against. Waller is undeniably a villain to villains, cold bloodedly implanting the team with nano-bombs that kill team members who do not follow orders. She’s manipulative, calculating, and an absolute delight. Nick Fury eat your heart out. But the team can’t go up against her, she’s the one who is in control. Her controlled evil is thrown off kilter when compared to Incubus and Enchantrass. When the witch takes over June’s body, she’s power hungry, but for no real reason. She wants to take over the world, but her role as a villain feels hollow. I’m much more interested in Flag’s relationship with Moone than I am with Enchantress being salty over the fact that she isn’t worshipped anymore. (Seriously though, I did not see this Flag/Moone romance coming, but I am all about it, gimme them fanfics.)
The plot jumps from a rescue mission to a “sure, let’s save the world” mission so casually it throws the viewer off balance. As Enchantress is destroying Midway City, the Suicide Squad aka Task Force X is activated. However, their real mission is to rescue Amanda Waller. Having done that, they’re left without a real purpose and take on saving the world almost like you’d take on a hobby. They don’t seem committed at any point. It makes sense for villains not to care about the fate of people’s lives, but if they’re going to be risking their lives and facing off against something that could kill them, they need a good reason.
The strong part of Suicide Squad is the cast of characters. Even the weakest characters are more interesting than most of DCEU’s lineup so far. They aren’t held to the same heroic standards like Batman and Superman, they aren’t paragons of society, and that helps them actually develop depth. There is something weirdly relatable about these psychotic psychologists and bleeding heart assassins.
So let’s get to the elephant in the room, the Joker problem. Initially, I was kind of okay with Jared Leto’s cartel chic, gangster Joker. It’s an interesting play, aesthetically, and on paper it should be everything that I want it to be. But it isn’t. Following Heath Ledger’s near perfect Joker was never going to be an easy task, but he still ranks at the lowest rung for Joker interpretations. Leto apparently agonized over his Joker laugh, he probably should have spent that time actually figuring out who his Joker is. It jumps from uncaring, abusive boyfriend to lovesick puppy. The former is essentially who Joker is, the latter less so.
I’ll admit that much of my post-movie issues with the Joker center around the actor himself. With so much baggage, it’s hard to appreciate him as just an actor doing his craft. His past is mired in controversy and questionable choices, and it admittedly affected my interpretation of his Joker. However, his appearance in Suicide Squad was essentially useless. He plays a side character to Harley Quinn, his backstory with Harley is interesting for a second until he starts offering her up to unnamed-villain-played-by-Common, and then he comes jumping back into the film for a hot second before jumping back out. For a character marketed so heavily, he has seemingly no purpose in the film.
If anything, the cameos from Batman and the Flash serve a stronger purpose. Batman plays almost an antagonist to Deadshot’s origin. I was initially cautious of Will Smith’s Deadshot, after losing the character in the Arrow universe I felt a little robbed, but he surprised me. Deadshot plays a good foil off of Rick Flag’s good guy nature, bringing a morally grey anti-hero that just wants his daughter not to think he’s a piece of shit. I mean, she already knows he kills people for money, he’s not asking for the world. Taken in by Batman after nearly winning a fight against him on the street when he was with his daughter, it’s interesting to see Batman’s role as an enforcer and puppet to Waller. It’s a small scene in a muddled movie, but it played towards the complexity of the universe.
Similarly, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn kept the spirits high in the movie. The brief moments when she is missing from the screen, there is definitely a noticeable lack of crazy cheer. She emulates the classic version of Harley well, played the insane love-sick paramour of the Joker and earning herself more of a spotlight than him. Robbie’s Harley not only brings light to the movie, but it actually makes it funny. She’s sarcastic, she’s vicious, she’s a delight.
However, Deadshot and Harley Quinn were projected to do well. They’re well known characters with well loved fanbases. What I didn’t expect was Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo to be so compelling. For the first half of the movie he spends much of it hiding in the corner of the frames. An ex-gangster, he’s taken the role of a pacifist after killing his wife and child. His character slowly builds on itself, and somehow pushes past the other costarring cast into the forefront. Initially I counted him as another person of color used to diversify the cast, but I was sorely wrong. His slow build from pacifist back to something of an anti-hero is as heartfelt as Deadshot’s story with his daughter.
That’s the thing with this movie. It’s clear David Ayers knows how to write and direct these characters. There’s just too many ideas in the room, and there’s too many bodies on screen. There’s a lot of hope in Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, but he barely gets time to shine. Captain Boomerang is one of the more ridiculous characters of the Flash’s rogue’s gallery, but Courtney adds a bit of levity to the role and indulges in that ridiculousness.
Same can be said for Karen Fukumura’s Katana. I heard a good number of scoffs in the crowd in reaction to her Soultaker blade. The story behind her sword, a weapon that takes the souls of whoever it kills, is pretty fucking tragic. But there’s not enough time to emphasize this, not enough time to build on the fact that her son and her husband’s souls are in the weapon she uses to kill people. Instead she’s a voiceless character, speaking in Japanese (which I’d assume no one really speaks other than Flag apparently). Again, both Katana and Captain Boomerang were favorites of mine from the DCTV universe, and it’s a shame to see their potential wasted by the movie.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc barely gets any lines, but what lines he does get are surprisingly funny. It’s weird to see him have a sense of humor, but I guess most of his moments have been against Batman, and I can’t exactly imagine Bruce and Croc sharing a laugh together. Aside from the awesome velour jumpsuit he gets, this glimmer of a funny Killer Croc leaves me wishing there was more of it.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why no one includes Slipknot in anything, it’s because he dies about 5 minutes after he joins the squad. Bye, bye Slipknot. We barely knew thee, and we barely cared.
It’s a little confusing, I’ll admit, the fact that I rated this four stars — originally 4.5 but then I realized half way through criticizing Joker that I actually had a bigger issue with him than I thought — and yet I am so critical of it. Critically, this movie is a mess. It’s weak in so many places, and sometimes you can’t help but point it out. I will say that someone needs to fire whoever edited this movie, because they probably did Batman v Superman and this is clearly not the job for them. You can tell Ayers was onto something good with this movie, but whether some of the spark was left on the cutting room floor or axed by WB executives, Suicide Squad lost some of its charm.
But still, it’s hard for me to actually say I disliked this movie. I forced myself to think critically about it, but moments after leaving the theater I was gushing about it and ready to watch it again. It wasn’t heavy and deep, it didn’t require that I take some emotional heaving breaths, it was fun and I immediately wanted a sequel. We can do better, we should do better. This has by far been the most entertaining installment of the DCEU. I want more snark, I want more humor, I want more bullets, I want more Amanda Waller shooting her interns and aides point blank because they’re security liabilities.
It’s not perfect, but I don’t really want perfect. I want my smack talking bad guys, being kind of heroic when it counts. Next time, let’s leave out all those punch lines from the tv spots and let’s parse down the plot a little bit, okay?
Final Thoughts: Don’t believe the critics, think for yourself. These are all opinions, and mine is mostly positive. The main characters hold up much of the story, and even though the house is kind of crumbling , the pillars are still strong.