So, a few weeks ago, the much awaited Suicide Squad movie was released. Coming on the heels of the mixed reviews for Batman v Superman, there was a lot riding on it. DC and Warner Entertainment have been batting long odds against the successful Marvel and Disney driven Avengers series of movies. So, not having seen any of the new Superman films, or Batman v Superman, I went in with no expectations save for that something would be projected on the screen in front of me. Spoilers ahead (if that still matters).
First some admissions. I’m a big Suicide Squad fan. I’ve been following them off and on for years when I’ve had access to their series, and their appearance in Justice League Unlimited and later in the extremely well executed Batman: Assault on Arkham made my days respectively. So it’s safe to say I’m at least knowledgeable about the franchise, its characters, and themes over the years. But years of movie adaptations have taught me to only ever expect to see characters and to flush pretty much everything else; and so I went into this with that in mind.
There were three stand out performances in the cast. Viola Davis, Will Smith, and Margot Robbie did excellent work bringing the screen versions of their characters to life. Viola Davis, in particular, deserves extra praise for bringing the gravitas and spirit of Amanda Waller to life so brilliantly. An honourable mention here would be Jai Courteney’s rendition of Captain Boomerang, which was hilariously on point; if he’d had more lines and a larger role, he could have easily held his own with Davis, Smith, and Robbie. A stand out facet of the movie though was actual diversity, which is good to see given it’s comparative rarity.
The movie also opened up the DC universe a bit more, not only introducing Task Force X, but also A.R.G.U.S. (Anonymous Ranger Group of the United States), but also showing that there are more superheroes and villains running around than advertised in the previous film entries. For a universe with as many levels as DC’s, this was an important and needed step. This means that stories about the less powerful superhumans and villains are now viable. IF DC were smart, they’d take advantage of this with a Netflix type series as Marvel did with Dare Devil, Jessica Jones, and the rest of the Hell’s Kitchen crew.
As a final note in the “good” section, the look of the majority of the movie, and especially Belle Reve (the “special detention barracks”), was great. The soundtrack likewise was quite good. While some found it jarring, to me it felt like they were using it as part of the story building exercise. I’m okay with that, since they made it for the whole movie, not just in dribs or drabs scattered through the film.
The best to start here is the poor characterization. Suicide Squad is an ensemble cast comic; with only a few characters sometimes getting more attention than others (plot dependent). The movie should have been the same way, but decidedly is not. It’s all about Deadshot and Harley Quinn, and everyone else is a supporting player. Often barely a supporting player. This hurt the movie in a lot of ways, because a lot of the characters in it weren’t able to be given their due to really shine. A big aspect of this is probably that so much time in the movie was wasted trying to give token back stories that it ate into the time for real development.
Speaking of development, there isn’t any team development in this movie. If this had been a D&D campaign, it would have been the standard “You all meet in a tavern, exchange backstories, and then receive your quest” type. In the New 52 reboot of the comic (where this movies roots are heaviest), Amanda Waller spends some quality time torturing and testing the potential members before sending them on a mission, using the shared misery team building plan. There’s nothing like that in the movie, they’re tossed together and in all honesty, “gel” too quick and are suddenly best buds. Its sloppy writing, and it didn’t feel great.
The last bad bit was Jared Leto’s Joker. His portrayal was okay, a sleazier, more emotionally manipulative version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1989 Batman film. I think, had the story revolved more heavily around the Joker or a Joker related scheme, that it would have been better. But as is stands, his character, and his sudden injections into the story after Harley Quinn’s backstory was done, came off as an unnecessary subplot. To be honest, I would have kept the end scene, but then used the ideas from the other appearances as part of the second movie.
Tone. This movie was all over the map, and had a handful of really badly disjointed and flow breaking moments. From what I understand, this is the result of the studio and DC panicking after the debacle of Batman v Superman. Two cuts of the movie, a darker original by director David Ayers, and a lighter, more comical one by the studio after a number of reshoots. The two were then mashed together and released. The result is that just as you’re slipping into the movie, BAM!, tonal shift. It breaks the flow and the immersion.
There were a number of lost opportunities and straight up hack jobs in this movie. One big lost opportunity was with the Enchantress character. She just was not threatening, at all. There was no sense of fear, no tension, nothing. The actress, Cara Delevinge, does a decent enough job as June Moone, the host for the Enchantress, but as the Enchantress, she just is not threatening and the presentation lacked the presence it needed. While the overall plot was okay-ish, it lacked polish and thinking, and didn’t do a great job of building tension.
Probably the worst thing in this movie for me after all that though was the criminal waste of the characters El Diablo, Killer Croc, and Katana. Katana is an awesome and underused character in general, and giving her some screen time to actually shine would have been amazing; but her characterization was weak and the actress, Karen Fukuhara, just didn’t have a lot to work with. Killer Croc was a joke in the film; you could have literally cut him out of it and not lost a single thing and only had to do a tiny amount of rewriting. El Diablo got it the worst though. The attempt to make him suddenly sympathetic so that he could die a heroic death was the WORST writing in the movie. Without a proper build up, or effort, it just came off as farcical.
This movie wasn’t good. By any stretch. What it needed was a better multi-platform approach. Had the studio released 10-15 minute origins for the characters, outlining their narratives, how they got caught and so on, it could have freed up a tonne of space in the film itself. Not to mention it could have been used to build up even more hype. But that didn’t happen, so you have what this movie was. A movie. It wasn’t terrible, but it tortures you with flashes of what it could have been, what it should have been.
I can’t say in honesty that it was really worth the extra few dollars to see it in 3D; and I wouldn’t blow money on the full price DVD when that comes out either. It’s a solid Saturday afternoon or cheap matinee film though, and for its flaws, it does expand the DC cinematic universe.