Bad Guys Don’t Save the Day
Minor spoilers ahead
Suicide Squad is an entertaining albeit ham-fisted action romp that neither develops the DC cinematic universe nor gives us time to become truly invested in almost any of its characters. David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) races through the exposition to get to the action-packed and predictable latter half, but thankfully the haphazard storyline is somewhat held up by admirable performances and cinematic flair.
The biggest flaw in Suicide Squad is its pacing. The film is all over the place; from sprinting through character backgrounds, to crafting love stories and alliances, to building up a massive meta-human showdown, there are a lot of moving pieces. The thing is, these parts don’t really work together towards an ultimate goal. The film just sort of drifts between moments, constantly adding pieces to the picture but never bothering to stop and think about what it’s creating.
The Squad itself is easily the best part of the film, but unfortunately they’re barely given a chance to bond as actual people (or reptiles). Everyone is just sort of thrown together on a whim by the shady government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) in an inspired attempt to prepare for the next meta-human threat. Problem is, they’re all brought together about ten minutes before they’re loaded up to go fight said threat, so the only connection between them is their sociopathic and homicidal tendencies. How deep.
The main threat itself also a huge missed opportunity here, with the antagonist starting off with a strong early twist that leads to a severe power imbalance for our antiheroes. That threat, after a huge second act cop-out, builds to an inevitability of world decimation, with the resolution feeling predictable and underwhelming. The finale showdowns are very fun to watch (despite a few cheesy effects), but it’s pretty ridiculous that an elemental shaman, who brings down helicopters as if they were paper planes, can be bested by a single overpowered breaching charge. Also, way to steal the Destroyer’s look from Thor.
All of this isn’t to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities to Suicide Squad. The cinematography is just fun, with dramatic slow-motion shots showcasing the pomp and flair that these villains have when dispatching foes. Whether it be with bullets or bare fists, katanas or baseball bats, each member of the “krew” brings their own unique style to the fight, and all of them shine when taking down the (other) bad guys.
The film’s leads also carry the movie with bravado and charisma, and even though the story informally forces these characters together, each of the actors (along with their characters) make the best of the situation. Viola Davis definitely nails Waller’s cutthroat, cold-blooded objectivity when it comes to national security, and Will Smith’s Deadshot is easily the most likeable character in the film. Smith’s smug, street-smart assassin has plenty of great lines and moments, and Smith makes great use of every single one of them. It’s just a shame that while the storyline with his daughter is done well, a plank of wood could have acted better than the girl they cast.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is sort of a mixed bag. Robbie does an excellent job at capturing the character’s eccentric enthusiasmand perilous unpredictability, but her dialogue can be hit-or-miss and it seems there’s just no way around hyper-sexualizing both the character and the great actor that portrays her. Also, her relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto) often feels rather uncomfortable, as it romanticizes their affection despite the fact that the entire affair is built upon physical and psychological manipulation. While it could have been a fantastic warning sign to the dangers of abusive relationships, instead it’s portrayed as some mad, romantic fairytale.
This brings me to what’s probably the biggest talking point of Suicide Squad: Leto’s Joker. He’s not in it all that much, so I really can’t talk about him without treading into spoiler territory, but I will say that I really like the direction they’ve gone with the character. This is a very “Clown Prince of Crime” Joker, and Leto manages to convey not only the completely unhinged, maniacal side of Joker, but also his genius criminal talent. Leto’s performance is easily the most unsettling of any Joker so far, as his every move and sound works effortlessly to get under your skin. He’s a very capable Joker, and one that I look forward to seeing more of.
Oddly enough, while I really did enjoy seeing Leto’s turn as Joker, I think it would have been better for the film as a whole if they didn’t include him. His presence was constantly tantalizing; he’s a high-octane hurricane, but one that only struck a small handful of times. His relationship to Harley Quinn added a whole extra layer to an already jam-packed film, and while it was great seeing Batman interrupt “date night,” I couldn’t help but feel as if that time could have been better spent developing the titular characters and their relationship.
Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, the leader of Suicide Squad, is a typical diehard solider. His relationship to Dr. Moon (Cara Delivinge) gives him some added depth, as Moon is also Enchantress, an ethereal witch who has taken up residence within Moon’s body. The relationship works thanks to the decent chemistry between the actors, but the relationship itself comes out of nowhere early on as audiences are just expected to “go with it.” Flag is amusingly short on patience with his team members, but all in all he serves his purpose well enough- lead the Squad into the fight.
The rest of the Squad is allotted the remainder of the screen time, and that’s to say not much. Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is the most amusing member of the Squad, with his crass attitude and frustrating personality. He definitely has that Australian charm, and it’s dripping with sarcasm and as sharp as his arsenal. He may not play a very essential role in Suicide Squad, but he certainly steals the spotlight a few times throughout the film.
Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the fire-spewing meta-human, is a surprisingly engaging character with his pacifist attitude and emotional backstory. His arc builds up really nicely as well, and despite a few cheesy lines, Hernandez delivers a solid performance. His efforts in the final showdown are also really fun to watch, and the various effects he creates with his abilities are pretty clever.
Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and Slipknot (Adam Beach) have a tacked-on feel to them in terms of the narrative, as they’re all given very little dialogue and opportunities to develop as characters. Slipknot is barely in the movie, but at least the other two get quite a decent amount of screen time during the action scenes. Croc is given a bit more room to show off his personality, and while he definitely has some entertaining one-liners, a lot of his “gangsta”/southern bayou personality falls flat.
Also, and I never thought I’d say this ever, but there is way too much licensed music. While it feels sort of befitting during the character introductions, the billboard hits just keep coming for the entire two hour affair. From classic rock to hip-hop, the tunes are as inconsistent as they are prevalent. I paid to see a movie, not a music video.
The characters and cinematography in Suicide Squad are definitely entertaining, but they can’t hold up the sinking ship that is the DC cinematic universe. Waller’s “Task Force X,” the government name for the Squad, is a reaction to the loss of Superman in Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the entire film barely has any weight behind it. The film deals with a cataclysmic, extinction-level event, and yet it feels like everything’s “back to normal” by the film’s end. There’s also no tie-in into the upcoming Justice League, save for a short and uninteresting mid-credits scene. I was hoping Suicide Squad would be a much-needed shot
in the arm for DC, but it’s an altogether missed opportunity.
If DC and Warner Bros. want their films to start generating ‘Fresh’ reviews, then they had better do something quick, because Suicide Squad doesn’t come close to getting the edge over Marvel. The characters really are fun, and they deserve better than this mess of a story. But hey, at least they nailed the costume design.