The reception to Suicide Squad has been pretty unrelenting; since the official premiere earlier this week, it seems every single critic has come out of the woodwork with their own takedown of the film. A lot of the reviews I’ve read have said that the film is somehow even worse than Batman Vs. Superman and the ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot, which is a pretty big claim considering how awful those movies were. Now, fans of the film have written an online petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes over the bad reviews, clearly not regarding that Rotten Tomatoes simply aggregates these reviews, and has no part in writing them.
As someone who is pretty disconnected from superhero movies altogether (except Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the original Spiderman films and the very first Iron Man), I didn’t really have much of a personal stake in this fight. I had a feeling that Suicide Squad wasn’t going to be the best film of the year from the moment it was announced the film was undergoing reshoots following the disastrous release of Batman Vs. Superman, and the unbearable press tour that followed Jared Leto taking the role of The Joker. Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe that there was a film worse than Batman Vs. Superman, and so I decided to see the film for myself.
The film opens by introducing Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) before cutting away to Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). After informing us that the story is taking place in the wake of Superman’s “death” at the end of Batman Vs. Superman, Waller whips out a thick binder and informs her colleagues that she wants to use people like Quinn and Deadshot to make a team, to be ready to fight “the next Superman,” should he turn out to be evil. This is the perfect segway into telling us who these meta-humans are, in case we aren’t already familiar. Deadshot is a man who desperately wants to do right by his daughter, despite his job title being the deadliest assassin in the world. Harley is a former psychiatrist who threw away her life to be with The Joker (Jared Leto). Both were apprehended by Batman (a quick cameo of sorts from Ben Affleck) and thrown in prison. There’s also El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), but the film isn’t really devoted into explaining their backstories as it is with Quinn and Deadshot. There’s also The Enchantress, an evil spirit who has made her home inside of Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), who Waller believes could be useful to the potential squad. The only problem? The Enchantress has other plans that include laying waste to civilization and wiping out humanity. She uses June’s body to carry them out shortly after Waller gets the clearance to assemble her squad. And so we see our
heroes unwillingly thrust into having to save the world.
The actual plot to Suicide Squad is something that wasn’t really made clear through the marketing material, and after seeing the movie, it seems that’s because the film isn’t really bothered with its plot. The first chunk of the film is literally Waller recounting the backstories of each squad member. As I mentioned before, the film glazes over the stories of El Diablo, Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang. As a result, the audience doesn’t get to form the attachment it does to both Harley and Deadshot. And while El Diablo does eventually get to tell his story, it comes far too late in the narrative to really have the level of emotional impact it’s asking for. In fact, right up until the very end, El Diablo is sulking in the background and literally watching his fellow squad members fight, not taking part in the action nor really interacting with anyone else. This is explained later as his apprehension to using his powers (which SPOILER ALERT were responsible for killing his wife and kids) but it feels like the filmmakers dropped the ball and tacked that on as an afterthought, when in reality it could have been explored in a more thought provoking and authentic way. Croc gets some funny one liners at the end, but much like Diablo is underused in the first 3/4 of the film, same with Courtney’s Boomerang and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, who joins the squad as a volunteer. I understand the Suicide Squad are supposed to be the anti-heroes, and the opposite of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but the only characters that are ever given any real time and attention are Harley and Deadshot; do these people even know each other? Let alone have anything to say to each other. How am I supposed to buy that these guys are “a family,” as El Diablo calls them at the film’s end, a moment that feels inauthentic and injected for convenience.
And perhaps the squad’s overall disjointment wouldn’t be such a glaring problem if it wasn’t clear that the filmmakers were trying to make Suicide Squad DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s a bunch of musical cues in the form of The White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Eminem’s “Without Me” that look to recreate moments from Guardians. These cues are a stark contrast from the otherwise grim and dour tone of the film. Those reports of reshoots to make the film “lighter” following the reaction to Batman Vs. Superman are pretty clear, although they standout because they feel haphazardly edited into the film. There is nothing in the film that echoes the recent promotional material, which features pop-art images and neon colors, as if they were marketing a completely different movie.
What threatens to take the film beyond redemption, however, is Jared Leto’s Joker. Despite being a complete insult to past incantations of this iconic villain, it feels like a slap in the face. Leto subjected us to perhaps the most asinine press tour detailing his preparation for taking on the role, including sending his fellow actors anal beads and used condoms. Why was this necessary? I’m not sure. Aside from anal beads and used condoms having absolutely nothing to do with The Joker’s storyline (both in the film and in the comics) he is in the film for a collective 10 minutes of the 123 minute running time. These 10 minutes are sprinkled throughout the film, which make Leto’s involvement feel like a glorified cameo rather than a role that requires being billed above Margot Robbie, Viola Davis and the other principle actors in the film. He pops up every once in awhile to remind us, “Hey! I’m Jared Leto and I’m playing The Joker, remember?” which feels painful and is a detriment to the film rather than something we should be excited about. In fact, I dreaded every time I could sense The Joker coming back onscreen. He should have held off on sending his cast mates anal beads and condoms, because his performance is offensive enough.
So yeah, Suicide Squad is a pretty bad film. But that being said, there are flashes of brilliance and moments that really do work within the film, which is more than I can say about Batman Vs. Superman. The principle cast, Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis are the three things this film got right. Though Smith is the weakest link of the three, it’s clear that he possess a star power that shines brighter than most, and I wish he was used better, because he really does have a presence that could have benefitted the film. We all know Davis is an actress with excellent skill; her two Academy Award nominations and the boatload of awards she’s won for How to Get Away with Murder should echo that sentiment pretty loudly. Much like Annalise Keating, Amanda Waller is someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone and is always in control, even when she’s not. Again, I would have loved to see the film serve this character better, but some of the film’s best moments stem from Davis’ letting characters like Deadshot know who’s in charge. And as for Margot Robbie, what’s there to say that hasn’t been said already? Her deranged smile is infectious, and she demands your attention, even when she’s standing in the background. Though her whole storyline with The Joker feels shoehorned into the main story, she manages to make the film’s aimlessness feel watchable. I only wish the film was half as interested in the other characters as it is with her, because Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Karen Fukuhara and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje could have been just as entertaining with the same amount of screen time.
I wouldn’t say Suicide Squad is a worse movie than DC’s previous efforts, though I also would add that’s in no part to the people behind the camera. Save for Leto, the principle cast works extremely hard to make this a film worth watching. Whether you can actually call this a film worth watching may vary based on who you asked. What do I have to say? Maybe, if the filmmakers weren’t so focused on recreating Guardians of the Galaxy and were more focused on making their own film, Suicide Squad could have been something really special.