So in spite of the warnings of just about every single person I know, I took the time during my vacation while my family was strewn about Mammoth Lakes to go check out Suicide Squad at the local theater. I’ve seen tons of posts on just about every social media page urging people not to see this movie for a multitude of reasons (because just about every trivial thing is a battleground between demagogues these days) but, me being me, I decided to go waste my time for a couple hours. Which this movie did with gusto.
Okay, that was a little harsh. In a world where Birdemic, The Room, and The Last Airbender exist, this was by no means the worst film I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even really all that bad, all things considered. But it wasn’t great. It wasn’t really even good. All in all, it’s a very mediocre, run of the mill summer action flick flecked with bad ideas and a bunch of cool ideas that could have been amazing had they not missed the mark.
My first exposure to the titular squad was with the 2000s Justice League Unlimited episode “Task Force X”, which featured the team (not referred to by ‘Suicide Squad’) sneaking into the League’s tower to steal a magic suit of armor. Played as a heist flick in an animated episode and focusing almost entirely on the antagonists’ point of view, the episode still stands out as one of the series’ most unique offerings. I then saw the return of the team in season two of Arrow (affectionately referred to by fans as the ‘Suicide Skwaaad’ thanks to Michael Rowe’s introduction of the unit) where they were set up to become a recurring element of the show, which was then hurriedly whisked away along with Amanda Waller and season three’s Katana to avoid having multiple versions of the same character for whatever reason.
Expect spoilers here on out, so if you’re dead set on seeing this movie fresh, well, you’ve been warned.
So where do we begin? Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
The Man Who Laughs
A long-standing tradition of the source comics translates to their adaptations in the silver screen, and that’s WB’s reluctance when it comes to characters that aren’t Batman or in some way connected to Batman. Superman gets a pass because he’s practically a modern myth. And yeah, I get it, Batman’s cool. I grew up on Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated series. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Awesome stuff. With Suicide Squad, however, there’s an opportunity to explore a number of villains and characters almost completely foreign to mainstream audiences.
So, of course, media, marketing, and fans all zeroed in on Jared Leto’s Joker.
Not really anyone’s fault, to be honest. I mean, it’s the Joker. Like Batman, he’s awesome. But all the hype surrounding the character really comes to the film’s detriment as he’s only in it for about 8 minutes (and apparently had a lot of scenes cut for time). Normally this would be fine and, in a perfect world, the character would have been kept under wraps entirely as a surprise for audiences instead of appearing on the poster and every movie trailer. But my biggest complaint about the portrayal of the Joker isn’t in the wardrobe (that’s really more taste than anything, and my taste in fashion stands at a whopping non-existent), but that Jared Leto is trying too hard to emulate Heath Ledger as the Joker. There are points in the film where it just sounds like he’s straight up doing an impression, even when it doesn’t fit the scene. Since there’s zero doubt he’s going to be showing up in the next Batman (or Harley Quinn) films, I hope he tones it back in the future and tries to explore his own take, but given the cuh-ray-zee stories of Leto’s behind-the-scenes behavior, I’m not expecting too much.
OK, trying to do an introspective look at the whole roster would take a long-ass time and I really don’t care enough about this movie to do it. Bullet time.
- Katana has a great design and backstory, and also may as well have not been in this movie.
- Jai Courtney is having a grand old time in the movie as Captain Boomerang, and also is woefully underused. He carries around a stuffed unicorn that was probably supposed to serve as humor, but I’m not sure.
- Why was Killer Croc introduced with “Fortunate Son” by CCR?
- El Diablo had the closest thing in the film to a really compelling character arc. Once again, underused.
- Slipknot is only in the film to prove the neck bombs aren’t fake. You knew it, I knew it, the movie knew it and didn’t bother to lead us to think otherwise.
- Rick Flagg is the self-righteous drill sergeant slowly revealed to be the traditional hero, flanked by villains, out to save his love and the world. At least, I think that’s what the movie wanted to go for. He’s mostly just kind of… there.
- No, seriously, “Fortunate Son?”
- Viola Davis is fantastic in everything and this is no exception. Not to undercut all the other actresses who have portrayed the character, but she’s one of the only ones since CCH Pounder that didn’t just portray Amada Waller but was The Wall.
- Will Smith was noticeably missing in the Independence Day sequel so I was quite pleased to see him here. His Wild Wild West get-up somehow found its way into the movie but it’s Will Smith so it’s OK. Remember when he used to do songs for every movie he was in?
- Questionable wardrobe choices aside, Margot Robbie’s great even if some of the dialogue falls on LOLquirk territory rather than genuine insanity. Also, her accent jumps around which could have worked if it was acknowledged in the movie, but it never was so it probably wasn’t intentional.
Everyone in the team who wasn’t Deadshot and Harley Quinn is pretty much overlooked, and as with any story that sacrifices characterization for plot beats the movie suffers for it. The movie tries to be Guardians of the Galaxy (not an unworthy goal, I loved that movie) with its cast, but makes no effort towards it and just has the characters say as much. El Diablo faces off one of the villains, declaring the squad to be his “new family.” A new family he’s known for maybe hours and pretty much avoided interacting with them most of the time. But hey, he opened up to them in a bar, so… yay?
This one’s going to probably put me at odds with some of my friends, but I’ve got to be honest: I dug Enchantress. Not as a character, no, she was an incredibly generic villain with generic goals (hey, a plot to destroy the world, neat). But her design ended up being way better in the actual film than I suspected from the magazine covers and set pics. Maybe it was that creepy-as-shit hand-grab transformation scene in the meeting room, but the whole bog witch design (that she sadly ditches one act into the film and doesn’t bring back until the climax) gave this whole eldritch vibe that just worked for me, even though it ended up being very out of place in terms of the setting and plot. It felt like the villain from Guillermo Del Toro’s planned Justice League Dark film somehow ended up in the wrong movie. There are some visuals in the climax that are just Cara Delevingne’s silhouette against a fiery background with glowing eyes that are just really cool and threatening. Ultimately, though, it’s not nearly enough to save the film and it stands as another missed opportunity in a film full of them.
A Missed Chance
One of the issues that really held back this movie was an attempt to present it as something it’s not. Somewhere along the way, WB got the respective tones of Suicide Squad and their other films mixed up, leading viewers to snarkily (and accurately) point out how a gang of criminals ended up causing less wanton mayhem than Earth’s greatest heroes, despite the Squad explicitly given full license to do just that. Despite the protests to the contrary, these days superhero films are, by sheer volume, overwhelmingly optimistic and fun. Since Iron Man, Disney has been pumping out these kinds of family-friendly blockbusters for almost a decade, with only non-film offerings like Daredevil and Jessica Jones offering darker outlooks.
With Suicide Squad, WB had a golden opportunity to present something that the Disney/Marvel leviathan hasn’t really tackled yet in its movies. Given that the film’s done well financially, I can’t really call it a loss in that regard and, again, I didn’t really hate the movie.
But it could have been so much more than what it was.