“We’re bad guys,” says many a member of this Suicide Squad multiple times. As if this wasn’t clear from the plot of a bunch of incarcerated B level super villains from the DC universe go on a government lead expedition against a lethal comic book situation in exchange for getting years shaved off their sentences, these aren’t good people. These are murderers, monsters and magical threats of destruction. Suicide Squad is a bold idea for the third film in the DC Extended Universe, though interesting in that their earlier films portray Henry Cavill’s Superman (who is consistently referenced as dead) and Ben Affleck‘s Batman (who has a few minor appearances here) as unsympathetic murderous psychopaths. Then again, maybe a DC film with true villains is the right move. Give us complicated characters to root for. Let’s see if we can grow to root for true villains.
Well, “grow” inherently implies forward momentum. Most of the members of Suicide Squad don’t change much. Which on some level is fine, given that this is an introduction. But, there are clear attempts at growth here for some of these people. Namely, Deadshot (Will Smith), a remorseless Gotham trigger for hire… who just wants to see his daughter. It’s a very flimsy and familiar device for anyone with basic knowledge of assassin movies. It’s not present enough for Smith to have true progression, but too obvious to not get grating really fast. Yet, Smith is honestly one of the highlights of Suicide Squad. He has the bravado of his youthful years mixed with a genuine attempt at dramatic pathos. It’s not enough to make up for the problems, but Smith is one of the few constants that keeps things tolerable.
The same goes for Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn. Her pure enthusiasm has the power to be infectious when allowed to reveal itself. Robbie’s usual sexual energy is present, though more exploitive from a directorial stand point. Robbie at least tries to show off her assets more for the sake of intimidation than anything else in context. She gets the emotionally layered range of Quinn as a character, even with unfortunate changes to her backstory that are more reductive than those featured in her original form on Batman: The Animated Series. Then again, changing that isn’t the problem. The real problem is the constant use of flashbacks, both for her and all throughout. Harley’s introduction (much like all of the Suicide Squad) feels so labored with a 15 minute exposition dump disguised as a Dirty Dozen homage. We don’t get that much of something key in Harley’s life from her perspective. The point that turned her into a masked villain… and we just kinda rush past it.
Many of these glimmering moments show off the majority of Jared Leto‘s screen time as The Joker. Despite being Batman’s arch nemesis, his role in Suicide Squad is roughly ten minutes or so. Not a bad idea, considering this is Harley’s story far more than his. Yet, the jumbled appearances feel like paper thin plot devices and first draft material for a true reimagining of The Joker. Leto himself isn’t awful for what he’s doing, but it’s more or less both a 1940s film noir mobster and modern day gangsta simultaneously. He has the flair of a modern drug dealer with the temper of a James Cagney. His vocal inflections are an occasionally garbled mixture of Heath Ledger and Jim Carrey. Worst of all, he just doesn’t have much of any chemistry with Robbie, which is sort of key for a subplot heavily based around their relationship. The few scenes with Leto aren’t enough to sink him as Joker for this entire DCEU, but it ain’t a great first impression either.
As for the rest of the cast in Suicide Squad, there’s not much to say. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is buried under make up and doesn’t have much of anything useful to do. Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang is merely doing a third rate Tom Hardy impression, which for Courtney is a career high given the resume. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) has a whole thing with her sword and dead husband that’s blatantly exposited by Rick Flag. Joel Kinnamen provides his usual monotone blandness to Rick Flag. Enchantress is mainly an excuse to rip off Gozer from Ghostbusters and to put actress Cara Delevingne in revealing clothing. Oh, and Adam Beach‘s Slipknot is… in the movie? Pretty much every character is underplayed, with two exceptions; Jay Hernandez‘s El Diablo and Viola Davis‘ Amanda Waller. Viola Davis is honestly the most consistently intimidating presence of Suicide Squad, though she does become a lame hostage by the finale. Diablo is the only character with any sort of arc and Jay Hernandez has a sincerity that shines through even as the third act gives him a rather flat resolution.
Hell, that entire third act of Suicide Squad gave these characters a weak resolution. It’s indicative of the greatest sin here: the editing. The work done here getting from one scene to the other is inconsistent to say the least. The moments that stand out the most feel like something more common with a trailer than a film. The action sequences, plot exposition and even character moments often conflate between muddled confusion and trailer fodder. This causes severe mood whiplash and awkward transitions all of the place. All of this severely butchers the plot down to “Welp, there’s a whirly beam in the sky again. Guess we gotta stop that!” It’s such a loose narrative that could have ended up being perfect for a concept like Suicide Squad, right? Where we can develop these characters, building them up as a unlikely team and maybe make light of the formulaic elements of the genre from a different perspective?
NOPE. Nothing that interesting or creative here. Even stylistically, director David Ayer is even seems to be taking notes from executive producer Zack Snyder‘s style of direction on the previous two DC films. From the aggressive slow-mo, washed out color scheme and horrendously on the nose soundtrack choices, Suicide Squad feels comfortable in this existing drab universe and that’s not a good club to be a part of. Nothing too interesting or challenging enough to give the idea of super villains teaming up something to stand out. So much of Suicide Squad falls flat on its ass because of the inconsistent style. Big reveals are showcase to a thud. Most of the jokes suddenly blurt out to no effect. Hell, members of the titular group of villains even randomly spout out sentimental garbage about them being “friends” and “family” by the third act. There’s no family bond built here. There’s maybe a bit of a friendly flirting between Deadshot and Harley Quinn. But it’s so secondary to moving from one set piece to the next. While clearly trying to have a heartfelt Guardians of the Galaxy moment, Suicide Squad shoots itself directly in the foot. None of it is earned.
That’s what’s so frustrating about Suicide Squad. It’s a big risk for Warner to do and has so much potential to make themselves stand out. Instead, it’s just another generic superhero story. Getting all the check marks down a superhero plot, including…
- Generic Villains (Enchantress & Bro)
- Generic City Scape Setting (Midway City)
- A Doomsday Machine (Enchantress’ Giant Beam in the Sky)
- Bland Romance (Enchantress’ human self and Rick Flag)
- Giant Beings Killing Humans (Enchantress’ Bro)
- A Sympathetic motivation (Deadshots’ daughter)
- Fake Out Loss of a Love One (Twice)
- A Climax Involving Blowing Something Up
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The point is that for all this build up about being different and not in step with usual superhero blockbuster faire from the film’s attitude, Suicide Squad is pretty much just the usual blockbuster with a mean mug slapped on. And a bare bones blockbuster at that. Isn’t it weird how these “Bad Guys” seem interchangeable with the good ones?
Suicide Squad is a crude mess. The only things that can be salvaged is potential for someone else to take hold of later on down the DC road. The few bits of universe building are fun enough, mainly with the aforementioned Batman appearances and a genuine surprise from the universe that one couldn’t see coming. Plus, Robbie, Smith and Davis wouldn’t be unwelcome in another DC movie down the line. Maybe Leto’s Joker could get fleshed out a bit more. But this entire affair feels like such placeholder material. Nothing that happens in Suicide Squad really has much of any consequence to it by the end. Sure, part of a city is leveled and some people apparently have changes of heart, but none of it seems authentic in a universe that barely brought things of consequence into Batman V Superman. Mind you, this isn’t quite at that level. Suicide Squad has enough minor charms that mainly come from the cast to keep it from being a disaster, particularly in one set at a bar that actually shows some sense of comradery amongst these villains. But it isn’t enough to keep the film from being a giant mess. Going into Suicide Squad, I hoped I would be eating crow about the future of DC’s film department. Now I wonder if next year’s Wonder Woman or Justice League can be even slightly coherent or worth much of a damn.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Harley Mallets