THEATRICAL REVIEW: Suicide Squad
Produced by: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Written by: David Ayer
Edited by: John Gilroy
Cinematography by: Roman Vasyanov
Music by: Steven Price
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Jared Leto, Ben Affleck
Based on characters from DC Comics
Well, DC, at least you’re making money off this one (so far…?).
Don’t get me wrong – Suicide Squad is nowhere near the overlong, overstuffed disaster that Batman v Superman was. That movie was crammed with events, aggressively downbeat, and was edited to the point of absolutely no breathing room in its theatrical cut. (I still haven’t seen the extended cut.) Suicide Squad, by comparison, is lean, surprisingly fun, and – most importantly – its story is coherent. Why, then, the disappointment?
Well, how about the fact that Suicide Squad doesn’t live up to its potential? Or how about how it doesn’t present us with any justifiable reason for why they chose the story they did for this group of characters? There’s a genuinely good movie without any caveats lurking behind the film that’s been released into theatres, more so than its predecessor. It’s just been unfortunately hobbled by a lack of confidence in its own premise on the part of the studio.
There’s been a lot of talk about the goings on behind the scenes with this movie. These days, it’s just inevitable that this becomes a major topic behind any high profile movie release, and with the rivalry between Marvel Studios and DC/Warner Bros. only just beginning, fans and the media outlets hoping to capitalize on their loyalties are digging for dirt on the other side. The narrative surrounding Suicide Squad seems focused on the fact that Warner Bros. freaked out after the lukewarm reception of BvS and test screenings of Suicide Squad while Fox hit the jackpot with their X-Men spin-off, Deadpool. This apparently led to Warner Bros. commissioning reshoots and multiple tonal retoolings to make the unreleased film both more fun and in line with the competition’s work. Not only did this result in a more humorous tone from the previously dark, gritty film, it also included licensing some well-known pop songs to pepper the soundtrack, akin to Guardians of the Galaxy.
Now, I’m not certain how truthful all this is – and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever really know for sure, barring someone at the studio going off script – but these allegations certainly seem to have made themselves manifest in the final film, regardless. The humor is prominent, enough to believe it was always at least present in some capacity from the beginning, but there are still plenty of abrupt shifts in tone, particularly in regards to the Joker and Harley flashbacks. (More on them later.) Regardless of when they were added – and they’ve had plenty of time since Guardians to add them – the pop songs are clumsily integrated and, for the most part, are crammed into the beginning. While the songs were integral to the emotional core of Guardians, they were also spread throughout the course of the film, even on up through its climax. The songs in Suicide Squad serve more as theme songs to the characters during initial introductions and begin to disappear until the very end afterward.
This lack of confidence in the film finding its own identity also extends to the fact that the plot fails to differentiate this team of villains from the teams of superheroes we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Unlike the Avengers or the Justice League, the team officially known as Task Force X is mostly made up of reluctant or outright unwilling beings and are obligated to follow through by the very government most heroes defend, a knee jerk response to the growing threat of superpowered beings in order to “fight fire with fire,” as Amanda Waller, the ruthless brains behind the operation, puts it. Implanted with self-destructing bombs and held in check by a few Navy SEALs led by Rick Flagg, you’d think that the ragtag bunch of misfits would be tasked with something more up their alley, such as assassinating a world leader or something – anything that would bring into question the morality of the very government that took such a high and mighty tone with them for their own misdeeds. Instead, their top secret mission is… stopping yet another villain from summoning the apocalypse with their big beam firing up into the sky?
Yes, it’s the same generic “save the world” plot that we’ve seen countless times before in movies with far more upstanding citizens. Waller talks about how using villains for missions would allow for them to pin the blame on them should anything go south, but with the villain they’re going up against, that kind of logic doesn’t make any sense – it’s pretty clear who’s the big bad here, and with these guys going in to put a stop to it, it’s far more likely that people will begin to think they’re not so bad after all than they are to blame the government should they fail in their mission. Plus, most of the enemies we see throughout the movie are literally an endless stream of faceless minions that attack them as they make their way through the city to the big beam in the sky. If not for the big personalities of the characters and game performances from the cast, this movie would’ve been doomed.
And that really is the saving grace of this film: the cast. While certain characters are treated better and are given more attention than others, there aren’t any weak or oddball acting choices going on here. At least from the main cast, that is. (Again, more on Joker later.) Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie are undoubtedly the highlights of the film. Smith, who plays Deadshot, seems to have been on some kind of charm hiatus, and so it’s nice to see him not only stepping into an uncharacteristic villainous role, but one that both allows him to show off his dramatic skills and his skill for playing a loveable smartass at the same time. Davis, as Amanda Waller, gives a stellar, even terrifying performance, one befitting such a ruthless character who truly believes the end justifies the means. It’s a performance that’s worthy of being considered the main villain of the film – it’s just a shame that the movie doesn’t realize it, too. Robbie, as you could tell from the trailers, is also a fantastic choice for the first big screen portrayal of Harley Quinn. (Let’s all continue to forget about that awful Birds of Prey show, okay?) While I don’t think that the film affords her very much to work with, Robbie understands the fine line between zany and disturbing that Harley should walk. If only the movie didn’t spend most of its time pondering her hotness. Unexpectedly, I also really liked Jay Hernandez as El Diablo and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. Diablo’s given some surprising depth, and Courtney, through his very limited screentime, proves to be a pretty entertaining comic relief. As for everyone else, well… they’re pretty solid, too, albeit in often much lesser roles.
But then there’s the white elephant in the room: Joker. Pretty much all the lead up to this film was focused on Joker, from Jared Leto’s casting to unexpected departure from his usual character design. Leto, for me, was much like Ben Affleck as Batman – a perfectly cromulent choice who could prove to be, at the very least, serviceable enough within the larger DC cinematic universe. As for the character design? Well, that I hated, too, but I was open to seeing it in action before I made any actual judgments. Sometimes you just need a bit of convincing, after all. Unfortunately, much like his painfully stupid “damaged” forehead tattoo, Leto’s portrayal is all surface level and none of the charisma or mystique to match his predecessors. There’s no energy, nothing disturbing, and no personality – just a lot of makeup and a bizarre, cackling laugh – like an asthmatic grandmother who laughs at inappropriate times. Seriously, I don’t think the film nor the actor totally understand when it’s appropriate for him to be laughing. He’s not even trying to be funny or even just amused with himself most of the time. It’s as if Joker forgets he’s not just some thug and so laughs just to remind everyone. It’s not creepy, it’s not funny – it’s just random.
The movie also can’t seem to make his relationship with Harley in the random flashbacks all that compelling, either. I know that the comics have changed their relationship somewhat since Batman: The Animated Series, so I perhaps should not be expecting them to use the abused girlfriend aspect that made her such an endearing yet tragic character, but still – where’s the spark and intrigue between the two of them? Where’s the twisted romance that goes beyond mere sexual attraction and goes into the brains of these two twisted individuals? Leto claims that the Joker issues were the result of a lot of cuts, and, given everything else that’s wrong with the movie, that may very well be. Luckily, I don’t see why it can’t still be rectified in future films. Joker is actually not in the movie as much as the advertising suggests, so adjustments can be made to salvage it without having too much precedent to be beholden to. At least Ben Affleck’s quick appearances here show that he’s still probably the best Batman/Bruce Wayne we’ve ever gotten to portray Batman in live action, regardless of the quality of films he’s been saddled with.
Suicide Squad is entertaining and mostly well performed, not anywhere near as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes ratings would seem to suggest, but a lack of confidence and commitment to its unique premise is honestly sets it back. It’s nowhere near as awful as villain-turned-antihero Catwoman, but it’s also severely deficient in the charm and character development to get anywhere near as close in quality to Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s seriously a shame that Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to have the confidence in its properties and talent to make truly great entertainment. Of course, if the film continues to do as well as it has been since its release, despite the negative reviews, there’s a very good chance that they’ll continue to learn nothing. They seem to be oddly reactionary with their DC films, so anything is possible, really. Hopefully, instead, they learn to actually aim from the beginning for what they tried to turn Suicide Squad into after the fact. Maybe then they’ll be as good as Marvel at this kind of thing. Honestly, here’s hoping – as an audience member, I honestly can’t see the downside in both sides succeeding at making quality entertainment.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5