I just got back from seeing Suicide Squad. It was written and directed by David Ayers, the same man who brought us some really great cinema experiences such as Training Day, End of Watch and Fury. It stars Will Smith, Margot Robby, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney and a slew of others.
The basic premise is the bad guys are the heroes of the story, being brought together by government heavy Amanda Waller to save the world. I am not an avid DC comic reader but from what I scanned of the Suicide Squad comic, this movie holds true to its origins and theme, especially the 2011 reboot as part of DC’s New 52.
Alright, now this movie has been heavily marketed as a sort of alt-superhero movie with the villains being the good guys, with a heavy rock’n’roll soundtrack, a lot of grungy and neon graphics and a sort of rebel spirit. With everything turned upside down, you expect this movie to take you on a crazy ride of wild abandon where nothing is as it seems and a lot of crazy fun is sure to follow. So does it deliver this? Not even close.
There are a number of problems with Suicide Squad starting from almost the opening shot. Following the events of Batman vs Superman, the world no longer has Superman to fall back on and people in the US government are freaking out over the possibility that another meta-human threat could appear to wreak havoc on humanity. This itself is fine and certainly would be something that the military and intelligence divisions would fret over and try to work out. However, in comes Amanda Waller, a psychopath with a government ID card who has the not-so-brilliant idea of leveraging the worst meta-human criminals that have been caught to be used as a weapon of last resort should a new meta-human crisis appear. And sure enough, almost immediately a meta-human threat appears which no one can seem to deal with and so the call goes out to Waller to assemble her team and get them on site.
My first question, and one that no one seems to ask in the movie, is where are Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash? In the context of the DC Cinematic universe, all three of these characters have now shown themselves in the world, with Batman and the Flash being the heroes responsible for catching most of the members of the Suicide Squad in the first place. So when a clear-cut meta-human threat in the form of the Enchantress appears and starts to create some kind of supernatural machine to take over the world, you’d think these future Justice League members would form up and deal with it. Wonder Woman alone could definitley have wrapped up the problem right quick yet none of them are anywhere in sight. Batman is in this movie and he even appears with Waller in a crucial future set-up scene at the end so his absence in this crisis was just the first thing that had me scratching my head. Of course, the obvious answer is that this movie couldn’t happen if the superheroes show up, so obviously they are off doing something else, maybe taking a vacation in Tahiti.
I have to be careful with the rest of my critique because I don’t want to give any spoilers. So without doing so, let’s just say that the way the story plays out, the bad guys are not really that bad and so the movie predictably takes us in directions that are not new, not rebellious and not upside down. The story arc is 100% a heroes journey with the Suicide Squad members starting the story in prison (their ordinary world), being given a choice of no-choice to fight for the good guys, being tested and going through an ordeal of fire, sacrificing for the greater good and finally taking their rightful place as heroes who save the world. This is nothing new – it’s standard superhero fare.
When I say the bad guys are not that bad, what I mean is you never see them being truly bad guys. Will Smith is shown in his setup killing some mob informant who himself is a bad guy and he’s cracking jokes while he’s doing it, which enable us to identify with him as a funny hitman who just kills other bad guys. But that’s not who Dead Shot really is supposed to be. The same holds true pretty much across the boards. Sure, the bad guys kill other bad guys but you don’t see them killing innocents, women or children yet surely the consequences of their atrocious crime sprees would allow us to see such carnage. There is one exception during the course of the movie, but that exception serves a completely predictable purpose which I won’t spoil here.
I think the reason that Ayers felt the need to shield the audience from the unforgivable acts these villains committed has to do with audience identification and sympathy for them. If you show someone killing innocent people in cold blood, which every one of these bad guys have done, then the audience is going to have a very hard time feeling like they can get on their side. So instead of doing that, you are constantly being reminded how bad the bad guys are because people keep talking about it or the bad guys remind us every few scenes how they are bad. Yet Will Smith is utterly likable, cracks funny jokes and even the psychopathic Harley Quinn starts acting more normal so that by half-way through you are wondering if her insanity has all just been some kind of put-on.
What would have been a real challenge is to have said to hell with audience sympathy and portrayed these bad guys as the psychopaths they are supposed to be and carry the story through anyway with the audience never forgetting who they really are and what they have done. That would have been a lot more interesting and would have made it much more difficult to tell this story, but it would have made a lot more sense in the context the movie sets up and been more in alignment with the dark, gritty realism that the DC Cinematic Universe keeps trying and failing to achieve.
In fact, I think it’s ironic that the real villain of this movie is Amanda Waller, the woman who put this team together in the first place and who does things during the course of this movie that are truly unforgivable and indicate she is the only real psychopath in the Suicide Squad. Again, without giving spoilers, it is ironic that Amanda’s scheming and setup to create the Suicide Squad is the exact and only thing that sets off the chain of events which require the Suicide Squad to go deal with. Had she never opened her big fat mouth or engaged in any of her underhanded and treacherous dealings, none of the events of the movie would have taken place. Yet in true comic book style, she is never held accountable for any of it. In fact, one major continuity problem in this movie is a scene where it appears that she gets it and then she shows up without a scratch shortly after and you have no explanation at all for how that happened.
There’s been a lot of media play and attention on Jared Leto’s Joker. I’ve seen other reviews that he’s under-used and barely in this movie. I don’t agree with that entirely because he is used as much as his character is supposed to be in the confines of this story, but that just isn’t much screen time. Comparing him to Heath Ledger’s Joker is difficult because he’s not given enough screen time to make a fair comparison. He’s clearly insane, he clearly is on edge all the time and no one really knows what he’s going to do precisely, but you don’t get any more than that. You don’t get any background and the only motivation for him as a supporting character is his twisted relationship with Harley Quinn, which is where most of his screen time goes. So if you are going to see this movie because you want to see a lot of Jared Leto, you’re going to be disappointed. I think there’s certainly potential here, but given how badly the DC movies have been done so far, I’m pretty sure that potential is going to be wasted in the future.
As with Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, I went in to this movie really really wanting to like it. I had high hopes that with David Ayers at the helm and the Zack Snyder/David Goyer hell team no where around, that something special was going to take place. Instead, we get a second rate story with superficial lip service given to characterization that doesn’t really say or do anything new or exciting with this pack of supervillains and so we’re left wholly unsatisfied at the end.
It’s not that the actors didn’t try, though, and there are enough entertaining moments in some of their performances that I’m not going to give this movie a total suckage rating. Instead, it gets a rating of pretty bad. If you’re thinking of seeing this, and I know a lot of you are, I recommend you skip it or at least go in knowing that this one is another example of a DC superhero movie wasting a lot of good potential.
Thank you for watching.