I’m fairly certain that I’m not alone in the following assessment – that between both BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD, I was way more excited for the latter than the former. BvS just seemed like an idea that was about 12 years too late (among other problems that many saw coming a mile away), while SUICIDE SQUAD felt like a fresh idea, involving many characters that have never been adapted to the big screen up to this point. On top of that, you have Jared Leto playing The Joker? Margot Robbie as freaking Harley Quinn? And just the slightest hint of a Batfleck appearance? I’m in!
Written and directed by David Ayer, SUICIDE SQUAD takes place in the aftermath of Superman’s death in BvS. When archaeologist Dr. June Moone (played by Cara Delavingne) becomes possessed by the evil spirit of The Enchantress, she desires vengeance on the human race for imprisoning her. She summons her brother, Incubus (played by Alain Chanoine), who takes possession of an innocent’s body, and together they begin laying waste to Midway City.
Enter government agent Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis). She gains permission to assemble a team of bad people, “who [she] thinks can do some good.” With Colonel Rick Flag (played by Joel Kinnaman) placed in charge, Waller recruits Deadshot (played by Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie), Captain Boomerang (played by Jai Courtney), El Diablo (played by Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Slipknot (played by Adam Beach), and they are sent off to take care of the threat currently besieging Midway City. Knowing that these people are bad guys, Waller has a miniature explosive planted into each one of their necks; any attempts to rebel and/or escape, and Flag detonates the device, killing them.
Let’s start with the story itself: a fun, glorified mess. While the plot seems pretty straightforward, there’s something pretty important missing from it – any reason to care. And in my opinion, this is the fundamental problem with what DC is trying to do with their Expanded Universe – too much, too fast. Sure, comic book fans will know who these characters are. The casuals – like myself – will be meeting many of these characters for the first time through this film. This is why I had no problem with how long the “introduction” scene went; Ayer pretty much had no choice. I did like the backstories of our protagonists, particularly Deadshot, who we see has a daughter that he longs to see again, a daughter that Waller uses as leverage against him. But the thing about the film that I think Ayer forgot when writing and filming is that these people are BAD GUYS. 90% of the audience will see this and ask, “why should I care about these people? They’re scumbags. What are the stakes?” The film tries to argue that the fate of the Earth is at hand (and that’s why you should care), but the way the film tries to portray that this group is humanity’s only hope, is confusing to the audience. Hence why I feel the plot, ultimately, doesn’t work, and becomes a bit dull throughout much of the film – the stakes just don’t feel as high as they claim they are.
The PG-13 rating, I feel, was a big detriment to the possibilities of this film. In the lead up to this release, I’ve heard comparisons to DEADPOOL as far as the humor and violence were concerned. But you can’t be DEADPOOL without being R-rated – anything else is just impossible, and a complete waste of time. I understand that the PG-13 rating allows the film to reach a bigger audience, but for a story about naturally violent and, sometimes, psychotic people, the rating became an anchor that prevented it from going farther than it could. In the end, you get this seemingly-weird mashup of DEADPOOL and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY; too tame to be DEADPOOL but too dark/serious to be GUARDIANS. So what we have here is a film with an identity crisis – in its quest to reach a big audience, it sacrificed its own idenity. And because of that, the film’s foundation completely fails.
With that being said, there were a few bright spots – I think Margot Robbie completely nails the Harley Quinn role. Sure, her one-liners were a bit contrived, cheesy, and mostly unfunny, but the way she took that character and made it her own was a refreshing sight to behold. I particularly loved her scenes with Jared Leto (someone who was very underutilized here) and wish there were more of them. I have no doubt that Joker and Harley Quinn will have a bigger role in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman film (if not a JUSTICE LEAGUE appearance). Because of Leto’s limited screen time, it’s impossible for me to rank his Joker among the others, particularly Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger (and let’s not forget Mark Hamill, either). Which is why the future of Leto’s Joker and Robbie’s Harley Quinn in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) is one of the few things I’m looking forward to.
The flashbacks of both Deadshot and Harley Quinn involving altercations with Batman (played by Ben Affleck, reprising his role from BvS) were quite possibly my favorite part of the film. Because the focus of this film was not Batman, it sort of allowed us to see the Dark Knight from a different point of view – the view of the villains. As Ayer said in an interview, it shows the audience the way that many of these villains see Batman – as a symbol to be feared. I really enjoyed that aspect of the characters’ backstories, but again, as a casual viewer, I wanted to see more. The backstories given here just don’t do enough for me to actually care about the characters or what goes on in the film.
While it may seem that I’m being particularly harsh on this movie, the one thing to remember is that despite its many narrative flaws, it’s actually a pretty fun ride. The actions scenes are very well-done and feel crisp, there’s some great banter particularly between Flag and Deadshot that are good for a laugh or two, and again, seeing Jared Leto and Margot Robbie completely lose themselves as their characters was certainly the most entertaining aspect of the film – an aspect that, like I mentioned earlier, I wish that we got more of.
SUICIDE SQUAD is currently my favorite film of the DCEU so far. Sure, it’s by default, and I’m not trying to damn the film with faint praise, but as fun as much of it was, it’s still a very unspectacular entry into the DCEU. And for a continuity that includes such divisive and irritatingly bad films like MAN OF STEEL and BvS, this was a film that needed to exceed all expectations if it wanted to live on past this summer. Sadly, SUICIDE SQUAD fails in this regard, and that is not something that DC can afford right now if it’s trying to catch up to Marvel. If you do plan on checking this one out, I recommend solely on the basis of Leto and Robbie’s performances. If you’re a comic book person, you’ll get more out of it than a casual viewer would, and most likely enjoy it more because of that. For the casuals, I feel you are better off waiting for this to hit Netflix/Redbox. Because honestly, you’re not missing much, if anything at all, with this one.