This was supposed to be the movie that righted the ship for Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice had looked questionable from the very first trailer and only seeing it only confirmed that. DC wanted it owns cinematic universe, and BvS was the launch of that, to followed by a series of films the culminated in The Justice League. Suicide Squad looked far more promising than the BvS experience was from back in March. Based on the trailers, it seemed to have more levity and appeared to be far less grim and dour. Looking back on the trailers, though, there were some definite warning signs that thing might be a little off. Despite the disappointment of BvS there was still quite a bit of optimism for Suicide Squad. Sadly, it piles more disappointment on top of that disappointment, never coming close to reaching the promise shown in the trailers.
Suicide Squad is set in the aftermath of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. In response to the events of that movie and Man of Steel, active players in the federal government are interested in being prepared for future incidents from these “metahumans” and the potential threat they pose because they feel vulnerable in light of (spoiler!) Superman’s death. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), an intelligence office, has a plan to assemble a team of criminals to act as a black ops team that the government can deploy in high-risk situations that can be disposable and easy targets to blame if they fail. This squad, led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), is comprised from a rogues gallery of various DC (mostly Batman) villains: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Slipknot (Adam Beach). All of them have an explosive device implanted in the base of their neck that Waller and Flag have control over. The group is also supplemented by Dr. June Moone, who is possessed by an entity know as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a martial artist who carries a magical sword that is possessed by her dead husband. Enchantress is dark entity who is controlled and kept in check by Waller possessing her heart, but early on she quickly betrays them all and awakens the spirit of her brother, and they begin wreak havoc on Midway City, creating a weapon to wipe out mankind after being imprisoned by them rather than worshipped. In quick order the squad is deployed, but lurking on the periphery of it all is the Joker (Jared Leto), who has been looking for Harley and will go to great lengths to get her back.
On the positive front, they have made some strides in balancing the relationship between the Joker and Harley. For much of her portrayal, it has been a mostly one-way street in terms of Harley being in love with “Mr. J” while he was abusive and uncaring toward her. Here, it is more of a pairing as she is his girl, they have a seemingly committed (if twisted) relationship, and he is taking extraordinary measures to get her back after she was apprehended by Batman (Ben Affleck) and locked up. Their relationship is filled in via flashbacks that sufficiently fill in the details.
While the film is still pretty dark and grim, there are at least some more attempts at levity compared to the dreary, dour Batman V Superman. There is some gallows humor that works and the interplay between some of the villains being forced into the ill-suited role of heroes is unique and works at times. Kinnaman and Smith work well off of each other, making the best of what they’re given. Margot Robbie is also pretty fantastic as Harley Quinn.
Clearly, I’m struggling to find positives here. There’s so much about this movie that was messy and problematic. From the very opening of the film, they use Waller having a dinner meeting with other government officials to introduce the squad, and it turns into an ungainly 20-25 minute sequence. And equal time is not given to all of the characters. The most time is given to Deadshot and Harley Quinn, with only cursory background info given on Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc. Enchantress is also given an extended intro. Slipknot and Katana are tacked on as the mission is about to depart, with only Katana being given any background.
Visually, the movie uses the same dark template for most of the film as Batman V Superman. In fact, my favorite part of the movie was when it started to rain, almost on cue, as the third act of the movie began. There’s also an extreme over-reliance on musical cues, with seemingly each character and big moment getting a giant classic song to showcase their “highlight reel.” The story is convoluted and lacking in cohesion. Really, the threat of the movie only comes about because of this idea to assemble these people together to work as a team. It’s kind of an unintended self-fulfilling prophecy. And as far as villains go, Enchantress is completely generic, with the story going to far as to have her spend most of her time standing in front of a mystical fire chanting and dancing in place as she builds her “machine” which is another generic beam into the sky with flying debris. And her faceless minions are right out of a FPS video game.
A big problem is the bloat of the cast. I had to look up who the character Slipknot was. And Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, who is actually starting to make a name for himself in Hollywood, is apparently in this movie, which I didn’t realize until afterward. Even Common shows up in a brief cameo. Ike Barinholtz has a role as the head prison guard where these villains are housed. There are just too many characters to keep track of.
Amongst the overabundance of characters, none is as egregious as Leto’s Joker. I get that Ledger’s take on the character is a tough one to follow and that DC had to take the character in a different direction with this incarnation of the character, but what Leto is doing is just bad. It doesn’t stand out because of the deviousness or demented, twisted criminal brilliance of the character. It’s drawing attention to itself for the sake of drawing attention to itself. They’ve tailored Joker after a Mexican cartel kingpin with the tattoos and the teeth. There’s no modulating from Leto, either. Everything he does is turned up to 11. I’ve heard that there was 30 minutes of Joker footage cut from the movie. My response to that is to ask why there was THAT much Joker to begin with in a movie when he is a peripheral character?!?! It’s clear they didn’t have a clear plan on what they were doing with the character or what their intentions are with him. Which is the biggest problem with the DC Universe right now. There is no cohesive plan.
The movie is clearly going for a Dirty Dozen feel, with the worst of the worst being sent on an impossible mission and the entire squad being completely expendable. The story, though, lacks anything truly compelling and it’s difficult to invest deeply in the characters, even though they attempt to by giving us flashbacks of Deadshot and his daughter. What made The Dirty Dozen work was that the disgraced soldier in that film found honor, camaraderie, and redemption in their impossible mission. There is camaraderie here, but there is no feeling of and kind of honor or redemption. Actually, one character gets redemption, El Diablo. Everyone else, not so much.
It does not surprise me to read that the script for Suicide Squad was written in six short weeks. I’m sure there were some edits and adjustments made along the way, but with the deadline already set, the clock was ticking and the story became secondary to meeting the target date. It shows in the final product. The film feels bipolar, swinging wildly from extreme to extreme with nothing to center it. It’s difficult to figure out why exactly Marvel has figured out a formula that works for them while DC can’t seem to get out of its own way. I think part of the answer has to lie in the fact that Marvel only answers to itself while DC Entertainment is/was underneath Warner Bros. Regardless, Suicide Squad is not the film that everyone was hoping it would be, both critically and in terms of righting the ship for DC. Initially, I had thought it was marginally better than Batman V Superman, but having considered it at length as I wrote about it, the lack of substance drops it below Batman V Superman for me.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars