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Those who have been following me for a while will know that I’m a sucker for a good comic book movie. Comic book movies tend to rank highly on my annual Movie Countdowns, and they’re always my most anticipated films of any given year. However, for as much shine and attention as I give to the many Marvel films that come out each year, I feel that I’ve been neglecting the other major comic book film entity lately: the DCEU. This has not been on purpose, but I do feel it’s about time I remedy that by discussing DC’s latest venture, Suicide Squad.
As the third film in the ever so polarizing DCEU, Suicide Squad had a lot riding on it. Simply put, this franchise doesn’t have that great a track record so far. 2013’s Man of Steel was met with a very split reception for its darker portrayal of Superman. The highly anticipated Batman v Superman graced theaters this year, but produced a backlash no one saw coming. And now Suicide Squad is meeting a similar fate with its nearly-unanimous sour reception. Reviewers aren’t being very kind to this movie and Rotten Tomatoes ranks it even lower than the now notorious BvS.
So, what do I make of all of this? Is this the final straw for Warner Bros’ DC Expanded Universe, or is this an underrated gem misunderstood by others?
Suicide Squad is the third film in the DC Expanded Universe, based on the 1959 comic book series of the same name by DC Comics.
Following the events of Batman v Superman, the government begins to wonder whether we’ll be able to protect ourselves from another meta-human or alien attack. What can possibly stop, for example, a more evil Superman from wreaking havoc on Earth? That’s when Amanda Waller came up with a risky yet creative solution. She gathers a team of currently imprisoned supervillains with unique talents and abilities to form a deniable strike team called Task Force X, sending them on a mission to save the world from a mystical threat. In exchange for their reluctant service, the squad will receive time off their jail sentences. If they refuse to abide by Waller’s rules, they die.
No one can deny how flawed this movie actually is, and just about all of the problems involve the writing. It’s true what many are saying about this movie. The narrative in a nutshell is a clumsily written, structurally unbalanced mess coupled with a lack of character development for select characters and dialogue that sometimes wreaks of desperation to be funny. That’s all true when you really think about it… but the movie was so much fun that I hardly even noticed.
I’ll admit that the story is very clumsy in execution. On the surface, everything seems sound and streamlined, and that comes from the fact that this movie has a great concept. A team of some of the world’s most dangerous criminals being forced to work together not only to save the world (thus going against their values as villains), but to do it in the name of the law; the same law that betrayed them in the first place. Even beyond the premise, this is a great film for the DCEU, introducing some of these lesser known Batman rouges to the general audience who may have never read the comics (like me). This was a good concept for a film, which has the misfortune of being the film right after BvS. This opened this film up to unnecessary post-production changes that made the story suffer.
The first act of this movie is definitely the best part of this movie. The build-up and character introductions worked really well. This is perhaps the only part of the movie that’s competently edited. I find it very impressive that they were able to cover six origin stories as smoothly and efficiently as they did. It’s not perfect, and not every character gets a fair shake in terms of character development, but it succeeded at being a captivating start. The second and third acts on the other hand are where we start having problems.
Both the second and third act have similar issues for the most part, since they are very similar in tone and setting. Where they differ is in how relevant they are to the actual plot. The second act is pretty much a waste of time, but houses a good ton of the action scenes with a few scenes of character development scattered throughout. It’s probably the funnest part of the movie, but I wish it added something to the plot. The third act does return to driving the plot forward, and includes the best scene in the entire film: the bar scene. Similar to The Breakfast Club’s confession scene, the bar scene is by far the movie’s best display of character interaction and motivation. It’s not perfect, but it certainly beats the film’s climax, which I found bare-bones and all over the place. Oh, and the movie also provides a very fitting and enjoyable ending.
The overarching issue this movie has is with tone. I’m sure most people have heard about it by now, but this movie is in constant battle between two different cuts of the film. One is writer/director David Ayer’s original, darker vision, and the other is a substantially lighter cut made after BvS failed with audiences. The two are at constant war throughout the movie, resulting in a very uneven experience at times. While the film does get away with it most of the time (for me anyway), it’s pretty jarring when it does show, making the movie feel disjointed and inconsistent.
That’s a pretty big flaw to have in any movie, and under any other circumstance it would be an automatic deal-breaker for me; but somehow it actually isn’t. I don’t know how, but this movie really convinced me to oversee that issue to the point where I could’ve sworn there was no issue. Maybe it was just my low expectations, or perhaps the film’s lighthearted parts got the best of me in the end. Maybe I laughed so many times that it reversed my outlook. Whatever the reason, it didn’t ruin the movie for me. I’ve never seen a movie convince me so effectively that its problems don’t even exist.
I guess my best summation is that it’s technically a horribly written film. However, if you go with the flow and take the film for what it is, you may not even notice how flawed the movie is at times.
Say what you want about the film’s overall content, but this can be a very good-looking movie. The movie does have a variety of setpieces, such as CIA Boardrooms, prison cells, train stations, and nightclubs. Though, about 70% of the movie takes place on the streets Midway City. Sure Midway City looks like any other metropolitan city if it were also abandoned and slightly war-torn, but it’s well-lit enough to keep your attention. In fact, for a DCEU movie, this is substantially brighter than both Man of Steel and BvS. Sure, most of the movie takes place at night, but that changes every now and then. When it does you can actually see the sun for a change and the skies are almost blue. Even in the scenes taking place indoors or during the night, there’s an emphasis put onto the lighting or lack there of. It’s not just the occasional neon lights that pop out at you, but also the streetlights and whatnot. Honestly, it’s refreshing to not be subjected to the constant gloom and grey of past films in the series.
The action is fun enough in the moment, but you’ll probably forget 90% of it the next day. Coming off a few days since seeing the movie, I can only recall Harley Quinn’s elevator fight scene and bits and pieces of the climax. It all sort of blends together due to the fact that these action scenes lack personality. It tried to be huge, loud and ridiculous but comes off as uninspired and generic. That’s a trap plenty of action films fall into honestly, and sadly this is one of them.
As for CG, there’s surprisingly very little of it here. You’ll find that Suicide Squad is surprisingly in-camera for a large portion of the movie. Even Killer Croc’s design was the result of heavy make-up instead of CG, and they did a great job with making Croc look realistic. Enchantress’ design is also practical up until the film’s climax where you see Cara Delevingne alongside some light CG effects. I love how CG is used only to enhance what’s already there instead of using it as an easy alternative to practical effects.
Lastly, the visual flares and effects added to the film’s first act were pretty nice touches. It could’ve been really stupid, especially since it reminds me of a WWE stats screen, but it gave the scene a lot more personality and was integrated well with what was going on.
I spoke a lot about character development earlier and how not every character in the film gets a fair shake. I stand by that completely, and I feel it’s one of the biggest missteps of the film. But before I go into that, let’s talk about the handful of characters that are (at least) decently developed.
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite character in the movie,
Deadpool Deathstroke Deadshot (there we go) played by Will Smith. Everybody knows that Will Smith has a universally accepted charisma to him which carries through the majority of his roles. Will Smith is just as funny, threatening, charming, sympathetic, and sharp-tongued in Suicide Squad as he always is. As Deadshot, he’s allowed to spread his wings and be as Will Smith-y as he wants. His character has a pretty good backstory and motivation to baide his performance, and he tends to overshadow the rest of the characters at times with his excellent delivery and great lines. He has this unofficial leader quality to him, too, acting as the anchor for all of the wacky personalities around him. He’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch, especially in his interactions with Harley Quinn.
I was really excited to see Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, finally get the live action treatment. Some people don’t care too much for Robbie’s portrayal of this character, but I most certainly did. Margot Robbie was the perfect choice for this character; just as insane, outspoken and free-spirited as you’d expect from the character. She’s the source for most of the film’s sympathy and tragedy, which makes sense since she’s the Joker’s girlfriend. I do wish that they went just a bit further with Harley’s backstory to really drive her character home, but I think general audiences will get the picture. Perhaps in another DC film we can get a better idea of her relationship with the Joker (who I’ll get to in a second).
Then there’s my actual favorite character in the film, El Diablo played by Jay Hernandez. The most sympathetic character in the movie by far with a pretty heart-wrenching backstory, El Diablo’s character is very unique from his fellow rogues. Not only is he the only person on the Squad with actual powers, but he also has a sense of honor to him. His reason for being in jail is different from the others and he’s even hesitant to use his abilities until halfway through the film. Once you realize the reason for being the way he is, it all makes sense. He’s very headstrong and relatable, and Hernandex did a great job portraying this character.
While not the most developed of characters, Jai Courtney is also memorable as Captain Boomerang. Let’s be honest. You probably didn’t expect much of an interesting or deep backstory when you think of someone called Captain Boomerang anyway. So, the film doesn’t even try to pretend like there is one. He’s more of a comic relief than anything else, and that’s where this character works best. He’s pretty dimwitted, gullible, selfish and dickish, but he will make you laugh nine times out of ten.
Our villain of the movie is the Enchantress, played by Cara Delevingne. Enchantress is a character with a lot of potential to her. Not only can she do incredible things and any action movie can have a field day with her abilities when you couple it with her design, but she also shares a dynamic with Rick Flag, played by Joel Kinnaman. There’s a lot to work with here, which makes it such a shame that the character is as boring as she is. I don’t blame Delevingne for it at all for this, especially since she does fine as Dr. June Moore, Enchantress’ alter ego. I think the blame is more on her direction than anything else.
Also, I found Rick Flag to be kind of boring as well. He spends so much time as a parole officer-type character that when it finally comes time for him to have layers you’re not on board with him. Again, not Kinnaman’s fault. I blame the editing for that misstep.
If Will Smith isn’t your favorite character in the film, maybe Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is more your fancy. She isn’t in the film nearly as much as the actual Squad, but she’s one badass lady. Don’t mess with Waller, because she can give zero fucks about anyone in this film besides her agenda. There’s a part of her arc that isn’t as well explored as I’d like it to be, but that doesn’t change her no nonsense personality and good share of decent lines.
Last but certainly not least is the polarizing Joker, played by Jared Leto. I saved him for last, because he also happens to be dead last in terms of screentime. I’ll spare you the comparison of Leto to the likes of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, because I feel that it’s not very relevant for this minimal of a role. From what we do get of the Joker, I’d say he strikes a balance between both Nicholson’s erratic criminal Joker and Ledger’s psychopathic serial killer Joker. Add a little bit of mobster to him and a laugh with a lot of pauses in between it, and that’s Jared Leto’s Joker. I don’t mind his portrayal of him at all, but he adds nothing to the plot. Nothing. I’m okay with giving us a taste of him before he becomes a main antagonist in a future film, but I’d much rather have seen his character be relegated to Harley’s origin story if he was going to be unessential to the plot anyway. He’d be more useful that way.
All that’s left is Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Slipknot (Adam Beach) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), far and away the least developed characters in the movie. They don’t get that many lines, either. Killer Croc gets one really good joke and then goes back to growling in the background. Katana also only gets one or two comedic moments and a measly two sentences of backstory before going silent and swinging her soul-stealing sword around. There was so much potential with these two characters, and I absolutely hate how much of a waste they are in this movie. There’s a reason Slipknot isn’t as developed, but there’s no excuse for the other two.
Lastly, Ben Affleck appears as Batman for about five minutes of the movie, but their ironically the most memorable parts.
To briefly go over the movie’s musical cues and score, I don’t mind it as much as other people do, but I do see the problem.
See, part of the last ditch effort of making this movie’s tone lighter was to add some pop tunes to the mix so that it resembles the trailer. As a result, you have the likes of Eminem, Queen, Kanye West, and the Rolling Stones placed in some of the film’s action scenes and character introduction scenes. To be honest, the song placement in this film is pretty cool when it matches the scene. Unsurprisingly, the best implemented song in the film was “Bohemian Rhapsody”. However, there are a handful of times when it doesn’t quite hit the mark and takes you out of the movie. I have mixed feelings about the implementation of “Without Me”. However, scenes like that only distract you for the first two lines of the song before your mind just gets used to it.
As for the score, it’s somewhat generic and forgettable, but there are few decent musical moments that hit home. Most of them involve the Joker.
Let me be clear. I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to my opinion of this movie. If popular opinion is anything to go by, the odds of you feeling the same way i do are a bit slim. However, I hope that I was able to give you enough of an idea of the film to know if it’s for you or not.
On a technical level, this is a very flawed movie. This may be one of the most poorly edited superhero movies of all-time. The tone switches will be very problematic for a lot of people, and the central story won’t help matters much either. Not everything is explained properly, and neither are some of the characters backstories. The movie’s soundtrack choices are distracting while its score is as forgettable as its action scenes.
Though odds are you may see the movie my way. Maybe you, too, will get sucked into the film by its fun and charm, and see the glass half-full. After all, there are plenty of good performances to be seen, the dialogue is hilarious at times, the bar scene is a compelling thing to behold, and when the soundtrack works, it really works. To me the film was just cohesive enough for me to enjoy it, and the tone wasn’t so broken that it took me out of the movie.
I basically like it in the same way I like, say, Riddick or Fast & Furious. Maybe treating it like a dumb action movie is the best way you for you to enjoy this film. Granted, a DCEU film should be much more than a dumb fun experience, but it works.
Grading this won’t be easy. Technically this is about a low 6, but my enjoyment was around a high 8. So I’ll meet somewhere down the middle.
My best advice to anyone interested in seeing this movie is to simply give it a chance. If not in the theater, then perhaps as a rental in a few months. There’s no real reason to run out and see this movie immediately, but I think it’s at least worth a matinee or discount ticket. If what I’m describing sounds imnteresting to you, maybe it’ll be worth full price in the theater. If you’re into any of the DCEU movies, you’re most likely going to enjoy this movie.
I wouldn’t advise taking your kids under age 8 to Suicide Squad. Not because it’s too dark or gritty, (though it just might be), but I think there’s nothing here that’ll entertain them. Though any other age group will probably be fine. And if you’ve never seen a DCEU film before, starting here won’t be the end of the world, but I’d recommend Man of Steel as a much better starting off point.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!