The resounding popularity of the comic book genre movie is unquestioned. Most (if not all) are automatic cash cows for the studios that produce them. Despite the amount the money they make, most (especially in the DC franchise) are stuck in a sort of critical purgatory. Fanboys and film critics alike get into shouting matches via online message boards defending their stances, often comparing it to the last franchise/actor who portrayed that character. I have been guilty and will be guilty of that a little bit throughout this review. In the case of “Suicide Squad,” there was a very unique opportunity to be had. For the first time (in live-action anyway,) the villains were the main characters. It was their time to shine.
I will admit that I did break my own rule a little bit with this one. Generally I stay away from reading critiques and asking my friends what their thoughts were on a movie before I see it. I like to go in with a clear head and zero expectations. But this time around, there was one major controversy that just kept building up. I’ll get back to that later.
In regards to the movie as a whole, “Suicide Squad” is the story of all the super villains sent on a mission under the control of a sociopathic government agent to stop a supernatural being from taking over the world. It does sound a bit cliché, but again, so much potential because the main characters are all the bad guys with unredeemable qualities. Right? Much like my review of “Stranger Things,” I’m going to break this down with a little more detail than I usually do. In particular with the characters because there are so many and so crucial to the flow and progression of the story.
Some minor spoilers ahead.
Story: It is especially difficult to write a script with so many characters. The fact that the movie ran at a hair over two hours doesn’t make it any easier. From a story structure perspective, you want to make sure your characters have a purpose and move the story forward. You’d like each of them to evolve. You also have to have a lot of faith in your editor that he will give each character the screen time they deserve and not accidentally cut out a major plot point. In that respect, the story was okay. It had its cheesy moments like all of these types of movies do, and they were funny enough, but I question the validity of it all.
I know what you’re thinking: What could I possibly mean by “questioning the validity” in a movie that has a witch sucking the souls out of people, turning them into her dark army, and destroying everything in sight, but all of the sudden there’s a perfectly good standing bar with all the alcohol still inside and fully functional for the characters to have a drink and some laughs after a major battle. Silly I know, but I noticed. And it irked me.
Amanda Waller: Viola Davis is a boss and a bad ass in her role. Referencing the comics as the litmus test, she nailed it. The problem is that the character could’ve been written so much better. There were so many conveniences regarding what happens that were written and/or edited for time or simplification and it missed out on character development and screen time for an amazing character and an amazing actress.
Deadshot: Will Smith has been playing the exact same character in most of his movies for the last twenty years. His first major attempt at a villainous role fell flat. He’s a hitman with a conscience, which makes no sense. His constant references to Phil Jackson and the triangle offense were forced and out of place. He automatically took and accepted the role as the leader of the suicide squad without any fuss from the other characters (or even being asked.) He had the most screen time by far, but overall was entertaining enough in the role if you like the idea of The Fresh Prince of Sharpshooters.
Harley Quinn: Both the film critic and the fanboy in me had mixed feelings on this one. On the plus side, Margot Robbie absolutely nailed the character that was written for her. She certainly had elements of the Harley Quinn character that was originally created in the 90’s cartoon and developed full out in the Arkham Asylum video game franchise. The problem is the character that was written for her had additional elements that had nothing to do with her character as it has been known all this time. Those additions weakened the potential of the character. Her relationship with Joker, (which I will go into much more detail later,) and a backstory of being in the circus before becoming a psychiatrist at Arkham was completely made up for this movie. It was awful. What’s worse is that the circus backstory actually is that of Killer Croc’s and wasn’t referenced when his backstory was explained.
Diablo: Jay Hernandez is an actor I haven’t seen very much of in quite a while. His screen time was limited, but I was left impressed with how he portrayed his character as a changed and reformed criminal in the beginning and did nothing as a form of peaceful protest. The problem was that it made his character borderline useless until the second half of the movie when he finally snaps and gives his reasons as to why he wanted to stop a life of crime and violence.
Killer Croc: Very impressive makeup. He didn’t say much and when he did, they were cheesy one-liners. He also had very little screen time. His only real purpose in the movie didn’t come up until the third act when they needed someone to navigate the sewers below the subway station. His backstory, when explained, had plenty of holes in it, and as the most physically deformed by far of the other characters, I think it warranted additional explanation to the casual comic fan or those being introduced to the character for the first time.
Captain Rick Flag: Meh. Not terrible. Cliché character of the elitist of the elite soldier hired by Waller as a fortified babysitter in case any of the Suicide Squad members go AWOL or decide to disobey orders. (Not to mention having control of an explosive device implanted in all of their necks.)
Enchantress: The antagonist of it all. Who everyone is fighting. The soul of a witch that has taken control of the body of archaeologist June Moone as its host. Honestly the character that goes through the most development in the whole movie by a landslide and got some of the shortest screen time. British actress Cara Delevingne brought a depth and soul to a soulless witch. She also happens to be the lover of Captain Rick Flagg. How’s that for conflict of interest?
The Joker: Saving the best (or at least most important) for last. I’m going to play the fanboy and say something that was said to me as a first reaction to Heath Ledger’s role of the same character in “The Dark Knight.” My friend said, “That wasn’t Joker. That was just a very convincing nut job with clown makeup on.” Blasphemous as that statement was notwithstanding, I would like to borrow his assessment of Ledger’s Joker and copy/paste onto Leto’s interpretation.
It’s different and original. I will give you that. It was even impressive from an acting standpoint. But that was not the Joker in any capacity or interpretation as I’ve known him to be as a lifelong Batman fan. Even if you take away the gangster attitude, excessive jewelry, the tattoos, and the capped teeth, and were left only with the dialog… it still wouldn’t be the Joker. How? For one thing, he never cracked any jokes. But most importantly, in all the years of storyline between Joker and Harley Quinn through TV, comics, and video game franchises, Joker NEVER showed any physical attraction or sexual desire towards Harley Quinn (or anyone for that matter.) The fact that Joker would salivate over and make out with Harley every chance he had took so much away from the insanity and essence of the character. That was my biggest problem with Leto’s interpretation.
On top of that, Leto, it seems, has been acting like a sore loser claiming that his best scenes were cut from the film and he had been pushing for an R rating throughout all of production. He even went as far to say that there was enough footage for a stand-alone Joker movie. This was the controversy I alluded to earlier. Even if true, Leto is an experienced enough actor to know that actors have zero say in what scenes go into the final cut of the film unless they are a director or producer of the film itself.
Verdict: “Suicide Squad” is an enjoyable movie if you can get past all the holes in the story. I will say that it has a phenomenal soundtrack that really helped me enjoy it more than I thought I would. The post-credits scene of Waller meeting with Bruce Wayne setting up “Justice League” was short and very on the nose exactly as the post-credits scene of the first “Iron Man” setting up “The Avengers.” If you want to see a better “Suicide Squad” movie, watch the animated film “Batman: Assault on Arkham.”