-They’re the bad guys, that’s what they do.
<——–Me watching this movie.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It’s actually been only four years since Christopher Nolan put the final stamp on his transcendent “Dark Knight Trilogy” with the explosively epic The Dark Knight Rises. It was a time where superhero movies were still unique, and hadn’t been worn thin by the six or seven installments a year from each comic book company, and when every installment didn’t exist just to set up a sequel a few years down the line. It was a time of creativity, and a time of pushing the envelope of blockbuster filmmaking. You’ll recall that we got The Avengers and Skyfall the same year.
People always talk about the precedent that The Dark Knight set for this type of film. Complaints of “now everything is too dark and brooding,” or “it’s not fair to compare this to The Dark Knight, that’s an unfair standard,” still exist today, where we, as movie goers, no longer demand excellence but rather slurp up the bland, uninspired soup of a checklist for every entry in the hero genre. They all have them: the unimportant love interest, the grey rubble/city exploding climax, the hero going through an existential crisis, etc.
What we never mention is the precedent that The Avengers set back in 2012, where the final act of a film like this could be the destruction of a city, where the stakes are so high, the villains so unkillable, that thousands upon thousands die before the heroes even make a dent in the villain’s plan. Now, every film ends with it, and we’re forced to sit through another blue portal in the sky that causes the deaths of thousands while our heroes toss one-liners at each other and try to downplay the circumstances. Don’t the filmmakers understand that this type of plot device is so worn thin and mundane that the large stakes actually diminish the feeling in the movie because there’s no substance to latch onto?
Truthfully, I’m not mad about Suicide Squad. I’m numb to it.
When the trailers came out, every cool-aid drinking superhero fan talked about how this was going to be unique and fun: the Guardians of the Galaxy for the DC Universe. They discussed how Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was too dark and self-serious but that Suicide Squad might be manic and fun. Director David Ayer of Training Day, End of Watch, and Fury was attached to the project, and the casting started coming in: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, a rumored Tom Hardy (he later dropped out and spared himself), and the DC-verse had a brighter outlook. What I kept saying to everyone was “how could this possibly be good?”
The reason is this: there’s never really a way to make a movie with this many main characters cohesive. There’re too many substantive obstacles to overcome in just introducing them. Then, when you factor in that Warner Bros would want to include Batman and Justice League substring plots to connect it to the universe, the project just became way too weighed down. It’s evidenced just by the first act of this film…it’s, well…it’s a complete disaster.
Outside of one trailer I enjoyed because of the catchy Twenty One Pilots song “Heathens,” I was pretty indifferent toward the film, but even I, despite my best intentions, got a little bit excited for the new Joker, for Harley Quinn, for Deadshot, for a Batman cameo, and I tried to ignore the background noise that seemed obvious to anyone who took a deeper look, Suicide Squad was a failure from first inception.
So the film begins, and we get introduced to the best two performances from the film early on, that of Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The quick-cutting intro takes us through all of the characters’ backstories in small scenes of both dream-like remembrance and written information on screen. In the case of the aforementioned two, it’s very stylish, if a bit too frantic, with an necessary Batman cameo that’s pretty irritating in the Deadshot one, but a decent Harley Quinn flashback with Jared Leto’s Joker and a good car crash/Batman rescue scene. More on these two characters later.
Then, there’s Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) a CIA operative who states that in a post-Superman world, the world has to be able to defend itself against other extra-terrestrial threats. She poses a new idea for Taskforce X, or the Suicide Squad, a team of major criminals, some with special powers, to help defend the world. Among them are Jai Courtney’s Boomerang, Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc, Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, and Adam Beach’s Slipknot.
Although originally scoffed at by American intelligence, Waller lets loose Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who brings her sorcerer brother back to life and begins to destroy the world. Whether this is accidental or on purpose to give the Suicide Squad something to work toward defeating is a bit muddled and confusing, but its safe to assume that Enchantress gets a bit out of hand. They rescue Waller and formulate a plan to take down the sorceress. Joel Kinnaman and Scott Eastwood play military members attached to the project, also, and in Kinnaman’s case, has a relationship with the the woman’s body who is possessed by Enchantress. If this sounds a bit splintered, you’d be correct.
Meanwhile, the Joker is attempting to break Harley Quinn out of her obligation, and we get scenes teasing the Joker that really only involve him trailing behind the Suicide Squad’s actions. If Batman is in two scenes, the Joker may be in four or five. This is not a film that details those two iconic characters, as they remain on the periphery.
Will Smith serves as the film’s anchor, a decent performance that does Deadshot some justice, while Margot Robbie is hit-and-miss, but mostly hit. These two characters, although underused in a messy plot, could have been enough to save the film under different circumstances. If you enjoy “Batman: The Animated Series” or the trilogy of “Arkham” games, this Harley Quinn will be acceptable to you, especially after usurping some of the charisma found in Margot Robbie, who gave one of 2013’s best performances in The Wolf of Wall Street. Other than these two, many of the supporting characters get introductions by a third party in the way of stating their name and one characteristic. The pacing, because of the amount the film needed to cover in the intro, is really inconsistent, so despite some flashy parts that I enjoyed in the first act, the set up is really a struggle.
There was then a moment that changed the movie, where it went entirely from character setup to the more military based action that defines the final two acts. Once that occurs, the plot structure then really begins to slip, and the film devolves into complete madness. Once Enchantress and her brother become the villains, the Suicide Squad attempt a thinly veiled rescue mission for Viola Davis, and the movie can’t decide whether releasing Enchantress was purposeful or accidental, but regardless, the team must stop her. So, then, the movie heads into third-act-world-is-exploding-everyone-is-dead climax where we haven’t developed the villain, and the villain has no motivation that is quantifiable.
As much as I did enjoy Harley Quinn and a pretty sturdy Deadshot, no other characters are well developed, the film is paced horribly, and the third act is as catastrophically messy as any in the hero genre. It reminds me of Fant4stic from 2015 in almost every way: seeing Cara Delevingne belly dance to a destructive portal with her face superimposed on a computer generated body is about as uselessly silly and uninspired as an antagonist could be. Throw in awful performances from Davis and Joel Kinnaman, and this is a film that couldn’t stand on its own weight, but also sinks from the corporate pressure of fitting it into the DC-verse.
Truthfully, the movie that exists in small scale in the first act: one of the Joker seducing Quinn and leading her descent into madness, could be one of the most disturbing and gleefully violent movies that this genre could offer. Instead, we get another movie hinting at themes of terrorism and military industrial complex, while forgetting practical effects and going entirely into disaster movie territory. The editing and structure problems are enough of a problem on their own, and if you see the film, you can see how disconnected and rushed the entire production feels. Although I think Joker is a mess in this and cannot recommend Leto’s performance, it may be too small of a sample size to judge, so I’m willing to give him one more film. As for Suicide Squad as a whole, its best moments are mediocre and its worst are among the worst that any big budget film could be.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Director: David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury)
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, and Joel Kinnaman
with: Jay Fernandez, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
RT Score: 26%