Review by Mike Malpiedi
*Spoiler Alert! I chose to discuss a number of Suicide Squad’s plot points in this review, so I recommend waiting to read this until you’ve seen it and avoid ruining the film for yourself. For everyone else, enjoy!
“So we’re the patsies…”
Honestly, Smith’s Deadshot couldn’t have said it any better… with all of the marketing and build up to its release, the cast and creators of Suicide Squad were set-up by studios to fail since the beginning. Now let me first say that I really wanted to enjoy this movie, I really did. The first few trailers didn’t peak my interest, and the early reviews didn’t help either, but I read fan reviews and was told by friends that it was entertaining. So with that I bought my ticket and went in with an open mind…
But unfortunately, just like the film’s premise of villains being forced to band together, everything in this film feels forced upon the audience. None of the relationships, pacing/editing, dialogue, or plot points feel natural. There were some noteworthy moments and performances, but the vast majority of the film feels like Warner Bros and DC, much like with BvS, threw everything they had at the wall hopping that at least a few things stuck. And therein lies the major issue with the DC film universe, it has no idea what it wants to be. The reason for this seems to be that Warner Bros and DC execs are taking fan favorite characters and moments/story-lines throughout the DC pantheon and smashing them together without doing anything new or original with the material.
With that being said, let’s get into the review…
The cast of this film try so hard to sell the bland and empty script that is given to them, they truly do. Through that does come good performances from Viola Davis and Margot Robbie at least, but the rest of the cast is much more forgettable and Will Smith is just Will Smith like in every other action film he is in.
Now I’d like to start off with examining the elephant in the room: Jared Leto’s Joker. I had high hopes for Leto’s performance, but in the end it left me feeling uninspired and not desiring to see more. It is as if the studio execs and director had a meeting with Leto and said “Hey Jared, here is what we are thinking… Everyone like’s Jack Nicholson’s classic, romantic gangster Joker, so we want you to do a bit of that. Oh and Heath Ledger’s chaotic and unhinged Joker was great and unforgettable, so throw that in there too. And don’t forget about Mark Hamil’s Batman: The Animated Series Joker! We need some of that comedic flare, but yeah let it be your own interpretation…”
Suicide Squad, and all of its characters, wear their influences on their sleeves and Leto is the prime example of this. Sure costume-wise Leto looks and feels completely different than previous Jokers, but if you pay close attention to his dialect, his laugh, and his mannerisms you can see all of the influences from past iterations. He tries so hard to be the best parts of all the Jokers past, but in doing so is unsuccessful at catching the spark that makes all of those performances incredible. It also completely detracts from anything Leto does in the film that might be considered fresh and new to his version of the Joker. He also doesn’t necessarily do anything that chaotic or maddening except look crazy and torture Harley Quinn. All of his other actions feel like generic mobster tactics.
And this brings us to Robbie’s performance. She actually makes for an excellent Harley Quinn. Her Harley is definitely one of the breakout stars of the film, but DC and Warner Bros have been setting up her and Deadshot as the front-runners since the trailers were released. There was no doubt that her portrayal would be a scene stealer, but still her scene stealing moments aren’t all that good. This is because Robbie’s Harley isn’t given the justice she deserves within this mess of a script.
For example, the scene where Harley breaks into a clothing store to steal, of all things, a purse and she delivers the line “We are bad guys… it’s what we do.” The scene tries to make the Harley and the Squad edgy and cool, but it just falls completely flat. Like the rest of the scenes in the film, this moment just sort of happens for no other reason than just cause. It also pinpoints the major flaw within this portrayal of Harley which is the fact that she represents a heterosexual male interpretation of feminism. Her character basically boils down to “Look! I can fight AND be sexy, but don’t worry boys cause I still need my man…”
It doesn’t help that the film continuously strips Harley of her agency. Her origin in the film is heavily influenced by her recent New 52 revamp which introduces a Harley that was tortured and forcefully thrown into a chemical vat by the Joker, thus creating her psychosis. I would have much preferred to see influence taken from her original Batman: The Animated Series origin which presents a woman who chooses to fall in love with a madman purely of her own free will; no tortured required. Add on scenes such as the Go-Go dancing in the club, the scenes of Joker attempting to rescue her, and her costume design (she has “Puddin’” strapped around her neck for Christ sake), and you have a recipe for a Harley that is all eye candy and little substance. And the film has zero qualms about treating her as eye candy as it often makes her character increasingly flirtatious and overly sexual as it places her in a number of pin-up positions such as the scene where she is dressing in front of the team before the mission. It is also unfortunate that the film believes so wholeheartedly that Harley needs the Joker to rescue her instead of allowing her own abilities to do so. For me, her best moments were when she was away from the Joker and showing off her crazy and fierce personality such as the elevator fight between her and some minor goons.
I honestly could go on and on about the portrayal of these two particular characters, but I’ll end with saying that I did feel at least some genuine chemistry between Leto and Robbie. They definitely felt like two characters that were attracted to one another, it just wasn’t in a way that felt fresh or progressive. The best scene featuring the two of them together is one of the flashback sequences where they are speeding off together and laughing in the Joker’s neon purple sports car.
The other noteworthy performance is without a doubt Adam Beach’s Slipknot… Psyche! Even the film itself doesn’t care about Slipknot and you shouldn’t either because that character was a waste of screen time.
The noteworthy performance I am actually talking about is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. The studios could not have done a better job with that casting. Davis’ embodiment of the character stays true to Waller’s roots. Her Waller is cunning, ruthless, and undeniably manipulative as she does everything in her power to get what she wants and succeed. She is so ruthless and determined that even the Squad cannot help but acknowledge and respect her power. It is also a pleasure to see a DC film feature two predominant African American characters with Davis’ Waller working alongside Will Smith’s Deadshot. While Will Smith does just play his quintessential action hero persona in a Deadshot costume, he and Davis have the most dynamic character moments when they are together on screen. And even though Smith is playing the same character, he is still more noteworthy than the rest of the cast.
I will say that Jay Hernandez does have his moments as Diablo throughout the film (when he isn’t being framed as the stereotypical Mexican gangster), but it is all made null and void by the film’s end. Other than that, the rest of the cast though is pretty forgettable. Kinnamon’s Rick Flagg is a bland and generic commando who has zero chemistry with Delevingne’s “helpless woman by day, sex goddes by night” Enchantress/June Moon. Fukuhara’s Katanna cuts stuff and is Asian, Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc is a stereotypical and archetypal black dude who happens to be a lizard, and Slipknot… whelp he can climb stuff and punch women in the face (seriously that is like the one thing he does in the whole film).
Then there is Captain Boomerang… I think a hat should go off to Jai Courtney because he basically played Tom Hardy playing an Australian dude who loves boomerangs and unicorns and that’s pretty crazy.
All in all, Suicide Squad is built off of too many characters and many a half-baked performance, but this is at no fault to the actors themselves. This film was written for Robbie, Smith, Davis, and Leto with the rest of the cast feeling like afterthoughts. This blatant lack of character development heavily subtracts from a film that is meant to be a superhuman team-up. And this actually takes us to the…
The overall narrative of Suicide Squad is completely incoherent. This film is obviously Warner Bros and DC’s attempt to quickly catch-up to the MCU’s success by introducing a ridiculous number of characters at once, but the whole experience topples under the weight of it all. For me this film felt like DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy mixed with the poor narrative choices and character balance of Age of Ultron. Suicide Squad is suppose to be DC’s offbeat and weird superhuman team saving the world, but they couldn’t feel anymore separate. The whole first half of Suicide Squad is individual flashbacks of how the different members got captured, so it takes a while to bring all these characters together. And even after these introductions there are still several more character-related flashbacks scattered throughout the film.
The constant back and forth between main narrative and flashbacks are what attribute to the films odd sense of pacing. A perfect example is the introduction of Katana, the squad is just about to head off on the mission when suddenly “Oh shit, its Katana… Oh yeah she has a sword and she’ll cut you!” and then queue flashback of Katana killing mobsters. The scenes in this movie, like this one and the previously mentioned Harley scene, all feel like moments that just happen alongside each other. So much time is spent on introducing characters, exposition, and wasting time on the Joker (really can’t believe I’m saying that) by the time the team actually comes together the film ends.
In fact, I have to say, even having the Joker in Suicide Squad to begin with detracts from the film as a whole, which many reviewers have already commented on. The film’s plot is already a complete mess and having the Joker pop-up here and there throughout does nothing to balance it at all. It would have been much better to only use the Joker in Harley’s inital flashback and not shoehorn him into the main plot. This also speaks to the issue of marketing around this film. The trailers make you believe that the Joker is a prominent staple, and almost a member of the team even, but he only serves as a brief distraction from an overall lackluster plot. Not only that, but the only times he does appear is to be a “knight in shining armor” for Harley.
This is also a great example of the film’s repetitive and over-explanatory nature. The script really likes to beat concepts into your head such as Deadshot loves his daughter, Harley loves the Joker, and everyone can die. The script likes to hammer on the latter fact, especially in the action sequences. Almost every action sequence features Rick Flagg getting snagged by the same four goons and then Deadshot shouting something like “Save Rick our we’ll die!” This is on top of all the moments Waller shows off the detonator and that time Slipknot thought he was cool (hint: doesn’t end well). All of this constant exposition leaves no room for actual tension, chemistry, or progressive development.
It also doesn’t help that the entire film is completely predictable from beginning to end with the exception of Enchantress’ brother, Incubus, being introduced part way (see told you there would be major spoilers!). It is apparent from the get go that Enchantress would be the main antagonist of the film when her heart was brought into play, but there could at least have been a sense of danger. Her evil plan boils down to nothing but I’m going to destroy the world by charging my energy for two hours and shooting a Ghostbusters-esque beam of supernatural energy into the sky. There is never a moment in the film where you feel like the Squad is in trouble or threatened by her at all. Sure her mindless goons grab Flagg a few times and capture Waller, but you know that neither of them will actually die. And even when a member of the Squad goes down (and a couple do), you can see their demise coming from a mile away. Nothing in this film takes you by surprise.
And then it just ends.
By the time the credits roll, the worst crime that Suicide Squad commits is that almost none of its characters actually grow or progress. With the exception of Diablo, not a single character changes no matter how many discussions the Squad has about bad guys being good or starting a new life. Harley still loves her abusive Puddin’, Deadshot has a daughter, Waller wants power, Flagg and June still can’t find their chemistry, Boomerang loves his stuffed unicorn, Killer Croc is a black dude, Katana misses her hubby, and Slipknot is a blatant plot device. Diablo is the only character that has an arc that shows some progression when he starts to use his powers to protect his “friends,” but again this is all made void by the end of the film.
Again, the main issue I have with Suicide Squad is that it tries too hard to capture so many characters in one go that it scarifices the ability to be a great standalone film while also failing to solidfy the DC film universe. It honestly feels more like a series of connected character vignettes as opposed to a cohesive story. The film gives up so much time trying to establish characters and over-explain their dynamics that by the end there is no room left for a real plot or character development. Suicide Squad is once again DC and Warner Bros trying so desparately to create their own “Marvel Magic” by using the “everything and the kitchen sink” method and hoping that a decent film comes out of it.
Unfortunately for the fans and newcomers alike… Suicide Squad offer another souless, nostalgia fest that makes for a much better marketing campaign than it does a film.