Oh the DC Extended Universe. The little franchise that couldn’t. We’re three films into this experiment now, and things are looking bleak. Which is seriously a bummer. I discussed this in my rant against Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but even though I’m a Marvel guy, I still would love if we had a great DC film series. I’m not like, actively rooting against this franchise. It would be a great world if we got DC movies as good as the Marvel ones. But we still don’t live in that world. Because even though there was hope that Suicide Squad would be the movie to pull the franchise out of the nose-dive it’s been in, it’s not the case. And the thing that kind of shocked me about this movie was that it was a different kind of bad than the other two movies in the series. It’s unique in it’s badness, and really is a very different movie than Batman v Superman. Beyond the fact that there was some actual heroism in it. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot.
The film’s wonky structure opens up with intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) meeting some Government suits for dinner to discuss her new idea. There’s apparently a power-vacuum going on in the world now that Superman’s dead, and everyone is trying to figure out their way of handling future meta-human threats. And Amanda’s idea is to take some extraordinary criminals, stick bombs in their heads, and force them to fight super-natural crimes in exchange for paltry time taken off their prison sentences. We’re then treated to about half an hour of Waller telling the suits who she has in mind while cutting away to short vignettes setting up the villains. We have Deadshot (Will Smith) a master assassin who is an expert in every type of fire-arm and never misses, and who was caught and imprisoned by Batman while taking care of his daughter, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) the girlfriend of the Joker and just a psycho-killer, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a drunken Australian who can throw killer boomerangs well, Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a Mexican gang-member who has pyrokinetic powers that he hates to use, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a man with a genetic disorder that makes him a crocodile man, and the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) a millennia-old magical being that’s living in the body of a bland archaeologist. Waller explains that she thinks forcing this rag-tag group of psychopaths to work together on dangerous missions will be the key to stopping supervillains in the future, as long as they’re controlled by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) a decorated soldier, and the government decides that it will work.
And from there we basically cut straight to shit hitting the fan, and the Squad being called in. Because even though Waller thinks that she can control the Enchantress by keeping a hold of her magical heart, she clearly can’t, and the Enchantress escapes to brings her equally magical brother the Incubus back to life. The siblings then flee into Midway City and start using their powers to create some sort of magical bomb that can kill all of humanity. Way to go Amanda. So the Squad are pulled from their cells in prison, they get bombs stuck in their heads, and they’re pushed onto a helicopter with Flagg, his bodyguard Kitana (Karen Fukuhara), and a bunch of nameless soldiers. Oh, and some other criminal called Slipknot is there to be immediately killed to prove that the bombs are real. But clearly he doesn’t matter.
So the Squad is just kind of thrown into the deep end without any of them ever really speaking to each other, and they start wandering around in Midtown City, looking for a certain target to aid while the cities falling apart. And we basically just then get a section of the movie that’s the Squad running into waves of nondescript bad-guys that the Enchantress can create where they engage in fights, the yell at each other, wander to a new location, and rinse and repeat. That goes on until the reach the target they were supposed to be extracting, which just turns out to be Amanda Waller, where we learn how the Enchantress just got out of her control and started the whole thing, making it all Waller’s fault.
There’s a minor hiccup in the plot when the helicopter that was supposed to get Waller and the Squad out of the city shows up, commandeered by the Joker who takes Harley Quinn back. But that plot is quickly ended when the chopper is blown out of the sky, Joker is seemingly killed, and Harley goes back to the Squad. Except for once that’s taken care of Waller is taken hostage by Enchantress and Incubus, and is plugged into their magical weapon to specifically target secret government locations that Waller knows about. The Squad think about giving up at that point, having a charming scene in a bar where they just shoot the shit, until they decide that they can’t just leave the city and let the Enchantress destroy the world, so they head into stop her. The split up for a while, Killer Croc and the soldier planting bombs underneath the Enchantress’ weapon while the rest of them just fight Incubus. And after a fight where Diablo reveals himself to be some sort of fire-god, he and Incubus are killed, and the Squad start fighting Enchantress. Which doesn’t go great until Harley uses Katana’s magic sword to cut out Enchantress’ heart again. And with that done the Suicide Squad has saved the day, received just ten years off their sentences, and are returned to prison until they’re needed again. Oh, until the very end of the movie when the Joker burst into prison and frees Harley.
So yeah, that’s what we got. And honestly, describing it like I did doesn’t make the movie seem as bad as it actually was. Because it was bad. Real bad. And in very strange ways. Honestly, the last week has revealed a lot about this movie that kind of explains it, what with the accelerated schedule, the massive re-shoots after Batman v Superman tanked, the tone-changing edits, the people who edited the trailer being brought in the make the movie something it wasn’t. It all just kind of added up to make a movie that felt like it was multiple different movies with multiple different visions all spliced together. But hey, it’s a superhero movie, so before I get into the real problems with it, let’s talk some positives and some petty geek problems.
First of all, let’s talk about what I did like, because there actually was stuff that worked for me. I liked this more that Batman v Superman as a whole, and it honestly is probably my favorite of the DCEU so far, not that that’s saying much. And really I think the thing that worked for me was the performances. I’ll say right now that most of the characters didn’t really jive well with their comic counterparts, other than spot-on portrayals of Amanda Waller and oddly enough Captain Boomerang, but the actors were for the most part pretty good. Will Smith did a good job with this version of Deadshot, Margot Robbie was really engaging with a version of Harley Quinn that was even more unlikable than the standard one, and Jay Hernandez gave a lot of emotion to Diablo, a character I know absolutely nothing about. And really, even though they were very oddly edited, I liked the vignettes that established the origins of the villain in the beginning of the movie, especially the silly little Chirons that would come up and list their names, code-names, abilities, and crimes. It was a fun little way of introducing the characters, and if the movie had kept up that aesthetic I think I would have liked it a whole lot more.
But of course, there’s also a lot of complaints I can make from an obnoxious geeky standpoint. I really like the classic John Ostrander run of the Suicide Squad, and I think the idea of it is pretty genius. Times were changing and people didn’t want to see some of the sillier gimicky characters from the Golden and Silver Age any more, so they created a series where they could pop in, and possibly be killed off, since no one cared about them anymore. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have the biggest familiarity with the series, or the characters, outside of that Ostrander run, but man do most of the characters seem off. Maybe they’ve changed Deadshot’s origin in recent years, but I didn’t really like the forced emotionality of his new story as a father just trying to do right by his daughter. I liked the whole “man with a deathwish who wants to go out in a blaze of glory” thing that the older Deadshot has. And I know I shouldn’t be surprised that things ended up this way, but would it have killed them to ask Will Smith to wear the mask for more than five minutes? I could probably talk forever about how much was wrong with Enchantress, both from a character standpoint to a narrative one, but I’ll just explain it simply by saying that she was just an eternal monster, with no motivation, no charisma, portrayed blandly, and she killed any scene she was in. I guess Harley Quinn was fine, I’ve never really been a fan of the character, and I’m really not sure how this movie was supposed to make me feel about her. Sometimes it seemed to realize that the whole Joker/Harley relationship is disgusting and that she’s the victim of a horrible, abusive relationship, but other times it was acting like those idiots on the internet who think that they’re cute and should end up together. I just couldn’t get a read on which way the movie was trying to come down on that, and it felt like it was trying to have it’s cake and eat it too. And then there’s the Joker. Yikes. I’ve talked before on the site about how my opinion on that character has massively dropped as I’ve gotten older, and I know see him as a boring monster with no motivation and nothing interesting about him. But this version is next level horrible. Honestly, they may have done some damage-control to the character’s reputation after The Dark Knight where people saw him as this anarchic martyr, because I can’t imagine anyone finding this repulsive character fun or enjoyable. I have no idea what Jared Leto was trying to do with the character, but what ended up on the screen was the messiest performance I’ve seen in a while, and a character that honestly could be cut out of the movie entirely and only improve things.
But it’s not all just fanboy whining. This movie was just pretty poorly made on a cinematic level. And really, I think the biggest issue is the same one that plagued Batman v Superman. No, not Zack Snyder. The editing. I know I’ve heard that the company that cut the trailers that people liked were brought into re-edit the movie, but I’ve also heard David Ayer refute that and say that the movie we got was his edit, but regardless of who did it, it wasn’t done well. This movie had no second act. We had like forty minutes of explaining who these characters are, since they couldn’t have waited to do this movie until they’d already introduced them in other movies, and then we basically were thrown straight into a third act climax that lasted over an hour where they characters went from one fight to the other in dark and dingy streets. There was no scenes of the Squad coming together and being a team. They were thrown straight into the mess after being strangers. Honestly the best scene of the entire movie was the scene where they were sitting around in a bar talking, because they were actually being teammates that were getting along. They make some reference at the end with Diablo saying that the Squad is his new family, which felt completely unearned and ridiculous. He’s known these people for like four hours, most of which has been spent with them yelling and him and ridiculing him. It’s like we were missing thirty minutes of the movie where they got to know each other and become friendly. It’s just strange. It was like a goddamn Transformers movie, which is one of the meanest things I can say about a film.
Lastly, I want to talk about the shade that’s being thrown at this movie for being a poor imitator of a Marvel movie. This whole DCEU was predicated on the notion that the MCU is a money-making machine that doesn’t care about artistic intent, and it just grinds up filmmakers to churn out safe, profitable films. I disagree with that notion, but it’s what the DCEU was trying to tell us. They said that they would be “director-driven” and allow the directors to tell their own unique stories. And then you see this movie, and realize that that’s complete bullshit. It’s so painfully obvious that this movie was drastically changed by the studio after the backlash against Batman v Superman to make it into a movie it wasn’t. The movie is jam-packed with weird and random music cues, just like the Guardians of the Galaxy, and tries to be much funnier than the previous two movies in the series. And we know that they went in to add more jokes after that first trailer was full of every joke that was in the movie. You watch this movie, and all you can see is the DCEU desperately trying to be likable. And failing. People didn’t like the indiscriminate destruction and weird 9/11 imagery in Man of Steel? Make all of Batman v Superman be a depressing slog about the destructive power of superheroes and the idea that heroism is dangerous. Oh, they don’t like that it’s so cynical and dark? Stuff humor in it and a teenager from the suburbs ideas on subversiveness. This movie’s whole aesthetic was so strange, and really doesn’t fit in at all with what we’ve seen from the other movies in the franchise. The best way that I can describe it is to equate this whole movie with Hot Topic. A chain-store, owned by a huge corporation, that caters to kids in the suburbs who want to shock their parents and be “individuals” by wearing the same clothes as all the other “individuals” in the county. It’s like “baby’s first act of rebellion.” The movie’s so desperate to be cool and likable that it comes off like one of those kids in high school that you would purposefully avoid because you really don’t have time to hear about how achingly beautiful the oeuvre of Tim Burton is, and how Good Charlotte speaks to their soul. No one likes those kids. And I can’t understand people liking this movie. Other than Captain Boomerang maybe. He was fun.
Suicide Squad was written and directed by David Ayer and released by Warner Brothers, 2016.