Suicide Squad (2016): A flawed but fun end-of-summer blockbuster
This isn’t going to sound like the highest praise in the world, but everyone: Suicide Squad is not that bad.
I mean, it’s not good enough to justify a misguided Change.org petition to take down Rotten Tomatoes for aggregating a “rotten” rating from movie reviews, but it also hardly deserves to be called “ugly trash”, “ultimately too shoddy and forgettable to even register as revolting”, or any of the other hyperbolic insults from critics who were (rightfully) disappointed in the film.
Maybe I’m being too generous, but I think in light of the context that Suicide Squad was made in—the studio rushing forward with a script that director David Ayer only spent six weeks on, nervous Warner Bros. studio execs ordering expensive re-shoots and re-edits to make the film more gleeful than gritty after Batman V. Superman bombed, and the immense pressure to be the DC film that finally plays catch up to the Marvel cinematic universe—it did the best it could with what it had, but really, it was capable of so much more.
If the Reddit rumors are true about the extended or alternate scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor (spoilers in the link, by the way!), Suicide Squad could have had a better start than its exposition-laden first twenty minutes. The fast-paced rundown on the major characters—Deadshot (Will Smith), an expert marksman who wants to do right by his daughter; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who’s literally crazy in love with the Joker (Jared Leto); Digger Harkness aka Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a brash and obnoxious Australian assassin who uses, as the name implies, boomerangs for his weapon of choice; Chato Santana aka El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a reformed gang banger with fire-based powers who wants to atone for his past misdeeds; Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a mutant with reptilian features; and Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), a meek archaeologist who’s the vessel for an ancient evil force named Enchantress—is punched up by flashy graphics, catchy musical cues, and narration delivered by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the extremely morally ambiguous leader of Task Force X who’s basically Davis’ character Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder, but with less qualms about getting away with murder.
This infodump could almost be excusable if the film was breezing past the backstory to get to squad’s main mission and show cool fight sequences, but the plot is weak and muddled. Basically, in the wake of the death of Superman, Waller convinces the government to turn loose the aforementioned metahumans wasting away in maximum security prison and have them battle otherworldly foes for the U.S. If they go rogue, the government has the perfect excuse to put them down for good. But that can’t happen, because each squad member is implanted with a remote activated microbomb that will kill them if they disobey their squad leader Captain Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) or piss off his bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara).
Understandably, the U.S. government is not sure about Waller’s plan or her insistence that she can control all of these volatile characters, especially Enchantress, who’s simply subdued by keeping the ancient goddess’ heart in a locked briefcase. Inexplicably—seriously, I still don’t understand how she was able to do this if she’s Waller’s prisoner—Enchantress takes control of Moone’s body long enough to free her brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) and orders him to free her and help set up a swirly portal thingy in Midway City that will kill all of humanity because… she’s pissed that she’s not worshipped anymore?
It’s a weak objective for a villain, and it doesn’t really help that Delevingne is a terrible actress; prancing around in a metal bikini does not an evil antagonist make, and giving June Moone a tragic romance with Flag is not enough to get the audience invested in what happens to her. The film tries to beef up the conflict by including a small subplot about the Joker taking advantage of the chaos in Midway City to free Harley from the squad, but his screentime is limited, which turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
Jared Leto attempts to combine the manic comedy of Mark Hamill and sinister psychosis of Heath Ledger, but the result is akin to a Hot Topic try-hard who believes he’s edgy just because he has a couple of misplaced tattoos. The Joker isn’t frightening and he’s definitely not funny. It makes you wonder exactly what Harley Quinn is supposed to see in him when she’s the one with the magnetic charm (tip: a fun game to play when you leave the theater is “Who Would Have Made a Better Joker?” My roommate likes Alexander Skarsgård, while I think H. Jon Benjamin could offer a unique take, although he’d probably be better suited for an animated version).
Speaking of Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie is absolutely delightful in the role. She takes the fun panache of Tara Strong’s version but adds a bubbly energy to the character that truly makes it her own. She plays well against Smith, which comes as no surprise, as the two were paired as romantic leads in 2015’s Focus, although here, they have more of a brother-sister vibe. Smith and Robbie carry the bulk of the film, but it’s not as if the other squad members require much heavy lifting.
Boomerang is great smarmy comic relief, Killer Croc has several scene-stealing one-liners, and El Diablo’s tragic backstory injects some much needed soul to help the audience sympathize with a team filled with thieves, assassins, and criminals. Individually, each is enjoyable to watch, but there isn’t enough screen time devoted to them truly being, you know, a team. Sure, they fight together and trade barbs with each other, but it’s not enough to justify why El Diablo would refer to the squad as his “family” in the final climatic battle. The film rushes the squad into fight after fight, but never slows down to have at least a couple of scenes where the members all interact with each other at once that would explain why they would fight together at the end of the film, microbomb implants or not.
The action sequences are also nothing really to write home about. A couple of slo-mo shots of people ducking blades, a couple of fights in the rain, a couple of helicopters getting shot down, yadda, yadda, yadda. They’re boringly generic, which is disappointing considering David Ayer directed pretty awesome battlefield sequences in 2014’s Fury. I don’t know if maybe inserting a couple of Tiger 1 war tanks would have kicked things into high gear for him, but I was expecting more for a cast that features an expert assassin and a swordswoman and a guy who uses boomerangs.
Still, the film’s strength lies in the charisma of the cast and their ability to deliver the humor. I’ve seen this move twice now (first on Friday when the film premiered and the theater was completely packed, and then this past Tuesday when the theater was mostly full) and in both showings, nearly all the same parts garnered laughs—actual, laugh out loud laughs—from the audience. And I even laughed too, despite knowing when the jokes were coming, and I found myself smiling in anticipation of my favorite ones. It doesn’t have the same edgy humor as Deadpool, or the high energy of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s still fun to watch.
Despite all of my complaints about this movie, I didn’t leave the theater angry that I had wasted my money on a mediocre film. It was a silly end-of-summer blockbuster movie and I’m okay with that, but Suicide Squad clearly had the potential to be so much more, if only Warner Bros. slowed down to actually develop the film instead of rushing forward with an underdeveloped script and then backtracking with reshoots and sloppy edits.
Suicide Squad had a record breaking opening, so maybe there’s a chance for a sequel to redeem Warner Bros. from their (so far) terrible mishandling of superhero movies.
If not, well, there’s always hope for Wonder Woman.