Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em: 'Suicide Squad' Review
It’s no secret that DC Comics have had some serious trouble bringing their properties to the big screen for some time. Their last critical success was The Dark Knight in 2008, and the past near-decade of releases has almost entirely been a downhill slide. That’s not to say that there’s been a lack of support – fans of the Batman/Superman universes have loudly rallied in support for virtually every movie in the DC line (Green Lantern notwithstanding – even a die-hard Ryan Reynolds lover like myself can’t make excuses for that mess!), ensuring that the films strike a marked split between review scores and box office revenue. Movie-goers have been on the edge of their seat for the latest movie in the line, poised to prove if a swap from gritty, dark, and somber to bright, jokey, and musical can make the two sides align. Thus is the question presented before us: is Suicide Squad not only good but enough to save the DCU?
Suicide Squad hosts a menagerie of villains from the various rogue’s galleries of DC Comic’s heavy hitters, brought together by a secretive agency to perform black ops missions in exchange for their freedom. But when one of their goes rogue with the power of an ancient goddess, they’re put to the test as guns, fists, and baseball bats meet eldritch enchantment in a gambit for the fate of the world. Do these ne’er-do-wells have it in them to be heroic, or will they succumb to the promises of power and fortune?
Not to spoil too much, but let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. Suicide Squad does have quite a bit going for it. First and foremost, it’s got an incredibly diverse cast of actors. There’s a lot more colors, sexes, and creeds on display here than virtually any Marvel movie (I mean, it took til Ultron to get more than one woman in the main cast, and Civil War for more than one person of color). Will Smith apparently steals the show as Deadshot, but you’ve also got a really good turn from Jay Hernandez as the flame-spewing, devil-marked Diablo. In fact, Hernandez does get the best piece of the pie in Suicide Squad. Where Deadshot may be the fast-talker with a botched family life, Diablo goes through a near-complete story arc, and that’s a rare gift in this 80-minute action-fest.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. To be completely frank, I’m not a fan of the character to begin with – I think she’s become a terrible poster child for everything wrong with the rise of comic book popularity, as the Joker/Quinn relationship is nothing anyone should be aspiring to, yet there’s still legions of fan girls who want to be her and boys who want to be with her. The costume design obviously plays into this, what with the sparkly short-shorts (hell, they’re practically just panties) to draw attention to Robbie’s butt and the too-tight, ripped-to-shreds baseball shirt that reads “Daddy’s Little Monster,” so the crew definitely had no qualms dredging up the worst Freudian psycho-sexual sludge they could find, but there are little bits of realization that show through in the film. Quinn is as much a representation of abusive relationship fallout as she is brilliance turned to madness, so a couple of lines where her old psychologist training comes through as she analyzes herself and her teammates bring a fuller light to this poor, damaged girl. Both the sexual tension and her lost self-are vital to bringing her out as a well-rounded character, and Suicide Squad just dips its toe into fixing that balance, for which I’m willing to applaud them.
The film also shows that DC and Warner Brothers are finally willing to take some critical advice and move forward with the genre, out of the Nolan/Snyder-domination of the bleak and high-handed. Suicide Squad clearly had some more time shopping about its script for more laughs and more color in the set. The pallet isn’t washed out like Man of Steel, though it isn’t quite as vibrant as the movie it clearly wants to ape, Guardians of the Galaxy. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and I’ll give the producers credit for that.
Now, all of that isn’t to say that Suicide Squad is a good movie – it’s still got its share of issues, both old and new to the franchise. The allusion to Marvel’s Guardians is not a mere throw-away, as it seems that this and the surprise success that was Deadpool seem to have had the greatest influence on this little DC romp, for better or worse. It’s a sort of twisted inversion of these movies, as David Ayer frontloads the outing with a slew of introductions and gear-up scenes set to decades of traditional music. It feels like the director just made us a mixtape of his favorite songs and found an excuse to shoe-horn it into his big-budget adventure. Most of the choices have some slight basis for being used as reference – you can grab a line or two that makes sense to the scene – but the beats just don’t line up. You’ve got Deadshot on the firing range to Kanye’s “Black Skinhead,” the party being pulled out of containment to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” then the team puts on their old gear to “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes before being flown to ground zero to the tune of “Fortunate Son” by CCR. It’s just blasted at the audience for the first third of the movie, and it’s a complete sensory overload – and not in a good way. The genres don’t line up in any pleasing way, it distracts more from the scene than it adds, and, especially in the case of the Sabbath and Credence tracks, they come with such a history of baggage from use in other films that it’s almost offensive to hear them used this way. Are you likening this silly gore-fest to the Vietnam war? I can’t fathom what all is being implied, here.
Of course, DC’s cardinal sin of screenwriting comes to bare here, as well: a complete misunderstanding of pacing and character development. As stated earlier, only a spare few players get a full, satisfying story, namely Deadshot and Diablo. Harley tries to come close, Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) almost gets there, but everyone else is relegated to their introduction and maybe a scene or two of them putting their powers to use. Then there're bits like Captain Boomerang (played by Jai Courtney, and, yes, that is the character’s name), who is given a schtick as the selfish asshole mercenary who carries around a pink stuffed unicorn because, hahaha, isn’t that silly (also, is that another Deadpool allusion? I can’t tell). So much of this kind of writing appears that it’s clear the team is still peeling off the amateur layers, as they take witty banter and quirkiness as some shorthand for depth and reality of the character. And, sorry folks, it ain’t the same, and it rings so hollowly. Will Smith’s Deadshot teeters on the line here, as you can tell he was given more license to invoke a little more from Mr. Pool, but making him a regretful father always smooths out the rougher bits, as much as it does leave me wondering just how jokey his source material is meant to be.
But the worst of the bunch is the one who got the most hype: Jared Leto as the Joker, himself. That’s right; I’m going to come out and say it: Leto sucks, and his Joker is perhaps the worst yet set to screen. Surprisingly, the aesthetic isn’t as bad as the initial designs seemed. The tattoos aren’t too eye-gouging, the fluorescence of the hair fits the pallet of the film quite well, and the idea of making the Joker more “gangsta” is not a half-bad idea. But, boy oh boy, is he completely worthless. There is no reason for him to be in this movie besides the easy cash the character name brings in and the relation to Harley – and even that could have been kept to an introductory flashback and just played through references to “Mr. J.” No, Leto is not fit for this role, as he’s apparently making his worst mash-up impressions of Heath Ledger and Johnny Depp, as he rasps through his lines and tries to slink about the scenery. Every scene with him is painful, and not in the way, a Joker moment should be. I’m angry at him¸ not at what he’s doing, not at the madness unfolding. I’m mad that the character is eating up my already sparse time and that the actor playing him just cannot get on the ball. His deliveries are terrible, his body language all wrong, and yet he still has this pompous air of “I am the true successor to the Joker role” that just makes it all the more skeevy.
Besides all these glaring flaws, you’ve got a story that doesn’t make sense, pacing that goes from a crawl to a sprint without enough time to invest in the team, and some truly lackluster costume and villain design. The Big Bads, both in “human-like” form and as fully-realized gods, have this slap-dash look to them like they’re either a quick-and-dirty cosplay or they’re just taking queues from any number of other sources without adding anything of their own. And the minions of Enchantress (Cara Delevigne, the main villain) are just god-awful. She turns men into these multi-eyed sludge-beasts that sort of look like the big, gangly, bug-infested enemies in Dark Souls II, but with a cheaper budget and less thought. It’s just black-on-black-on-black, so none of their traits stand out, the CGI on their twitching and chittering is abysmal, and when it’s done practically, they look like deflated basketballs that were hastily spray painted and stuck on an extra’s head. I thought I was disappointed with Tatopoulos and company’s work on Doomsday in Batman v Superman, but this is light years worse than that.
Still, Suicide Squad isn’t the worst movie this year. Hell, it’s not even an entirely bad film. But what’s wrong with the production highly outweighs what good it does accomplish, and it isn’t able to keep itself from submerging just enough to suck still pretty much. If Avengers is like the arrangement of a practiced group of friends working together to play the best version of Dungeons and Dragons with their well-defined and enjoyable characters from their home-town groups, Suicide Squad is the team of middle schoolers who just skimmed through the source books, tried to out-do one another with the edgiest, wildest personas. It’s got some bits of good writing and action, sure, but none of the choreography and polish that other films from even just this year put on display. I won’t dissuade you from ever spending time on Suicide Squad, but it’s probably best if you save your ten bucks and wait til it putters out and reaches Redbox or endless loops on HBO.