Suicide Squad had a winning formula that seemed impossible to screw up. A ragtag collection of popular villains and antiheroes played by talented actors teaming up for a wacky mission. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, it turns out.
Suicide Squad is not irredeemable. There are enjoyable elements, and even rare flashes of greatness. But the fun romp that was advertised is buried under what is, quite frankly, a mess.
Let’s start with the good, and that begins and ends with the lead characters.
Deadshot, played by Will Smith, lands the most effectively. A versatile actor who has mastered both comedy and drama, Will Smith is the source of Suicide Squad‘s biggest laughs in addition to some poignant moments. Deadshot is also the movie’s most fleshed-out character, tied only with Harley Quinn.
Harley was easily the most popular and anticipated member of Suicide Squad, and Margot Robbie’s performance lives up to the hype. There is simply no better choice for the first major live-action Harley Quinn than Margot Robbie, who takes ownership of the role and dominates her scenes with mischievous relish. For the most part, this is the beloved character come to life.
I say "for the most part" because despite a great performance, some aspects of Harley’s characterization did bug me, most notably how sexualized she is. And it’s not the empowering kind of sexy, either; the camera lingers on her body quite gratuitously, and the flashbacks depict her more as Joker’s arm candy than as his kickass sidekick/demented love interest. Harley is one of the comics’ most complex and strangely endearing characters, and she’s come a long way, branching out and away from the Joker’s side. So it’s a frustrating disservice to the character to have her fall victim to Suicide Squad‘s faux "edginess".
Speaking of the Joker, Jared Leto’s acting on its own is very good, but I’m not quite sold on Suicide Squad‘s interpretation of the character just yet. Part of that is because his role is so small, we barely get a sense of who he is.
Another standout is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. She’s a perfect fit for this role, a no-nonsense, unlikable authority figure almost as cruel as the villains themselves.
Even some of the secondary characters were fun. Who knew that Jai Courtney, often described as totally lacking in charisma, would absolutely shine as Captain Boomerang?
Despite that, though, most of the team is woefully underdeveloped. Boomerang is good for a few laughs, but that’s it. Katana appears out of nowhere a third of the way in and hardly contributes. Killer Croc just grunts some one-liners. Slipknot is a complete non-entity. The only character with any story arc, and one that actually works well, is El Diablo, which was a welcome surprise.
Characters are the foundation that a team-up movie like Suicide Squad should be built on. The first act focuses entirely on those characters, and it’s all the better for it. Mind you, it’s not too great. The first half hour or so is incredibly choppy, as we’re introduced to the squad individually via expository narration, each entrance accompanied by a different song. It’s a clumsy mishmash, but it at least prioritizes the cast.
At this point you might be thinking, "Hey, this review’s okay so far, maybe the movie isn’t that bad!" Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But then the first act ended. And it all came crashing down.
Once the team is gathered and the mission begins, Suicide Squad devolves into a series of indistinguishable action scenes, interminable stretches of shooting lots of bullets at lots of literally faceless CGI monsters. Everything blurs together in a monotonous muddle, interrupted by out-of-place flashback sequences, all with terrible editing to boot.
I could almost see the scissors and glue, cutting and pasting the film to try to make it salvageable. For example, worse than the Joker’s lack of screen time is the fact that he should have been in this movie even less. Flashbacks aside, his entire subplot adds nothing to the story and should have been omitted entirely.
I could also feel the movie being pulled in many directions, resulting in an incoherent narrative and jarring tonal inconsistency. Sometimes it tries to be grim and edgy, but in an ill-conceived, juvenile kind of way. Sometimes it aims for whimsical humour, but some of the jokes that should be funny (like Harley’s) don’t really land, thanks to the wonky editing. This is likely a reflection of the scramble to do damage control after the failure of Batman v Superman and the success of Suicide Squad‘s own comedic trailers. And sometimes it wants to be an epic superhero blockbuster, which is absolutely the wrong way to go.
All of it builds up to the ultimate generic climax: a cataclysmic device shooting a beam of light into the sky. And at the center of it are two truly atrocious villains, one of whom is just a hunk of shoddy CGI. It’s the finale to almost every superhero movie since The Avengers. And the worst part is that Suicide Squad doesn’t even need this kind of ending.
Would it have killed them to go small for this one? The Suicide Squad are not the Avengers or the Justice League. For all of Waller’s talk about metahuman armies, the squad barely has any metahumans in it. Most of their skill sets involve guns and fists, lacking the awe and dazzle of high-profile superpowers. This makes them a poor match for a large-scale, effects-heavy blockbuster. That’s a huge reason why most of the action scenes fall flat.
No, the Suicide Squad works best as more of a ragtag black-ops team undergoing high-risk but covert missions. A smaller-scale operation, like, say, the Assault on Arkham animated movie, or simply having the Joker as the main villain instead of Enchantress, would have been so much better. It would have at least had a more unique, fresh, and interesting formula, fewer bland action scenes, and far more room for character interactions.
Because all of the aforementioned great characters amount to absolutely nothing if they don’t get time to be themselves, to talk, or to bounce off each other. The bar scene from the trailers is the only good part of the movie’s second half for exactly that reason. But Suicide Squad‘s biggest mistake is having next to none of that, squandering the natural chemistry of its talented cast and compelling antiheroes.
Thus Suicide Squad answers the question: how do you make a terrible meal out of incredible ingredients? What’s most disappointing is how great it could have been.
Rating: 2.5/5 (Subpar)
If you enjoy this website, check out the Facebook page and hit like at facebook.com/ScrawlSpace.