I seriously hope that Warner Brothers doesn’t make a habit of taking filmmakers that I love and make them put their name on a seemingly near-purposefully botched product in the service of a bottom line under the guise of their DCEU being “filmmaker driven.” This shit is getting way out of hand, people. I’ve moved past the idea of getting a great, definitive adaptation of these classic DC characters, I just want good movies. I think David Ayer is a great filmmaker, I think he’s just one or two great movies away from being like this generation’s Sam Peckinpah. Hell, I even loved Sabotage, which I was hoping that Suicide Squad would be in the same vein of, a super trashy and sleazy action romp with delightfully despicable characters. If that’s all Suicide Squad was, I’d be happy. But nope! It’s hard to really talk about the film without quickly addressing the various production issues that came to light recently in an article from The Hollywood Reporter. I’ll keep the production stuff to a minimum, but it will be brought up because so much of what is wrong with Suicide Squad can easily be explained by the issues that Ayer and the film faced.
And in case that preface doesn’t make it clear, Suicide Squad kinda sucks. It’s near disaster, that is among the most poorly edited films I’ve seen in the blockbuster realm in a very long time. It isn’t without it’s moments, and most of the cast is totally game, but what little story and character is in the movie is given the most piss poor presentation and execution possible. Basically, if the horrifically slashed up and nearly dismembered arm in Green Room represents the film, the cast is represented the duct tape that is barely managing to hold it all together.
In fact, the strong cast and compelling central characters is the one saving grace that might ultimately make me treat the movie kinder than I did with Batman v Superman. It at least proves that there may be something of value to salvage from this and might even be given justice in a future project. First of all, Viola Davis straight up rocks as Amanda Waller, the morally ambiguous government official who has created and pushed the Task Force X initiative to her peers until they finally gave her a shot. There’s a quiet intensity to her performance that is instantly gripping, her gaze is cold and precise, always confident and calm. Dare I say she’s the closest that any of these DC movies have gotten to legitimately capturing the spirit of their comic counterpart?
And when we move to the actual squad, there’s really not much material for these actors to work with, which is why some of them leave very little impression, but the ones that do work speaks volumes to the power of having a movie star on screen. Will Smith is simply great as Deadshot. While his backstory of being a divorcee and sharing custody of a young daughter that looks up to him is fairly hackneyed and cheap, I’ll be damned if he doesn’t sell the absolute hell out of it. He is so good at getting you to empathize with his desire to be with his daughter only a couple looks and a snappy line. And when we get our first quick Batman cameo, there’s a certain, specific thrill you get from seeing Will Smith as Deadshot interacting with Ben Affleck as Batman that gets you excited. Even though the concept of a “movie star” is slowly dying, mostly due to box office success no longer being a guarantee, it doesn’t take away the effect you get when you have movie stars on screen. Their presence and charisma alone can elevate bad material and that is for the most part what Will Smith pulls off. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn also has that effect, ever since Wolf of Wall Street, I knew she can pull off that star quality and at this point, I think she has it nailed to a tee. There’s a playfulness with everything that she does, and she is basically the sole source of energy and life to the movie, since the pacing is offering no sense of momentum. Yet, even then, there are a couple moments where you can see her character letting her guard down, where she has a second to herself, and then on the flip of a coin, going immediately back to being zany and loony. It’s little moments like that which implies a greater depth that the story isn’t exploring, but her ability to bring that to the character for those few moments shows that Robbie is absolutely the real deal, a bona fide movie star and that solo, female driven DC movie that she apparently wants to produce and star in needs to get a green light from WB as soon as possible.
The last real standout from the film is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo. It seems like way back in the early developments of the screenplay, he was meant to be the beating heart of the whole picture. He is the one that comes through with some sort of arc. It’s not as fleshed out as it needs to be for maximum effect, but it’s in there. He has a tragic backstory involving his fire powers going out of control, which causes the death of his loved ones. It sets a very classic redemption arc in motion, but the film actually pulls off this arc in a way that is both clever and very David Ayer. It becomes about a man who is reluctant to see himself for what he is, a villain. Everyone else in the squad is quick to admit what a piece of shit they are, except El Diablo. He keeps to himself, he doesn’t take part in the action sequences, overall refuses to use his powers. It isn’t until the final act where he realizes that constantly looking into the past accomplishes nothing, he embraces what he is and is capable of doing and helps turn the tide for the squad. Granted, the way the character beats play out is sloppy and it is buried under some very bad plotting, but there is something kind of interesting and subversive going, a hint at the kind of movie I would’ve imagined Ayer wanted to make before the supposed studio meddling.
Unfortunately, the other cast members aren’t as strong, mostly due to a sheer lack of material. And when I say that, I don’t mean there isn’t substance to their writing, I mean there is literally nothing for many of them to do. Killer Croc (Adewele Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) each have enough lines that I could count on my hand. Only Jai Courtney (and if we’re stretching, maybe Karen Fukuhara) really does enough to leave some impression. Their action beats aren’t particularly interesting or inspired, and a quick rewrite could easily remove them from the movie. Speaking of, Jared Leto as the Joker falls into the same problem as well. I can kind of dig this take on the character, but I need to have the character first. The Joker isn’t so much a character as he is a plot device, there just isn’t anything to him and he feels so disconnected from the main story. Joel Kinnaman is serviceable as Rick Flag, the uptight soldier put in charge of keeping Task Force X in check. Cara Delevigne should be given a written apology by Warner Brothers for whatever the hell it is that they made her do for the final act as Enchantress. All I remember is that it was like the Gozer from Ghostbusters by way of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention Adam Beach as Slipknot. Don’t worry, though, I think I’ve given him more attention in this sentence than the movie does. Anyway, moving on.
The film is so structurally broken. It’s isn’t just that there isn’t any kind of flow, or that the pacing is bad, or that tone is constantly at odds with aesthetics, or that there is an overuse of flashback, or that there are constant setups that don’t payoff, or that there are constant payoffs with no setups, or that the film has a tendency to either repeat itself or remind you of things you just saw, or that so much of the film feels like it’s on the cutting room floor, or that the exposition is often overbearing, or that certain plot/character beats happen with little context, or that the final act is a general mess that is nothing but loud noises and VFX, which involves yet another blue beam in the sky, or that motivations for certain characters are unclear, or that moments clearly meant to play out as big revelations or twists are dramatically inert, or that certain soundtrack choices are laughably obvious and on-the-nose, or that it doesn’t address some of the troubling implications of how it portrays Harley Quinn and Joker’s relationship, or that the action scenes are uninspired and tedious, or that there is an awfully liberal use of racial stereotypes in the way some of the characters are written and designed, or that the PG-13 rating basically prevents the film’s attempt at edginess and insanity from feeling authentic, or that…actually, I think that about covers it.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of bad in Suicide Squad, disastrous even. However, it’s probably the first time in the DCEU where I at least felt like the people involved were totally passionate and committed to what they wanted to do; the cast and crew brought some much needed life, idiosyncrasy, and energy to this franchise, and while most of it seems to be lost in the utterly misguided and poorly handled editing process, there are some bright spots that shine through the messiness. Most of it obviously coming from the cast, with heavy hitters like Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis bringing their A-game, even if they can only elevate the messy narrative from disaster to mediocrity. Unfortunately, Suicide Squad doesn’t necessarily “save” the DCEU (fingers crossed for Wonder Woman), but it does offer some compelling characters that I really hope to see again. 45/100