Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ attempt at rivaling Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe is a valiant effort, and I can’t stress that enough. The execs at WB and DC are in a position I would loathe to be in. If only they had one universally liked film under their belt — something akin to Marvel’s first entry in their MCU, 2008’s Iron Man — I’d feel less bad for DC. But so far, the DC Extended Universe’s track record has been unsatisfactory following the lukewarm receptions of 2013’s Man of Steel, and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which saw its release this past March.
Hoping to appeal to a wider audience — one that’s riding on the hype of more comedic comic book movies like Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy — DC’s latest attempt is writer/director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, which comes off as a direct response to Marvel’s Guardians. Sadly, and I really hate to say this, but it may be the DCEU’s worst film yet. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s downright terrible.
The preceding paragraph was especially tough to write, for Suicide Squad was the film I was most looking forward to in the latter half of 2016. At the very least, I hoped that it could have been a fun popcorn flick, y’know? Just a mindless, forgettable film, but one that’s also completely enjoyable in a packed theater, the whole crowd rioting and cheering throughout — sorta like Lights Out recently was for me. It’s unfortunate, though, that Suicide Squad is not only both mindless and forgettable, but it’s almost free of any enjoyable scenes altogether.
The film begins in rote fashion, with roughly 20-30 minutes of expository scenes that stiltedly introduces each of the film’s characters. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a particularly ruthless federal agent, acts as the plot device programmed to fulfill the need to swiftly introduce the overcrowded list of main characters. She proposes a plan to build and enact a strike-force composed of criminals, who are to help rid the world of villains that are even badder than them. It’s an interesting concept, sure, but the plot goes nowhere fast. The film becomes a boring slog, insistent in retreading ground that we’ve seen in superhero flicks for decades now.
One of the many problems of the film lies in its editing, and this first act is no exception, as the jump between characters is done in jarring fashion. Ayer tries to balance far too many characters at once, and only a few of the half-dozen plus characters get meaningful backstories. Even worse, the ones who do receive a bit more treatment still aren’t fleshed out nearly enough and come off as nothing but lame caricatures and tropes in and of themselves.
It’s no secret that the members of the Suicide Squad are the main draw of the film, so let’s go through the team. As for the characters that get more treatment, there’s Deadshot (Will Smith), a highly-skilled assassin whose conflict comes from trying to balance his deadly work and the daughter he dearly loves; El Diablo (Chato Santana), a human flamethrower who more or less has the same familial morality issues as Deadshot; and Margot Robbie portrays the lovable loon Harley Quinn, accomplice and lover of the Joker (Jared Leto).
Speaking of the Joker, get ready to see only about 10 minutes of him over the course of the flick! Oh, what a waste of talent it is, especially because you’re certainly able to see the potential that Leto’s unique portrayal of Joker has. If only he had substantial screen time, or at the very least one measly meaningful something to do, then his appearance would have been somewhat justified. As it is, though, Joker’s addition comes off as a glorified cameo, and a tease for what could have been.
Although the aforementioned Squad members get very little in the way of backstory, the rest of the team receives even less development. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is an Australian bank robber who uses, you guessed it, a boomerang as his main weapon…and that’s about it; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a man-crocodile hybrid that comes off as nothing more than an offensively stereotypical “gangsta” type, and although I wasn’t counting, I would bet he says no more than ten lines throughout; and there’s Slipknot (Adam Beach), whose character boils down to being a guy that climbs stuff real good, and literally nothing else.
Rounding out the Squad is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a 6,500 year old witch who is the “most powerful meta-human” the government has yet discovered, although the weakness to this character is so laughably bad that it completely undersells her power and the threat thereof. It’s apparent from her introduction that she’ll end up acting as the film’s conflict, as Waller’s plan quickly goes awry and Enchantress goes rogue. In turn, she unleashes a catastrophic, possibly world-ending event that’s pulled directly out of any number of big Hollywood summer blockbusters from the past ten years.
The good guys in the film are few, but they matter just as little as the other throwaway members of the Squad. The glue that holds the Squad together is Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a former military type whose job is to keep the group in line and make sure the job gets done. There’s Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who shows up out of thin air halfway through in order to be Flag’s backup, and carries with her a sword that entraps the souls of whom it slays. And, as the trailers have shown, Batman is in this film (Woo! More Batfleck!). Though I will say that even his appearances are sparse and incredibly underwhelming, very much akin to the handling of the Joker.
I suppose it would be unfair for me not to relay the parts of Suicide Squad that I actually enjoyed, even if it’s a tiny list. First off, Margot Robbie is a wonderful Harley Quinn. She really gives it her all in the role and is a complete joy to watch. Even better is Smith, who drives the film forward, being the most relatable character, and reciting the funniest lines and performing the most enjoyable action moments in the process. Finally, the soundtrack is an amalgam of pop hits new and old that’s a joy to hear, much of the time complementing the on-screen action.
With each of these pros, however, comes far more pronounced cons. Robbie is great as Harley Quinn, but the route Ayer ultimately takes the character is less than stellar. Smith has the best action scenes and funniest lines, but that’s not saying much when most of the humor and action from everyone else falls utterly flat. And while I do enjoy a lot of the soundtrack, much of it is entirely cliché, and some song/scene pairings are completely off and can ruin the dramatic impact the scenes are meant to have.
Suicide Squad immediately stumbles out the gate and never recovers. Ayer sets up a plot that may have incredibly high stakes for its world and characters, but as an audience watching the plot unfold, it never feels like anything is truly at stake due to the lack of characters to root for or relate to. It inevitably becomes hard to care about any of the film’s drama, especially when the characters consistently spout off quips that not only feel forced and unfunny, but also help to produce an inconsistency in tone.
This latest entry in the DCEU is an unmistakable mess of a film. It’s devoid of a coherent, compelling plot, features handedly misused characters, and sadly attempts to glorify its mediocre-at-best action scenes that are undermined by surprisingly amateurish CGI effects.
“I’m confident that Suicide Squad will be great,” I recall saying to a buddy just a few days before I saw it. God, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor