Movie Review: Suicide Squad
Hot Topic Time Machine! Suicide Squad is a mostly fun summer flick with a noticeable 1990’s influence.
By guest writer: Nathan Worcester
Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayers (Training Day) is Warner Brothers third attempt at creating a tent-pole for the DC comics cinematic universe. While fun, Suicide Squad is more likely to create a tent-pole in 14 year old boys’ pants. Starring Margot Robbie, Margot Robbie’s butt cheeks, Will Smith and the second most insane character actor since Daniel Day Lewis (yup, it’s Jared Leto. Sorry Christian Bale, you’ve been bumped), Suicide Squad lives and dies as a 1990’s comic book thrown up on the big screen, warts and all. This leads to witty banter and fun visuals, but it also suffers from some bad comic book logic and a callous disregard for women.
Suicide Squad (2016)
After the tragic and completely avoidable death of Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, chewing every scene while chewing everyone else out), a government official with absolutely zero morals, begins planning for what could happen if the next meta human turns out to be a baddie. She decides to assemble an off the books task force of expendable meta humans to do the USA’s dirty work. After finding only two bona fide metas she apparently figures padding the squad out with normally powered psychopaths is an acceptable compromise. Their first mission: stop one of the two metas she hired (Cara Delevingne) who turns heel faster than Stone Cold Steve Austin at a Summer Slam.
And now, I have to cut you….
Suicide Squad made headlines after re-shooting many scenes to be more fun. This was a response to the success of the first trailer (which apparently had 100% of the jokes) and the critical backlash of the brooding nature of Superman V Batman: Kill Everything Edition. The company that edited the first trailer was allowed to create their own edit of the entire movie, and it seems that most of that edit became the final film. While it would be interesting to see what the gloomier version might have been, the film as it stands might have accidentally hit upon its most noticeable aspect: it looks, feels and sounds like someone from the future recreating 1999 using only MTV and a Hot Topic circular as a reference.
It cuts and transitions like a 90’s comic book’s panels: daytime in one scene, suddenly nighttime somewhere completely different the next. It’s soundtrack is basically one iconic song after another, often used to expressly telegraph what is or is about to happen. It reminded me of movies like Above the Rim or The Crow, where the soundtrack was almost more important than the film. It’s color palette is vibrantly colored heroes against dark backdrops. The characters follow the old comic trope of breaking up information dumping dialogue and tense moments with quips, punchlines, and random violence. Those looking for the Marvel movie formula (a genre film that just happens to star comic characters) might be left disoriented and disappointed.
I found it winsome. So many comic book movies are coming out these days, and rarely do they feel like an actual comic book. It gave the movie a mindless, pulpy feel that let me turn my inner critic off for two hours and just let the movie wash over me. Its after the credits roll (no, not the first credits. The second credits after the inevitable DCU building stinger) that much of the movies sins started niggling around in my brain.
Avengers Suicide Squad, Assemble!
The squad itself was largely good, with a few glaring weaknesses. We get fantastic performances from Davis, Smith and Robbie, with unsung antihero award going to Jay Hernandez as Diablo. Davis’ Waller is a ruthless puppet master with zero craps to give, taking control of every scene she is in. The comic book version of Waller utterly dominates anyone she comes in contact with, and to see Davis personify that on screen was great. Smith as Deadshot is Smith at his best: charming and arrogant at the same time, an impeccable assassin who never misses. Jay Hernandez was an eye opener as Diablo, the only meta human that the squad has after the heel turn. Having never seen Hernandez (Hostel, Bad Moms. Seriously, he was in Bad Moms), I was charmed by his take on the flame throwing gang-banger who has embraced pacifism after accidentally murdering his own family. In a movie full of over-the-top villains, it’s nice that the only one with fantastic superpowers was the most subdued and restrained character (it probably saved the CGI department a few bucks).
Margot Robbie nails Harley Quinn, and is a joy to watch. Anyone worried that nothing could top the Harley we got in Batman: the Animated Series (where the character was born, incidentally) can give a sigh of relief. She is alluring, manic, disarming and dangerous all in one, and she even comes across as totally sincere using cartoon Harley’s catchphrases, calling the Joker “Mr. J” and “Puddin”. Oh yeah, the Joker’s in this movie too. Moving on to other characters… (What? I have to talk about the Joker to get paid? Oh alright.)
Much of the anticipation regarding this film is the reintroduction of the Clown Prince of Crime into the DCU after the amazing incarnations we got from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger (both of whom happen to make Our Tens List for best comic book movie villain). The good news? It doesn’t matter if Leto’s joker is amazing. The Joker exists in this movie to build Harley Quinn as a character and as such rarely steals her thunder. He’s perfectly serviceable as the psychotic Don to Harley’s Moll. If I had to say, he’s more Nicholson than Ledger, but manages to be his own take on the iconic baddie.
The rest of the cast is forgettable, or should I say, expendable. Jai Courtney is Captain Boomerang, a laughably bad C lister from the Flash. They don’t even bother to give him a backstory, he’s only in the film because he’s been in every comic book iteration of the Suicide Squad. Jai is as affable as he is oafish, but there’s not much to work with when you play a character that thinks throwing boomerangs really well is a match for the fastest man alive. Similarly, Killer Croc (I refuse to count him as a metahuman, bad skin isn’t a superpower) is acted well, but not really given anything to do, minus the cliche, “hey croc, we need someone to go swimming” bit. Katana (whose Japanese is so amateurish I could understand it) is given almost no development. She’s just there for Boomerang to hit on. Then there’s… some guy. Didn’t bother to learn his name. He was unceremoniously dumped into the squad at the last second, and is the first to eat it. They might as well have had him wearing a red Star-fleet shirt.
Ain’t Nuthin but a G Thang
Almost all the characters in the squad (that they bothered writing for) are takes on certain kinds of gangsters. Joker and Harley are blinged out version of 20’s mobsters. In one scene The Joker fires his gold AK like some reboot of Scarface. Diablo is obviously a Latino gang-banger. Killer Croc dresses and acts like he could be working security for Biggie. Will Smith comes full circle, and channels a cussing version of his street smart Philly boy. Fresh Assassin of Bel Aire anyone?
That theme largely works, showing us explicitly that these guys aren’t anti-heroes. They are straight up bad guys. They aren’t saving the world because they want to, they are doing it to get time off their sentences (and also because they have explosives in their necks, but mostly the prison thing, yeah). It does however, lead to one of this movies biggest flaws….
G’s Up, Ho’s Down
…Rampant misogyny. This movie incorporates the worst of 90’s comic and gangster culture towards women with gusto. The squad has no problems hitting women. One character has no problem calling them bitches and ho’s. And that’s Will Smith, the guy famous for not swearing on his albums. The only memorable things RedShirt does in the movie is die and hit a woman “for having a mouth”. And the cherry on the puerile sundae is the only scene that jarred me out of the movie.
The Joker meets with a lieutenant (played by Common), while Harley sluts it up on the dance floor. Noticing that Common has eyes for her, the Joker GIFTS her to him and she obediently complies. Now, the Joker wasn’t actually going to let this happen, and the Joker was going to kill Common no matter whether he accepted or not, but the scene was just indefensibly egregious and unnecessary. There are better ways to show that the Joker is a wild cannon who needs little provocation to kill his own men. It turns what had been a good Joker/Harley dynamic into a owner/owned thing. I mean, just hit him with a bus, J. My only hypothesis of why this scene didn’t hit the cutting room floor so hard it ended up in China (which would make it the only part of this movie that is going to end up there) is that Ayers specifically wanted to get it in the open real early on that this film is not for you, ladies. It’s a tone-deaf and stupid decision, and the movie is worse for it.
I Watch Sins Not Tragedies
The other major flaw of the film is how cliche the big bad is. Enchantress (Delevigne) is a boring character that basically vacillates between her helpless doe eyed human form and her glaring doe eyed Ring reject form. Her brother is a silent mini boss, but the fight to take him out is at least good popcorn fare. The final showdown feels like the time machine skipped right past the 90’s and stole the ending from Ghostbusters. No, not the new one, that movie liked women too much. The fight with Enchantress made explicit what was only simmering in the back of the audience’s mind: the Suicide Squad would be woefully overmatched if the next Superman is a baddie. The movie did a great job of walking you through it while keeping your mind in suspension of disbelief mode just to hit you with an ending that felt unearned and frankly impossible. But at least Harley gets another badass scene. Which is nice.
So is it any Good?
I enjoyed the movie. It was a final hurrah of the summer movie season. The good acting and pacing helped elevate this movie above Micheal Bay summer dreck, and the only time the movie face palmed was early on in that sexist scene that I knew was coming (thanks internet). That being said, this movie is aimed squarely at people who read comics in the 90’s (me) and teens who just want explosions and fan service (not me).I can’t defend the sexism in this movie, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if women avoided this movie in droves. Vote with your dollars people.
Deadshot, Harley and the Joker will probably end up in other DCU movies (and hopefully Waller too, she killed it, as well as most of her staff), but this movie really didn’t do much to further the franchise. Superman set this movie up, but I don’t really see anything in this movie that sets up what comes next, even with them stealing the whole after credit world building trope. Batfleck, you are no Nick Fury.
I would be interested in seeing if a home release shows the Ayer version that got voted down, but other than that, this movie is a one watch wonder.