Movie Review - Suicide Squad
In our recent opinion piece regarding the cinematic rivalry between Marvel and DC and how the critics weigh in, well, when I wrote that, I hadn’t seen DC’s most recent entry…and the critics’ most recent target…Suicide Squad. Last night, I remedied that. So, is that 26% on Rotten Tomatoes deserved?
Of course it isn’t. Then again, I liked the recent Fantastic Four reboot, so what the hell do I know?
That being said, the movie certainly isn’t without fault. We’ll go over those in a bit, but everything this movie does wrong, it does so many other things right. Surprisingly, Suicide Squad isn’t a throwaway interlude in the saga leading up to Justice League, but instead proves to be an important step in the growing DCEU introducing a number of concepts that just might be very important in the films to come.
I guess at this point it’s worth it to note that while I’m going to try and be spoiler-free, there are two scenes that I definitely want to talk about that are spoiler-worthy. You’ve been warned.
The advertising has already filled anyone not familiar with the Squad (or its official name, Task Force X) on its basic premise, using captured supervillains to run covert missions for the government…or as Amanda Waller puts it simplistically, ‘using bad guys to do some good’. Her proof of concept, as it were, is a possessed archaeologist, Dr. June Moone…also known as The Enchantress. By stealing the possessing entities heart, Waller thinks she’s got Enchantress by the metaphorical balls. She’s also using the romantic attachment between Moone and her right-hand man, Rick Flagg, as further insurance that Enchantress will behave. This leads the viewer to two immediate thoughts: first, clearly Amanda Waller has absolutely ZERO knowledge regarding horror movies…otherwise she’d know how doomed to astonishingly spectacular failure this is and second, that just like in the comics, she’s a grade-A bitch that you’re going to hate throughout the entire film. My goodness, and does Viola Davis pull that off spectacularly. I always say that the mark of a great actor or actress is if they can make you just absolutely and irrationally HATE them for two hours plus, non-stop…and Davis does just that.
So, yeah, if you haven’t been paying attention to the very clear lack of her presence in the marketing of the film even though she’s supposed to be part of the team, I just spoiled the film’s antagonist. Enchantress has left the reservation, so to speak, and it’s time to assemble a team of ‘the worst of the worst’ to either bring her back or put her down. The film introduces us to our soon to be team through a dossier-like approach and very effectively sets these to a song that goes a long way to sum up the character. This really is a fantastic shorthand since, really, when on earth would we ever get a Deadshot or Captain Boomerang solo movie? Let’s go through the roll call here, we’ve got Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, the aforementioned Rick Flagg, Killer Croc, Katana…oh, and Slipknot. Okay, Slipknot doesn’t really count…you’ll find out why…but he does make a great foil to Boomerang, played by Jai Courtney. Let’s get this out of the way rather quickly, I’ve never really understood the critical hate piled onto the guy. Granted, I’m working with a limited sample size here. I’d seen I, Frankenstein…and he was supposedly in that…but, you know, I couldn’t tell you. Bear in mind that actually, I’m having a hard time remembering the film overall, so a forgettable performance in a forgettable film isn’t really something to bitch about. And I saw him in Terminator Genisys, which, had the trailers and pretty much every conceivable bit of marketing hadn’t gone out of its way to spoil the living fuck out of…well, even then I still rather enjoyed it and found him to be a serviceable Kyle Reese. Sure, no Michael Beihn…but no one is going to live up to that. Anyway, the interaction with Slipknot and a few bits here and there and yeah, Jai Courtney was pretty good.
Since we’re on Boomerang, we do indeed get to see the Flash make the initial arrest that brings Boomerang into the Squad. The more I see Ezra Miller, the more I think he’s gonna do just fine.
Being a WB/DC film, naturally we have to shoehorn Batman in here too…and thankfully it doesn’t feel TOO shoehorned, as he’s behind the capture of both Deadshot and Harley…which makes sense as both tend to be Batman villains. Let’s start with the Deadshot capture scene first, because any discussion of Harley and her baggage deserves its own paragraph. We’re led into the scene by Waller describing that she put the right information in the hands of someone in Gotham. Yeah, guess who? Anyway, we join Deadshot on a night out with his daughter. Now, this scene doesn’t illustrate Deadshot as an assassin with a heart of gold like you might be expecting, instead it’s more like a family man who has a job that he enjoys and pays well. Let’s underscore that, a job he ENJOYS. So, yeah, not doubt about it, he likes killing. I’m pointing this out because the scene kinda continues down this path with Deadshot, yet many critics of the scene, both in print and online have complained that Batman does something here that Batman would never do…and I insist that they’re missing the point…but let’s finish the scene first. The Bat drops behind Deadshot as he and his little girl turn down an alley. Batman very clearly says something to the effect of ‘hey, I don’t want to do this in front of your kid, so let’s do this the easy way’ and it’s Deadshot that commences hostilities that only come to an end when his little girl stands between him and Batman as he’s got the Bat dead to rights with a potential killing shot. This scene isn’t about Batman…he’s just a foil in this scene…the scene is about Deadshot and how he’s…well, not an assassin with a heart of gold. No. He’s a killer, likes what he does and is willing to kill nearly anyone that gets in his way, except, obviously, his daughter. And the fact that he doesn’t put his gun down right away, you can’t help but wonder if he was trying to think of ways that he could still shoot his kid (not fatally) and still kill the Bat. Anyone that says “Batman would’ve just waited until after he dropped his little girl off” isn’t being realistic. You capture when you have the opportunity. Honestly, I’d give Bats credit for even asking ‘hey, please, let’s do this easy so I don’t have to kick your ass in front of your kid’. Also, it’s nice to see at least a somewhat kinder, gentler Bats in the wake of Batman V Superman. That’s not being critical of BvS, but instead praising Suicide Squad showing the immediate impact of Superman’s death on Batman. We see that two-fold here: first, with Bats wanting to do the capture ‘the easy way’ and second, well, he doesn’t outright kill Deadshot, he pulls out the Bat-cuffs.
While we’re on Deadshot, I do have to say that Will Smith’s performance is good stuff. Yes, his is the first name on the marquee, but you wouldn’t tell that from his acting. Unlike most of his leading roles, sure he steals a few scenes here and there, but he’s not overreaching, demanding the spotlight as he usually does. He’s more relaxed and knows he’s part of an ensemble…and I like it. I like that Will Smith…and since it sounds like he enjoyed the role, here’s hoping we get to see more of it in future DC Films.
Harley. Now, first off, I have to outright say that one of my biggest fears was that this film was going to end up being the Harley show. While it wasn’t exactly that, I have to admit that it felt like it comes close, as she’s the only character we get an outright origin story for…we get flashbacks that show her transition from young psychologist Harleen Quinzel to pyscho-girlfriend of the Joker, Harley Quinn. I suspect that if we didn’t have Will Smith playing Deadshot in this film, it very well could have ended up being my fears realized. That being said, I have to admit that Margot Robbie did a wonderful job in the role. Yes, if you listen closely, she does fall back into her natural Aussie accent a couple of times but it’s brief and, like I said, since she does so well in the role, it’s easily forgiven. As for her portrayal, sure, she plays the “look at me! I need attention!” role that I expected, but she also conveys the vulnerability of this damaged person that a lesser actress could’ve easily overlooked.
Then there’s the Joker. Sure, you could argue that the relationship portrayed here could’ve easily warranted its own movie…and it may yet, as a solo Harley movie has been confirmed. To all those that criticize the film for not focusing entirely on Harley and the Joker or bemoan the lack of screen time the Joker got, I would say THIS IS NOT THEIR MOVIE. If I were to be brutally honest, even more of the Joker scenes could be excised that what already were. I’m glad they weren’t though, given that these scenes really do portray a unique sort of relationship that we really haven’t seen in cinema before. This is a genuine love affair between two very twisted, damaged and broken individuals. Probably one of my favorite scenes in the film shows the Enchantress trying to entice Harley with what she wants most in her life…and it’s a shockingly normal life with a very suburban bent to it: Joker without his make-up and grill dressed in a suit and tie with a briefcase hugging a very normal Harleen Quinzel who is tending to their very normal looking child. This and the fact that the Joker’s presence in the film is only to rescue or break Harley out of her current “arrangement” with Waller…it really is a new dimension to the character that may not have been possible until only recently with the intro of a character like Harley into the Batman/Joker mythos. All that said, it’s really hard to judge Jared Leto’s performance based solely on what we saw. My opinion is that I like what I saw and am certainly on board to see more. Given that we’ve got a Ben Affleck Batman film on the way as well as the aforementioned solo Harley film, it looks like we’ll have at least two opportunities to further evaluate his take on the role. And yes, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing his deleted scenes on the eventual blu-ray release of the film.
Depending on what reviews you read about this film, most will agree that some combination of Deadshot and Harley steal many of the scenes they’re in. And that’s true. But if they steal scenes, it’s El Diablo that steals the show…almost from the very instant he’s introduced. As we’re introduced to the Squad individually, he’s the only one that seems reformed…and by that I mean that he’s the only one that seems changed by his deeds, swearing to never use his powers again. We really don’t find out why that is until the start of the third act of the film. In fact, his arc kinda goes from being the silent and stand-offish one of the group in the first act, grudgingly accepting why he’s there in the second act and I’d almost say becoming the heart and soul of the group in the third. If I were a punning man, you could say that you see him warming up to the group…or maybe his cold demeanor is thawing. [Ugh. Just…just stop. – Ed.] Seriously though, if you don’t come out of this film loving El Diablo, there’s something wrong with you.
The remaining Squaddies are there…and we get a glimpse of them and their specialties, but they end up filling the “Hawkeye” role. Katana and her Soultaker sword show promise and would be most welcome in another upcoming DC movie. Killer Croc unfortunately didn’t get a lot of screen time, but the moments he had on screen certainly make me look forward to when he’ll be taking on the Bat…hopefully sometime soon. Flagg…well…look, Flagg has two roles in this film: to be the straight-man to all the other Squaddies and to be the poor sap that Waller plays like a cheap violin. Neither of these roles is particularly going to stand out, as it really only serves as a foil for all the other characters. Yes, you get that he’s emotionally attached to the film’s villain, but the filmmakers use that more to underscore a hatred for Waller than any sympathy for Flagg. At any rate, it’s a thankless role and Joel Kinneman did about as well as he could with it.
Here we are, fourth page of the review (according to Microsoft Word) and you’ll notice that I really haven’t touched on the plot. While I won’t say it deserves the thrashing it has received by critics, I will say that it does tend to be the weakest part of the movie. Enchantress’ plan involves freeing her brother, Incubus, and then casting a spell that will destroy all machines, forcing humans to either worship her and her brother as the gods they are…or die. Natually, this gives rise to the floating ring of garbage around a central pillar of light trope that we’ve been seeing a bit of lately…so that doesn’t help. And yeah, there are twists and complications in the meantime, having to rescue Waller for one, but sure, it’s all really kinda trope-y. Unfortunately, it does give rise to one of the weaker moments of the film where, as Enchantress prepares her spell (although she equally refers to it as her ‘machine’…for…um…reasons, I guess?), she’s in this kinda bikini with a ceremonial headdress that reminded me of the scene in Metropolis with the Maria robot in the Yoshiwara nightclub…and not in a good way. Ultimately, the damning thing about the plot is that it really doesn’t offer anything new, which is unfortunate.
The last thing I want to talk about is definitely spoiler-y, so you’ve been warned. The mid-credits sequence. While its environs look to be civil, this is very much a Bruce Wayne vs. Amanda Waller moment. “You really should stop working nights.” “You need to shut your program down or my friends will.” Sure, the Justice League isn’t formed yet, in fact, this is Wayne helping Waller to clean up her mess in exchange for current information on those he plans to recruit…and even when they do, there’s that whole Apokolips thing to worry about. But tell me that it wouldn’t be cool to see a Suicide Squad vs. Justice League movie? Probably a long way to go before we get there…but it certainly would be cool.
In the final analysis, well, just look at everything that preceded this final paragraph. You’re not coming to this movie for the plot. Sure, it’s there and it has to be there for a reason for this group of characters to assemble, but the ultimate drawing power and the reason for liking this movie are the characters, their moments and their chemistry. Of course there’s humor…granted humor isn’t quite as lacking in the DCEU as some would have you believe…but it’s not forced the way Marvel’s has become. That chemistry and the humor that results from it is something DC got very right this time around…plot, not so much…but coming off the VERY plot-heavy Batman v Superman, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. If you liken it to a meal, the Suicide Squad is the light-ish desert after the very heavy meal that was BvS. The film shows that the DCEU is making progress toward capturing the mass audience a bit better all the while maintaining a separate identity from Marvel’s outings. So yeah, go out and see Suicide Squad…it’s fun and you’ll laugh…what more do you want?