‘Suicide Squad’ yet another DC letdown
“I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!” The iconic and infinitely meme-able words of America’s Next Top Model host, Tyra Banks popped into my head the second the credits started rolling at the end of Suicide Squad. Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before it, I went in hoping to love this movie. It had a great cast, the colorful visuals looked amazing, and based on the flashy trailers, it looked like we were going to finally see a DC film that incorporated a little fun instead of the ultra-depressing religious undertones of previous entries. Much like Tyra was expecting better of ANTM contestant Tiffany, I was expecting so much from this movie, but like Tyra, I was left disappointed. Suicide Squad was supposed to be the thing that turned it all around, the thing that marked a change for the new era of DC movies. But instead, we got another jumbled mess.
In the wake of Superman’s death at the end of BvS, government guru Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to put together a team of the worst villains ever incarcerated to help fight future metahuman conflicts on earth. We meet the squad by way of Waller proposing the idea to other government guys who think she’s crazy for thinking she can trust these ultra-dangerous criminals to protect society when they’ve been the ones leading its destruction for so long. But Waller will not be swayed and she begins plucking her team of expendables from incarceration.
There’s Deadshot (Will Smith), a lethal assassin who’s never missed a shot and has a grudge against Batman (Ben Affleck back in the cowl here) because he was apprehended by the caped crusader in front of his daughter. There’s Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), formerly a psychiatrist who fell in love with her most disturbed patient, The Joker (Jared Leto, who is barely in the movie despite all the marketing making him out to be one of the leads). There’s Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) a military guy who’s only doing this to save his girlfriend, archeologist June Moone (Cara Delevingne) who is possessed by the spirit of an ancient witch called Enchantress. While those three serve as the primary leads, this anti-hero fellowship also includes Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a scaly criminal who loves BET and lives in the sewers, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a widow who wields a sword capable of trapping the souls of its victims, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian smartass who’s primary weapon is—you guessed it—a boomerang, Slipknot (Adam Beach), who they basically ran out of time for, and by far the most memorable, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), an L.A. gang banger struggling with his tragic past after his flame throwing ability accidentally killed his wife and kids. If this seems like way too large of a cast for a sustainable movie, that’s because it is.
While the montages of how the characters were caught provide a decent introductory backstory, we don’t really get to know them beyond their most basic traits. Deadshot loves his daughter. Harley loves the Joker. Rick loves June. Great, but that’s not enough to get us very invested in them. Smith and Robbie stand out for sheer charisma and recognizability, because the thin story and disjointed combo of action movie violence and no-wait-this-is-serious tone shifting certainly aren’t doing them any favors. There simply aren’t enough minutes in the film to give us the development we need for each member of the squad, and even focusing on just a few leaves too many gaps for solid development. The Diablo storyline really stands out because, while brief, it gives us a good enough arc to really care about the character, making us want to root for his redemption instead of just wanting to watch him blow shit up.
All this is before we even get to the big bad of the movie! We see Waller putting the team together in anticipation of other metahuman threats like those in Man of Steel or BvS, but the actual villain of this movie isn’t even revealed until the team has already started to come together, which seems like a weird choice. Normally, you’d introduce your big problem, then bring out the ragtag group of anti-heroes who are humanity’s last hope.
And really, let’s talk about the villain. Our big evil in Suicide Squad is Enchantress, who is searching for her missing heart, which Waller keeps in a box to try to control her. She uses June, and therefore Rick, to get what she wants before resurrecting her brother (who is never actually named in the film) in the body of some dude riding the subway, and the two plot to take over humanity because humans worship machines now instead of mythical creatures like themselves—a plot that’s a bit eye-roll-inducing right off the bat. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that Delevigne is giving us a lot more Gozer the Gozerian than she probably intended. Half the time she was on screen, I wanted to shout out, “There is no Dana, only Zuul!” One sequence during the final boss battle features Delevigne doing some kind of sorceress belly-dance movement, and I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing. First Jesse Eisenberg’s cringeworthy Lex Luthor, now this! Why can’t DC movies give us a villain with a little charisma who actually seems like a legitimate threat?
I know I’ve ripped on this movie a lot so far, but none of this is to say that Suicide Squad is purely terrible. While it looks like an absolute masterpiece when compared with BvS, it’s just that none of the pieces seem to fit together quite right. There are a lot of really excellent individual moments, but there wasn’t much to tie everything together beyond the requirement to tick certain things off the superhero movie checklist. It’s disappointing because there really is some good stuff in here. The Joker and Harley storyline is rich with possibilities and it would have been awesome to see a movie that was just an origin story of that before we got to Suicide Squad. Likewise, the entire story arc with Diablo is by far the strongest in this film, despite being a bit cliche, and I kept wishing they had split this up into two or three individual movies to make us care about these people before jumping to the inevitable later-phase team-up movie.
Please believe me when I say, I was rooting for this one. I’ve never wanted to like a movie more, but I’ve also never seen a clearer case of something not living up to all the hype. Maybe the hype was to blame, maybe the writing, maybe key pieces were lost in editing and reshoots, maybe we’ll never really know, but right now DC is 0 for 3, and I’m terrified for what this will mean for Justice League—the movie I’m most looking forward to, for obvious reasons.