Review: Suicide Squad. Entertaining, Weak Movie

So I went and saw Suicide Squad with my sister this Sunday, and in an effort to have more media review content on this blog, I figured I’d do a quick review of it.

To preface, I am not one of the DC superfans that’s read all of the years of comics. However, I have seen many of the animated adaptations, received synopses of some comic arcs, and generally love the DC characters. I think many of them have the potential for rich complexities and I really love what the CW television shows have managed to do.

So through that lens, I have to give Suicide Squad a solid: meh.

It’s not a terrible movie, and there are a lot of fun moments and scenes in it, but on the whole it’s suffering from some of the similar problems that the recent DC movies have had. I don’t know if writer/director David Ayer can be blamed for these problems or if it comes from being hamstrung by the work of Hack Snyder. I, like most people, have heard about the frantic recut that was done to the film to add more comic relief, but I couldn’t say where those came in and how much they caused. I also haven’t actually seen BvS due to all the utterly dismal reviews and the awful trailers from the get-go. So I’ll try to simply review Suicide Squad on its merits and demerits alone.

Fair warning, there may be some light spoilers ahead.

First the good.

When Suicide Squad goes for the fun flash that fits into its premise, it actually has some genuinely enjoyable scenes and moments between its ragtag group of characters. Most of the performances are well done. Margot Robbie gives us a great live-action Harley Quinn for the script she has to work with. I’m even okay with Will Smith’s version of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, with the fair note that I’m not as familiar with other incarnations such as the original comics. Jay Hernandez as Diablo winds up being an interesting character, and Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller definitely has the right bearing and attitude. This version of Captain Boomerang is kind of mediocre and a bit lame, but not terrible, and some of that might be script and direction. There’s really just one hot mess of a performance in the whole place, and I’ll get to that later.

In general, the action is pretty exciting, with only a few moments of boring “Oh, gee, I’ve seen this type of scene a million times.” Dialogue ranges from mostly acceptable to even clever, with a few dips into banal here and there. I liked the style with which they introduced most of the main characters with a kind of credit rap sheet of their background, even if I would have rather had about 5 really amazing movies in the last few years to introduce them along with the rest of DC instead. Can’t have everything though. And the bits of background given in flashbacks are pretty good too. I was pleased at seeing Harleen Quinzel make bits of the transformation into Harley Quinn. Still, it would have been great to simply see all of that in a kick-ass Batman movie that fit into the overall DC universe, just saying.

Basically, I wasn’t bored watching it for most of the movie, which is generally a good barometer for the couple hours or so spent in the theater. However, that’s just not enough to overcome the problems both as a film and as an adaptation of source material and characters.

So onto the bad.

One of the major problems Suicide Squad suffers from is having to roll itself into the apparent train wreck of BvS. Superman is already dead because Hack Snyder had to try and shove years and years of comics into a rusty, broken blender and churn them all into one mess of a movie. So now it changes the tone of why Amanda Waller is putting together Task Force X in the first place.

Setting that aside though, and again just looking at the movie, Suicide Squad struggles with pacing. Some parts of the movie start to drag as we wonder where it’s going next, and not in a fun, mysterious way. Again, the comic relief dialogue that may have been added in the frantic recut seems to be hit or miss, making it feel like the recut wasn’t as seamlessly done as it could have been.

That also brings us to the feeling that may have come with that editing. It starts to reek at certain points of obviously ham-fistedly borrowing from more successful comic book movies. Like having a group of criminal heroes coming together under a very thematic classic rock soundtrack. Sound familiar to anyone? It’s galactically similar to something. Or suddenly giving a blade-wielding, violent character a plush unicorn for comic relief. That just seems like a Deadpoo—er, dead ringer for another movie that was an audience favorite. And when it feels so obvious and so possibly part of the edits, that detracts from the overall movie along with a few other factors.

Not enough time was really given to fully realize some of the potentially deep characters that are part of this and the DC universe also. It has the feeling of being so rushed and trying to fit so much into one movie and suffering from “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” for half the scenes, rather than focusing each scene on moving the story forward somehow.

And the idea of characters brings me to something I mentioned earlier. I have to just say it, Jared Leto’s Joker is, in my opinion, the worst on-screen Joker we’ve had. And that’s counting Cesar Romero in the cheesy 60’s Batman, who was at least fun. I don’t think it’s entirely Leto’s fault, I don’t think he’s a bad actor. One problem is actually in make-up.

One of the key elements of The Joker is that he has some kind of physical reason that he always looks like he’s smiling way too big. It’s that scary, forced smile that gives him part of his unsettling aesthetic, whether it’s Heath Ledger’s more subtle scars, Nicholson’s back-alley plastic surgery, or the animated indication of a permanent rictus. That’s part of what Joker is, and Suicide Squad completely missed that.

But beyond what’s physically missing, there an attitude of whimsical unpredictability along with the psychosis that is missing from Suicide Squad’s run-of-the-mill tattooed psychopath. Again, this might be more the fault of the script than the actor, but the only thing that distinguishes Leto’s Joker from a random psycho gangster in just about any other action flick is the green hair. He has none of Joker’s actual puckish sense of humor, the crazy monologues to go with his next plan, that sense of not knowing if this is the moment he laughs it off and slaps you on the back or kills you while cackling maniacally. This character is just always going to kill you in the next minute, making him thoroughly uninteresting. And for a character that is a major villain in the DC canon to be introduced this way is, in his own words, “really, really bad!”

Moving away from that, another problem with this movie is a problem other hero/comic movies have had in recent years. The problem of understanding the scope of your characters.

Of course, by the end of Suicide Squad, the whole world is in danger, and it’s up to our group of barely controlled psycho criminals to save it over a notion of honor or … something. Motivations are kind of shifting and a little too meta in times. And this is a problem in my opinion, because the Suicide Squad really are not world-savers.

Once the entire world is in danger from mystical forces, the burgeoning members of what should become the Justice League would show up. This universe already has Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, a few other actual heroes. Saving the entire world is their gig. That scope just doesn’t fit the Suicide Squad, but there seems a myth that the whole world has to be in peril in a comic book movie by the end of it.

It would have fit much more to have them, especially in their first adventure, save a city at most, or complete a covert mission that kept another evil organization from getting their hands on something really bad that could have threatened the world, or something more in their scale. Even if the plotline was written okay, it’s out of their scope to have them stop Enchantress from wiping out all of humanity their first time out. Let them handle black ops stuff and still beat some kind of threat while the growing Justice League saves the world. Keep their scope appropriate, build them at first, and let them work up to bigger things. That would make a much better Suicide Squad movie.

And before anyone suggests it, I’m not a super-Marvel-fanboy who thinks they can do no wrong. I do admit that objectively Marvel has done a much better job on their movie universe and making it work and be entertaining. DC keeps dropping the ball on their movies.

That’s what frustrates me; I like the DC characters. I know they could be a great set of awesome movies as well, and it’s annoying to keep seeing them miss that potential in the hands of stumbling adaptations. I want an amazing bunch of DC movies that bring all the potential depth and complexity of these interactions to the screen over time and allows me to get to know each character. Wouldn’t that be cool?

So that’s my review/geek rant about Suicide Squad. I was entertained while watching it, but I probably won’t see it again and it really wasn’t up to snuff as an overall movie or adaptation of the characters. As a final grade, I think C-

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