I wasn’t going to do this review initially. The summer of 2016 has been a particularly hyperbolic year for film reviewing and when it comes to properties I like I tend to just tune out the bullshit and watch the movie. But, as I said, this is the summer of hyperbole so I’ve been up to my eyeballs in “this is why Suicide Squad sucks” articles since a week before the movie came out. I had resigned myself to just waiting for the home release and putting it out of my brain, but Drew Dietsch asked me to do a review since I have a connection to the source material so I gave it a go.
I usually have a movie every summer that I love and everyone else hates. Chappie was one such film and I thought WarCraft might be the one this year but apparently I get two in 2016. Now I’m not saying that other reviewers are wrong for disliking this or any other movie. You love what you love, but everybody needs to calm the fuck down because there are other grades between “Pure Masterpiece” and “Worst Movie Ever.”
Now, for a little history, here’s a quick rundown on what Suicide Squad is. Suicide Squad started life as an also-ran soldier comic in the 50s, a team of four mercenaries fought monsters. Elevator pitch: It was The A-Team if they fought dinosaurs and bigfoots. When Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, shaking up the entire DC universe into a somewhat more cohesive beast, there were a ton of characters who hung in limbo. So writer John Ostrander had the idea to take a lot of old obscure villains and heroes who weren’t doing anything and put them together in a book. The book concerned a clandestine organization of d-list heroes and z-grade villains going on dangerous missions to stop threats to the universe that Superman and Batman and the like either couldn’t or wouldn’t mess with. The squad was led by Rick Flag Jr. (son of the leader of the original Suicide Squad) and commanded by Amanda Waller. The big thing with Suicide Squad was that every story arc featured a character who dies, it wasn’t always a big one and it wasn’t the selling point of the series but it was still a rather big deal at the time.
I liked this movie quite a lot. It’s not my movie of the summer, it’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t “fix” the DC cinematic universe (no one movie could do that, but this one never stood a chance regardless), I didn’t like it more than Civil War. I did like it better than Superman v. Batman (which I thought was a complete mess, but an entertaining one) and I would probably rank it above a handful of MCU movies. So let’s get into the thick of this with what does and doesn’t work. Let’s start off with what doesn’t work.
Holy shit, the editing in the first third of the movie is awful. I detected the drunken claw of the studio in this section but it is a mess. Basically we have three things to do: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has to present her idea for Task Force X (the official name of the Suicide Squad) to the government, she has to formally introduce us to our lovable rogues, and Ike Barinholtz has to walk around Belle Reeve prison and meet each character in the flesh. Now a sane movie would have Waller introducing her squad during her government briefing, we would be introduced to each character with a brief cut-away, and then Barinholtz would check in with where they are now. Instead, these things are scrambled all about the place. Barenholtz meets Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Waller introduces the characters in a dinner scene with one character, and THEN addresses the committee where she introduces Enchantress (Cara Delvingne). None of these scenes are bad but they’re obviously in the wrong order and there’s no logic or sense to the order they are in. I’ve heard people complain about the cameos from Batman and the Flash but they’re as long as they need to be and short enough to not be intrusive, they’re fine.
Similar to the hacky editing are the music cues. We open on Belle Reeve with House of the Rising Sun, then zip over to Harley Quinn with Leslie Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, then another music cue, and another. I don’t think a single popular music cue in this film lasts longer than a minute and most of them don’t make the 30-second mark. I get it, I enjoyed Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy as well but calm the fuck down. It’s like somebody flipping through their MP3 player trying to decide what to listen to.
This paragraph goes into some spoilers for the middle of the movie so tread lightly. I would have cut out the entire subplot where they go save Amanda Waller, it serves no purpose to the movie and ads on too much fat to the run-time. Just have the characters meet the mushroom zombies, Joker tries to save Harley, Deadshot finds out about Enchantresses’ relationship to Rick Flag, the bar scene, and then the final battle. Waller can show up at the end just like she does in the movie with the explanation that she was just airlifted in.
Slipknot’s expendability could not be more obvious. He has not appeared in nearly any of the marketing material, he doesn’t have a formal introduction in the film, and his big sell to the team is “he can climb anything.” Adam Beach has all of two lines before getting his head blown off, and anyone familiar with the comic would’ve expected this because that was Slipknot’s entire purpose there as well, but why did the studio feel the need to waste Adam Beach’s time on a character who literally could have been played by any asshole off the street? The few people who can stop angrily hooting at this movie for ten seconds have rightfully praised the diverse cast of this movie and that is pretty amazing, but why does the Native American guy have to be the one to unceremoniously bite it? And why does that expendable Native American have to be Adam motherfucking Beach, Scott Eastwood has a more important role than him and he’s half the actor. I don’t even know what Eastwood’s character’s name is and he had a bigger part.
Similarly, I didn’t mind the creative rejiggering that made Killer Croc a large black man since Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a black actor. But Agbaje’s attempt to sound like a large black man with a Southern accent occasionally dips somewhere between John Coffey from The Green Mile and Kingfish from Amos and Andy on the cringe scale. Hearing him say “Ah wuzzunt axxin” was like nails on the chalkboard of my soul.
Finally, I just don’t know about Jared Leto’s Joker. He’s not bad but he’s weird. There are bits of Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Mark Hammil peppered throughout. Leto may nail one line and then fail to deliver another one and he doesn’t bring anything new to the character beyond his new look obviously bit off of Die Antwoord (Harley and Joker are so obviously stylized from Ninja and Yolandi that I was not a bit surprised to find the duo calling David Ayers out for doing it.) I think Leto may grow on me but his performance certainly never took hold of me.
That completes my complaints about the movie, let’s move on to what I enjoyed.
I was very concerned that David Ayers had bitten off more than he could chew with this cast of characters. There really are just too many to reasonably accommodate, but it would appear that he studied up on the John Ostrander books because he balanced out the cast perfectly. The characters are in tiers, there is the first wave who are the most important characters with the most involved stories: Deadshot, Harley, and Rick Flag. Then there are the characters who are a bit more in the background but get one solid story beat: El Diablo and Amanda Waller. Then we have our quiet badasses who get one little tidbit of depth to chew on: Katana and Croc. And the humorous scumbag, Captain Boomerang. This is the exact dynamic this movie needed to have and they nailed it. I was actually really impressed that anyone could handle such an unwieldy large cast. This movie felt like it could have been a story-arc in the Ostrander run, and as a fan that is the highest praise I can give. This is the first movie in the DC cinematic universe that actually understands its source material.
The actors are wonderful. First I have to give a shout-out to Jai Courtney, I’ve been defending his ability to be more than John McClane’s terminally boring son for ages and I’m happy to see him get a role that he can work with. Captain Boomerang doesn’t get a lot of time to shine but Courtney is perfectly in character, he was one of the three dealbreaker characters that would’ve ruined the movie if they’d been poorly realized.
The second potential dealbreaker was Deadshot. Deadshot is one of the most pivotal characters of the book and if he’s wrong then the whole thing falls apart. I had serious concerns about Will Smith as Floyd Lawton, not because they changed the character’s race but because they cast Will Smith. Smith was actually golden here, he walked the fine line and managed to bring across Deadshot’s persona pretty much unscathed. The movie has removed Deadshot’s death wish and he’s not quite as sociopathic (the budding relationship they’re pushing between he and Harley Quinn has no foundation and makes no sense) but as my biggest concern, I was happy to see things worked out.
I wasn’t worried about Viola Davis. It’s hard for me to come up with a perfect actress for Waller, CCH Pounder is a common suggestion and a good one and I’ve thought Pam Grier and Octavia Spencer were good choices as well but it’s hard to find an actress who is short enough, fat enough, and intimidating enough at the same time. (Angela Bassett was none of those things.) Viola Davis is at least two of those categories, she’s rather skinny but suitably small yet gruff to bring the character to life. I’m glad that they gave her plenty to do even if I feel much of Amanda’s role in the narrative pads things out too much.
Margot Robbie has been a common complaint with people, particularly those complaining about her over-sexualization. I understand that point-of-view, particularly concerning her attire in the film, but beyond a couple token butt shots (from a distance I might add) they handle both Harley Quinn and Margot Robbie in a better way than recent comics and films have done. Robbie is a talented performer and she keeps a character who could be annoying as everloving shit compelling and charming. As far as I’m concerned she has brought the character from Batman The Animated Series over to the DC cinematic universe more-or-less unchanged.
Pacing has been an issue I’ve seen cited a lot and it is an issue in the first big hodgepodge act, but once things get started the pacing is just fine. The movie is too long and could stand to lost about 30 minutes, but those thirty minutes don’t really kill the pace so much as just make the movie overstay its welcome. The action and story move fast from beat to beat at a good clip, compare this to Batman v. Superman where everything and nothing happened for hours and you’ll appreciate how good Suicide Squad’s pacing is.
This movie is beautiful. Charlie Countryman and Fury cinematographer Roman Vasyanov stumbles a bit in the action sequences, falling on the shaky cam crutch that a lot of people use, but the camera work is dynamic and works very well. The colors are all very vivid and the movie manages to be colorful while still being dark, dingy, and gray. It shows the fun at the heart of this ostensibly bleak property which is absolutely the feel that Suicide Squad needs to have.
David Ayers has done a wonderful job here and I cannot overstate how much I want him to continue with this series. I don’t know what it hasn’t connected with so many people nor why so many reviewers want to use this particular film as a punching bag for their issues with Zack Snyder and superhero films in general. This isn’t something so revolutionary as Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, and the case can easily be made that it’s simply following in the footsteps of those films, but it’s not merely a cash-in on the trend. I liked all the characters, I liked the story, I was never confused, never bored, other than Slipknot everyone got a chance to shine and no-one was thrown under the bus, and everyone (except maybe Leto) gave a great performance. This movie has heart and Ayers seems to have taken great care in adapting this property. This isn’t a great movie, but it is a really good movie. Suicide Squad proves that you can structure a movie like a comic book and still have it work and it’s a minor triumph.