David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” (2016) begins by introducing the audience to Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Then, before long, we are introduced to them again. It is an awkward double-opening, giving the movie a very unfinished feel, one that persists over the course of the film’s entire run.
Without ruining the story—and to give virtually any of the specifics would be to ruin it—”Suicide Squad” is about the government, in the form of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), putting together a team of bad guys who can save the world while Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and the Flash are away doing other things. These bad guys are forcibly compelled to go on the missions under the threat of death.
If that all sounds a little dark, it is, but then again, this is the filmic universe that DC is creating – dark is par for the course. The other important thing to note is that despite being dark, “Suicide Squad” and its characters are still a whole lot more fun than anyone (or everyone) in “Batman v Superman.”
Smith, Robbie, Jay Hernandez (who plays El Diablo), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), and Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang) are all really enjoyable in their roles and people that I would love to see on the big screen as these characters again. Cara Delevingne doesn’t acquit herself quite as well as June Moone/Enchantress, but she isn’t given terribly much with which to work either.
These bad guys are at their best when they’re just allowed to talk to one another, to discuss how they see the world. In these moments, the movie offers not just a level of levity that has been missing from the DCEU, but manages insight into the characters as well.
The downfall of the film is that they aren’t just allowed to hang around in jail for two hours and have a gabfest. They are instead forced off on a terrible mission to face a silly enemy in a battle that could entirely be avoided if Waller or her right-hand man, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), exhibited any sort of sense. There might be less spectacle if this happened, but the movie would be better off for it.
So, sent out to beat the baddie, the squad travels through a city turned into warzone—after “Batman v Superman” went so far out of its way to not kill innocent civilians, “Suicide Squad” implies the death of thousand or hundreds of thousands or maybe more—fight a climactic battle and go home. But the battle itself isn’t very climactic, and the way that they win is silly, and if the baddie didn’t pull punches the squad would all be dead. Plus, there’s always the question of exactly why Batman or some other hero isn’t around to save the day.
This fight and the city’s destruction, just as with the dual introductions, offer the sense that the whole affair was rushed to the screen; that it needed more time to be appropriately plotted, appropriately developed. It is a feeling completely at odds with the wondrousness of the characters and their portrayals.
One of the portrayals at the heart of the film is Jared Leto’s Joker. More gangster thug than kingpin, Leto’s Joker is a terrifying creation. Like Smith’s Deadshot, Robbie’s Quinn, and Hernandez’s Diablo, I definitely want to see more of this Joker. His inclusion in the film is mostly a way for us to understand Quinn and where she’s coming from, but he makes at tremendous impact. Seeing him square off against Affleck’s Batman down the line could prove truly great.
In the end, “Suicide Squad” is head-and-shoulders better than “Batman v Superman,” but one still gets the sense that it’s another opportunity squandered. These are supervillains who are super funny, played by super charismatic people, who are sent off to do something poorly established in the most mundane of fashions. There are these great flashes of style, particularly early on, but these great flashes are of a movie that could have been and it all peters out long before the credits roll.
I still want the see the team again, I just want them to be in a better movie.
photo credit: Warner Bros