Warner Bros. has a lot to prove with the release of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. After Batman V Superman was met with devastating criticism, many fans were left feeling pessimistic about the franchise’s future. This has been reflected in the film’s marketing campaign, which has labored to put some distance between the two films. Suicide Squad was carefully crafted to be a fun action-comedy, starring some of Hollywood’s best and brightest. Their efforts here were a success; Suicide Squad is now tracking for a huge $140 million opening weekend. The film, however, suffers from some of the same writing and editing issues of its predecessor. Suicide Squad, much like the members of the titular team, is something of a loveable mess.
First, let’s address the green-haired elephant in the room: Jared Leto’s interpretation of the Joker. This new Joker is a huge departure from previous incarnations of the character. The Joker has become more organized and oddly more compassionate, giving us a deeper characterization of the “Clown Prince of Crime” than we have gotten on screen before. His relationship with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn shows a softer side to a character who is often portrayed as irredeemable. The major problem with the inclusion of the Joker is that he is only a marketing ploy. While advertisements will have you believe that Joker plays a pivotal role in the story, he is treated more like an afterthought. Joker is only really relevant to Harley in the plot and interacts almost exclusively with her. All of his scenes have been spoiled in the trailers. He is clearly only featured to remind people that this is a DC comics adaptation.
The predictability of the film is what keeps Suicide Squad from being a satisfying experience. Because the trailers were so focused, many believed that DC was saving the best parts for the movie, but the truth is, the movie is just as advertised; there are no real twists or intricacies in the plot. The first act is too cluttered. It clumsily introduces each member of the team through a series of flashbacks which takes up a disproportionate amount of the movie’s run-time. That character that everyone assumed is going to die, dies. The villain is more-or-less who you guessed it was. The film spends so much time establishing the team that the actual mission becomes an afterthought.
Once the team finally hits the ground, the script begins rushing through familiar plot beats. Soon after they are gathered together, the team has already bonded – to the point that Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo referring to them as “family”. None of this feels earned. While the audience gets a glimpse into the pasts of these characters, the characters themselves usually don’t. Aside from some quips, the team barely gets a chance to talk and learn more about each other. It doesn’t make sense that hardened murderers and sociopaths would so quickly bond with and sacrifice for each other. This all would be more bothersome, however, if these characters weren’t so much fun.
The whole cast really brought their A-Game. It’s no easy feat to make a group of murderers, sociopaths, and cannibals likable characters. Ayer’s script does them no favors in this regard, but they’re too charismatic not to like. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the emotional core of the movie. He sells the complexities of a hitman who just wants to do right by his daughter. The rest of the emotional weight rests upon Harley Quinn, who is, in her own words, “quite vexing.” Robbie’s performance stays true to the character, but it often borders on the insufferable.
A surprising standout comes in the form of Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang. What looked like a campy throwaway character turned out to be a remarkably fun, if shallow, addition to the team. Courtney has some serious comedic chops that you can’t really parse from any of his previous roles. But much like Joker, he doesn’t get enough screen time. The movie’s real focus is Harley, Deadshot, and Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller. The rest are left to fight for scraps of screen-time. Katana doesn’t speak English, and though Killer Croc does, he hardly ever speaks.
There is fun to be had with Suicide Squad, but its poorly-paced script creates an uneven and underwhelming experience. The characters you came to see are either ignored or given clumsy exposition. There are a few cameos from the larger DC Universe, but they add very little to the overall plot. Their inclusion is welcome, but does little more than solidify the fact that this film takes place in the same universe as Batman V. Superman. Often held back by its need to introduce, this film is crippled by the expectations of a franchise. This is absolutely not the savior that DC Films needed. In fact, it’s a sloppy misstep. It shows WB’s refusal to learn from their past mistakes and increases the likelihood that Justice League will be equally flawed. But if you’re looking for style above substance, this cast of characters will give you exactly that.