Oh DC Comics, what have you gotten yourselves into? We’re three films into the DC Extended Universe (Personally, I would’ve just called it a Cinematic Universe even if Marvel got there first) and critical reception has been less than warm. Man of Steel sits at about 63% on most aggregator sites, Batman V Superman is in the high 30’s-low 40’s and currently Suicide Squad is hovering in the mixed reviews margin between 40-60% approval. So, is it a bad movie? God no, it’s fine. I’ve seen one reviewer say it’s worse than last year’s Fantastic Four, it isn’t, that movie made my #1 worst film (dis)honour. So why the mixed reception? I have a few theories on that and if you’re interested scroll down towards the bottom for my analysis on excessive criticism, for now here’s the review!
Who are the Suicide Squad anyway?
Suicide Squad is a fairly unique title in its original comic form and as a film; a group of villains team up to stop bad shit from happening. Marvel has an equivalent series called Thunderbolts and much like Suicide Squad it occupies a very interesting niche in comics, typically read by diehard fans and often struggling to appeal to casuals. That’s probably the one area where I think the film will struggle in cutting out a specific audience; it is very hard to cheer for the bad guy even when they’re painted positively. Anyway, the point is this sort of film has never been done before; the closest the comic adaptation meta-genre has gotten to a straight up “gang of villains” set up is Guardians of the Galaxy, and with the exception of Gamora the Guardians weren’t ever “bad” they were just morally grey. The stage is set and let’s see what happens;
Will Smith plays Deadshot, for arguments sake we’ll call him the main character. Deadshot is a pretty interesting villain, his whole deal is that he’s a contract killer who is an expert at shooting people and never missing. There’s a similar character in Daredevil by the name of Bullseye but Deadshot uses guns whereas Bullseye uses ridiculous things like playing cards and darts. Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot is quite well designed; he’s a father who wants nothing more than to spend time with his daughter, while juggling his life as a guy who shoots people for money. Summed up nicely by the film’s straight-man, Rick Flag, he’s “a serial killer that takes credit cards”. Deadshot’s desire to see his daughter succeed and live a positive life unlike his own, is his primary motivation. Smith is arguably the best possible person to play a role this way in part due to his own real life issues when it came to juggling superstardom on screen with raising children, in that sense he borders on character-acting this time around and its great.
Margot Robbie continues her rise as the #1 actress hitting up Hollywood right now, taking a crowbar to the knees of Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone and whoever else tries to steal her spotlight. Robbie’s break out role in Wolf of Wall Street is recalled in her portrayal of the devilish Harley Quinn, this time however she’s completely unhinged and captures the pure insanity of the character perfectly. Add to Robbie’s performance the brilliant costume design that morphs in accordance with her character’s story progression and you get arguably the coolest character ever to grace the screen. Joining Robbie is fellow Australian actor Jai Courtney. Playing the role of Captain Boomerang, Courtney is one of the funniest people on screen. Playing a comic relief style character is a new avenue for Courtney and it works incredibly well. His humour is decidedly Australian, whether it’s his nonchalant shit talking or his insistence on carting around a six back of Bundaberg Rum throughout the film, Courtney plays the role incredibly well. He also helps set up a potential future film, I won’t tell you which one but let’s just say it’ll be interesting to see.
Rounding out the Squad is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, a Latino-American gangster with the power to generate and control fire, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, a super strong reptilian-human who eats raw flesh, lives in the sewer, swims well and should win an award for his costume design alone and finally team leader Rick Flag, played by Swedish-American Joel Kinnaman fresh off the set from House of Cards, Kinnaman’s role was originally set for Tom Hardy, who later pulled out due to scheduling conflicts with this year’s Oscar dominator The Revenant, Kinnaman does a solid job with the role, although at times it does seem as though he wasn’t as into it as he could’ve been.
What was good?
In a general sense I think the film was great; a character driven film lives and dies by how well the actors can portray their respective characters and in this instance the members of the Suicide Squad and supporting characters such as Amanda Waller, played expertly by Viola Davis and of course the Clown Prince of Crime AKA The Joker is amazing to witness; Jared Leto’s take on the character is so different from Ledger and Nicholson’s that it has to be seen to be fully understood. If anything Leto’s Joker takes the biggest influence from Mark Hamill’s portrayal of the character in basically all Batman animated films, television series and games since the 1990’s. Certainly the most comic-accurate version of the character we’ve ever seen, and for those worried about the tattoos fear not; they’re purposefully used to enhance the onscreen presence of Mr J.
The individual story arcs of certain Squad members; like Deadshot and Quinn demonstrate an understanding of the source material that hasn’t been seen since Robert Downey Jr strapped on the Iron Man suit and said “I am Iron Man” without a hint of sarcasm. El Diablo’s arc, while a little rushed, is also worthwhile and adds a bit of depth to the film in a general sense. Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang don’t get a whole lot of development, but honestly what do you need? One’s a crocodile-man who eats people and one’s a drunk bogan who throws boomerangs at people, they don’t need a backstory and will likely have an expanded role in the already confirmed Suicide Squad sequel.
Viola Davis’ role as Amanda Waller, the “Nick Fury of DC” is downright intimidating. Davis’ draws from the Justice League Unlimited version of her character, a shady government official who respects metahumans/superhumans but is also aware of the potential danger they pose. In a way, she’s Batman without the suit. While Waller does occupy a similar space to her Marvel equivalent, her characters has a ruthlessness and brutality that Sam Jackson has never shown (Snakes on A Plane doesn’t count). Also worth noting; costume design, set design and the soundtrack are absolutely outstanding; having grown up in the 1990’s when everyone felt like superhero costumes were “too ridiculous”, it’s great to see directors and designers embracing the over the top nature of comics, no stupid one size fits all Power Ranger suits (*cough* X-Men *cough*), these guys go above and beyond to give you comic accurate costumes that feel like extensions of the characters wearing them. The choice of an old school music soundtrack was also a big plus, I’ve seen a reviewer or two compare it to Guardians of The Galaxy’s 70’s pop-rock soundtrack, but honestly GoTG used music as an extension of Star Lord’s character, Suicide Squad uses its soundtrack as an extension of its set, it might seem like a minor difference but it’s more noticeable than you’d think.
What was bad?
Of course I’m not one to pretend that the film is perfect, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a perfect film, even The Departed doesn’t quite get there. The film does have a few flaws; firstly pacing, while pacing issues sort themselves out over the course of the film, the first 20-30 minutes is a little jumpy at times, it’s not unwatchable by any sense but there are a few weaknesses in the setup. Aside from pacing issues, there’s not a huge number of flaws. One of the key points thrown out is that the Squad mostly fights faceless generic baddies, that’s true enough and it might’ve been nice for them to not follow in the Avengers footsteps in facing off against a CGI minion army, but in all fairness no one complained about the Chitauri drones in Avengers or the Ultron drones in Age of Ultron, so really Suicide Squad is just doing the same thing there. As far as major villains go; Cara Delevingne does a decent job as the Enchantress, but personally I would’ve set it up a little bit differently. Visually Enchantress works very well as a villain and her general idea is cool “make a weapon that has the potential to fuck shit up, real bad”, unfortunately a little bit more time should’ve been spent setting it up. That said, for a first time villain Delevingne does a commendable job, she was great in last years’s Paper Towns (go watch it) and hopefully she continues to develop into a strong supporting actress.
The only other misstep the film makes is Rick Flag, his character is cool and his story is passable but certain choices in how the story was presented can make it a little difficult to follow and feel the characters motivations. In addition, for some reason the filmmakers decided to pair up the Suicide Squad with a generic group of US military soldiers. I’m not sure what they were going for with that one, but it really doesn’t work at all. You do have to ask the question; “If you already have a group of elite black ops soldiers on hand, why would you bother sending the supervillains?” this wouldn’t have been as big of a flaw if the soldiers had all been killed off straight away, but they stay on throughout the film (partly because one of them is Scott Eastwood, as in Clint Eastwood’s son). Other than those handful of issues, Suicide Squad does quite well. It’s also worth noting that David Ayer was made cut a number of scenes from the film and has pretty much confirmed that like Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad will be getting an extended “Ultimate Edition” when it gets released on home media, some people are likely annoyed at this trend of extended cuts, but the reality of blockbuster movies is that studio executives often over step in adjusting films for maximum profit e.g. cutting forty minutes worth of footage from BvS because “no one wants to watch a three hour movie”, tell that to the Lord of The Rings fans. Potentially a Suicide Squad extended version could have an extra half hour of footage added in, which would likely address some of the pacing issues mentioned earlier.
Personal Suggestions on improving the film:
Being an armchair film critic often comes with the benefit of getting to tell directors how they should do their job, knowing full well that I’ll never be put under the pressure they face on the regular. The one issue I had with Suicide Squad which would’ve been addressed in pre-production was the number of characters; I personally would’ve had the squad be Killer Croc, Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Boomerang. This isn’t because I didn’t like Rick Flag or El Diablo, but more that it’s easier to set up four new characters than the six or seven you end up with. If I were in charge, Deadshot would’ve been team leader, Quinn would’ve been the crazy psycho, Croc would’ve been the muscle and Boomerang would’ve been the comic relief, Amanda Waller would’ve led the Squad from her secure military bunker and that would’ve been it. The mass of characters, at times, does make it feel a little overstuffed but that may be addressed in the extended cut, in particular Katana, a Japanese vigilante is given about three scenes to establish herself and that just seems sort of ridiculous. Anyway, what do I know? *shrug*
Final Thoughts/Addressing the Critics:
Like Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad has already been torn apart by a number of major film critics, is it possible these people just really hated the film? Yeah, but it does seem interesting that the people who complained that Batman V Superman was “too slow, not enough action, too complex, too dark, etc.” are now also saying that Suicide Squad is “too action packed, too fast, too simple, too upbeat, etc.” like they’ve literally reversed the criticism which I imagine is making the folks at DC/WB scratch their heads trying to figure out what these people actually want. A lot of people want to compare this film to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, here’s the thing though; the MCU is in its 8th year of existence, the DCEU is technically in its first, prior to BvS there was only Man Of Steel and so the actual film universe hadn’t been created yet. If you want to be fair and compare the first three MCU films; Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 to Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, then I’m quite happily going to tell you that the DCEU is actually off to a better start. People often forget that outside of the first Iron Man, Marvel didn’t have another successful film until the first Captain America and The Avengers was the Marvel film to defy expectations, so next year when Justice League drops don’t be surprised if DC have found their footing.
As it stands; Man of Steel is a 7/10 film, The Ultimate Batman V Superman is an 8.5-9/10 and Suicide Squad sits quite happily with a 6.8/10 for itself. David Ayer deserves the credit for trying something new, the actors deserve the credit for bringing their characters to life and the studio deserves credit for taking a big risk with a movie concept we haven’t really seen yet. At the end of the day I had a lot of fun watching this film. If you’re the sort of person who’s “too high brow for superheroes” by all means, stay inside and you can come out of your box when it’s Oscars season, until then I’m gonna take my big box of popcorn, my big soda and my chocolate covered ice cream and remind myself that nerds rule the world these days and there’s still another Marvel movie and a Star Wars movie coming out at the end of the year.
PS: Stay for the credits 😉