Hope it’ll be good? Know it’ll be bad? Just interested to see the cinematic interpretations of the diverse cast of characters? Whatever you’re expecting from Suicide Squad, it doesn’t deliver.
Suicide Squad takes place after the death of Superman in March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and centers on the U.S. government reacting to the idea that more metahumans are on the way. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the idea to have a task force on standby to deal with metahuman threats. However, because Waller is incredibly stupid — more on that later — she recommends the task force be constructed of incredibly violent criminals most of whom are actually not metahumans. The group’s defacto leader, Floyd Lawton (Will Smith), a.k.a. Deadshot, dubs them the Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad’s 4,255 theater release is the widest ever for an August movie, and its expected opening weekend performance has been constantly adjusted upward from $100 million all the way to the current $145 million, which would also be an August record. People are looking forward to this movie for a massive variety of reasons, and it delivers on none of them. It isn’t good by any stretch, though it’s the best movie in this new DC universe, but it’s also not nearly as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests.
Many will put the movie’s version of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) under the microscope. With Wonder Woman being limited to an extended cameo in Dawn of Justice, this is the first comic book movie to push a female character into the leading role, and her portrayal is not only pivotal for the future of women in film, but could potentially go to extremes. Quinn is one of the most complicated and accomplished characters in comics. She’s a doctor, a decorated gymnast and an abuse survivor, someone women can really look up to. The fear was that all of it would be pushed aside and she’d be turned into a sex prop, and that’s mostly what happens. The movie often lingers on her mostly exposed butt, and doesn’t do much else with her. It’s certainly bad enough to displease the feminist contingent, but given the abusive overtones at play with the character, it could have been a lot worse. She’s such a small part of the movie’s runtime that it doesn’t matter that much. She’s a background character, like most everyone else.
Even more anticipated is the movie’s portrayal of the Joker (Jared Leto) — all three minutes of it. Despite a storm of controversy, being central to the marketing and talked up to an absurd extent on the media tour, the Joker is essentially a sideplot in this movie and could have been cut out entirely without much effort. Viewers looking forward to this performance will leave feeling scammed. For the record, it’s derivative and overzealous at first glance, but that’s all we get — a first glance.
Really, we only get a glance at most of the characters. Going halfway in on the show-don’t-tell screenwriting maxim, the movie spends the first 45 minutes or so telling and the next hour-15 or so showing, but what it shows doesn’t live up to what it tells. The movie underwent reshoots after Dawn of Justice’s failure that were rumored to make it funnier, and while it doesn’t feel like anything was reshot, it does feel like this segment of the movie was re-edited. The episodic character introduction section has a hyperactive jukebox element, and it much more in line with the tone of the later trailers. This movie just as easily could have been the long, operatic slog that the first preview suggested, and it isn’t.
It is, however, a sad waste of its characters with Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), all of whom have rich backstories, largely ignored to focus on Deadshot, who is himself a watered-down, distinctly Will-Smithy version of the character.
The character who is most wasted, though, is Waller. A ruthless tactical genius in the comics, in Suicide Squad, Waller is incredibly, incomprehensibly stupid, clearly unable to understand the consequences of her actions. This isn’t a Murphy’s Law thing — she doesn’t seem to understand the consequences she intends for her actions to have. She doesn’t understand the things that she herself is trying to do. Her utter foolishness sets this plot in motion, as she creates her own problem and attempts to solve it in the most ridiculous possible way. Comic books are filled with geniuses and movies have always had trouble portraying characters who are supposed to be smarter than the screenwriter, but this stands out.
I’m really not sure why they made this movie. It’s often been noted that DC is building its universe backwards, introducing its characters sloppily all at once then hoping viewers will sympathize with them as the series goes on, and the intention of that is to rush to the bigger crossover movies to compete with Marvel faster. It’s awkward, but it could work with better storytellers in charge. This order has created an expectation for everything to be loaded with Easter eggs and connections, and outside of intermittent and largely disposable Batman (Ben Affleck) cameos, Suicide Squad doesn’t have any. Since it doesn’t really advance the larger story, DC would have been much wiser to push a more popular property like Flash or Aquaman in this slot.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.
Yeah, I’m not letting this go. Detailed spoilers below.
Let’s talk about Waller’s plan.
Her task force is ostensibly driven by government fears that an evil Superman will turn up — OK, they’ve had three supermen turn up in the span of a couple of years, and two of them were evil. Fair enough. But it’s made up of people who could never hope to solve that problem. Take Deadshot. He’s the most skilled marksman in the DC universe, and can do pretty much anything with bullets — bullets, which are famous for having absolutely no effect on Superman. So, why is he there? Why are any of them there? The only members of the Suicide Squad with any powers are El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Enchantress, neither of whom are controllable and both of whom probably still wouldn’t stand a chance against a Kryptonian.
It was speculated that the Suicide Squad would be facing off against a major villain like Braniac who would further set up the upcoming Justice League movie, but the villain is actually Enchantress. At first I thought this was another one of Waller’s braindead plays — of course one of the insanely dangerous criminals she was breaking out would be the villain! — but really, there was nothing stopping Enchantress from doing these things beforehand. She wasn’t in prison, and no prison could hold her anyway, but she was introduced right along with the proper squad members. I honestly still don’t understand what I was supposed to take away from this setup.
The ostensible purpose of the Suicide Squad is to be a combat team capable of dealing with threats a group of conventional soldiers, many of whom are at Waller’s disposal, can’t, making up for their tendency to try and kill everyone in charge and Waller in particular. Fine, whatever, it’s a comic book property. And wouldn’t you know it, this movie has a threat that conventional soldiers can’t combat. But they’re not sent to combat that threat. They’re sent to rescue someone. At one point, they are explicitly told to not engage Enchantress’ soldiers because fighting them won’t work. She’s assembled a combat team so prohibitively unruly its only use is to fight extreme threats and sent it on a non-combat mission. Fighting ability is this group’s only redeeming quality, and she’s put them in a position where they can’t fight.
While this mysterious person was another potential way to tie Suicide Squad into the larger story, it turns out they’ve been sent to rescue Waller herself. Upon the squad’s arrival, Waller immediately murders four FBI agents, saying they weren’t cleared to see whatever it was they had been working on. So, why were they there? Are there other people who were cleared to see what they were working on? Were they busy? Could you maybe have brought them instead?
After she, and I really want to stress this point, premeditatedly murders four federal officers, Waller has the Suicide Squad escort her from the top of her building to the roof of her building, where a helicopter arrives to take her to safety. That’s right — this task force of incredibly dangerous and incredibly difficult to control criminals, all of whom Waller has given reason to hate her personally, was summoned by Waller to escort her up a single flight of stairs.
Let’s map this out. This is Waller’s plan in this movie, step-by-step —
- Assemble a task force of extremely dangerous, violent and unruly criminals to be on standby in case of a disaster conventional law enforcement can’t handle.
- Caught in the middle of said disaster, wait the days it would take for this team to assemble.
- Send this team, which has been brought together exclusively for their combat ability and is a major risk to not follow orders and kill her personally, on a non-combat mission to rescue her.
- Go to the roof and be helicoptered to safety.
Her plan could just as easily have been —
- Go to the roof and be helicoptered to safety.