Suicide Squad marks the third entry in the DC Extended Universe following 2013's Man of Steel and this year's Batman v Superman, and I hate to say it, but the third time isn't the charm for the critically-derided mega-franchise. Though I found Man of Steel serviceable back when it released as a launching pad to something bigger and better, watching Batman v Superman earlier this year felt like an absolute chore in comparison, a movie that should've been an epic historical moment for fans of the two icons landing with a resounding thud that left me with zero desire to ever revisit it.
I say this only because Suicide Squad had the chance to right the wrongs of that film and prove that it may have only been a misstep in these early days of the DCEU, which makes it all the more disappointing that I had to go into the new film with such low expectations "just in case" only to find I should've set my hopes even lower. Suicide Squad's marketing has done its best to make audiences think it's going to swing for the fences, but ultimately the film itself feels more like it's purposely crowding home plate in an effort to get hit and stroll to first base.
The DCEU has many films lined up over the next few years, from Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman solo films to next year's Justice League team-up, and it's hard not to compare the budding universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Suicide Squad is, in essence, DC's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. As you undoubtedly know, the film sees a bunch of selfish, ragtag villains forced together to stop an even bigger threat by learning the value of teamwork, all set against a quirky backdrop and a soundtrack loaded with catchy tunes. Familiar, right?
Unfortunately, the tone of the film is constantly at odds with itself, toeing a line between adhering to the dark "realism" established by its two predecessors and its own desire to be overtly bombastic. As a result, the film never picks a side and doubles down, too afraid to stray away from the established DCEU in an effort to forcibly carve out an identity of its own in the way Guardians of the Galaxy at once felt like a Marvel Studios film and something completely different. And for a film that desperately needed to climb out of the lingering shadow of Batman v Superman, such a lack of confidence in what it wants to be is its downfall.
Suicide Squad feels like a product of too much influence, where everyone from director David Ayer to shadowy, they-know-what's-best-for-us top brass wanted to have their say and no one actually got what they wanted. In turn, the narrative and pacing is absolutely chopped to bits; some scenes drag on forever, others feel way too short, and some moments just seem to exist because someone refused to have it cut. Scenes from the various trailers, particularly involving the Joker - who I'll get to in a moment - are nowhere to be found. A future Justice League member's fleeting appearance feels painfully tacked on. And even a member of the squad is dragged in long after the rest have been introduced, quite literally treated like an afterthought.
Like Batman v Superman, there's a staggering sense of too much going on even when nothing is going on, with numerous flashbacks and narrative asides and long stretches of exposition padding out the otherwise straightforward story arc. There's a whole roster of characters in the film - some fans have been waiting forever to see brought to life on the big screen - and yet despite running over two hours, it feels like we still don't know much, if anything, about the majority of them long after the credits have rolled.
Unsurprisingly, Will Smith's Deadshot and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn are the exceptions here, the two characters getting the most to do and both actors stepping up to carry almost the entirety of the film on their shoulders, especially Robbie, who had the unenviable task of living up to over two decades of expectations about Harley's big-screen debut. Beyond them, Viola Davis does solid work as the ice cold Amanda Waller, the woman responsible for bringing the team together, and Jay Hernandez gets more to do here than I expected as the fiery El Diablo, a former gangster whose past has led him down a path of reform. And though I have never seen a Jai Courtney performance I've liked in a film, he's surprisingly passable as the wily Captain Boomerang, though - like the other characters I'm about to get to - the character himself feels utterly unnecessary to the overall story.
As for the rest of the cast, it's a mixed bag. Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flagg serves as the leader of the group, but has absolutely zero personality. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc is armed with solid prosthetic work, but the actor himself - who I love from his time on Oz and Lost - is severely underutilized the longer the film goes on. Karen Fukuhara's Katana might as well be wallpaper. Ben Affleck reprises his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman for a handful of scenes, and demonstrates why he was the best thing to come out of Batman v Superman. And the less said about Adam Beach's Slipknot, the better, the character serving exactly one other purpose beyond wasting Beach in the role.
Despite being a team effort, the film is the Deadshot and Harley Quinn show, but, of course, much has been said about our new cinematic Joker, who is undeniably going to be a major draw for audiences this weekend eager to see how Jared Leto lives up to such famous predecessors as Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Heath Ledger. The hype is to be expected for such an iconic character, but sadly nothing really pays off about him, as he's in the film so little - no thanks to many of his scenes clearly having been cut - that he never gets to make a real impact. He never gets a "scar story"-type moment that made me personally feel like I was watching a performance that was going to bust its way straight into pop culture, and as a result it never clicked for me, the film doing both the character and Leto no favors by excising him. In this case, it should've been an all-or-nothing reintroduction of the character, but instead it seems we'll have to wait for a better movie, like the inevitable next Batman outing, to utilize him to his fullest potential.
Since the Joker is relegated to the side, the film instead calls upon the Enchantress as its big villain, but despite an initial cool design - the dirty, grungy look is effective - there's absolutely no menace to the character. She's possessed the body of an intrepid explorer named June Moone, played by Cara Delevingne, and the audience is asked to root for a relationship between Moone and Flagg that carries zero emotional weight. Once the character unleashes her big plan, which involves turning normal people into terribly-designed creatures that look like an unholy cross between feces and avocados, oddly enough, and using some blue lightning magic I could swear was ripped from the ending of Batman v Superman, there's no urgency; her plan is incredibly unclear, and even the characters don't ever seem to be in a rush to stop her. There's no ticking clock aspect to whatever it is that she's doing, which thoroughly robs the film of any momentum in its final act.
Even the action sequences are underwhelming, as the film's initial bright and colorful first twenty or thirty minutes gives way to a dark, bleak palette that does no favors for people trying to discern what's happening onscreen when the team repeatedly comes into conflict with the terribly-designed poop-vocado monsters. Even the inevitable final conflict is shrouded in a thick layer of dust that seems meant to be stylish, but only comes off as uninspired and dull instead.
The film's best moments come when it actually slows down to let the characters breathe and interact with one another, demonstrated best in a scene where the characters decide to make a pit stop at a deserted bar and share drinks, and a character's backstory is revealed that helps illustrate the gang as broken people more than outright villains. It's something the film could've used more of, exploring what makes these people tick rather than constantly beating us over the head with verbal reminders that they're "the bad guys."
And speaking of beating us over the head, the film's aforementioned song usage wore me down. Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy used music sparingly but as part of the narrative itself, Suicide Squad feels the need to start off seemingly every scene it possibly can with songs by artists ranging from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Eminem. At a point, it transcends being a part of the film's identity and into sheer nuisance, especially when it - and the film's own score by Steven Price - completely drowns out dialogue. There were several moments in the film, notably involving Harley, where it was clear a character had delivered a one-liner, but the unfortunate audio mixing meant it fell on deaf ears in my packed theater.
And to draw one final comparison to Guardians, Suicide Squad lacks that "moment" that feels as though this team has come together. In that movie, it was when the group began to hold hands, overcoming the strength of the Power Stone to defeat Ronan together. It was a moment wherein everything clicked, that proved these disparate characters had become a family, and that made audiences realize how easily they had come to love the characters. In Suicide Squad, the team does band together, but it never feels as if they're actually together. Nothing truly gels between them all, and as a result their "family" doesn't feel earned, which only reinforces the fact that everyone outside of Deadshot and Harley are practically irrelevant in comparison. Even with such a choppy tone and narrative, the film still could've held up had the unity of the team been endearing, but since the film clearly favors some members over others, it's hard to care whether they all win or lose, completely undermining the idea that it's a team movie.
In the end, I can't deny that Suicide Squad is better than Batman v Superman, if only because I didn't leave the theater feeling like I'd watched a puppy get assaulted for over two hours straight. That said, it's faint praise, and it's incredibly frustrating to see the DCEU continue to stumble over its own feet rather than soar like it deserves to. The film feels like it's being pulled in too many directions, and despite a handful of good performances, particularly from Smith and Robbie, rarely does it actually flirt with becoming the type of "fun" and "unique" movie its marketing has tried to push it as. For anyone looking to stay on top of the ongoing social conversation about the DCEU, seeing this movie is inevitable regardless of the critical backlash, but for anyone looking for a solid piece of entertainment, I'd recommend saving your money for something else and renting it down the line if your curiosity absolutely must be satiated.
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