It’s getting harder and harder to review superhero films nowadays. With DC/Warner Bros. trying to put their foot into the ring and follow in the path of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re beginning to see a deep divide between the critics and fans. What each side looks for in these movies usually determines their reaction towards the film, with critics judging such films by their story while comic book fans seem concerned with the treatment of source material. In this case, Suicide Squad does a pretty good job in the latter but struggles in the former, giving us an ensemble of colorful and likable anti-heroes working within a story that we’ve seen been done better before. It’s a film that walks around with a sense of fun and insanity, as its title suggests, yet trudges through a narrative that’s passable at best.
Taking place sometime after the death of Superman, U.S. government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides the necessity of using meta-humans as a fighting force, should the next Superman character turn out evil. With the higher up’s approval, she forms Task Force X: a covert team of villains and anti-heroes (aka “the worst of the worst”) to work jobs and assignments for the government. Succeed in their missions, and the get time shaved off of their criminal sentences; fail, and they end up being tossed under the rug because naturally they’re the bad guys. Their mission: to take down a rogue meta named the Enchantress (Cara Develingne), who has unleashed a horde of monsters onto Midway City with the intention of reclaiming her god-like status. Led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the team consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Together, they’re the Suicide Squad: the bad guys you love to see come out on top.
If there’s one thing this film has going for it, it’s in the ensemble cast. Even thought they don’t all get equal time in terms of lines and quips, their actions and backstories more than make up for it in providing each character with added depth. They are a bunch of weirdos and loners who have experienced some really dark days, from Harley’s twisted relationship with the The Joker (Jared Leto) to Deadshot’s love for his daughter to El Diablo’s tragic history with his pyro-kinetic abilities. But most importantly, they all feel unique, each bringing a different sense of maniac energy and personality to their performances. Robbie is undoubtedly my favorite of the bunch, playing the character of Harley Quinn just like her DCAU/comic counterpart: a woman who is so gleefully insane and embraces it with kisses and open arms. Smith also managed to surprise with the amount of heart and charm he brought to the character of Floyd Lawton, never regressing back to the standard Will Smith character that you see in a lot of his roles. But by far the biggest surprise was Jai Courtney as Boomerang, a performance that was not just unpredictable and hilarious, but legitimately good. Believe me, that is without a doubt the most insane thing about this film: Jai Courtney doing something that could be classified as good acting.
But of course there’s the big one: Jared Leto as the Joker. Right from the first images of him as the Clown Prince of Crime, you just knew that this Joker was going to be different. True, there are aspects of previous actors who have taken up the mantle of the Joker in this performance, but Leto still manages to make the character feel fresh and unique. His Joker really is a wild card, unpredictable and disturbing personality-wise as much as his new, more stylish look. If I were to rank it, I’d say he tops the portrayal given by Caesar Romero but doesn’t manage to reach the level of legendary status that Nicholson, Ledger and Mark Hamill were able to achieve. Unfortunately, don’t expect Joker to be such a pivotal character in this movie, as he does come across as something of a glorified background character. Even though the scenes featuring him are well acted, they never they never really do anything to oppose our protagonists in any way; rather they are there to emphasize his relationship with Harley and just how perfectly twisted they are for one another. So in a nutshell: Leto plays the part very well, but don’t expect a Dark Knight-interrogation sequence and just accept Joker’s role in the story as it is, even if it is pretty minimal.
Where the movie seems to falter is in its story and, while I don’t think it’s as abysmal as many other critics have claimed it to be, I will agree that it seems way too generic. The basic premise seems decent on paper: an Escape from New York-esque setting in which the Suicide Squad has to escort an important person caught within Enchantress’ villainous activities. And there are moments of action and character dynamic where this scenario shines, even if it has been done a number of times before. However, the progression of the story feels like it drags quite a bit, bogged down by a lot of exposition regarding the team’s set-up in the first act and some “heavy on action/light on plot” moments in the second act. It’s not like The Avengers, in which the plot was minimal but contained enough of a reason to get out heroes to join forces together; the plot is somewhat established but its shaky execution contains traces of studio interference in the story director David Ayer wanted to tell. It’s your standard evil villain plot, right down to the villain’s master plan involving a giant portal in the sky, making Suicide Squad the third movie this year to overuse that plot device. And if we’re being honest here, Amanda Waller was a much more intimidating/terrifying antagonist than the Enchantress, which is good for Viola Davis but not so good for the story this film wants to tell.
The best way to explain why this story feels generic and lackluster alongside the plots of other superhero films is by comparing Suicide Squad to its animated counterpart Batman: Assault on Arkham. Where Suicide Squad seems to exposition its way through most of the opening act, Assault on Arkham gets right to the point in blunt fashion. It establishes its characters visually through their actions and gives them a clear objective for the movie: pulling off a heist at Arkham Asylum. There are your standard plot twists and double crosses but it is always the story that serves to push the story forward in a manner that feels comprehensible and consistent. Suicide Squad is mostly consistent but its comprehensibility leaves a lot to be desired. True the action is as much fun to watch as seeing all of the characters bounce off one another, but the fact of the matter is that story is everything in a movie. And while I can’t say that the story here was terrible, it’s could have been been done a lot better.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Suicide Squad had a lot of unfortunate baggage place upon it, forced to jumpstart the DCEU after Batman v. Superman didn’t quite stick its landing. And while the unique tone and personality (not to mention soundtrack) of this film show a step in the right direction for DC, it’s unfortunate that the story surrounding it feels generic by comparison. There is still a some fun to be had in this film and I would recommend it mainly for the characters, all of whom I would love to see return for future entries. But as it stands, storytelling is that one major aspect that the executives in charge of the DCEU need to work on. On the plus side, those trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League look pretty damn awesome. So that’s something to look forward to in the future.