In the face of increasingly bloated blockbusters, one can sometimes make a case for films that try to do too much. It’s the films that don’t know what they have to do that are hard to defend.
SUICIDE SQUAD begins with an American intelligence operative named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) thinking about the threat powerful individuals like Superman now pose to society. She believes that there is merit in fighting fire with fire, and proposes a countermeasure that would pit America’s most depraved criminals against the gathering storm.
Each would already be serving massive prison sentences with little chance of parole. Each would be threatened with execution if they dared defy orders. Each would be told that they very well might not be coming back.
Her proposal is approved, and just in time since Midway City is threatened by a powerful metahuman (aka “mutant”) named Enchantress (Cara Delevinge), who is, ironically, who Waller asked to demonstrate her powers in the hopes of getting her project approved. Enchantress wants revenge on humanity for her lot in life. Directly threatened by the evil being unleashed is a high value target that Waller needs retrieved.
So it goes that the Suicide Squad is thrown into action.
The team is lead by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen) – Waller’s handpicked special forces soldier. Flag is tasked with keeping the squad in-line, and gets a huge assist by the fact that he can drop any one of them in a split second thanks to a kill switch he controls.
Flag is flanked by Deadshot (Will Smith), a mercenary sniper who never misses. He dearly wants to return to normal life in the hopes of being a good dad to his daughter. Next to him is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former psychiatrist whose Arkham Asylum sessions with The Joker (Jared Leto) left her with more than a few screws loose herself.
Next in the batting order is Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a latino gangbanger who has the ability to self-combust. Diablo is the only member of the team who truly seems interested in paying a debt to society, the one who is carrying out the mission with the most reluctance. After Diablo we have Captain boomerang (Jai Courtney); an import from Australia who never met a sharp object he didn’t like. Then there’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a metahuman who is half-man, half-reptile.
Finally, Flag fills out the team with Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a sword-wielding warrior who believes that the soul of her dead husband is trapped inside her blade and continually mourns him. She is the only member of the team not in danger of being summarily executed…but her whispers to her sword make her seem crazy. In other words, she fits right in.
While The Joker nips at their heels in hopes of springing Harley, the team is dispatched into the heart of Midway City on a need-to-know basis in the hopes of eliminating Enchantress.
Can this possibly be a good idea?
On the surface, SUICIDE SQUAD could have been something interesting. Antiheroes are complexed characters, and haven’t been explored in-earnest since the comic book craze got going in-earnest eight summers back. hanging a blockbuster on a team that are only really in it for themselves (and a much lesser extent, each-other) is refreshing in the face of explorations on heroes wrestling with responsibilities their status brings them. Hell, for the first time this year, a team is assembled and doesn’t succumb to infighting…and these are “bad guys”.
But that’s just the surface layer; the characters as they are drawn. For a movie to come together, the team has to go out there and do something and that is where this movie ultimately fails. Enchantress is the most baffling choice of villain one could conceive of. She never seems conflicted, never feels truly menacing, is both sired and defeated with relative ease, and is yet another villain fixated on blanketing the world in darkness.
Considering the sort of villains DC has already thrown at us (Zod, Lex Luthor, Doomsday), the sort of villain that lingers on the sideline of this film (Joker), and the sort of villain that is presumably waiting on the horizon (Darkseid), Enchantress is pretty much a waste of time. She is too big of a supposed “grave threat” in a film that really just needed to be a glorified heist.
This is a writing problem.
It’s easy to get hung-up in graphics, humour (or lack of humour), soundtrack choices, whether this film is too dark or not dark enough, how much time is spent on introducing the characters, and which ones have the most problematic back story. The fact of the matter is that all of those criticisms are far outweighed by the poor storytelling that unspools at the hands of writer/director David Ayer and the gang at DC.
So it’s a bomb, right? Well, no…not entirely.
There are things to like about Waller, Deadshot, Diablo, Joker and Harley Quinn. There are interesting facets explored, complicated motivations, great chemistry, true menace, high duplicity, and lots of story left unexplored. If nothing else, the film serves as a half-decent introduction of those five and paves the way for them to interact with other characters down the line in DC’s films. Much as I was in no hurry to go back to Gotham City, I must admit that I’m curious to see Bats interact with Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, and/or Will Smith.
However, that’s the future…and in order to even consider it, a film needs to deliver in the present, which is where SUICIDE SQUAD ultimate fails. It’s trying to do too much both on a micro and macro level. It’s villain is too big and yet not big enough…its characters given a decent introduction even if they might be taking their closing bow at the same time. It tells a simple story and has illusions of being complexed.
A longer runtime wouldn’t help the result, neither would a “less jokey” tone. It’s not the worst comic book movie ever but it’s far short of “good enough”…and considering its place in the comic book landscape, that makes it a wasted opportunity. And nowadays, DC just doesn’t have opportunities to waste.