Suicide Squad is a letdown but, then again, it could not have been anything else.
The pasting it took from Rotten Tomatoes a few days before its release will undoubtedly help make it an even larger commercial success than it was going to be beforehand. However, despite some interesting individual elements, the film gets sandwiched between its obvious, mostly predictable flaws and the hype machine that made it this year’s most anticipated film.
The very first trailer for Suicide Squad got us excited for the return of the Joker to the big screen, but another thing it told the semi-careful watcher was that the movie would feature too many characters. This overabundance of protagonists creates several problems for the film, the most foreseeable of which is that we therefore know that several of them will barely be given a chance to interest us at all.
Consider a scene in which the characters abruptly decide to pause their quest to save the world from oblivion to have a drink at a bar they’ve stumbled into. (Note: Meanwhile, the world is going to absolute hell outside.) We cannot help but observe the curious timing of this but, shortly after, we come to understand the bar scene is actually a half-hearted attempt to humanize the Diablo character (Jay Hernandez), whose only real use until this (rather late) point had been to serve as a setup for a typical Will Smith joke.
The large cast also creates pacing problems for the film. There are countless examples of this, including the aforementioned bar scene, but my personal favourite is the endless, and I mean endless, exposition scene at the beginning where Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has to give an exposé about each Squad member, each packed with spottily-edited flashbacks, to a group of high-ranking government officials. I have great respect for their ability not to lose track of all this information. This isn’t a squad, it’s an entire political party.
And then, there is the fact that the movie’s super-duper stars have to get their screen time, which they do. This leads to yet another problem: the movie claims to be about bad guys, but when it comes to the stars, it gets gun-shy and tries to make them more likable than they ought to be. Will Smith plays a version of hitman extraordinaire Deadshot that would have been perfect had the Deadshot character been invented by Smith’s handlers. His charisma and sense of humour are never unpleasant to see, but will somebody please let this man play a proper scumbag for once?!
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn has the same problem. The character is clearly off her rocker, but because her craziness contributes so little to her “badness,” we get the sense that several of her antics are meant to distract us from just how much of a good “guy” she is in the context of the movie. Also, Robbie’s beauty allows the film to carry on with the sexualization of the character started in the “Arkham” video games, but it’s done in such a heavy-handed manner that it sometimes becomes distracting. And while it was not a bad idea per se for Robbie to dust off her New York accent from The Wolf of Wall Street, she fails to keep it with the same consistency here.
As for Jared Leto, whether he is a worthy successor to the late Heath Ledger and his critically-acclaimed portrayal of the Joker character in 2007’s The Dark Knight remains to be seen. Indeed, the Joker is in this movie for such minimal time that his presence is more of a tease than anything else, to the extent we almost wish he wasn’t there at all. This film loves him, but struggles and fails to properly fit him within the confines of this story. Not since Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) has such a minor character been so instrumental in selling a movie to audiences.
As for the plot, well, Viola Davis is a terrific actress who brings gravitas to a film that would otherwise be completely devoid of it. However, her Amanda Waller character is so smart, and has such an edge to her that we realize screenplay contrivances alone prevent her from figuring out that her plan is so obviously terrible and guaranteed to blow up in her face. Which, of course, it does.
As a result, the world finds itself threatened by Cara Delavigne’s Enchantress, who is meant to be a part of the Suicide Squad, but winds up breaking away from the gang before ever joining them, and then tries to build a weapon that… Never mind. Who cares? Certainly not the film. And this is another crucial problem.
Writer/director David Ayer has proven himself capable of producing quality; he wrote the dramatically-compelling Training Day and the light but functional The Fast and the Furious. Here, however, it’s as though he was very keen to quench the viewers’ excitement at the thought of watching (some of) these characters but only reluctantly accepted the impossibility of stasis in storytelling. You cannot expect the viewer to care about a plot that the film itself so clearly views as an inconvenience. Ergo, among the many reasons for which Suicide Squad fails is the fact that it’s much less interested in telling us a proper story than it is in merely showing us these characters acting the way they do.