It’s been a rough year for the people at DC Films. This year’s major release, Batman v Superman, arrived with a thud; it was critically savaged for its lack of soul, dark tone, and complete mess of a script. The next piece of the DC Movie Universe, this month’s Suicide Squad, has a lot riding on its shoulders: many – myself included – hoped that this would be a step forward for these movies, as the tone from the trailers had a more lighthearted & goofball tone. The plot is unique: an imprisoned group of Batman’s Rogues Gallery are assigned by the government to help with a mission, under the impression that they will be rewarded freedom. This is a great plot for a comic book movie! Maybe, just maybe, this can right the ship that’s gone wildly off-course, thanks to (among other things) Jesse Eisenberg giving the worst performance of the year so far. So does Suicide Squad redeem the wrongdoings of Batman v Superman? The answer may shock you…oh wait, no it won’t. This movie is a catastrophe.
Let’s get something clear off the bat: whatever the studio did here, it was all fueled by cocaine. There is no other explanation. This movie is fucking insane. Everything about it: the performances, the writing, the direction, the editing – dear god, the editing. I caught myself sighing once every 20 minutes during this movie. BvS was reviled in part for its humorlessness; it’s no surprise that this movie went under extensive reshoots to “make it funnier.” The studio can deny this up & down, but the emphasis on humor in the upcoming Justice League movie only makes it more obvious.
Explain why/on what planet this opening was a good idea: the movie cold opens with Deadshot (Will Smith) in his prison cell. He gets punished for mouthing off to a guard, which involves being strapped to a table and beaten with sticks. Uh…okay? I guess this is how movies start?
Then we cut to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in her cell, doing some Cirque du Soleil shit in sheets tied to the top bars. She also mouths off to a guard, and gets punished, which involves being shocked by electrified cell bars. Okay, so whatever, this is how the movie’s gonna start, I guess. We’ll be introduced to each member in their habitat, and then get rolling. At best, it’s good pacing; at worst, it’s the start of a disjointed mess. So we meet the next member: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).
Wait, what? Okay, so she’s the government official in charge of the prisoners? What is going on? She explains (in a helpful voiceover) that Superman’s death gave her the ability to exercise power necessary to control these prisoners. She goes into a restaurant, and we get the opening title. What? Seriously, what the fuck is going on? The opening title?? So we’re introduced to 3 random characters in a disjointed sequence that comprises a 5-minute cold open, and that’s smart storytelling why? I understand that these 3 (at least Smith and Robbie) are the main draws of the movie, but how about a little goddamn finesse? We pick up after the logo literally minutes later in the restaurant, as Amanda Waller explains her plan. It’s just so damn clunky.
Waller explains that she’s secured these criminals as a top-secret task force to assist the government in case another Superman-esque being falls from the sky. She introduces the team: starting with Smith and Robbie’s characters again. Jesus Christ. So Deadshot has perfect aim, Harley Quinn is…good at fighting? Ruthless? I don’t know. There’s also a dude named “Captain Boomerang” (Jai Courtney) who is obviously Australian, and uses a boomerang; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a guy with flame powers who refuses to fight when in the field; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who somehow is the most offensive caricature of a black man I’ve seen in a while, despite being a fucking man-crocodile; and Slipknot, who writes shitty songs and gets airtime on 102.9 The Buzz. They’re led in the field by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and his right-hand partner Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Flag happens to be dating an archaeologist (Cara Delevigne) who’s possessed by a centuries-old witch. But once that witch gets loose, the team has to join together to save the city.
A huge issue this movie has is its inability to show restraint at the right times. In the first 10 minutes of the movie, we get a Batman cameo. I wasn’t expecting some shit like that to happen so fast! Slow down, baby! Then, minutes later, we see the Joker; he’s presented in a very bland way, with no fanfare. He’s the Joker! Why is our first glimpse of him a shot of him sitting at a table? Then, a pointless character (played by Common) is killed by Joker, and Harley is captured by Batman, in another cameo. At this point, 20 minutes into the movie, the appeal of seeing Batman interact with these guys has gone out the window. The Batmobile, Batman, Joker, even the Flash all show up in moments that should be more effective, but instead fall flat.
The movie then slows way the hell down to show everyone else’s backstory, the Joker doing stuff, and the witch Enchantress working to bring her long-dead brother back to life. Once you’re about to fall asleep, wham! The team is on their first mission. In a plot twist lifted wholesale from Escape from New York, Waller has implanted explosives in each prisoner’s neck, with Flag holding the detonator. If any of them get out of line, they get blowed up real nice! Slipknot, who has said one single line and never got a backstory, tries to escape and gets his head blown off. “Suicide Squad,” indeed!
The rest of the team Squad up for Suicide, and do battle (to an extensive soundtrack of easily-licensed songs from Forrest Gump that are as incredibly on-the-nose as they were in that movie) in what seems like the same Financial District location for 45 minutes. Betrayals, murders, sacrifices, all that shit happens; but in the end, does any of it matter? We aren’t even in Gotham or Metropolis here, this is “Midway City,” a city with a name that’s a not-too-subtle reference to a certain Clown Prince of Crime. Who even cares?
Speaking of, let’s talk about Leto’s Joker. This character has been under a lot of scrutiny, since it’s the first big-screen Joker we’ve seen since Heath Ledger’s masterful take. Unfortunately, what Leto does here is a shitty Ledger impression: he boils Joker down to a silly voice, one that is marred by the excessive dental prosthetics he’s wearing, and nothing else. Any other “acting” he does is just looking in a direction or staring at someone without blinking. Acting! He undersells himself, and that’s partly Leto’s fault, but also the fault of the writers. What exactly does Joker do? Why is he a force to be reckoned with, other than killing Common in a strip club? Why does he hang out in clubs in the first place? He’s the Joker!
Robbie’s Harley Quinn is probably the most faithful performance you could expect, as the obnoxious Pink Lady accent and “Mistah J” shit she’s known for comes across clean here. She plays the character as actually crazy, until the third act randomly gives her an emotional arc involving her torrid love affair with Joker. This doesn’t help connect the audience to her at all; instead it paints her as having a weakness, something you’d think the ruthless Waller would have used against her.
Davis’ work as Amanda Waller works very well, as she’s great at playing a stone-cold badass. She has no sympathy for criminals, though she herself kills like 6 SWAT guys in this movie, so her loyalty seems pretty self-involved? Why go through all of this work to protect a city when you’re killing your own allies? She’s ruthless to the point of being comically evil – something they failed to do with Joker. She hires Batman to take out Deadshot in the movie’s opening, telling him to use his daughter as leverage. What’s worse is Batman actually does it: he literally puts the man’s daughter between himself and a loaded weapon. I get that you’re a darker take on Batman, but goddamn!
Every other performance in the movie is pretty simplistic stuff: Kinnaman as Rick Flag is probably the worst performance in the movie, making it look like a high school student gave him acting tips. My favorite performance – Ike Barinholtz as a prison guard – is one of the funniest bits of the movie, but only lasts through the end of the 1st act. It’s a shame this movie had such hacky writing to pair with such an adept director. I – oh, the director wrote the script, too? The guy that wrote Training Day?
I understand now how much this movie was crippled by its writing. The rush to get through all of the expository shit, followed by an overly-rushed 2nd act that leads to a very basic 3rd act culminating in (yawn) saving the city from being destroyed, makes it seem like this was a property that no one knew how to translate effectively to the big screen. In the 2nd act break, the movie takes 7 minutes out to show us these goons sitting in a bar, listening to Diablo – who, up to this point, had done nothing – sorrowfully explain the loss of his family. “Own that shit!” Harley screams at him. Were we supposed to feel any connection to this guy? Why wait until now to give him a moment? Oh, right, he’s the one who sacrifices himself for the team. It’s all very paint-by-numbers. Hernandez does a fine job as Diablo, but he wasn’t given anything to really work with. Hell, the most interesting character in the movie – Katana, who stores the souls of her enemies in her blade – gets almost zero moments in the film. The one decent one she gets is undercut by a stupid Harley Quinn joke.
The final fight scene, taking place in a magic-infested train station, is where the movie throws its hands up, saying “These people have places to be, let’s take this home.” Enchantress’ brother, a giant CG Aztec warrior that kind of looks like Jamie Foxx, wreaks havoc on the team as Enchantress finishes her spell, or whatever she’s doing. They have limited time, okay? So the odds are stacked against them when suddenly, without notice, Diablo turns into a 10-foot-tall fire monster and beats the shit out of Jamie Foxx. Are you fucking kidding me? Was there a setup to that I missed? How does everyone on the team think this is normal? If that’s not sloppy enough, Harley Quinn gets the final blow in a classic “I’m going to pretend to join you so I can get close to you, then kill you” maneuver. If that’s not bad enough, Amanda Waller – who was kidnapped and mind-fucked – is A-OK here! Not even a scratch! In another move lifted straight from Escape from New York, she thanks the team and tells them they’re all going back to prison, with some concessions. “I wants BET!” says the talking crocodile. Seriously, he talks like a slave, and says that line verbatim. It’s disgustingly offensive.
So the team’s back in the hole, albeit with perks (Harley gets an espresso machine, Deadshot gets to see his daughter, Croc gets to watch BET). But before you can say, “This movie is about to end too neatly,” BOOM! Joker breaks in and tells Harley they’re getting out of there. Uh, what? Seriously, that’s the last shot of the movie? It’s painfully awkward, as if the only script available was the very original pitch made. “Close on Joker breaking her out, we can figure out how to really tie it together later.”
Of course, there’s a totally unnecessary mid-credits scene involving MORE BATMAN but at this point, I don’t care. I was legitimately excited for this movie; I love the director, the trailers all seemed great & the story was something that hadn’t been done before with this scale. But the movie ultimately is a disjointed, nauseating experience; something that gets your attention for a brief moment, only to pull the rug from underneath you via clichéd story beats or nonsensical actions. The ragtag team of characters is given no justice when it comes to character development, and the presentation of Joker is almost as laughable as watching someone do a Ledger Joker impression on Youtube.
I didn’t think this was possible, but this movie is worse than Batman v Superman, and another giant step backward for the people at DC Films. There’s still hope riding on the Wonder Woman movie, but I’m sure I’ll look back on this in a year and laugh at that statement. Instead of watching Suicide Squad, just sit in an office chair, shoot some tequila & spin around, and then watch Escape from New York. I promise, it will be miles better than the real thing.