It would be really easy for me to just cash in and take all of that money that Disney and Marvel are supposedly paying critics to trash DC Movies. That seems like such an easy way to make a living, according to the fanboys currently trying to shut down Rotten Tomatoes so critics will stop saying mean things about terrible films. I mean, look at all the other critics out there bashing Suicide Squad-it would be soooo easy for me to take that money and run. Nevertheless, despite a truly terrible script and third act, there’s just enough good in this film to keep it from being the trainwreck people are describing the film as. Suicide Squad is a deeply flawed 80s movie that treats its characters like it’s a 90s movie.
What do I mean by this? I guess the best way I can describe the film is to use Chappie. You see, back in 2015, renowned director Neill Blomkamp released a film called Chappie, about a seven-foot tall robot that gains sentience and is raised by two wannabe gangsters. Critics bashed the film horrendously, calling it silly, stupid and just flat-out awful. However, there’s a magic to Chappie that the reviews seemed to ignore. The first thirty minutes are so over-the-top it requires all your willpower to keep going. However, the film then realizes how stupid it is, and invites you to just enjoy the ride. It’s not asking you to accept a world where two South African rappers play themselves as African rappers-turned-gangsters. It’s inviting you to find the ridiculousness in this, as the director waves a middle finger to all semblance of sanity and says, “F*ck you logic! Anarchy all the way!” That’s sort of what Suicide Squad does. It takes a 21st century story, gives characters silly plotlines and dialogue like they’re in an 80s film, then just blasts over-the-top rock and rap songs that are completely on-the-nose with their commentary, just like they used to do in the 90s. The film isn’t saying “Look at this normal superhero movie” the way Marvel or Batman V. Superman does. Hell, it doesn’t even satirize superhero movies, the way Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy does. No, it pulls down its pants, waves everything around in front of the camera while flashing middle fingers and screams “NOTHING MATTERS AND THAT’S OK!” And while not all of this works, it certainly makes the film much more interesting than other films on the market.
I’m getting off topic, however. Let me quickly give a rundown of the plot. The first twenty to thirty minutes of the film are used to establish the team. This is done through Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, who is clearly just looking for a paycheck and yet still manages to give a great performance. God, this woman is a treasure) pitching the idea of an elite squad of bad guys, controlled via bombs planted inside their heads, who can go into places the U.S. government shouldn’t go, and do things to help save the United States, and even the world. In return, their sentences will be commuted, and they can enjoy perks for the duration of their prison sentences. As she proposes this plan, we get each villain’s backstory, and I swear to God each one is set to a different rock or rap song. This is a trend that was supposed to, and everyone thought did in fact, die in the late 90s. However, it is such a ballsy, intentionally ridiculous choice, that you can either go with it or not, and I went with it. After one of the potential recruits (Cara Delevingne) goes rogue, and decides to destroy the world (because of course), the team is assembled, to the beats of Eminem’s Without Me, consisting of sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), gang lord El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), monstrous Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), and of course, infamous moll Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, more on her later). Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the team enters the heat of battle, looking for any chance to escape and maybe, just maybe, an opportunity to prove themselves. However, on top of the evil forces lurking in the city, the group has to look out for the infamous Clown Prince of Crime himself, who will stop at nothing to be reunited with his beloved Harley.
That’s actually a good place to start with this film, talking about Jared Leto as the Joker, because it really sums up everything that is wrong with this movie. I want to clarify and say I do not think that Leto is bad. Not at all. His biggest issues are twofold: lazy direction and bad writing. Leto’s performance should be a slam dunk here: he’s got Harley, he’s got the crazy, he’s got everything. But his character is giving nothing to do. I recently criticized Batman: The Killing Joke for not using the Joker enough, but this film has the opposite problem. While Killing Joke was a movie about the Joker that used him too little, this is a film that has nothing to do with the Joker that gives him too much. He just sort of shows up, commits mischief, and then disappears, only to show up again later. That would be great, but it has nothing to do with the plot at hand. If anything, that’s what he should be doing in a Batman movie: Batman shows up to fight a criminal, the Joker does something crazy, then he’s gone, only to reappear again later (keep this in mind, Ben Affleck. I just wrote that movie for you). Furthermore, Leto overacts the living hell out of this role. So not only is he showing up in places his character isn’t needed, he’s doing so and literally chewing up the entire scene around him. It reached a point where I actively wished he would stop appearing, and that should not be the case with such a beloved character, especially when you never felt this way with Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson, Caesar Romero or Heath Ledger.
This really gets to the heart of the movie’s problems: everything gets too big and unnecessary. There’s no decent villain to fight, every threat to the team is so over-the-top it becomes necessary to block everything out, and the entire plot boils down to a giant space laser. If I go through the rest of my life without seeing another g*ddamn space laser, I’ll be a happy man. The third act of this movie is a complete waste, and it drags down the better two-thirds with it. If they had just tightened up the villain a little bit, cut the space laser completely, and only shot The Joker from behind throughout Harley’s prologue before revealing his face as the final image of the film, you’ve got yourself a pretty damn good film, there, David Ayer.
I’ve spent enough time being negative to earn myself at least a couple of bucks from the Marvel Machine, so I’m going to shift my focus to the positives, because there are a lot of positives about this film. This cast is all incredibly game. Even Leto isn’t completely terrible-I think when he faces off with Affleck things could improve greatly. Let’s start with Will Smith, shall we? Smith is quite good in the role of Deadshot. Not only is he solid as an actor, carrying one of the film’s two [working] emotional arcs, we also see his funny side. Guys, do you remember when Will Smith was funny?!? When he actually enjoyed making films, like he did on Independence Day or Men in Black? Before he only made dramas or sh*tty films with his kids? That Will Smith is back! Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, meanwhile, both bring a spot of humor to otherwise useless performances. Kinnaman continues to be one film away from truly breaking out as a great actor. He’s been doing solid work for years, but for some reason people just aren’t noticing, and that’s not likely to change with this film, despite doing a fine job.
And then there’s Harley. Oh Harley. Harley, Harley, Harley. Let’s ignore the morally repulsive but not-necessary implausible backstory to her character, and focus solely on the performance. My god is Margot Robbie stunning in this film. Every moment she is onscreen, the film is vastly improved. It may be the best comic-to-film translation in the history of the genre (yes, I know Harley originated in the Animated Series, but you get my point). She captures Harely’s fiery spirit, love of the Joker and just all around nuttiness with a humorous, emotional and, yes, sexual pizzazz. Robbie continues to put out phenomenal work, and I wholeheartedly believe that, no matter how many inevitable Oscars she wins, or fantastic performances she gives, this and The Wolf of Wall Street will sit neatly as the prime jewels in her crown. Bravo, Ms. Robbie. Please bring us more Harley.
So that’s Suicide Squad. A film best summed up by its characters: a highly skilled group thrown into a somewhat sh*tty situation. But you know what? It’s not completely terrible. While it is easy to say “Look at how ridiculous that plot is,” I counter with “Sure, but look at how competently and intelligently it’s directed and acted.” It’s stupid, but it sort of feels like it’s supposed to be, and while that doesn’t make it a success, it certainly keeps it from being a failure.