When the initial teasers for Suicide Squad (2016) dropped, reactions were pretty positive across the board. Seeing as the overly-earnest crapfest which was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was still fresh in the minds of many, a DCU movie coming from an exciting, quirky, colourful and downright funny seemed like a much needed breath of fresh air. After two failed attempts at heating up the cylinders of this expanded universe, maybe this was the one to get the party started.
Months before release, however, rumours started to rise about how Warner Bro’s had called for the film to be subjected to a re-edit; something which seldom means good news in Hollywood. The company who put together those well received trailers were hired to take on the task, suggesting the tone of the film’s promotional campaigns didn’t match up with the final product.
On August 5th, the film was released and Suicide Squad proved to be yet another mess of a movie for the DC expanded universe.
There were several problems with this feature, however if you had to pick one off the top of your head which contributed the most damage, it would have to be the quality of its script. The writing was all over the place. It was as if only one draft was written up before filming began.
Take the film’s opening as an example. We are introduced to Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a government official planning to assemble a team of dangerous criminals to protect the United States after Superman’s demise (see Batman V Superman). So far, so good. Except instead of using this scene to simply establish the plot of the film, the script decides to spend an absurd amount of time going through each character Waller plans to recruit and how they came about getting locked up. Each character’s backstory varies randomly in length and although some are relatively interesting to watch, most of them feel like nothing more than unnecessary filler. How these characters came to be incarcerated isn’t the point of this film, yet the writers decide to go off on a huge tangent, showing us how Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) all came to be captured.
Most screenplays would ditch this sort of material as early as the second draft. Yet Suicide Squad decides to faff about with it with for goodness knows how long, meaning the film takes far too long dabbling in origin stories it has no need to dabble in.
On a similar note, the writer’s lack of editing the script results in some exceptionally unnecessary blind spots and flashbacks. It’s almost as if they somehow forgot that if they left out some important plot information, they could go back with the click of a mouse and type it in. This happens during several scenes in the film, in which vital plot developments are skipped over or ambiguously revealed, only to then be explained much later on down the line when the knowledge ispretty much redundant.
An example of this would be the beat in which the films antagonist arrives. Early on in the film, Dr June Moone – an archaeologist who is possessed by a witch-godess named “Enchantress” – turns against humanity. In this scene, it would appear she turns against her current boyfriend and soon-to-be Suicide Squad leader, Rick Flag, before teleporting away to summon her evil brother. Soon after, it seems as though she’s turning civilians into monsters.
Problem is, all of this is so shoddily edited and incoherent that it’s difficult to know what on earth is going on. It isn’t until the end of act two that we get an explanation as to what actually happened during this beat. By this point, the Suicide Squad are assembled, the villain is far into acting out her plans and the film is gearing up to initiate its final act. The information that would have been useful at the start of the film, is instead explained at a point in the story where it is redundant.
Another pointless and ill thought out addition to the film is the inclusion of the Joker, who has absolutely no point of being in this movie. His presence doesn’t impact the plot in anyway whatsoever. He’s only purpose for being there in the first place is to establish that Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn was once a Doctor at Arkham who fell in love with the criminal clown and was doomed to a fate of being his partner in crime.
While it’s just about possible to forgive the Joker’s cameo in the film’s opening flashback, the fact that he then starts showing up from time to time later on down the line becomes off-putting, futile and downright annoying. He’s only there so that Warner Bros can promote the fact that the Joker is in Suicide Squad. He’s aimlessly filling out cracks in a shoddy story; distracting audiences from the narrative muddle going on in the surrounding scenes.
Furthermore, Jared Leto makes for an appalling Joker. Although he’s proven himself to be a solid actor in numerous roles over the past several years – sinking his teeth into characters and making roles his own – here he completely misses the nail by a mile. He overacts to the point where his Joker comes across as a Harvey Two-Face from Batman Forever impersonator. He’s overblown and unwatchable.
The idea of a Joker who’s an urban criminal clown is an interesting one admittedly, however Leto’s execution stinks to the high heavens. From the moment he first graces the screen, it’s as clear as day that he’s just not up to playing this part. This version of the Joker could well still work in DC’s extended universe, however it would be wise for Warner Bros to recast this part as soon as possible.
Another appallingly written character amongst all of this is the film’s antagonist. The Enchantress is possibly one of the dullest villains to ever appear in a superhero movie this decade. Whilst Marvel struggle to provide interesting bad guys (with the exception of Loki) and Batman V Superman’s Lex Luther is more annoying than a stranger listening to their headphones too loudly in a library, Suicide Squad manages to give us a villain so generic and insipid that it’s hard pay attention whenever she’s on screen. She’s bad for the sake of being bad. All she does is turn citizens into monsters and talk about taking over the world. She’s painfully forgettable to the point where the film would’ve been far more entertaining if it just ditched the antagonist and decided to tell a story where the Suicide Squad are forced to team up and inevitably turn against one another.
Leto, the Enchantress and the writers aren’t the only folks guilty of fluffing up Suicide Squad of course; as the studio also appeared to help with this. As mentioned, the film was called in for a re-edit before its August release; hiring the trailer company to lend a hand. The trailers implied that the finished film would be a zany, pop-culture littered, romp of a flick; whereas it would seem what the final feature resembled that of a gritty, downbeat movie that focused on a group of troubled villains trapped within an Ocean’s 11 type plot.
Fearing that audiences would be unhappy with this, the studio suits wanted to try and rearrange the finished product so that it matched the quirky/flashy aesthetic that its trailers portrayed. The film was therefore cut up and stuck back together; turning out as some sort of tonally inconsistent botch job. One minute the film tries at be a jazzy camp-fest following a bunch of crazy-yet-fun villains, the next it’s a solemn tale of a world desperate for saviours.
The tonal inconsistency means the intentions from both sides of the coin fail to land. The jokes fall flat amongst the film’s serious tendency, whereas the darker parts feel out of place amongst all the daftness. The film pulls in two separate directions, ripping itself apart in the process.
Suicide Squad isn’t all doom and gloom of course. So it’s a hot mess of a flick, full of inconsistencies and pointless drive, however it isn’t total drivel.
For one thing, Will Smith and Margot Robbie are excellent as Deadshot/Floyd Lawton and Harley Quinn. They both deliver solid performances, making the characters compelling and engaging. The film does spend far more time on these two than any other characters, which some have argued makes it somewhat unbalanced, and yes, in many ways, it does, however seeing how much fun these two are to spend time with, it isn’t the end of the world.
Smith manages to make Deadshot/Floyd Lawton a hugely sympathetic character who’s multifaceted in nature. This is all down to Smith, as the character on page wields little depth. Here’s a “bad guy” who is likeable and is the owner of a convincing backstory surrounding his complex relationship with his estranged daughter. There’s countless things a decent filmmaker could do with Smith and the character of Floyd Lawton.
Margot Robbie succeeds in taking a hugely problematic character and turning it into an enthralling one. Harley Quinn is written and shot as nothing more than eye candy. An ex-professional who’s sanity and career was ripped to shreds when she fell in love with a villainous man. The camera homes in on Quinn’s sex appeal; turning her into a male fantasy with little substance. Yet Robbie manages to flip it round by making her menacing, unfamiliar and dangerous. There’s little substance in the writing, yet Margot gives off the impression that under the surface, something horrific and fascinating is ticking away. She’d make a perfect villain in a forthcoming Batman film.
What must also be said about Suicide Squad is despite what a mess it is, it’s nowhere near as horrific as the diabolical Batman V Superman. While its script and tone may be wildly inconsistent, it’s far more entertaining than Snyder’s three hour monstrosity.
Things may not be looking all that dandy for the DCU right now, however this doesn’t mean all hope is lost yet. Marvel may have had a better start three films in, however there were still a lot of issues plaguing that cinematic universe’s early days. Iron Man (2008) may have been a great way to start the party, however Hulk (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) were far from solid follow ups. Hulk was uninteresting and uninspiring, whereas Iron Man 2 spent most of its time either trying to recapture the magic of Iron Man and setting up future movies. Although Marvel took more time to flesh out their universe – which DC have so far failed at doing – the attempt to kick-start a multi-layered cinematic realm still took several attempts before firing up its engines.
Suicide Squad was a failed third attempt, however considering Wonder Woman (2017) and Justice League Part One (2017) now have pretty much wrapped up production, there’s still chance for the tables to turn.