Review: “Suicide Squad” Is All Guts, No Glory, And That’s OK

Suicide Squad posterYou don’t have to go very far to get an opinion on the new Suicide Squad film.  Chances are, you hit the Internet and the first thing that comes up are the negative reviews. And there are a lot of them.

It’s a shame, really. All of us comic book and pop culture fans wanted the film to be great, didn’t we? We wanted to be thrilled at the idea of a group of hardened criminals, forced to work together for a greater good. We wanted to see the new twists and turns of the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) as its film empire gets firmly rooted, takes shape, ushers us all forward. Hell, we wanted to see Jared Leto’s crazy-looking Joker!

The truth is the film is certainly flawed in its story. You just can’t hide that fact. But the film is not as bad as the many reviews have been saying, thank goodness.

Suicide Squad is not pretty, but it’s definitely got some guts – and a lot of heart – in it.

With an estimated $135 million take at the North American box office this past weekend (thanks to an intensely awesome marketing plan), Suicide Squad definitely succeeded in putting asses in seats.

Now, those that cover such matters are waiting for a huge second week drop off in attendance and revenue. That seems a pretty cynical schadenfreude. Interest in the film was always going to be front-loaded with fans waiting to catch first-glimpses of characters like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and the Joker.

Really, take out the name “Joker” and you wouldn’t be ashamed in asking yourself: who are these guys?

Based on a comic book from the mid 1980s, Suicide Squad is the story of a covert government group made up of B-list, C-list and even D-list DC comic book characters, criminals one and all, forced to do the biding of Uncle Sam. Put into the worst of the worst firefights, Squad members either succeed in their mandatory missions, having their prison sentences lessened as obligatory carrots… or they die.

More often than not, it’s the latter.

It’s a riveting idea, full of potential story pathways, character moments, and philosophical musings about life, death, politics, and, ultimately, redemption. With Suicide Squad, these ideas are often all one and the same. The comic book title, in constant publication since its inception, has withstood the test of time, despite featuring (or, perhaps, because of) a myriad of revolving characters. That is the depth and the draw, of Suicide Squad.

The problem with the film version, unfortunately, begins with the story etched in dark magic – a weird place for a government-run agency.

Suicide Squad Cara Delevingne EnchantressForemost, characters and important story elements are not fleshed out in Suicide Squad – they are merely glanced over. It’s interesting to note that in trailers for the film, audiences never really knew who the main antagonist was. That was done deliberately in order to hide the fact that one of the Squad’s own members is, in fact, the big bad here. But one can’t help to also think that it was also a story misstep. Even the bloated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gave away the Doomsday scenario in its series of trailers. Strangely enough, the actual Suicide Squad film never really goes so far as to explain the antagonist either. It’s not even half-baked: an ancient and ethereal Goddess seeks to regain control over the world, enslaving humanity. But holding the physical manifestation of her heart keeps her in check. When’s that? How’s that? Who’s that?

This evil entity has no real history in the Suicide Squad movie. The idea is force-fed to theatre-goers as a threat-at-hand that doesn’t need explanation. So is her relationship with Squad leader, Rick Flag and her relationship with her own god-brother. That might be fine for the actual members of the Squad (who don’t need details and just need to get their job done), but that doesn’t work for someone who paid $20 for an IMAX 3D ticket. And really, that doesn’t work for a studio who wants to create a shared thematic universe between all of its big superhero properties and who has, thus far, been only able to accomplish that with varying degrees of success.

Suicide SquadTo compound the problem, the film only flits through the history and origins of its many characters. Of course, characterization for each Squad member is naturally contained by a two-hour running time, a difficult impediment for any ensemble film. But Director David Ayer forgoes story and character building in his script in order to set the table for an easy out in exposition. It would have been better to reveal more character though dialogue and story through inherent scenes, instead of all the confusing conversation in government boardrooms, blown up city streets, and evacuated bars. The script for Suicide Squad needed another draft.

But every actor involved here gave their heart and soul to their roles. It’s evident to see on screen. They relished their work and with all of the on-set shenanigans we keep hearing about (dead rat gifts, used condom surprises, permanent tattoos as memorabilia), you’ve got to think that these actors loved their day-to-day. They bleed for this film.

Will Smith as Deadshot gives a great performance as an imprisoned-for-life mercenary who wants to do right by his young daughter. Margot Robbie embodies Harley Quinn, the Joker’s crazed love/hate/love significant other. Viola Davis is relentless, authoritative and imposing as the Squad’s puppet master, Amanda Waller.

Jared Leto Joker Suicide SquadAnd Jared Leto, albeit polarizing to fans and cinema-goers, is riveting in his scenes as the Joker. You might not care for his tattooed body and gold-teeth look, but this Joker is a brand new interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime. He’s ruthless, he’s enigmatic, he’s highly intelligent, he’s unpredictable, and he’s downright crazy. Leto, deeply lost in the character, is absolutely captivating every time he shows up on screen. One can’t get enough of him. He owns every scene he’s in and it’s a shame there are so few of them. Once again, sequences that showcased the character in trailers were cut for the theatrical version of the film. It makes one think back to the original script. Whose movie was this, exactly – the Squad’s or the Joker’s?

All that said, the buy-in from the actors, the action sequences, the laughs sprinkled throughout the film, and the great visual effects, elevate the plot-holed story into an acceptable summer popcorn flick. Suicide Squad, with its very urban wash, has a very different feel than its predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And, it must be said, it has a higher and much easier, re-watchability factor than that overstuffed film.

The interesting thing here is that the idea of Suicide Squad is really unimportant to the rest of the DCEU. No one knows or cares about these characters. Its inherent critical disappointment will probably mean very little to the overall DCEU strategy; it is making money, after all. But it’s a hugely missed opportunity to help the struggling DCEU, and it pointedly shows that the creatives in charge of that strategy aren’t sure what direction they should take their linked franchise films.

But the fact that no one really knows or cares about these characters is also Suicide Squad’s greatest strength. Future stories can move in virtually any direction. There are literally thousands of B-list, C-list and D-list characters to choose from. Unencumbered by history or expectation, actors can plunge deeply into their roles and really create something truly memorable. All with the proper script, of course.

The big question now is: will Suicide Squad get a sequel?

I, for one, say it should. And Warner Brothers should start on it right away. If nothing else, the studio needs continuity and momentum. They’ve already got star power in Will Smith and Margot Robbie – and they can bring in new villainous characters to round out the group. Take lessons learned from this film: craft that script so it’s as good as can be. Give film-goers a story and character moments – for both protagonists and antagonists. And give Director David Ayer another crack at the whole thing. As mistake-filled as the Suicide Squad film is, he’s close to something great here. He just needs to ensure that the Squad train is firmly on track before it leaves the station. We live in an amazing time where something as obscure and unknown as Suicide Squad is even contemplated as a film franchise.

It deserves to be done again. It deserves to be expanded. It deserves to be done right.

Suicide Squad, the third film in the DC Extended Universe, is currently playing in theatres everywhere. As if you didn’t know, fan-boy!

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