I had MASSIVELY high hopes for Suicide Squad. The trailers were amazing, the cast was impressive, Will Smith looked like the good Will Smith of old, Harley Quinn was in this movie (!!!), and I was curious to see Jared Leto’s Joker. I was excited for this movie and bought tickets ahead of time to see it opening night. Then the critics’ reviews were released and they were abysmal. The average rating on Rotten Tomatoes was 4.8/10 (don’t look at the percent on RT, a 2 star review is a negative review, which really means that it’s a mix bag, not the worst film ever, so don’t see that 27% and assume the movie is a complete piece of shit, because it ain’t, rant over). So naturally my expectations immediately dropped. I didn’t want to see a movie that critics I follow and respect called a complete mess. But I still had hopes because I enjoyed Batman V Superman more than I disliked it (still haven’t seen the ultimate cut). Maybe Suicide Squad would be the same?
Nope, it wasn’t. This movie is a little messy. Not because of the acting or the characters or how Joker isn’t the main villain, the movie just feels unfinished. It felt sloppy, like a first draft of an essay. All the pieces are there to make something special, it just needed to be refined and reorganized.
For those of you who don’t know, Suicide Squad is the latest film in the DC Extended Universe of connected films that Man of Steel kicked off. It is about a government employee named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis in full terrifying boss-ass-bitch mode) who gathers together a team of villains, some with “meta-human” powers and some who are just violent and dangerous, to fight other potential “meta-human” threats or otherwordly events. This Dirty Dozen-esque squad of supervillains is led by soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his bodygaurd/aid Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and is made up of assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), psycho and Joker-lover Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), monstrous Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Aussie Flash-adversary Captain Boomerang (a surprisingly good Jai Courtney), firestarter Diablo (Jay Hernandez), rope expert Slipknot (a wasted Adam Beach), and June Moon/Enchantress (Cara Delevigne). That’s a lot of characters that need introduction and the first 20 minutes or so is just that.
In the opening act, Amanda Waller explains who these characters are in great little vignettes that I really enjoyed because they quickly and successfully set up each character’s skills and personalities. They were fun and each one felt unique. Then the movie smash cuts to the main plot in almost no time. After a quarter of the movie is dealt showing who these characters are, many of whom are locked up in the Belle Reve prison, the movie begins to show two main character’s relationship with each other before one of those characters just disappears one night and becomes the main villain with little to no build up. The main antagonist’s plan to destroy what it hates is boring and unoriginal. The motivations behind the plan are good and deserve to be explored (destroy that which subdued and restricted you) but how it happens is so lazy. Shoot a beam into the sky and destroy stuff while creating a faceless army that aren’t that threatening. And then the Squad gets called in to fight it by blowing it up. The whole purpose of the squad is to use a bomb to blow up the beam. Wow, how brilliant.
Which leads me to my next biggest complaint: the editing. There have been reports that the studio had two competing cuts. One that was more somber and grittier by the film’s writer-director David Ayer, and another more upbeat and “funnier” cut by the trailer studio who cut together that amazing first theatrical trailer with “Bohemian Rhapsody” playing. After screening both cuts to test audiences (because that ALWAYS works), the studio with Ayer then combined the two cuts together to create the movie I saw Thursday night. So, one cut was somber, the other felt like that trailer with popular songs and a not that funny Harley Quinn joke about voices in her head. Then after reshoots and additional photography the film was ready. But it shouldn’t have been.
This film is not complete. The pacing, scene placement, subplots, character arcs, and editing is all over the place. Those opening 20 minutes of character vignettes, which I enjoyed, were at times jarringly cut together, particularly Harley Quinn’s. Margot Robbie was absolutely outstanding as Harley Quinn. She nails the character’s psychosis and her twisted love and fear of the Joker. But her backstory vignette on how the Joker created her is too short and roughly cut together. It does her character a disservice. Her vignette had so many jump cuts, it felt like a flashback to scenes from another movie. Jump cuts can work well and can be used effectively to show a character’s broken mind or to be stylish like in Breathless. But in this film, it just feels sloppy. These jump cuts make entire dialogue scenes scattered, particular Amanda Waller’s scene where she introduces her plan. Characters will be in one location, then in the next shot somewhere completely different. They will traverse 15′ in one cut while the dialogue is still going. These aren’t continuity errors, this is the film removing whole pieces to make the film feel stylish. The film loses a lot of its substance when this happens.
And the film feels like it’s missing a whole second act, one that should have focused more on the villain gathering that army and resources, and more time spent on Amanda Waller controlling the squad. But instead, half of the film takes place during one night in Midway City as the Squad slowly walks towards the beam to destroy it and to rescue one character of importance. There is little transition or story that occurs between the jump-cut heavy beginning and the action heavy second half, several of the action sequences, particularly one of Harley in an elevator, are completely pointless and feel so out of place.
There is one amazing scene that I adored. Part way through their battle in Midway City, the Squad take a breather and share a drink in the bar. Here they talk about themselves and be actual characters. It’s a wonderful scene that adds a lot of humanity and depth to the characters. I really loved this scene and made me wonder why the film didn’t have more of this. Up to this point, David Ayer and his actors have done a great job of showing the characters interacting with each other, antagonizing each other, and fighting together. Most of the character building scenes and interactions are very well done.
The dialogue is mostly smooth (several punchlines or exposition dumps do fall very flat), but these were characters that I enjoyed watching. The cast is great and everyone creates a different personality. No character feels redundant or too similar to another. Some characters, particular Deadshot, Harley and Diablo, have arcs within the film that really work. That bar scene added to these arcs and allowed the film to stop jamming action scenes into the proceedings and actually feel like a good movie.
I wish the film was more like that bar scene. This film should have spent more time setting up a better plot and better story for these characters that I enjoyed watching. Amanda Waller was the scariest character in this film, Deadshot was very sympathetic and Will Smith was incredibly charming and had a couple great action moments, Harley was crazy and delusional and tough and sassy and amazing to behold, Diablo was emotional and interesting and tragic, and Captain Boomerang was just crazy entertaining (again, Jai Courtney was great in this). These were fantastic characters that were brought wonderfully to life by the amazing cast. Unfortunately the studio put them into a film with a weak story that would drop subplots and characters completely (seriously, what happened to Ike Barinholtz’s character after his scene with the Joker and a cell phone), whole scenes that probably would have contributed to characters’ individual arcs felt missing, and the pacing and tonal shifts were sloppy and jarring.
This movie had some good moments with some strong characters, I just wish it was better. I wish it was more polished and the editing and CGI and pacing weren’t so weak. But I liked most of the characters and how they annoyed each other. I like that the movie sparingly used Batman in the flashbacks. I like how the Joker was used as a minor villain, a wrench thrown into the plot, only appearing to cause havoc as he tries to rescue his darling Harley. I loved how the Enchantress would possess June Moon and that one shot of Enchantress’ black hand moving under June’s was objectively brilliant and cool. I believe there is a good film somewhere in this mangled movie, but that’s not the movie I saw. Was I entertained? Most of the time. Was I impressed at times? Yes. Was I bored? Rarely. Was I disappointed? Yes.
To compare Suicide Squad to another superhero team movie, I think the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy is unoriginal and the main villain of that film is also a complete bore, but it’s entertaining due to the characters and its pacing and style. Suicide Squad could have been DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy, only a cruder more vicious version with great characters and a so-so plot. And it so easily could have been because all of the pieces are there on the screen. There’s good action, good characters, cool designs, a decent Joker. But all of these solid parts of the film have been cut together or thrown away and patched together to make an uneven but mostly entertaining movie. A great movie is somewhere in Suicide Squad, but the plot and editing get in the way, and all that’s left is a mediocre summer blockbuster with good characters wasted in an okay movie.