Suicide Squad: It’s Bad to be Bad

Suicide Squad isn’t very good. Here is a somewhat spoilery review, in my inimitable style.

Let me preface by saying it’s not nearly the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Truly bad films can be burned into one’s memory, becoming unforgettable mistakes. Some are so uniquely bad, they become cult phenomena, see: The Room.

Suicide Squad is nothing like that. Nobody’s going to remember this movie in ten years. We’ll be lucky if anyone can recall it in half that time. What went wrong?

The film’s production was troubled from the start. Writer-director David Ayer had all of six weeks to write the script. Shooting was rushed, too. Then, competing cuts and reshoots emerged as various parties battled over what the film’s tone should be. Reportedly, Ayer wanted a more serious, dark movie, while the other major cut–the one that was ultimately released to theaters–towns down the grim elements in favor of comedy and attitude. I’ve also read that, at one point, an R-rated cut was considered, to capitalize on the popularity of Deadpool.

This identity crisis is evident throughout the film. Before I get into that, though, let’s lay out who the major characters are:

  • Deadshot — Will Smith plays a supernaturally gifted hitman who is gunning for a Father of the Year award, pursuing custody of his 11-year-old daughter from an ex-wife who doesn’t appear in the film but who we are nevertheless assured is crazy and undeserving. The film implies Deadshot only kills Bad People, which makes him more sympathetic, I guess.
  • Harley Quinn — Margot Robbie plays the Joker’s girlfriend. It’s not clear what all she did apart from help him break out of Arkham Asylum and become his partner and accomplice in crime. She did enough to have Batman punch her in the face, though. She does not wear a lot of clothing in this movie.
  • Killer Croc — Presented with virtually no backstory so we have no idea what he did to deserve being locked in a sewer, but we’re assured it’s necessary for the safety of others. What few lines he has are spoken with such a stereotypical accent that I’m stunned it got past editing. He is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
  • Diablo — Jay Hernandez portrays a gangbanger who can burn things with his mind, and when he gets mad, this includes people–like his wife and kids. But don’t worry, he feels really bad about that.
  • Boomerang — Jai Courtney is a notorious bank robber and jewel thief who is really good at throwing boomerangs. I am not making this up.
  • Rick Flag — Technically not part of the Suicide Squad, but is rather their military man boss guy. Joel Kinnaman does what he can with such a trope-laden role.
  • June Moone/Enchantress — Moone is apparently the world’s worst archaeologist, because when she finds some ancient god statues she breaks one of them open and unleashes a world-destroying demon called the Enchantress, who takes over her body sometimes. Like Robbie, Cara Delevingne wears very little, at least when she’s in her Enchantress form.
  • Amanda Waller — Rick Flag’s boss, basically. Viola Davis plays a government operative who puts together the team. She is an “ends justify the means” type, which usually offers some kind of depth or exploration of theme, but there is none of that here. Her ruthlessness is displayed when she guns down a bunch of helpless technicians out of the blue. On the other hand, she later gets to shoot at demons with a machine gun. Unlike the other women in this movie, she is fully dressed.
  • The Joker — Jared Leto’s, uh, re-imagining of the character is more than a cameo, but less than a fleshed-out part. The hell he put his castmates through hardly seems worth it for such a minor role. The long and short of it is that he misses Harley a lot and will do anything to get her back. No one will be making favorable comparisons to Heath Ledger’s joker here. Hell, Jack Nicholson did a better job.

So, what all is wrong with this movie? For one, there are tons of unanswered questions which I suspect wound up on the cutting room for, things like how Harley Quinn got her hands on a cell phone, and why the Enchantress waited until the team arrived to finally start destroying the world. I mean, I guess that was considerate of her. Oh, and the Joker apparently knew where Harley was all along, so why didn’t he try to break her out of prison sooner? The entire setup with the Enchantress going rogue also makes no sense at all. For one, it seemed like she set off a bomb with a two-second timer, but I guess she hadn’t–I found that very odd. Why wouldn’t she have set it off? And then, why didn’t Waller destroy her heart (her mystical Achilles’ Heel) in the meantime? That would’ve ended the threat pretty darn quickly. But I guess that would’ve ended the movie too quickly.

Women are not portrayed well in this film. June Moone is a damsel in distress while the Enchantress is bent on destroying the world for terribly vague reasons. Harley Quinn is the Joker’s toy and is treated to several scenes of men leering at her in her very short shorts, which she sometimes notices with a coy smile. Robbie does a lot with thin material–it’s a shame the script doesn’t live up to her capabilities. Deadshot’s ex-wife, as I said, never appears, and this is probably for the best, given how she is described. A token Native American character who is introduced in one scene, never given a name or backstory, then killed in the next, explains why he punched a woman with the words, “She had a mouth.”

Davis’ Waller is the only woman in this movie who shows more than a single dimension, and even she is reduced to spouting cringeworthy dialogue that would sound cheesy in the pages of a comic book, much less onscreen as part of a tentpole blockbuster movie.

The male characters come off a little better, but not by much. Will Smith’s Deadshot is pretty good, with a toned-down Smith bring a little bit of humanity to a movie that would rather be about bright colors and pointless gunplay. Rick Flag is, frankly, a dumbass. Why anyone would let him look after June Moone, given that she’s possessed by an omnicidal witch-demon and he’s in love with her, is beyond me. Of course he would prefer to let her go free than risk harming her.

Batman v. Superman is better than Suicide Squad, because at least BvS felt like it had something to say, even though they forgot what it was the moment the Capitol blew up. This film really has nothing to say, except maybe that vaguely villainous criminals can possibly do some good in the world when everyone might have been better off if we’d just let the military handle it, or hell, just bombed the place after everyone had been evacuated. It’s hard for me to imagine a reason for this specific team to be required for this mission, other than that the movie wouldn’t have a reason to exist otherwise.

Late in the movie, there’s a scene in a bar where the anti-heroes all get a chance to bond. It’s a weird scene. Number one, the Enchantress is working on her world-destroying superweapon at the time, but I guess we’ve got a few moments to spare for some drinking and soul-searching. It’s in this scene that Harley Quinn directs the conversation and, out of all these people, it becomes clear that she’s the only one who is proud to be who and what she is. She forces Diablo to admit to and own his terrible crimes. It could have been a powerful scene in a better movie. Instead, it just comes across as very strange and unearned.

It’s a very violent film, too, getting a PG-13 only because the vast majority of those killed are bug-eyed creatures that used to be but are no longer recognizable as humans. They don’t bleed blood, so they escape an R rating here. But lots of these things get gunned down, and some get incinerated. It becomes rather repetitive after a while. That is, perhaps, the film’s greatest crime: I’ve seen all this before in better movies. Why am I even here? Give Smith and Robbie their own movie, an odd couple buddy film. Turn them loose in a crime-infested hellhole in Southern California or something. I’d watch that movie. It’d probably be good. This one just wasn’t.

Suicide Squad smashed records and, as far as I can tell, is unbelievably popular among its target audience, which I think is teenagers who eat stuff like this up. I get it. I was that age once. I sure didn’t demand much. I just wish films like this weren’t so lazy and pedestrian. None of this is as edgy or cool as it thinks it is, and for a team of villains, you never get the sense that they’ve quite committed to their villainy. Does that make it a redemption story? Do they want to be good people, but grew up in a world that doomed them to being bad? What fascinating questions, and David Ayer clearly had no interest in exploring answers to them. This is a movie about mowing down thousands of faceless bug people between scenes of CGI so bad it made me think I was watching Queen of the Damned again.

I sure hope that the inevitable sequels are better.

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James
James runs this blog and likes to write about society, culture, politics, science, technology, social justice, and pretty much anything else. Rumor has it people read his posts sometimes.

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Suicide Squad: It’s Bad to be Bad

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