How Not to Do Things – Superhero Movie Edition (A “Suicide Squad” Review)

Warning – this post contains spoilers for the film Suicide Squad, in theatres today. Do not read on if you do not wish to be spoiled.

Last night, I was one of many who lined up for the preview night of Suicide Squad, the latest in DC’s superhero film franchise. Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, and many more, I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie since the first trailer “leaked” last summer. I was so excited, I didn’t even wait to see if anyone else wanted to go – I bought my ticket solo. I didn’t let a single bad review (and there were MANY) or negative comment from friends deter me from my excitement. But I walked out two hours later less than impressed with what I’d just seen. So I’m calling this review “How Not to Do Things – Superhero Movie Edition.”

how not to do things

Let’s start with the positives. Suicide Squad has a decent base plot. The US government putstogether a group of villains, Task Force X, and makes them fight against other forces of evil. If the “metahumans”, as the movie continually calls them, succeed, they get time off their prison sentences. They fail? Well, the chip in their brain explodes, and they’re goners. The force of evil they’re called up to fight is another super-powered being, the Enchantress, who has gone rogue from Task Force X and wants to take over the world. The Squad has to cooperate with people they don’t like – and who clearly don’t like them much, either – and try and save the world in order to save their own lives. Within the Squad are a myriad of characters that sound great on paper, including a dad who’s desperate to regain a place in his young daughter’s life, a woman seeking revenge for her husband’s murder, a former psychiatrist stuck in an abusive relationship with her former patient, and an Aussie guy who liked robbing banks almost as much as he likes pink unicorns.

The task force is helmed by a woman who might actually be scarier than any of the criminals, Amanda Waller. Played by the incomparable Viola Davis, Waller is the kind of boss lady that gets what she wants at all costs, and doesn’t need help from anyone to do it. This is established right from the start – she enters the movie for the first time as “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones plays in the background. Even Colonel Rick Flagg, the man eventually tasked with running the task force, notes that he “heard the stories, but didn’t believe them.” But even a badass like Amanda Waller – or a really good soundtrack that includes the Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Queen, the Animals, Sweet, and more – can’t save Suicide Squad from sinking.

While Viola Davis is quite the show-stealer, there are a number of other actors who also bring vibrance to their roles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Diablo, the fire-starting supervillian riddled with guilt for killing his entire family, is a breakout role for Jay Hernandez. He’s had small roles on shows like Nashville and Gang Related, but he’s not a household name yet, emphasis on “yet.” He brings so much emotion and raw fury to his character, and his reluctance to fight and risk losing control of his arsonist gift meshes so well with his protective instinct toward his family, both old (wife and two kids) and new (the Squad.) Joel Kinnamon also brings a small bit of humor and relatability to his tortured Colonel Flagg, complete with Southern accent and die-hard patriotism. And I can’t leave out my favorite actor from Lost, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbage, who retains a sense of humor and sass underneath all the scaly makeup of Killer Croc. He’s visually unrecognizable, but unsurprisingly a bright, humorous part of a dark cast (all he wants in exchange for going back to jail at the end of the film is a TV in his cell that accesses the BET channel – cracked up at that one.)

But how did the Squad suddenly become “family” to each other? It’s certainly not well developed. The characters are introducted separately, in flashy graphics-laden montages at the beginning of the film, kept in separate parts of Belle Reve prison, and only seem to meet for the first time upon being called to assemble Task Force X. And yet, for villains, they’re certainly happy and chummy, willing to ham it up together and ditch their government babysitters  as soon as they get the chance. Deadshot, played by Will Smith, has no reason to keep the secret that someone has snuck Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a phone so that she can communicate with the Joker. But as soon as she asks him to stay quiet, he obliges. Why? It doesn’t make sense – the camaraderie is not developed, explained, or logical in any way.

Then there’s Slipknot. The only member of Task Force X that doesn’t get a fancy intro sequence, he’s introduced right before the Squad goes into battle – and promptly becomes the first and only victim of the brain chips for trying to escape. Actor Adam Beach gets maybe ten minutes of screen time maximum, almost always in the background, and then gets killed off – and since we haven’t gotten to know him, we the audience could care less. He was a pawn for showing us that anyone can die for disobeying orders, but it doesn’t do Beach, who has been a part of posters, promo videos, and press tours for the film, any justice at all. It feels unfinished and yet hurried at the same time.

That “let’s get it over with” feeling brought about by the quick pace and minimal detail really does become the theme of the whole movie. It seems like director David Ayer wrote the basic framework for a script (reportedly in a mere six weeks) and then just jumped into filming it with little thought. The lead-up to the battles against Enchantress and her army is nearly glossed over, and suddenly we have six villains we know very little about shooting and beating things. For an action film, it makes sense. But these are characters that fans know and love, and it doesn’t do them justice. Diablo’s unwillingness to fight suddenly becomes this protective father-like feeling without warning, and isn’t explained. Other characters make choices that just don’t seem to make sense without context (Harley Quinn stealing a purse, Katana abandoning her friend Rick Flagg to follow the Squad into a bar, Rick Flagg being in love with Dr. June Moone/Enchantress, and on and on). It’s an unfinished work – and while I rarely say this, if they movie had been LONGER in the right ways (anything but more alien army fight scenes), it would have been loads better.

Another unfortunate component of the film is everyones favorite green-haired clown. Jared Leto’s Joker doesn’t really serve any purpose, other than to show up and make the audience gasp and applaud at randomly selected points. It’s clear that he’s being set up for his own film in the future, but honestly, Leto’s slurring, cross-eyed maniac just isn’t fun to watch. The Joker is a character that’s psychotic and mad, but knows it, and knows how powerful he is. Leto lacks that self-awareness of Mark Hamill, the late Heath Ledger, and all of the others who’ve worn the purple suit before him. For the love of Morgan Freeman, I do not want a Joker movie if this is the new Joker, because his tattoos have more character than he does. I could also write a novel about the problems I had with Harley Quinn (production actually lengthened her shorts in the trailers, since her butt actually hangs out and gets more attention on camera than half the cast combined! Hooray for the blatant sexualization of women in male-dominated films!), but I will note that contrary to the many trailers, Margot Robbie does something that resembles Harley’s accent. Not anywhere near perfect, but I’ll take what I can get here.

Am I glad I saw Suicide Squad in theatres? To a degree, yes. A few members of the cast really shone. It had potential. Margot Robbie did a barely-passable New York accent as Harley. And visually, as every DC movie is, it was darkly stunning and well-edited. But if you’re not dying to see it, maybe wait for the DVD/VOD release and save a few bucks. You’re really not missing much.

Did you see Suicide Squad yet, or are you planning to? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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