Earlier this year, the world was treated to an interesting entry in the DC movie universe. Yes, Batman v. Superman left many of us movie lovers in a bit of a divide, and I sadly was one that still has a reserved seat on that hater train (at least when it comes to the theatrical cut of film) and it is a spot that is hard to move from. But with the release of Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. has yet again left the nerd community in a weird spot – are we supposed to enjoy this movie or hate it like Rotten Tomatoes would like us to? Well, internet, that decision is of course, up to you. But, as someone that likes to think for herself when it comes to films (obviously) I decided to go into this new DCU flick with a pair of fresh eyes. The results? Well that takes a bit of explaining.
Now, I would never consider myself a comic book fanatic, nor someone that has a PhD in the genre either. But I know my basics, which came from being raised on Batman: The Animated Series, being forced to enjoy a ton of comics by way of my cousins and friends, and reading hours upon hours of different storylines and comic history books in the library in middle school. If one were to ask me to direct a Sunday School Pageant version of Batman’s tragic backstory – Wayne family murder and all – I probably could produce something a bit better than Julie Taymor did with Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark – but I digress. The main thing when it comes to these movies is I know what I, myself am personally looking for something to get out of them, and Suicide Squad surprisingly delivered that for me – mostly.
The general story is a pretty simple one: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a hard knocks government agent looking to recruit a group of bad guys, who in her opinion, “could do some good.” This allows her to hire Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and a few other soldiers and ragamuffins (including the original Suicide Squad leader in comics form – Rick Flag, played by Joel Kinnaman) to make sure the post BvS DC world is safe from true evil. The catch? If any of these villains walk away or try to cause trouble, the government will push a button and have their heads pop off. So when a true form of evil arrives on the scene, will this new formed band of misfits actually work together to save the world, or will they try their best to get out of the situation? Only director David Ayer has the hyper colorful answer to that question.
Premiering in 1959’s Brave and the Bold #25, Suicide Squad might not exactly be the most accessible group within DC’s catalog to bring to the silver screen, but with the big selling points of Harley Quinn (featured in the New 52 rendition of the group), along with the promise of some Joker (played by Jared Leto), Batman (Ben Affleck), and Flash (Ezra Miller) moments sprinkled in, this unlikely band of anti-heroes has seemed to grow in popularity within today’s pop culture landscape. And in part due to the energy and risky moves that David Ayer (who also wrote the script) goes with here, it is unlikely that the initial curiosity with this team is ever going to end (at least within certain crowds.)
This is due in large part to the cast, which might have been controversial choices at the start, could be one of the best superhero movie casts to come about in recent years. Obviously, Will Smith is a treasure to watch, and finally is back in a role that feels like, well, Will Smith. The energy and pizazz that Big Willie was known for in the 90’s has returned, and here with Deadshot, we get a classic mixture of some Men in Black sass and a tiny bit of that grit that we got from I Am Legend. Though this might not be the greatest Will has ever been on the screen, it certainly is a return to form that proves the man still has got his swag.
Margot Robbie, on the other hand, was born to play Harley Quinn. From her perfection of the accent to her incredible tributes left and right to Harley’s past within just simple facial movements and inflections in her voice, Robbie is a master at her craft. She, and Harley herself, are more than just the obvious sex appeal, and she prove that Ms. Quinn has got a lot more up her sleeve in her cinematic incarnation than trailers, and the other characters, seem to assume.
Many will be wondering about Jared Leto’s take on the Joker, a character who has been played by so many incredible individuals that it’s hard to chose a favorite. Personally, I’d never put Leto into that slot, but he has a lot of qualities that represent that history of the character that make him a Joker to invest further time in (something that this cut of the movie sadly is lacking in spades). He has a pinch of Hamill, a tad of Romero, and even takes influences from recent comic book renditions by Brian Azzarello, hinting to his more “gangster prince” persona.
But it’s nice to see a bit more heart (though I use the term loosely) when it comes to the affections of Ms. Quinn and Mr. Jay – a relationship that is as iconic in the world of comics as the most classic of Hollywood couples. This isn’t to say that there was never any indications that the two didn’t love each other (in their strange, borderline abusive way) in the past, but it is refreshing to see a more obvious and outward adoration between the multi-colored criminal lovebirds – particularly in the montages of Harley’s past, in which we even get a recreation of the famous Alex Ross image of the two – one that almost brought my nerdy heart to even nerdier tears.
The other supporting players definitely show up their skills as best they could, with some standing out more than others. Davis is a treasure of modern American cinema, and proves here that she can be one scary, and almost demon-like lady at times on screen, even while keeping her classy nature front and center. Even Harley makes this a known fact, when she asks Waller – dressed in a red jacket – “Are you the devil?” to which Waller responds cautiously “I might be.” Waller isn’t the perfect agent everyone would like to believe, but with that notion and Davis’ performance, it makes her a part of the DC-U that needs to be included in every movie from here on.
Hernandez on the other hand plays Diablo in a very calm and silent manner, but when he gets his moments to bring something heartbreaking to the table, it is hard not to grow attached to the tattooed fireball. Even though his screen time is much shorter than his co-stars, he leaves an imprint and a huge chunk of curiosity that make you wish for more. Unfortunately, he – much like Leto’s Joker, suffer a bit from their shortened roles within the plot, and though that leaves a cloud of mystery that is investing in so many levels, makes the audience feel that their stories are unfinished, especially when certain characters ask Diablo some very important – mystical related – questions of his past.
This is where we then reach a flaw of Suicide Squad: the mission the team is sent on and the villain in charge of this scheme. Whenever Marvel releases yet another superhero flick with a subpar villain, I tend to push that yawn inducing figure to the side, mostly because they had no potential for evil greatness. But when it came to who DC choses as Suicide Squad‘s nemesis, this individual had all the potential, and was misused. The set up to their existence was but a sentence, and their build up (though visually stunning) left so many more questions than answers, ones that considering the ending results will likely never be fully explained.
And that in itself is the overall issue of Ayer’s entry into the DCU: there’s a ton of potential, but it doesn’t exactly reach those heights. The actors are there, the cinematography is breathtaking at times – but the editing feels to have been assembled from leftover scraps from a Ninja Chopper. Granted, the flow here is much better than BvS or Man of Steel, but the editor (who also was behind the beloved trailers for the film) seemed to be more focused on creating a music video feel at times than an actual narrative – which isn’t a terrible idea, but lacks the exact storytelling punch that is needed for a film with the extraordinary characters that SS features. But at least there wasn’t a ton of cutting to black – an element that was eye twitchingly frustrating with the prior DC film.
With a soundtrack that sounds as expensive as the movie’s budget, a few standout moments, and some images that’ll be stuck inside my pop culture mind for a long time, Suicide Squad is movie that does a much better job than BvS did of bringing us into the current movie world of DC Comics. It feels like an episode of a series that should continue – and though said storyline might not be the most inventive, and at times come off just as messy as the past installment in places, there’s enough fun elements, interesting character moments, and cameos, that make it worth further cinematic stories within this universe. And when a movie can get me marginally more excited to see where the DCU goes – especially when at times it made me feel like a 5 year old watching Batman: The Animated Series again, laughing/screaming in blissful joy – it deserves a little bit of praise.