Even the bad guys have heart.
HATERS GONNA HATE
The DC Extended Universe (aka “The DCEU”) brings us the third film in a franchise that will feature movies for years to come, switching teams and changing the focus to some of DC’s most recognizable (and not so recognizable) villains. Suicide Squad was one of 2016’s most anticipated movies no matter which media outlet you follow. From the exciting trailers, to the colorful artwork displayed across the film’s advertising campaign, to the star-studded cast, Suicide Squad was a sure bet.
But how sure?
With each passing DC movie, the weight and expectations rise thanks to the failure to meet said expectations in the previous entry. It’s a domino effect that is hurting the franchise’s overall momentum. It’s really not fair. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was a mess (the special edition cleaned it up a lot, but this was nearly 5 months after box office release, where the damage had already been done). Suicide Squad was looked to be the savior, the film to get the DCEU back on track.
While it doesn’t ultimately reach its full potential – likely thanks to more unnecessary meddling from parent studio Warner Bros – Suicide Squad delivers on many levels and is a fun movie to watch. There was little chance it could meet the high expectations set forth by the buzz created in the 3 amazing trailers we witnessed.
If you aren’t familiar with the Suicide Squad itself, that’s perfectly fine. The film does a phenomenal job of setting the stage in Act 1 by introducing you to the major characters, their brief backgrounds, and why they are being assembled. In fact, the pacing set by this first section sets a good tone for the rest of the movie. BvS was plagued with pacing issues, lacking focus and frankly, felt like a jumbled mess. Suicide Squad does a great job of not only staying on track, but moving along at a comfortable pace, featuring quick action sequences while giving us intimate moments and insight into backgrounds to get to know our (anti) heroes. This couldn’t have been an easy task, not only having to mix in the large ensemble of characters, but giving us a reason to give a damn about them.
There are a few players that stick out of the crowd and certainly have a lead role, but it never overshadows or diminishes the importance of the rest of the cast. Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller and does a good job of balancing Waller’s demeanor, one that shows she is clearly the boss, but can run hot or cold while still keeping her emotions in check. Will Smith is Deadshot, a mercenary from Gotham who has a slightly strained relationship with his daughter thanks to his divorce. Smith’s Deadshot is one you root for, particularly knowing what he is fighting for. Smith brings his usual swagger and charm to the character and in essence, becomes the leader of the squad. It’s understandable to be skeptical regarding having Smith in a movie such as this, but his performance was a standout. Speaking of standouts, the casting of Margot Robbie as Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn is nothing short of brilliant. She is, dare I say, the perfect iteration of Harley Quinn. Physical appearance aside (which is absolutely spot on), Robbie went all in with her performance, seemingly studying the character from any source material that inspired the film. She captures the Harley we know and love, taking elements from Batman: The Animated Series, the Batman Arkham video game series, and DC’s Batman: Assault on Arkham. The silver screen debut of Harley Quinn matched all of the pre-release hype and brought the character to life in ways that have me itching for that solo Harley movie that was announced. When it comes to casting well-established female characters, no one does it better than DC (see Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, also).
Though the rest of the cast plays slightly smaller roles, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed each one individually. Boomerang provides some of the comic relief when Harley is taking a break from doing so. I never thought I’d see a believable live-action Killer Croc, but here we are. Rick Flag’s character had a surprising amount of depth that helped to rank him as one of my favorites in the film. Enchantress’ arch is bigger than the trailers led us to believe. At times she was awkward, but generally a viable blend of creepy, intimidating, and intriguing. The character that I was most surprised to see play a fairly large role was El Diablo. His tale of redemption and self control was emotional and satisfying to say the least.
That leads us to the Elephant in the room, Jared Leto’s rendition of The Joker. The Joker will always be scrutinized due to the character’s past legendary performances. From Caesar Romero in the original Batman days, to Jack Nicholson’s spin on the character, to Mark Hamill’s defining voice and appeal, to the stunning, unforgettable performance of Heath Ledger, each iteration of The Joker has been unique and impressive (well, at least the ones mentioned above). No two Jokers are alike. All of the above have arguably equally impressive, memorable traits. Leto’s Joker is a bit of a letdown, but it might not be Leto’s fault entirely. Just like when BvS released, the studio went into total damage control, as we’ve heard identical stories for both BvS & Suicide Squad – WB was overly controlling, there are two cuts of the movie, a high percentage of the film was reshot, etc. Reports have surfaced that some scenes involving The Joker were cut before the final product (I assume we will get an extended edition of this as well). Would this have added depth to an otherwise shallow character? Would there have been any epic moments that forced Leto’s Joker to stand out? I’m not so sure and for the sake of this review, I can’t speculate. I am willing to hold off on final judgement of Leto’s Joker for now, assuming we will see more of him in future DCEU films. However, The Joker is not a character you rush into a story. His presence felt wasted and unnecessary, adding little, if anything to the overall story. Though I respect the influence from some of the comics, I wasn’t overly thrilled with his appearance. He was reduced to a bit character and his personality never committed to any particular aspect of what makes us love the Joker. Underwhelming is a good adjective here. It would have made more sense to leave him out of the story completely, or even just make a small cameo. We never got that “ya wanna know how I got these scars?” moment.
In terms of the plot, it makes sense and is understandable, but at times screams shades of BvS’ lack of buildup, if only slightly. Without spoiling anything, we know what is happening and in a sense why, but this is the spot where Suicide Squad could have used a touch more depth. Why does a certain group feel the way they do? Did something happen to make them really feel this way?
The movie is light-hearted at times and has a good focus on comedy, not taking itself too seriously. The issue is that I had seen all of the funny sequences, thanks to the trailers. They’re still funny, but they don’t pack the same punch they would have if we came into this fresh. I suppose that’s the catch 22 here – DC absolutely needed to build hype for this after the critical flop that was BvS, at the expense of a few surprises. It wasn’t enough to dishearten me, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.
Lastly, the film’s soundtrack is jam-packed with classics, particularly front-loaded into the first act. It’s DC’s best soundtrack to date, featuring licensed songs that are thematic and timely. It’s certainly not Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Volume 1 good, but it’s good nonetheless.
This was a difficult film to score, given the initial critical backlash after a lengthy hype train that set the film up to be one of the most anticipated of the year. All in a year that includes mega films from franchises like Star Wars, Captain America, Star Trek, Batman/Superman, and other Marvel properties. It’s no small feat to play with the big boys. Expectations aside, Suicide Squad is an enjoyable movie from start to finish, with a good briefing to start us off with, and a satisfying ending that holds weight thanks to its appropriate buildup. Go see it and judge for yourself.
+ Pacing is consistent and the plot doesn’t get scattered. Though we are told why things are about to unfold, questions do remain.
+ Margot Robbie is the perfect Harley Quinn, an absolute joy to watch. The ideal blend of looks, dialect, humor, and combat style bring Harley’s big screen debut to the forefront. She is a show-stealer.
+ Ensemble cast feels balanced. The story & background gives us reason to care about them all. It is a solid tie-in to future DCEU events & films.
+ Will Smith as Deadshot.
– Humor was blended nicely, but sadly we witnessed the vast majority of the gags in the trailers leading up to the box office release.
– Jared Leto’s Joker is disappointing – whether it’s because of the direction he decided to take the character in or because a good chunk of his screen time was cut from the final release. Regardless, it was a let down.
Suicide Squad is in theaters now.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s Managing Editor. It has been a tough year for Batman, huh? BvS was a disappointment, Return to Arkham was delayed indefinitely, and The Killing Joke met with mixed critical acclaim. No love for Bats. Christopher Nolan is smiling somewhere.
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