Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ★½

Very rarely is any one movie purely "good" or "bad". Film is a collaborative process, and often, even when a movie doesn't capture real greatness, there's too much talent involved in at least one aspect of the film to write it off completely. Suicide Squad, while bad, fits that. David Ayer's Fury was an interesting, solid effort, offering evidence that he possesses talent, particularly in balancing the chaotic action of war with the somber moments of pause. That skill provided hope for Suicide Squad, the latest entry from DC Films. DC is a studio that has, so far in their DCU, failed to find that balance (though to be fair, they have only made two films before this, both by Zack Snyder). Unfortunately, while there are glimpses of that deft handling of tone and structure displayed in Fury, Suicide Squad is plagued by a host of problems that weigh it down as a whole.

For the first 45 minutes of the film, no conflict is introduced. It's an introduction to a host of characters that doesn't let two minutes pass without overloading the sound mix with a popular, recognizable song. It's rushed and overt, but not in a tight, stylized way. It just begs the question of why exactly this team is being put together, and what exactly they're going to go up against in the remaining hour and fifteen minutes. You'd think the film would use this time to set up arcs for its team members, and it does in the cases of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). But other characters, among them Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), and Boomerang (Jai Courtney) don't get the same background. Killer Croc and Boomerang could be completely cut out of the film and the movie's story would be completely unaffected. In an ensemble, team film, that's a glaring misstep. Even the arcs the film sets up in Deadshot, Harley, Diablo, and Flag aren't fully realized. By the end of the film, the movie is telling us that these people have changed, but if you look at the actual events that occurred onscreen, nothing backs that up. Will Smith is such an all-star actor that Deadshot feels like the most fully realized, but in the film's climax, when he has to come face-to-face with a decision that the film parallels with a similar one he made earlier, he basically makes the same choice: the right one. He doesn't really feel like a bad guy in a film that supposes to try and celebrate and indulge "bad guys" and jumble morality.

The film does indulge some uncomfortable moral choices. It is brazenly misogynistic, chauvinist, and racist. Harley Quinn is subject to extreme violence and brutalization, at times played for laughs (Batman punches her in the face, then gives her mouth to mouth in a scene that plays her as sexualized, brutalized victim), and at times weirdly unsettling, and not in the way I think the film intended (the Joker drops her in a vat of acid, and when they arise from it, kissing passionately, it no joke looks like they're covered in semen). Diablo is a character who's arc starts with a bout of domestic violence as he kills his wife and children (when his wife is first introduced, his character gives her a firm smack on the behind). A character beats a woman down, claiming afterwords "She had a mouth on her". Will Smith's Deadshot, the closest thing the film has to a moral center, tells Flag to give his girlfriend "a firm smack on the behind" to get her head straight. This is a film about bad guys, so it's not like I expected each character to be politically correct or a beacon of positive representation for whatever gender or race they represent, but the film's celebration of such uncomfortable situations feels more like an Entourage-style celebration of these characters being right, rather than a magnifying glass on what such behaviors mean and how they fit into the context of a comic book film.

There are threads of interesting ideas in Suicide Squad. Once you get past the haphazard script, emotionally empty, over-the-top CGI villains, and ridiculous costuming and makeup of Jared Leto's Joker, you can see where this movie could have been interesting. Deadshot is a killer for hire, and some of the film's best moments are when he's juxtaposed with Rick Flag's embodiment of an American soldier military man. The film flirts with the idea of commenting on American imperialism and our violent, oppressive military not being so different than Deadshot's mercenary work, but drops that thread pretty quickly after it's introduced. Viola Davis is as great as she always is as the ruthless Amanda Waller, but her tactics don't feel like they have all that many stakes. The only named character who dies is a nothing character, given no backstory, whose death is only meant to serve as a message to the other characters. Waller's violence and evil in service of her country are another interesting idea, but rather than posit her as the villain, flipping the script on superhero movies and letting us root for the bad guys, she gets out of the way in the end to let the squad go up against a bland CGI mess.

This is a messy movie. It's not without its positives, but it's also a movie that tells the audience what instigated this attempted takeover of the world without telling the Suicide Squad, and then, when the Suicide Squad learns why they're surrounded by such death and chaos, flashes back to scenes that we already saw. Did they think we forgot? Do they not trust us to make the connection? It's a bad movie that probably, at some point, could have been fascinating. Instead, it's another movie where a team of superpeople goes up against CGI nothing monsters who are trying to end the world for meaningless reasons.

Nathan liked this review