Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ★★★

Tonight I'm watching James Gunn's (sequel? reboot? requel? seboot?) The Suicide Squad, but why not revisit the much maligned 2016 original first?

I famously gave this a perfect five stars on my first viewing - yes, you read that correctly, and no, I was not drunk. A few years later I dropped my grade a little and tonight I'm dropping it ever so slightly more, but you know what? I would still rather watch this than most MCU movies, and I'll certainly rather watch this than Birds of Prey, Shazam or Wonder Woman 1984.

So what the hell is it about this movie that doesn't send me running for the hills or to the nearest bathroom to throw up? At its core, I think this glorious hot neon thug mess, even in the state it was released in (marketing teams chopped it to shit weeks before it premiered, Ayer claims his original vision was a lot more serious and traditionally structured), has a very simple core idea: the main characters are scumbags and they act like it. In the Avengers movies everyone's a comedian and they all act like their shit doesn't stink.

In Suicide Squad, everyone's a dirty rat bastard and the movie is perfectly aware of how dumb and fun it is. There are still "serious" moments that I like that inform who the characters are - Deadshot has a daughter that he loves (and I genuinely crack up when he teaches her math by talking about bullet trajectories, haha) and Harley is spot on by Margot Robbie (before DC fans tear me a new one: I don't mean the way she's dressed or the way she talks, I mean the personality of Harley is spot on). She's the crazy, naïve Joker fangirl, but in the best moments her accent slips and she's not so sure of herself anymore: shallow and simple though it may be, you at least get an inkling that she's putting on a show, like the girl who cruises around with the bad boy in high school and tries to upstage him. She's genuinely great, hotpants and.. this dialogue and all.

Even a character like Diablo. He killed his family by mistake, he doesn't want to hurt anyone else, he's reluctant to unleash his powers until he has to - eventually he does what's right, even if he dies in the process. Dumb and simple though it may be, that's a little arc right there. I get it. I understand him. Compare that to.. Spider-Man in Civil War. Why was he there? Iron Man kind of..invited him? He wanted to take sides? He was..bored in school? What was his arc in that movie? Was he injured? Was he ready to die for someone? Or was he there because they could add a Spider-Man cameo to the movie to sell more tickets? Do you see my point? Suicide Squad may be a hot mess but that fits it really well. The characters are a mess too, as they should be.

There's still a ton of things the movie could do better - if it "works" for me it's still at the most base "dumb action movie with hints of character motivation" level (which is fine to be honest, many movies do). But you could establish the characters and the villains better than in a trailer montage (as fun as I used to find it, now it's really jarring to be dropped into a movie that way - the second half is better "paced" than the first). It's overreliant on music and visuals (sometimes it kind of works but yeah, it's too much by far). The dialogue is full of expository gems like "HER HEART IS OUT, WE CAN END THIS!" after someone rips a heart out. That's like making a Super Mario movie where someone yells "MARIO, YOU CAN TOUCH THE HAMMER TO MAKE BOWSER FALL IN THE LAVA!". No shit? A lot of characters are shitcanned in the process - Killer Croc is just kind of there and Katana gets the infamous "HER SWORD TRAPS THE SOULS OF ITS VICTIMS" moment and little else (which does lead to the great Harley moment right after it though, "She seems nice!" - again, that's spot on Harley, I don't care what you say). If you did it right you could probably pull off an entire Netflix movie about Katana. (I'm not saying it would be another Logan, but it could be decent.) Finally, I think the movie would be better served as an R-rated movie. Again, the characters are scumbags. On purpose. As they should be. They wouldn't go around saying "pussy" like edgy twelve year olds, and if we saw them actually kill people and become wounded it wouldn't hurt. Also, the Slipknot moment with the head bomb is just.. argh. At least they do it, because it's an obligatory Suicide Squad exposition moment, but man, you could've taken that so much further, even later on in the plot. What if a bomb goes off killing someone in the middle of combat? What if Waller is so ruthless that she just..pops one or two of them off, catching the audience off guard?

This may not agree with people, but I think there's a lot that could be worse about it. The score by David Price, what's left of it in the movie anyway, is really decent. It's really "2016 era action movie 101", but it's still really decent by that standard IMO. The visuals are not as bad as everyone makes them out to be. At least Ayer and his crew made visual choices: gorgeous high framerate slow motion (and if you don't like Snyder, don't worry - it's not overused), some beautiful backlit shots of The Enchantress, wild montages of neon dissociation. Even this controversial Joker played by Jared Leto isn't the worst thing to me ("how could you say that? he's like gangbanger Ellen DeGeneres on crack!"). He isn't the worst because.. I've never seen that before, or since. I've seen the 30's prankster/gangster: Nicholson, Hamill, Romero, others. I've seen the mysterious off-kilter anarchist: Ledger. I've seen the emo victim of big bad society: Phoenix. But I've never seen what Leto is doing, and the fact that I have no idea what he's about to do next actually makes him feel.. unhinged. Psychotic. Not in touch with reality. And I love the idea of him playing off Harley Quinn (for better or worse, their whole demented broken relationship), that could've been the basis for a lot more, but save for a brief Zack Snyder's Justice League scene it was not to be.

You could've done a lot to this movie: given it a more traditional structure and villain. Toned down music and visual choices. Turned Joker back into a more traditional card flailing mobster. Rewritten the "so bad it's good" level dialogue. But odd as though it may be, I think that would, for better or for worse, kind of kill the soul of the wonderfully demented, bizarre monster that we got in 2016. It's a redheaded stepchild full of warts, but at least it has them. It has decisions. Bold ones. Stupid ones. Crazy unusual ones. We should all be so lucky as to make cinematic decisions bold enough to hate, because that means it'll always resonate with some little freak out there and that's not the worst thing. It could've been set in a completely grey German airport and just packed with as many DC characters pummeling eachother as humanly possibly, and then Superman flies in for some reason and goes "hey guys!" and everyone cheers and buys more popcorn. But no, this will live on in infamy as a so-bad-its-good jewel, and I salute that. Long live Suicide Squad and all its warts.

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