A mere three films in and the DC Cinematic Universe is already on life support. Suicide Squad was supposed to kick-start the franchise into gear and make up for the underwhelming Batman v Superman; instead, it sees DC lagging even further behind their juggernaut competition, Marvel. The problems here are grimly predictable: a bloated cast, a po-faced tone, and a narrative weaker than a watered-down American beer. These deep flaws mirror those displayed across the aforementioned showdown between Batman and Superman that disappointed earlier this year. Forget competing with Marvel: for the DCCU to even survive through the currently-planned slate, there needs to be a major rethink, because Suicide Squad is as disheartening as the movies that came before it.
Rather remarkably, Suicide Squad manages to be both overstuffed with unnecessary plot points and narratively barren. The first act is dominated by painfully exposition-laden dialogue and countless origin focused flashbacks. The dynamic of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a wonderfully smarmy character, running through her proposed squad to a pair of Washington executives, is used to set up the team and give you a brief back story for each. While this isn’t exactly a creative way of setting up the titular group, it’s effective and stops the film from getting bogged down in origin stories. Even so, this approach to character development is so in your face and unsubtle that it starts to feel a little insulting.
This unspectacular but reasonably promising start begins to fall apart almost immediately, however. Needless sub-plots are quickly established: primarily, the inclusion of The Joker (Jared Leto), who appears to have been thrown in for little reason other than guaranteeing ticket sales. However, once the team is fully assembled and sent on their mission to stop a supernatural force in Midway City, the narrative completely dries up. Throughout the following hour and twenty minutes the only new revelation is why human torch El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) refuses to use his powers (and it’s not exactly hard to work out why beforehand). This lack of plot development destroys the film’s pacing, as things start to drag with barely an hour gone.
The squad itself could do with being culled by a good three or four members. In fact, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) take such priority that the film might as well have be called Deadshot, Harley, and Pals. Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Slipknot (Adam Beach), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), add absolutely nothing to the film. It’s not a cast problem (save for Jai Courtney– seriously, how does this guy keep getting work?); it’s that writer/director David Ayer doesn’t for a minute have a handle on proceedings and instead allows Suicide Squad to run away from him.
In the same way that Hugh Jackman has become the definitive Wolverine, Margot Robbie so perfectly captures Harley Quinn that picturing another actor in the role is impossible. Quinn is far and away the film’s strongest asset; she’s the wildcard of the group, and boy does she live up to that name. She spits out hilarious lines frequently, and her general unpredictability makes her the most fun part of a movie that is clearly desperate to be deliriously satisfying. Will Smith goes through the motions as Deadshot, and granted Smith’s typical charismatic performance fits the character well. Though not exactly true to the comic, Deadshot is the clear leader of the Suicide Squad and is a position that Smith is very comfortable filling. His motivations, which revolve around his daughter, are actually nearly touching, and of all the origins stories told (and there’s a lot of them), his feels the most impactful.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, aside from the fact Jared Leto’s Joker has barely more than a cameo, is that Clara Delevingne’s Enchantress is one the most memorable characters offered. Delevingne has a dual role as the supernatural sorceress and the doctor who is possessed by her. This creates a rather tragic character, as Dr. June Moore is helplessly trapped while Enchantress goes on a rampage through the city. Her relationship with Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the man tasked with keeping the squad on a leash, is rather stilted, but it does add another angle to the surprisingly effective tragedy of Enchantress. The character is also cloaked in some well-designed computer effects and moves with an Exorcist-like crawl that makes her stand out quite visually.
Though studio intervention may be a factor, the real culprit for the utter mess that Suicide Squad descends into is David Ayer. There are all the components for a strong comic book film here, but at almost every turn, Ayer makes the wrong decision. His biggest mistake is that he doesn’t trust his audience: frequently characters spell out situations and motivations in a hugely unnatural fashion, which makes it hard to get absorbed in the world of Suicide Squad. The action is also bland and generic for the most part, with the large ensemble cast not helping matters. Often characters like Killer Croc just seem like set dressing as Deadshot takes priority in every single action set piece. The DCCU is clearly a poisoned chalice, but even so Ayer does a horrendous job across the board. In fact, Ayer’s direction is so poor that he actually manages to make Zach Synder look better.
The film’s marketing constantly reinforced the notion that Suicide Squad was not another dark, somber movie (a big complaint with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman); instead, this was to be the “fun” DC movie. Unfortunately that’s not really the case; Suicide Squad is just as gloomily sedated as the films it shares its universe with, only with a couple more one-liners thrown in for good measure. The soundtrack is frequently used to put forward a more playful tone, with popular tunes playing over many of the scenes. However, the musical editing is frankly atrocious, with jarring transitions and countless abrupt stops as well as much of the soundtrack not fitting the scenes they play over. Also, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is featured, but it’s a cover version by Panic! at the Disco which is a cardinal sin that cannot be forgiven!
Perhaps in six months’ time, Suicide Squad: The Ultimate Edition will come along to fix the myriad of issues present in this cut; however, salvaging a truly excellent movie, or even just a fairly decent one, out of this mess of a feature seems an impossible task. All the flaws that have plagued the DC Cinematic Universe since day one are present here and they can no longer be excused away as mere growing pains. Suicide Squad shoots for edginess but misses its mark completely.