When I sat down to write this review, I had so many thoughts swirling in my head. I still do. So many ideas about how to begin this, each coming from a completely different angle that I somehow had to manage to fit into the same article. And then I realized...that was essentially a perfect summary of Suicide Squad.
Truly great elements and moments trapped in the wreckage of a tangled movie; it's hard to unpack it all. This is gonna be a long one, so bear with me. Sorry not sorry, as the kids say.
WARNING: This should go without saying, but spoilers abound.
The Messy Narrative And Bizarre Editing
The most oft-repeated criticism of the film is that the narrative is a mess and the editing is just weird. On this point, I'll award my colleagues full marks. The plot itself is built on an incredibly thin premise - I'm not talking about the idea of Task Force X itself, but the mission that initially brings them together - and the editing does it no favors. Under no circumstances should a film ever open with a straight 15 minutes of so-blatant-it's-abjectly-patronizing-to-the-audience character exposition. And then, worse, promptly shove most of those characters into the background (but more on that later).
Watching Suicide Squad is like watching two completely different movies between the first act and the last two. Rather, it felt like there was an entire other act that should have served as a transition that was just missing completely. The editing choices made in this film were just strange, creating a tonal inconsistency and lack of continuity that was hard to overlook, a cautionary tale to studios about why you don't edit films this big by committee.
I can't fault director David Ayer for this. It's important to keep in mind he had all of six weeks to write the script. Six. SIX. Nor can I fault him for a situation in which his lack of experience as a blockbuster director and lack of time ran headfirst into a studio that doesn't know what it wants (I have more to say on this below, too - much more).
Regardless, while Ayer clearly can't be faulted for the majority of the issues of the film, the final result is that it's a mess. You understand the very personal, internal motivations of a handful of characters, but outside of that, it's never really clear why anyone is doing, well, anything in the film; both the emotional impetus and logical hooks are missing. No, it is absolutely not the worst comic book movie ever, as some critics have said. Not by far. It was far better than Batman V Superman's trainwreck of continuity, but it was still a struggle to stay anchored in what was happening as you watched it unfold.
The Heart Of The Main Characters
The above all being said, thank God for the leads. Thank God, thank Allah, thank Gaia, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because they saved the film from being an absolute disaster. It's the mark of a great actor or actress that they can take mediocre to bad material and elevate it. To that end, Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Will Smith (Deadshot), and Viola Davis (Amanda Waller) absolutely shone.
Robbie was utterly magnetic as Quinn, managing to walk a fine line between completely batshit bonkers and deeply sensitive, and all of this while the script and cinematography did everything in their combined power to reduce her to nothing more than an ass in a pair of hot pants (more on THAT later, too). Smith's natural charisma ran rampant all over every scene he was in, and it made you long for the days when his comedic timing was fully on display in cocky, confident roles.
As for Davis, well, you have to hand it to her. She managed to take those 15 minutes of excruciatingly blatant exposition and still establish Waller's not-to-be-fucked-with attitude. In one scene in the movie, which I won't spoil here, she does something that is so ice cold that it causes notorious killer Deadshot to look at her in shock and say, "That's gangster."
I'd also give an assist to Jay Hernandez (Diablo), who took a character who had literally nothing to do through the first two acts and inject him with a surprising amount of heart in the few weighty scenes he had. Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang) should always play unhinged characters, because while you don't get to know much about him, you at least want to, if only because he makes you laugh. Joel Kinnaman was serviceable as Rick Flag, though he was somewhat hampered by the fact his straight-man character played opposite so many other lunatics as to be vanilla.
Together, they managed to inject some moments of real emotional poignancy into a film that was largely one big action sequence (note to DC: Not EVERY fight has to be filmed at night, in the rain). It's a testament to the chemistry of the cast and the talent of its leads that these resonant scenes happened at all, that you actually gave a shit about them in spite of everything. They earned their paychecks in a big way.
The Pointlessness Of The Supporting Characters
But man, once you got past the main characters, there just wasn't a whole hell of a lot to work with. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) was practically mute, and the few lines she got were, for the most part, in Japanese. They really tried to give her some emotional resonance with the backstory about her husband being killed, but it's awfully hard to connect when the character herself is a ghost. Likewise, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) got the same treatment - a handful of lines and no backstory, leaving you with no further impression than the lingering confusion of why he was even included at all.
At one point in the movie, Slipknot (Adam Beach) literally showed up out of nowhere in a scene, despite not one second of exposition. His only purpose was to prove to the audience that the explosive chips embedded in the necks of the Squad were, in fact, real, because he was immediately killed off in the next scene. So...that happened, I guess.
I also forgot until just now that Scott Eastwood was in the movie, which is kind of perversely hilarious when you consider the months and months of speculation that fans devoted to trying to figure out what secretly integral role he was playing. So, if you were one of those speculating as to what superhero he might turn out to be, the answer is "second-in-command soldier mildly elevated above the rest of his peers." So far. There you go.
The Limits Of Villainy
I'm going on record right the hell now to say that DC fans are henceforth not allowed to point fingers at Marvel for having paper doll villains without another being pointed at this film. All due respect to Cara Delevingne, who I'm sure will grow into a fine actress some day, but the role of Enchantress exposed the fact that her acting career and skills are still in their infancy. Enchantress was the most shallow and least resonant villain to ever hit comic book movies, and I say that as someone who watched Thor: The Dark World.
As for Jared Leto's turn as the Joker? Well, I went in expecting that he'd grate upon my nerves, and instead he just...was. He was neither good, nor bad, he just was. Some fans are saying they loved his take, and I'm glad for them. But you could see the strings behind his acting in every single scene. Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger, they made it feel effortless, like the tics and mannerisms and cadences of speech were a part of them, as natural as breathing. Same, too, with Jack Nicholson, despite his version being a much more over the top cartoon villain. Leto, on the other hand, should have had "TRY" tattooed on his forehead, instead, because you could see him acting in every scene, you could see him trying his best to be as weird as possible instead of letting it happen naturally.
And...that's about all I have to say about the villains.
Harley Quinn And Women Deserved So Much Better Than This
Hello, and welcome to the portion of the review where I go from being baffled to exasperated to flat-out angry. I mentioned before that Margot Robbie was fantastic as Harley Quinn. It's a testament to her that she didn't absolutely snap one day on set and start bashing the nearest camera with her baseball bat. I know that's certainly what I would have done if I had to wear a getup that pointlessly scanty, and then suffer the indignities of having the camera linger gratuitously on my ass at every moment possible. And let's be honest. We all knew that was happening from the moment the first trailer arrived and focused on this:
The framing absolutely made sure that any time there was a shot to be had, it was a full body shot or from behind as much as possible. If the Squad was assembled in a group, guaranteed Harley's ass was front and center, with the camera lingering to an absurd degree. It wasn't a matter of her just happening to be in the shot, it was a deliberate choice. As was the part where she was hosed down so her t-shirt was completely see-through for no other reason than to sexualize her to a greater degree. As a woman who has seen some shit (as we all have), I can put up with a lot, so if even I am getting uncomfortable watching a movie, then it's bad.
Fans make the argument that Harley is overly-sexualized in the comics, too, but that doesn't matter. They had the chance to make Harley a truly strong female character; they blew it. The film not only failed there, it actually dragged Harley Quinn backward. Equally as bad, her relationship with the Joker, while abusive and sick in the comics, was actively romanticized; not an abusive relationship, but amor fou, crazy love. The Joker and Harley Quinn are not #RelationshipGoals, and it truly disturbs me to know that there are many younger girls who will walk out of the theater after seeing the movie believing it is.
Harley Quinn being likable was despite the material, not because of it. In fact, minus Amanda Waller, the entire movie didn't do women any favors. Harley spends the entire movie believing she can't be whole without her abusive boyfriend, when she's not being undressed by the camera. Enchantress spends the entire movie believing she can't be whole without her brother's power, when she's not clinging to Rick Flag. Katana spends the entire movie believing she can't be whole without her husband, when she's not being hit on by Captain Boomerang. And the only other woman you see is Diablo's wife in flashbacks, but she spends the entire movie technically being dead because he killed her in an abusive rage.
This was by no means a movie made for women. At all. It was made for the male gaze, a power fantasy through and through. Just...FUCK.
WB Doesn't Know What It Wants The DCEU To Be
The most troubling thing about this film is that its biggest problems stem directly from the larger issues affecting WB and DC Films right now. There were so many choices made, both in front of and behind the camera, that were incomprehensible to me, but it was clear the biggest impact on the film was the decisions made behind closed studio doors.
The result was baffling. If I had to summarize my feelings in a single word upon walking out of the theater, I suppose I'd have to say it was "exasperated." Hands on hips, frustrated sigh-level exasperated. Was it the worst superhero movie ever? No. Not at all. But I almost wish it had been, because it was so frustrating to see what the movie could have been, given more time and a clearer direction. There were moments that were truly fun and a visual joy to watch, and other moments that held real emotional weight and gravitas.
But the movie is ultimately an inconsistent mess, with long stretches of time that were weirdly flat, and this goes back to the fact that WB doesn't know what it wants the DCEU to be. The studio does know that it wants the critical and commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while being wholly different from Marvel, but it's awfully hard to achieve that success when you have no clear vision for what you are and where you are going, the identity that defines your cinematic universe.
Would I watch these characters again in a sequel? Yeah, probably, solely for the sake of the characters. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. I quite liked some parts and hated others. The best thing I can say is that there is true potential here, if unrealized. But was this movie the savior of the DCEU like so many had predicted? Not by a long shot. Ultimately, the cast - and fans - deserve far better.