Suicide Squad‘s got 99 problems, but its opening box office ain’t one of them. The movie has been out less than a week and it’s already blown away Guardians of the Galaxy‘s previous record of Best August Opening Ever. But Squad isn’t as good as Guardians. Not even close. So what’s happening here?
You could say that Guardians paved the way. Squad‘s marketing is certainly derivative of that film’s, with its classic pop, criminal anti-heroes, and overall sense of fun. Deadpool‘s success also likely created an immediate audience for humorous, juvenile anti-heroes that isn’t being filled elsewhere. But the real elephant in the room? People want good DC movies, and they haven’t been getting them. Suicide Squad looked like it might be the antithesis to the drab, stilted, self-important mess of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. (I wouldn’t say that you have to be a drab, stilted, or self-important bro to miss the value in this, but it certainly helps.)
So does Suicide Squad save the DCEU from itself? Very much YES… and also very much NO.
…let’s talk about the YES first.
The film’s cast is transcendent – regardless of the quality of their material (and it varies greatly from moment to moment), this film has some killer players. Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn are the biggest box office draw here, proving once again why they’re superstar material. Despite having a moral center that only exists in his daughter’s expectations, Smith’s Deadshot comes across as more heroic and likable than this universe’s Batman or Superman. While Robbie’s Harley Quinn is no hero, she’s impossible not to like, and balances the contradictory naughty-innocence of the character miraculously well. Even when her motivations are criminally underwritten, Robbie does her best to fill in the blanks. Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller completely straight, while somehow being the scariest character in a film of monsters. She makes what seems like a half-hour of repetitive exposition somehow engaging. And she does it all without the benefit of a tattoo on her forehead that says “Amoral”.
I don’t know if El Diablo is a good character, but he’s certainly interesting, (and maybe the only one with a legitimately great hero moment). That said, it’s pretty disappointing that our first major Hispanic comic movie superdude is a gangbanger stereotype. Jai Courtney’s performance for Boomerang is pretty amusing, even though his lines are consistently terrible. Killer Croc has maybe 5 lines in the whole film but still manages to be weirdly endearing. Katana is only useful as a cool looking prop and otherwise serves no purpose in the film.
But really, you could extend that statement to almost everyone here but The Enchantress and Amanda Waller, and therein lies the problem with the film’s premise. Its conflict is in no way personal to its antiheroes. Deadshot barely has an arc that leads him into the final battle, despite offering the potential for the film to meaningfully explore the effect of selfishness on the people we love. Harley only stays involved in the story for shits and giggles, but the movie should have been exploring her ability to gain a level of autonomy after surviving an abusive relationship. Croc just seems to stick around because he has nothing better to do, despite the dramatic payoff that would have resulted if he purposefully took a step towards not being the monster that everyone treated him to be. As a conscientious objector, El Diablo’s transition to hero had the most on page potential, but sadly is too underwritten to really land. As for Boomerang… well he’s just kind of a hilariously selfish asshole, which would have made things play more believably if he didn’t even stick around for the climax.
That’s not to say that the villains should suddenly become good guys. That would defeat the premise. But if they’re being forced to be heroic, it’d at least be nice to see them do it on their terms. Even if every single one of them had relapsed by the film’s end, at least their hero’s journey could be seen as tragic and their journey bittersweet.
And then there’s The Joker. Many actors have played the character in the past – Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger. All of them have left their marks with a uniquely unsettling performances. But Jared Leto has done the impossible. He makes The Joker boring. We don’t even have to get into the horribly on-the-nose character design. I could look past that if his character had any nuance, pointed intensity, or twisted horrifying logic to his madness. Hell… I would have settled for there being a point to his existence in the film.
If Suicide Squad has sold me on anything, it’s that Harley and The Joker could have had a fascinating relationship in a movie that focused on them. How about a movie where the Suicide Squad is sent after the DCEU’s increasingly unstable Batman, but The Joker calls “dibs” on him and becomes the actual villain with Harley caught in the crossfire? How about a movie focusing on their abusive relationship, and the mindset that made a career psychologist fall for a selfish sociopath? The problem is, Suicide Squad isn’t really Harley’s movie. Her relationship with Joker is so ancillary to the actual plot, that every time he shows up, it feels like the film is counting down the minutes until it can go back to ignoring him completely.
And honestly, there are so many elements to Suicide Squad that feel that way – The marines that accompany the Squad, Deadshot’s second introduction, Enchantress’ brother, Deadshot’s third introduction. Like BvS, this movie is built around moments and cameos, not an actual story with actual characters and actual stakes. Like BvS, there’s a ton of potential here, with the money and the star power to back it up. The only difference between the two? At least this film’s pointless and underwritten elements are kinda fun? That alone makes Squad worth seeing (whereas BvS was completely skippable).
Suicide Squad is a mess. Its action is boring, poorly shot, and almost entirely lacking a superpowered POW-factor. Its jokes nearly all fall flat. Its pacing regularly stutters and stalls as it shifts gears. It feels like it was greenlit based on its gaudy concept art alone. But somehow it has enough personality to earn my most tepid of recommendations. The Suicide Squad aren’t the heroes that Warner Bros DC Extended Universe need right now, but they may be the ones it deserves.
3D Recommendation: I’ve heard complaints about the 3D muddying up the visuals of the film, but this must be due to poor theater calibration. My 3D showing of Suicide Squad was very solid. There were a few moments of edge warping and weird scene builds, but effect was overall clean and easy to watch. This was especially impressive during the prison scenes, with layers of bars and chain link overlapping one another. As long as you have a generally well-maintained theater, 3D is definitely the way to go with your Suicide Squad showing.