Poor, poor DC.
As someone who’s always rooted for DC’s cinematic ventures since Tim Burton first introduced us to a new take on Batman in 1989’s Batman, even as Marvel continues to churn out hit after massive hit, I suppose I’m somewhat predisposed to root for every film they release, no matter what property it may be they’re trying to adapt. It’s hard to completely look away from a company that brought us the mighty Dark Knight trilogy, and when it comes to my feelings regarding the polarizing 2013 actioner Man of Steel or this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’ll always tend to land on the positive end of the critical spectrum. That’s just how I roll.
When I first heard several years ago that DC was taking the anti-hero team known as Suicide Squad and bringing them to the big screen under the direction of David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch), I was intrigued, but certainly nowhere near as excited as I had been for anything the studio had released previously. Not only did I possess no prior knowledge of the history of these characters, but with a Justice League movie in the works at the time and two Avengers films already having dominated the box office, was yet another ensemble-based movie about superpowered humans, let alone villains, really necessary at this time? Nevertheless, I continued to follow news about the film as time went by, especially as names like Will Smith and Margot Robbie were soon announced as cast members-arguably, however, the biggest news came from the casting of Jared Leto as legendary bad guy the Joker, the first actor to take up the mantle of such a provocative character on the silver screen since Heath Ledger’s brilliant, career-defining version in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Despite some early photos which troublingly showed a Joker sporting a full mouth of silvery, shiny teeth, slicked-back green hair and a torso loaded with bizarre tattoos, a trailer which premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2015 not only seemed to indicate that Leto’s Joker just might work, but that Suicide Squad would, overall, be a violent, appropriately dark movie befitting of the titular characters.
From there, things got interesting. Further trailers began to adopt a lighter, comedic tone, usually set to some bombastic classic rock tune, which when coupled with rumors of reshoots meant to lighten the vibe of the film now gave the impression that, in the wake of many critics’ complaints about Batman v Superman’s dreary tone and disappointing box office returns, Suicide Squad would be a very different, hopefully saving grace for DC’s troubled motion picture division. Much to the displeasure of many, the first wave of early reviews in the days leading up to release on August 5th, 2016 were overwhelmingly harsh, focusing on the quality of the characters, the story and the overall manner in which the film was directed.
Do I agree with these sentiments? Is it truly as bad as everyone says? Much like Mikey, here are my pros and cons.
The cast. Will Smith as sharpshooter Deadshot looks like he’s finally having fun again onscreen, with a character he effortlessly inhabits and in many ways brings about a persona highly reminiscent of a younger, vibrant Smith. Margot Robbie as psychotic Joker squeeze Harley Quinn completely owns her character as well, and Jared Leto’s limited screen time (more on that later), luckily isn’t wasted thanks to a performance that pays tribute to all the fine actors that have adopted the mantle prior to him. Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Kinnaman & even the usually-disappointing Jai Courtney all do what they can with El Diablo, Killer Croc, Rick Flag & Captain Boomerang, respectively, all occupying their roles with few flaws while still allowing for a great deal of natural charisma to shine through. Even Karen Fukuhara as Katana makes the most of her part, despite a squeezed-in appearance at the last minute of the obligatory team introduction sequence. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the woman in charge of assembling the titular Squad, does her best to bring a fair amount of intensity to the Squad’s ringleader, and a few side characters also work to the films benefit as well, with Ike Barinholtz producing some chuckles in his role as a prison security guard, Stranger Things’ David Harbour doing the most with his few lines & a couple cameos from some Justice League members that are just brief enough to tantalizingly tease us as to how next year’s full-length Justice League motion picture might play out.
The editing & writing. The aforementioned clashing between Ayer’s dark vision and Warner Bros.’ desire for something more lighthearted clearly had an impact on the look & feel of Suicide Squad, with the film overall possessing a feeling of two very different movies combined into one. As a result, one scene might be drastically different from the one that follows it, and unfortunately helps Suicide Squad to not make much sense at various points, thus symbolically taking any semblance of any preexisting script & firmly tossing it out the production room window. Furthermore, the expository dialogue that occupies the majority of Suicide Squad‘s dismal scenes feels awkward, forced and another example of a studio trying to turn a film with a very specific tone into something else.
The music. Steven Price’s score isn’t too bad-nothing special, but nothing terrible, either. It’s the soundtrack, however, that fails on many levels, thanks to literally dozens of musical cues scattered throughout the film-in the first few minutes of the film, for example, every character is introduced with a different song, and while the songs themselves aren’t the problem, it’s the frequency, the overuse and the slipshod manner in which Suicide Squad’s sound editor squeezed each piece into the film that ruins what could have been a pretty decently-used collection of excellent tunes.
Certain cast members. Most of Suicide Squad‘s cast works well-hence, why they’re the film’s only true saving grace-but a few members unfortunately stand out as completely rotten apples on a tree of otherwise decent performances. Cara Delevingne, for example, falls flat on her face as Dr. June Moone, an archaeologist possessed by the spirit of the sinister Enchantress and, in doing so, cementing her status as quite possibly the worst villain in DC film history. Amateurish line delivery, a lack of an intimidating presence onscreen and apparent confusion on how to play her part to even the slightest degree of quality all make for a rather disastrous portrayal. Conversely, her brother Incubus looks much better and is a far more threatening/interesting villain overall. That, however, isn’t saying much.
The cinematography. It’s funny, but for a film that the studio attempted to retool into a brighter product dissimilar from its predecessors, Suicide Squad still looks pretty dark, with characters broodily walking from place to place and that DC tendency to place all the action in the rain at night. Oh, and about those all-too-brief moments of action? They’re honestly pretty boring. Toss in some average special effects (why does every big-budget film lately need to revolve around a giant beam of energy as a key plot device?) and it’s safe to say that Suicide Squad looks indistinguishable from every other overhyped blockbuster you’ve seen this summer.
The Joker. Look, Leto’s fine. Just fine. However, his limited amount of screen time is hardly deserving of giving him top billing on the cast list, and makes one wonder if the film needed him at all. Yes, I’ve heard the rumors about the copious amount of Joker footage cut from the film, but until said footage makes its way to us film buffs, I’ll just have to wait and see.
As one can see, the bad far outweighs the good and stands as an example of how too many cooks can ruin the stew. I would, however, be very eager to see Ayer’s original version of the film-time will tell if a director’s cut will eventually see the light of day. If so, one can only hope that this cut will help to smooth out the jagged gouges in a film with such potential, which I believe to be more than possible as the majority of Suicide Squad’s problems were far more on the technical side-simply even out the scenes, establish some consistency, scale back the soundtrack and let the actors shine. With any luck, this will also fix the film’s ending, which sends Suicide Squad out with a whimper as opposed to a bang.
And if none of these things happen, no big deal. For the rest of us, life goes on, but for DC, the troubled studio may now officially be on life support.