The Sins of Suicide Squad

Kevin and I often discuss how spoiled we have become by comic book movies. When we were kids, Marvel films were basically non-existent and Batman was suffering through the dark days of Joel Schumacher. We could hardly even fathom a world where the Avengers teamed up on-screen, let alone returned for numerous sequels and solo outings. With Spider-Man back in the fold at Marvel and DC rapidly creating its own film universe, we are as pampered as ever and it shows.

Suicide Squad is not a terrible movie, even if that’s what most critics would have you believe. Nor is it a great one. This mashup of villains is a perfectly accessible experience and if it’s guilty of anything, it just doesn’t reach the bar that Marvel has set so high.

And I think that’s the biggest obstacle that DC has yet to overcome. Their films thus far have been enjoyable enough but are also flawed and divisive, which would have been fine 10 years ago. Now that the market has become so saturated by comic book adaptations and crossovers galore, anything that doesn’t live up to the Marvel standard gets torn to shreds. In my opinion, that’s what is happening here.

It may sound like I’m trying to make excuses for why Suicide Squad isn’t getting more recognition. To be clear, there are numerous flaws in this movie that have nothing to do with whether or not people are suffering from superhero fatigue. It’s no masterpiece and it’s not something that I’m going to go out of my way to see again. However, I also don’t believe that Suicide is a massive failure.

One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Suicide Squad is that it wasn’t enough fun and didn’t fulfill some of the promises that it made. While I would agree that the film’s tone wavers at times and the first half is definitely more light-hearted than act two, I have to wonder what it is that people were looking for. There are far more jokes and gags than we saw in Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman, but that’s beside the point. The movie not-so-subtly implies that these characters are going on a suicide mission and failure will result in either their death or a one-way trip back to prison. The government doesn’t care if they mess it up, because Amanda Waller (played by a rather stoic Viola Davis) will simply throw them under the bus. I find that to be a fairly grim premise. That there is any humor present at all is a testament to how these villains view their place in the world. When you’re constantly incurring the wrath of Superman and Batman, a suicide mission becomes standard operating procedure.

Marvel executed this same concept in Guardians of the Galaxy, albeit with a much tighter script and more satisfying villains. I won’t deny that the antagonists in Suicide leave a lot to be desired and the CGI that was used to create them is inexcusably poor. Granted, my buddy Michael and I saw this movie in 3D and we couldn’t tell if certain effects were really as terrible as they seemed or just didn’t benefit at all from that third dimension. That I even had to ponder that possibility in the first place reflects poorly on the film and is my biggest individual gripe. I also didn’t care much for the Rick Flag character, who is supposed to be the military leader of the squad but spends most of his time criticizing Deadshot or lamenting his lost love. There just isn’t anything especially noteworthy about Flag and he comes off as very contrived and artificial, like you could’ve plucked him out of any cliche action movie from the last decade.

Thankfully, that’s not the case with all of Suicide’s rogues gallery, particularly Deadshot and El Diablo. Will Smith is a tricky actor to bring into an ensemble cast because his personality often overshadows the character that he’s supposed to be playing. What’s great about him portraying Deadshot is that the role is enhanced by the natural charisma he provides, and instead of only getting a stone cold killer with a soft spot, we have a man who isn’t going to apologize for who he is but is aware of how hard that makes it for him to be a good dad. And yes, Smith often injects this movie with his comedic wit at exactly the right times. El Diablo was probably the most intriguing of the bunch, save for a couple of cliche lines here and there. To be the most lethal person you know and have it be your biggest burden is something that would weigh heavily on my conscience, as it does his.

Jared Leto’s Joker primarily exists in this film to provide Harley Quinn’s exposition to the audience members who don’t know who she is or why she’s important. He’s involved in the main storyline as well, although probably not to the extent that fans were hoping for. Leto had the unenviable task of following Heath Ledger and I thought he did an admirable job of making the character his own and honoring the Joker’s roots. I didn’t have a problem with the Clown Prince of Crime popping up now and then, because that’s what the Joker does: create havoc and go where he’s not wanted. Speaking of honoring roots, Margot Robbie’s Quinn is probably everything you’d want in a live-action version of Mr. J’s favorite girl. Now that we have her backstory, I’m hoping that future films will flesh out her character a bit more and expand on her relationship with the Joker.

Suicide Squad is at its best when it focuses on its chief characters, takes a step back and allows the chaos to ensue. It’s also a very uneven film that could’ve benefited from better villains and stronger writing, but you can say that for a few of Marvel’s releases, too (I’m looking at you Thor: The Dark World). Maybe critics are all Marvel fanboys or just don’t enjoy films that are a little drab and dreary, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that we have become inundated by comic book movies and have the privilege of seeing all of our favorite heroes together on the big screen. With privilege often comes entitlement and I really do believe that people think they deserve a great movie with every release from Marvel and DC. Even Steven Spielberg doesn’t hit on every film that he makes and it’s not realistic to expect that, so why should that be any different here?

We are still waiting for that first truly memorable feature to come out of DC Studios, and that’s caused a lot of anxiety and frustration. For all of their faults, DC’s movies are satisfactory entertainment and that is Suicide Squad’s most unbearable sin: it is decent and not special.

Jesse’s Rating: C+

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