Another sign that the new DC movie universe was going to play by its own rules came with the announcement that the third film in the growing franchise would focus on a group of villains, something that would give us a look at this world from a whole new perspective.
In an inspired move, David Ayer, director of acclaimed films such as End of Watch and Fury, and writer of Training Day, was selected to pen and direct a movie based on Suicide Squad. Ayer’s style seemed perfect for a movie about comic book villains and corrupt politicians. After all his filmography is filled with flawed, complex and dark characters put in extreme situations.
Unfortunately the potential the movie had suffered by the rushed production time to meet a release date, and perhaps most importantly, the divisive reception to the serious and dark tone of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
It is unclear how much eventual reshoots and other post-production changes affected the movie. What it is clear though, is that there was a rushed attempt to lighten the film and add comedic and over the top elements to it that didn’t mesh well. This is most evident when you compare the quiet, almost melancholic, teaser from a year earlier, and the more colorful and “fun” trailer released after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The rushed reworking resulted in an uneven movie unsure about its own identity.
Suicide Squad picks up where the previous film ended: Superman is death and while the world is mourning him, there’s a growing concern that an eventual metahuman without his moral values might rise and to become a threat. Decided to fight fire with fire, master manipulator Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) comes up with a plan to recruit dangerous criminals to fight such possible threats, and throw them under the bus should things go south.
Waller is stone-cold and determined, and with access to a great deal of information that she uses to control people and gain leverage. In the case of the criminals she recruits for Task Force X, she offers them reduced sentences in exchange for their services. Knowing she can’t trust their good intentions, every one of them is implanted with an explosive in case they decide they don’t want to go through with the mission. It’s telling that in a movie where criminals fight against a supernatural witch, Waller might be the real villain.
It’s always very difficult to introduce a large number of characters in this kind of movie and give every one of them their due, so the plot focuses on a handful of them. We do get introduced to most of them in a strange compilation of montages framed by Waller narrating exposition over dinner. Though it is serviceable, there had to be a better way to introduced the characters.
When the story finally gets moving, Deadshot (Will Smith) is one of characters who gets the spotlight and he is shown to be a highly skilled assassin with a deadly aim and efficient with any number of guns. He loves killing almost as much as he loves getting paid for it, but he also loves his daughter and wants to be with her. He also has a strict code about not killing women or children.
Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) is a decorated soldier recruited by Waller to lead the Task Force X on the field and make sure they play by her rules. He sees every one of them as scum without any redeeming quality, but after fighting alongside them a mutual respect is developed, specially with Deadshot, even if they stand on opposite sides of the law, and this is character wise the best thing about the movie.
Flagg himself might not be a sentenced criminal but Waller still has the key to his heart in the form of Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist that has become possessed by an ancient evil force known as the Enchantress. Unknown to them it was Waller who paired them up in the hopes they developed a relationship that might help her control both of them.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is another character that fell in love with the wrong person. A former psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum she became obsessed with the Joker (Jared Leto), helped him escape and despite being used and rejected she continued stalking him until she got him to be with her. It’s a pity the movie doesn’t give more focus to this unhealthy relationship, but it is suggested that beneath the madness Harley still dreams of a normal life, kids and all. Hopefully this is something that could be fully explored in another movie.
The only other character in the team that gets some development is Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former gang member with the power to create and control fire. After his inability to control his rage caused him to kill his wife and kids, he decided to live the rest of his days in solitude and peace. He’s thrown against his will into the team and after spending time with this group of damaged people who walk outside the light he develops a bond with them, and in the end chooses to sacrifices for this new “family”.
The rest of the team is not given nearly enough to do. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) suffers from a genetic abnormality that has given him a reptilian appearance and cannibalistic tendencies. All his life he’s been seen and treated like a monster so he acted accordingly. Meanwhile Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is a skilled thief without honor and with a strange fetish for a pink stuffed elephant. He’s mostly just comic relief but I’m surprised at just how likable Courtney is in the role, and I generally don’t like him in, well, anything.
Katana (Karen Fukuhara) gets the short end of the stick in all of this. We’re told she’s a skilled warrior that carries the soul of his deceased husband in her sword, but that’s pretty much it, and with her not being a criminal at all it’s hard to see the point in her inclusion. Finally Adam Beach gets a cameo appearance as Slipknot and in a nod to the comics is quickly dispatched to probe the point that Waller is not kidding about the implanted explosives.
This motley crew is thrown into battle when Enchantress decides to bail on Waller and along with her brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) starts wreaking havoc on Midway City, its apparent goal to create a machine that would make people fear and worship her again. Meanwhile the Joker is moving forward with his own plan to set Harley free.
The filmmakers’ decision to make Enchantress the main villain of the movie it’s puzzling when, outside of Diablo, nobody in the team has supernatural powers to stand against her. In fact, reflecting on the movie Ayer himself acknowledged that he should have made the Joker the main villain instead. To be fair, within the movie the team is simply tasked with retrieving one unknown subject (later revealed to be Waller herself) from the city under attack. The decision to finally face off Enchantress comes after they bonded with each other and are willing to help Flagg save June. Still it begs the question of what was Waller’s plan to defeat the Enchantress.
Going back to the Joker, apparently a lot of his scenes were cut from the movie, with some of them focusing more on his abusive relationship with Harley. But since the studio was pushing for a lighter tone they had to be dropped. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed Leto’s take on the character and he deserved to be more than a subplot. Like almost everything else in this movie, the potential was there for something great but we only get glimpses of it.
Another major criticism I have is the uneven tone and editing, specially in the first half of the film where you’re not sure what they’re aiming for. At times the movie is serious and then it tries to be fun, and it is a jarring change in tone, sometimes from shot to shot, only made worse by the constant use of songs in the background. Thankfully the movie finds its foot in the latter half, the tone gets a little more serious, the editing is a lot less frantic and the score takes over the songs.
Speaking of the music, Steven Price, who previously collaborated with Ayer in Fury, wrote a magnificent score full of thematic ideas that give a lot more weight to the action and drama than the script allows. The Squad itself gets a theme that appropriately doesn’t go full fanfare but still shows this team is capable of heroic things. Deadshot, Diablo and Harley get more dramatic themes to represent their different, sometimes tragic struggles, while Enchantress gets more mysterious and menacing choral-infused music. There’s also a pair of love themes for Flagg and June, and Harley and the Joker. Finally the Clown himself gets an energetic motif that I would very much like to hear again in the future.
An extended version of the movie was released on home video, but unlike Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the additions don’t really improve the experience in any way since all we get are a few extra character bits, and more specifically a new scene of Harley chasing down the Joker in an attempt to win his affection. One has to wonder just how the movie changed after the reshoots took place and what Ayer was going for. On both versions an unnecessary mid-credits scene is added featuring Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Waller. It adds nothing to the movie and we already know Bruce is looking to recruit some metahumans.
Contrary to what many believe I do not think Suicide Squad is a terrible movie, in fact I think it’s quite enjoyable. I actually got chills when Diablo sacrificed himself, and when the team worked together to defeat Enchantress. Its biggest crime it’s not realizing its full potential. Ayer’s own Sabotage centered on a team of corrupt DEA agents, and it provided a better and nastier look at a group of questionable characters, and that is an approach Suicide Squad cool have benefited a lot from.
Still, Suicide Squad is raised above its flaws and unfulfilled potential by having great action, and a group of likable character played by great actors. Having established the characters there’s room to grow. Unfortunately with Ayer leaving to make another DC movie, it’s hard to think any potential sequel could embrace the elements under the surface and become more than a soulless sequel, but one can still hope.