I finally saw David Ayer’s Suicide Squad this week and… it was pretty meh. I had hoped that it would be better than Batman vs Superman but it seemed to make a lot of the same errors and didn’t really add anything to the universe that has been established. As someone who loves villains and backstory, this should have been the perfect film for me. It was a disappointment.
I’ll go over the (few) positives and (many) negatives in a bit but first let’s summarise the plot. Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) persuades the government to let her recruit a secret team of messed up bad guys to be used as weapons/warriors in secret missions. Her reasoning is along the lines of ‘well everyone else is doing it’ and ‘what if Superman was bad?’. Wasn’t the latter point covered in a BVS? Not well enough for the DC movies apparently! One of her recruits is the Enchantress, an ancient witch who is not amused at her capture. Rather predictably, when sent on a mission with just herself and the very human soldier lover, Flag, Enchantress escapes and gets her brother to help her work on destroying the world. Waller then sends the rest of the Suicide Squad in to fix everything. Cue over-long action sequences, clunky flashbacks, and not any further plot. Oh! And the Joker pisses about like a love-struck gangster in the background.
So, being that my summary only really contains information from the first act, it’s clear that there are structural and plotting problems. Literally nothing of note really happens after the Squad get sent in. The film is fluffed out by spoken backstory, badly inserted flashbacks, and unsatisfying action sequences. There was so much going on that any plot that was there was covered by the mess and nothing felt glued together. If they’d done any of the above with any success then maybe I wouldn’t lament the lack of plot – BVS had too many plots smashed together and wasn’t easy to understand because of it – but everything was just… Not great. And if you’re not doing well in these areas then your plot needs to have more to it than bad guys turned heroes chase after bad witch who wants to destroy the world (who you can guess everything about, including whether she will win, the first time you see her).
Now I mentioned backstory problems and believe me when I say there were many. Not so much in the backstories given – having been created in the comic universe, these didn’t feel too problematic. No, the problem was the way that they were communicated. A good twenty minutes of the first act is devoted to explaining how bad the bad guys are and how they got caught. Five of those minutes was purely Harley Quinn. It was also all explained through the voiceover, completely breaking the show-don’t-tell rule in the most cringey way. Worse, this wasn’t even when Waller was trying to persuade the government to let her form the team, no, she was pitching to someone else. Clunky exposition and a false start? Did anyone actually edit this script? The forced exposition train continues throughout, constantly flashing back to pummel explanations of character motivations/their badness into the audience. Like, seriously, one of the guys talks out his entire backstory in a bar. Then, in case we didn’t get it, Harley tells the others that he killed his children and we flash to an image of him cuddling his kids. The film only needs one or the other and please, please choose the second! It at least fitted the characters as you had presented them and gives the audience a chance to interpret things. Have some faith in your audience!
The characters in the squad were well generally well acted. I do think the problems came from the script, editing, and directing and cannot fault the actors. Will Smith especially – he carried this film. However, I also feel that he got the most thought-out/well-written character. His Deadshot had some moral complexity and was given clear reasoning for his acceptance of Waller’s orders. He was lucky. Everybody else (bar Harley) pretty much felt like useless add ons and plot devices. Seriously, I still don’t know why a bunch of them were even there. Harley only counts as an exception because her overall arc was revolved around the Joker, giving her motivations and duplicity along with the best lines in the film.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn got SO. MANY. FLASHBACKS. I kind of feel that this was to either give the fanboys something to pant over or to push forward the Joker. But the story was lacking. Harley Quinn’s relationship with the Joker is supposed to be pretty dark and abusive. He’s manipulative and uses her. It was played out like a loving relationship. Why? Why back away from something that could have been so emotive? Well executed and it could have beaten anything Marvel has done so far. But they ran away from it, leaving the Joker as some love-sick puppy and Harley’s motivations muted. She was also unbearably annoying in the action sequences. Yeah, she got some good lines but she mostly seemed in the way. The only time she worked and still seemed true to character was the final moments with Enchantress. An interesting character, with such potential in her storyline, wasted.
The villains of the film are Waller and Enchantress, depending on how you look at the film, and they each have different problems. Waller is supposed to be some kind of manipulative super-genius but she makes a ridiculous amount of errors throughout the film. She underestimates pretty much everyone in the team and loses control very quickly. Enchantress outsmarts her before the end of the first act. Waller is just not a believable threat. Enchantress meanwhile is just… pretty boring. Her introduction was interesting and the initial animation is darkly beautiful but then it goes swiftly downhill from there. I just never cared about her. Then they made her switch to speak English and, I don’t know if they’d patched the audio wrong or what, it just reached into ‘just get this bitch off my screen’ territory. She was predictable and annoying – not what you want in a villain.
Even the tone of the film doesn’t quite work. It’s supposed to be zany and dark and all it really manages is… Grey. There’s no depth to the darkness and only fragments of humour. If they’d focused only on Deadshot’s storyline, with its duality and Will Smith’s one-liners, it might have worked but instead they try to focus on everything and just get this badly exposed mess. There’s not enough darkness, it’s too tame, and the humour is dampened by the rest of the film. It’s like they pitched Suicide Squad to be like Deadpool but then got caught up in making it like Batman VS Superman.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved some things about the film. It had an amazing soundtrack. The aesthetics in general were pretty good – I really liked the look of the film. But, like Batman vs Superman, it feels like they valued the look over everything else. Even the fight sequences, which had all the effects needed to make them look awesome, fell flat because of ridiculous pacing problems. Like, having Will Smith wind up a guy to try and get him to use his fire powers and having the guy finally be like, yeah, you want to see them? And then pause. And turn around. And breath in. And THEN have the fire. Makes it all kind of anti-climatic.
Suicide Squad could have been great but it just didn’t manage it. It’s all style over substance. As with Batman VS Superman, it’s being touted as a film for the fans, not the critics, but DC have to remember that they are trying to kick off a franchise. You can’t adapt something like the wider DC universe with the aim of creating a blockbuster and fail to do any of the set-up. If you want to attract new fans then you have to make it accessible. This means coherent plots, well-executed exposition, and actually making it clear why the characters are there. Watching Suicide Squad makes it clear that David Ayer is a huge, passionate fan of the source material. Unfortunately, he fails to get the balance right between showing everything about the world and creating a coherent, cohesive film. It could have been everything but is instead a whole lot of nothing.