A team of the most dangerous, iconic villains in the DC universe in one place teaming up to destroy a big bad evil, what could go wrong? A lot, is the regrettable answer to that and its a shame because there are glimmers of brilliance here. The first third in particular is well paced, designed and feels like a good fun film. Somewhere around the middle act, the film does a complete 180 and what we get is a bland, emotionless film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.
Part comedy, part drama, part DC universe building, Suicide Squad is forever living in the shadow of its Marvel counterpart that seems to effortlessly churn out good film after good film. The problem, it seems, stems from Warner Bros and DC’s intention of trying to play catch up with Marvel and falling at every hurdle. I use the analogy of someone arriving late to a party and drinking to try and “catch up”. Its messy, its incoherent and at worst, frustratingly annoying.
Suicide Squad should be a big deal. The comics were very well received and DC has arguably always had the darker storylines to justify its gritty realism on the big screen. Unlike Marvel’s colourful superheroes, DC has always prided itself on deep characterisation and fleshed out characters in a dark world grounded in realism. Its a cruel irony then that Suicide Squad does neither of these things, instead parading characters on screen that have little back story, paper thin characterisation and little chemistry with one another.
I’ve said it before that I feel DC should have rethought their model and slowed down after Batman VS Superman, even at the expense of, dare I say it, delaying Suicide Squad by a few years. Not only because it would benefit the characters but also the audience. Imagine The Avengers being released without the separate films beforehand, it almost feels ludicrous to do this and in many ways, DC has done just this.
As I mentioned, during the first third I found myself wondering exactly why critics had panned this movie so hard. A slick visual cue freezes each enemy upon meeting them for the first time, bleeding the background with a psychedelic medley of colour while the enemy name and their statistics flash up. The mood is light-hearted and bouncy. Queen crashes on the sound system. There’s some genuinely funny moments. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and we get a glimpse of Jared Leto’s Joker, but never enough to make a good enough judgment of whether he’s the real deal or not. Its a film intent on having fun at its own expense. “We’re bad guys, its what we do!” Harley Quinn reminds us at one point and we’re inclined to agree.
As the film moves beyond its playful opening to introduce the clumsy super-villain, it takes a turn for the worst. The mood changes drastically from fun to serious. It almost feels like two separate writing teams have spliced scripts together and then edited it in such a way to make it feel jarring and out of place. Joker (Jared Leto) shows up for tiny moments of the film despite a lengthy cameo in the trailers to suggest otherwise, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) take centre stage and the other enemies, including Killer Croc and Boomerang, are reduced to a few one liners. Its not even done in an ironic, “hey, it’s disjointed because the villains are” sort of way, it just feels…wrong.
Watching Suicide Squad has been one of the most frustrating experiences of this year. The foundations are there with some solid source material and it all feels so simple, if handled correctly. Pick a comic, tell a good story, build a fan-base. Rinse and repeat until you make good money to build up to one of these “special event” stories where we see all our characters in one film. Instead, we get a disjointed, confused film that doesn’t quite know who its market is and tries to cater to everyone whilst ignoring the fundamental thing that makes these films so appealing – good characters.