‘Suicide Squad’ Review | Natural Born Middlers
We’ve come a long way, baby, since superhero movies were mostly just middling action films with more emphasis on theatrics than characters. The genre seems eager now to explore what it really means to be a hero, and what the ramifications of that would be, and how these exploits might meaningfully reflect on real-life situations that matter to the audience.
And then something like Suicide Squad comes along and dinks that whole thing up. David Ayer’s film shoves a bunch of stock character types into a stock plot line and trudges towards a stock conclusion. The fundamental idea of the film is great – supervillains forced to do a good deed, Dirty Dozen-style – but it plays out generically, with our bad guys only allowed to express themselves in flashbacks, before getting shoved into a series of mediocre, choppy action sequences for the whole second half of the movie. Most of the cast barely talks to each other, and none of the characters seem to change over the course of the film, making the whole experience seem unnecessary and forgettable.
We meet the villains of Suicide Squad in the prologue. Then we meet them again as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) pitches the “Suicide Squad” idea to her bosses. Then we meet them all again as she pitches that idea to THEIR bosses. Then we meet them all again as Amanda Waller visits the villains in prison. Then we meet them all again as they are taken out of prison. Then we meet them all again as they suit up to go on their mission. Then we meet two new characters that the movie seemed to have forgotten to introduce until the last minute. It takes nearly an hour for the story to get started because Suicide Squad thinks we need three or four scenes of pure exposition just to get the general idea across that Will Smith is playing a hitman.
The squad consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Slipknot (Adam Beach), Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). They have to team up when Enchantress breaks out and opens a swirling knick-knack vortex of death over a major metropolitan area. She also breaks her evil brother out of his Russian nesting doll prison and together they turn helpless bystanders into faceless paste monsters. It’s the sort of vague and emotionally meaningless villain plot that we’ve seen before in bland and/or awful superhero movies like Thor: The Dark World and the latest Fantastic Four reboot, and Suicide Squad doesn’t do it any better.
The majority of the screen time goes to Will Smith, whose character is an assassin who doesn’t shoot women or children (which makes it okay apparently), and Margot Robbie, who is presented here as The Joker’s loyal minion. At one point, thanks to the power of magic, we see that Harley Quinn’s deepest desire is to be a 1950s housewife, married to The Joker, who has been cured of his psychotic tendencies. It’s hard not to interpret Harley Quinn’s portrayal in Suicide Squad as a serious regression for this character, putting a woman who has fought to build her own identity in the comics back into a subservient position and resisting every opportunity to give her a chance to grow out of it. Harley Quinn is obviously supposed to be Suicide Squad’s breakout character. How odd, then, that the movie seems so eager to keep her in a corner.
The Joker, played by Jared Leto as a more organized version of Alien from Spring Breakers, has a lot less to do with Suicide Squad than the marketing would have you believe. He’s a spoiler here, popping up in flashbacks to explain Harley Quinn’s backstory and then once again a little later, just to make Suicide Squad feel like a part of a larger universe instead of a completely isolated incident. His is a decent new interpretation of the character, but maybe Suicide Squad would have been more entertaining if The Joker had something to actually do instead of just popping in and out of the story like Tuxedo Mask in an old Sailor Moon episode.
Suicide Squad takes an interminable amount of time to get started, and once it starts, it lumbers. Even a great idea and a wonderful cast can’t fend off a serious case of the blahs. We don’t get to know most of these people, and when we do get to know them we usually find out that they’re less interesting than they should be. The action is meaningless and hard to see thanks to all the awkward editing and mirky cinematography. The jokes mostly fall flat. The bad guys (as in, the ones the other bad guys are trying to stop) come across like Power Rangers villains. We should be expecting more from our entertainment.
It’s not hard to watch Suicide Squad, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth watching. It would be nice to think that our collective standards are higher than this now. Sure, it’s better than Batman v Superman but that’s a backhanded compliment, and I mean it with a firm backhand. Suicide Squad feels 20 years behind the curve. If this movie had come out in the late 1990s, when its biggest superhero movie competition was uncomplicated action flicks like Batman Forever and Blade, it would have seemed like a breath of fresh air. Now it’s just stale.
Correction: This original review previously cited Thor: Ragnarok instead of Thor: The Dark World. We apologize for the error and the confusion.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.