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In the weeks leading up to its release, Suicide Squad was looking to be a repeat of Bats v Supes. There were repeated reports of trouble behind the scenes, reshoots and reedits, as the trailers went from dour to paint factory explosion. People involved started talking against film reviewers, such as Cara Delevingne whom said not to listen to critics, they don't like superhero films. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 26% at time of writing(1). Some frankly insane fans started a petition to close that website, based mainly on that, before the film was even out. And all the while, the film was trending for a record breaking opening weekend and a sharp drop off. This is all despite an honestly interesting idea, and it being a genre first. Its the dirty dozen, but with super villains. Its DC's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. But is it any good?
Suicide Squad has quite blatantly been tampered with during production, not enough to ruin the experience, but they probably should have left it alone. Its a cake they took out the oven too soon, only for the cook to cut bits off, shove it back in, and cover it all in day-glo icing. There's still enough sugar sprinkles and chocolate chips to salvage the mess, but its not a top tier product. Suicide Squad is not as funny or as colourful as the trailers make it look. You've probably seen all the good jokes already, and I suspect the bad ones to be from the reshoots. Tone is inconsistent, never feeling quite natural, and frequently punctuated with popular pop music. The positives, such as they are, suggest a darker and more elegant Director's Cut. They've basically put LEDs and chrome rims on a hearse with this film, and then painted it pink. Key scenes seem to be missing, replaced with clunky exposition, while character motivations are a mess. Its a hard movie to make an emotional connection with, good or bad, and is therefore unsatisfying. Be it the studio, the editor, or the director, Suicide Squad shares so many flaws with Batman V Superman I don't blame anyone whom was bitterly disappointed by this film.
On a more specific level, I can't work out why Harley Quinn, and by extension The Joker, are in this film. I mean, obviously, they are there to draw in fans, but narratively it makes no sense. Harley is just a mortal woman with a baseball bat and a mental illness in this world, and yet she's on a team with a professional assassin, a man whom controls fire, and a sorceress. There's nothing she does the other squaddies don't do, and is an absolute liability at all times, so there's no narrative reason for her to be there(2). If this film had been about an attempt to capture The Joker or similar, then, yeah, she'd be on the team, but this isn't what the plot is. I'd also like to make the surprising, and somewhat worrying, complaint that they seem to have romanticised the relationship between the two. Something that was explicit in the cartoons that created her was that Harley was in an abusive relationship, her affection being largely one-sided and taken advantage of frequently. She is a battered wife, and therefore both sympathetic and somewhat blameless for her part in The Joker's horrific crimes. In this film, their relationship is much more even, and she ends up being much less likeable as a result. And to be honest, the scenes with both could have been excised from the film with little effect. This film is so fundamentally confused about its own existence, that Harley, or for that matter, everyone, lacks a coherent arc. The inevitable world building scenes are also a problem, Batman showing the same disregard for his secret identity as he does in the Justice League trailer.
Does Suicide Squad get anything right? Well, while its clearly not the single vision it should be, the film does end up being the better of DC's films this year, not that this is strictly saying much. Having little prior investment in a majority of the cast, I was less immediately hostile to their depictions than Zack Synder's wrong-headed approach to Superman. I also found Jared Leto's Joker to be less immediately irritating than initial reports suggested. Certain characters, like Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and Will Smith as Will Smith(3) honestly do shine. Margot Robbie is a star in the making. And throughout, there's the sense that there was a better movie in there, somewhere. Its a confused film, but unlike Synder's work, its more interesting than aggressively stupid.
Suicide Squad is not overtly terrible, but its close. Its also a fair distance from being good. There are many basic story telling flaws present, and while the film is interesting enough to distract from this, its not something that's going to do well in repeat viewing. If you are a diehard DC fan, you'll find something to like, but don't be daft and start criticising the critics. Its good for one watch, and maybe a Director's Cut. But it ain't Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Which means 26% of reviewers gave it a positive review, BTW. Not that it scored 26 out of 100.
- You can make similar arguments about Captain Boomerang, but he's an original member of the team from the comics, and a world-class bank robber. He's got as much reason to be there as anyone.
- Not a typo.