The bar wasn’t exactly set that high was it?
The DCEU has been a mess so far. The trailers for Man of Steel are perhaps some of the best constructed pieces of marketing I’ve ever seen that filled me with hope and joy because I thought they got it and the movie is such a gross misunderstanding of its title character in nearly every capacity. The only movie that gets the character of Superman more wrong is its follow up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s horrifyingly impressive.
This was more or less the consensus for most rational people that understand basic story and plot mechanics, how editing works, what character motivations are, and how a shared cinematic universe can be built properly with a thought out plan instead of skipping ahead in clammy sweating desperation to play catch up. The exception is the die hard devoted fans that will love any and all of these movies no matter what. What they don’t realize is that if they truly loved these characters and this universe they would expect more and demand and encourage it instead of accepting what is given to them. Not every meal is perfect. Sometimes the steak is undercooked and you have to send it back to the kitchen and ask them to please try again. There’s nothing wrong for wanting good service, but there is something inherently wrong with accepting things that are not good.
So where does Suicide Squad fall in all of this?
I actually sort of dug it. It’s weird in all the ways and I appreciated that it did its own thing and didn’t fear getting into some extreme magical weirdness in the midst of bullet shells and tattoos. Like, SO many tattoos. The movie takes place in the wake of Superman’s death and this has left a hole in the world’s defenses. Enter Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who runs a secret branch of the government known as ARGUS. Her idea is to take superpowered metahuman prisoners (and a couple of others that just have some human skills) and make them into a secret squad that takes on threats that are most likely going to get them killed, thus our Suicide Squad title is earned. In exchange for their services they will get their sentences reduced and if they run their heads will explode. That’s the basic premise and it’s a mess of an idea of course, one that’s such a bad idea that the main threat that the Squad has to take down is actually one of their own who is a 6000 year old demon witch called Enchantress who has taken possession of a human host. She is able to free her fellow demon brother, Incubus and they’re mad because people don’t give a shit about gods anymore and now worship machines (which is almost verbatim what she says to him) so of course they create a magical portal that looks like the one in Man of Steel and The Avengers in its lack of originality that I guess is supposed to wreck stuff all over the world and kill people. They also turn people into these super dark charcoal looking demon foot soldiers that will freak you out if you have trypophobia, but fortunately (I guess?) you can’t clearly see them more than once or twice because all of their scenes are at night in dark alleys and inside shadowy buildings.
The movie opens and immediately goes for broke not waiting to give you those cameos you’ve basically already seen in trailers with the exception of one that’s so quick that you’d miss it in a flash if you took a sip of your $12 soda. The Joker isn’t held back for the third act and he’s not in this for just a couple of scenes either. He’s not with the Squad, but he’s used adequately. More on him in a minute… The Squad, well the important ones at least, get backstories explaining what their deals are and then later a few others literally hop out of helicopters and onto them with about a five second introduction (that is later fleshed out for them, er, one of them later in the film in a way that’s organic as possible).
The structure of Suicide Squad is odd. This could be due to the massive reshoots Warner Brothers did after the reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which you can witness here. Audiences grew tired of the constant grimdark and when they saw the trailer to Suicide Squad the thing that everyone loved the most was the humor. Which was apparently most of it in the movie at that point condensed into those two minutes so somewhere between the $10-$20 million range was spent to add more of that. Was it worth it? I laughed, man. It’s bizarre humor that’s often dark and thanks to a diverse and talented cast that delivers it well with timing and facial reactions to back up the jokes I think it may be worth it. Especially if you really needed to add $20 million worth of humor into it. I mean, SHIT. The only thing I can think of Suicide Squad being without that humor is one of director David Ayer’s previous movies, Sabotage. And that is one of the most cruel and not fun things I can remember watching in the last few years. Big fan of End of Watch though!
At the halfway point the movie feels as if it’s reached it’s climax, but it hasn’t. There’s a few places where it has some sequences that feel like a last battle or a place for a cliffhanger to land which thankfully Suicide Squad avoids but leaves the cell doors unlocked and open for. Does it meander a bit? Sure, but new character developments and murky plot revelations carry you through those bits. When we do get to the climax it is 100% full on magical and bizarre in a way we haven’t seen in our modern landscape of superhero films and I liked that. I mean, there’s a gyrating demon witch. You gotta just love that or hate it I suppose.
The cast really brings this together though. There’s no particular action sequence that I can recall that really had me overly excited. I seriously can’t remember one that stuck out in any way at all. But smaller moments like Deadshot on the shooting range, or the team putting on their outfits, or Waller demonstrating the powers and benefits Enchantress could bring to them were more than enough to suffice. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn gets the most laughs because she has the most jokes and radiates fun throughout the film being integral to the vibe. Without her this movie would be a very dour affair. She is genuinely good and entertaining despite her Brooklyn’ish accent fading in and out and obviously an absolute vision to look at (who’s known to be quite vexing) and if you weren’t sure of that the camera will force you to notice. Will Smith does have the best line near the end of the film though and also brings the emotion to his character that most of the others don’t really hit with the exception of Jay Hernandez’s, El Diablo. His character has a tortured past and he sells his regret in his eyes without having an overabundance of scenes. Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang is underutilized, but manages to get a couple decent moments that probably eclipse his entire body of work to date. The only character that I really felt wasn’t used well was Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s, Killer Croc (that BET joke…) but you can see where he could have been. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is perfection, embodying her character the most accurately out of any actor in the DCUE so far showing how dangerous and ruthless she can be. But that’s not what you really want to know about is it?
Jared Leto’s performance as The Joker…
What’s great about every actor that’s portrayed the the Clown Prince of Crime is how they’ve put their own twist on it. Nothing can top Ledger, so let’s just move on from that for this review. Leto is playing him more as a gangster with a hint of pimp than any other performance I’ve seen. Despite the crazy tattoos and grilled teeth he comes off more like a modern day Scarface that sells ecstasy laced with acid and Drano in Miami night clubs. He’s also strangely the most ‘normal’ and ‘caring’ Joker we’ve had in comparison. His entire motivation for the whole movie is getting Harley Quinn back. It’s kind of sweet. It also doesn’t affect the plot in any way at all and that’s unfortunate. He should be threatening and throwing the Squad off of their mission to rescue (?) and then stop Enchantress and her brother and their magic wrecking stuff portal. What’s even more insane is that Leto apparently sent his co-stars used condoms and dead pigs and other such ‘gags’ to stay in character and this son of a bitch doesn’t even share ONE SCENE with anyone besides Margot Robbie. That is INSANE. Genuinely. I’m not sure where he will take his performance as The Joker in future movies. It was hard to really fully get what he was going for here, but I didn’t instantly hate him like I did Lex Luthor in BvS. That said, I’m having a hard time seeing him and Ben Affleck’s version of Batman going toe-to-toe.
There’s a mid-credits scene that’s rather well done too. I will not divulge those details, but I may have mouthed a quiet and reserved, “Hell yeah.” after it ended in anticipation. Overall I liked Suicide Squad, but when compared to the other two DCEU movies I really liked it, but mainly just kinda liked it. I’d watch it again and I haven’t wanted to do that with those other two ever. It has a ton of issues, but the performances, the weirdness, and the universe building feels more natural that it has before. This is the transition movie in between the changes that Warner Brothers has made for their DC movies. Looks like I’m going to be in the positive minority for the first movie review that we publish here at Inside Pop Culture, but that’s what makes this whole industry so interesting, right?
Where do you land on this? Where would you rank it in the three DCEU movies we’ve had and how bizarre is it that this is the third movie in this extended shared universe (it wasn’t planned to be that way originally)? We’d love to welcome the thoughts that are rattling around inside your heads about this in the comments below.