DC Comics’ film franchise is a mess. That was clear when “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was released earlier this year. The two-and-a-half-hour slog was held back by too many unnecessary narratives, choppy editing and garbage writing. Its ambitions were too lofty for its own good, and it made for one of the least fun — or even entertaining — comic book movies thus far.
Even though “Batman v Superman” didn’t leave much hope for “Justice League” and beyond, “Suicide Squad” seemed like it would be immune to the larger issues plaguing the so-called DC Extended Universe. Here’s a film that isn’t concerned with setting up six other movies, instead bringing its own unique story to the silver screen. Or so people thought.
“Suicide Squad” follows the titular group of villains from the DC comic universe corralled into working for America by shady government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). The big two are Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker’s former psychiatrist and current fling, and Deadshot (Will Smith), touted as the world’s greatest assassin.
Filling out the rest of the squad is Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an actual crocodile person, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian jewel thief, and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gang member that can control fire. They’re led in the field by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a generic special ops type.
If it seems like there’s a lot of characters to follow, that’s because there is. There are even more that aren’t mentioned above because they aren’t essential to know, but this is perhaps the biggest issue of “Suicide Squad.”
It wants to introduce so many new characters, but it barely gives any of them enough time for characterization. Harley and Deadshot get the most backstory, but even that is a maximum of 10 minutes each. Diablo gets exactly one scene exploring his character, though it is one of the best parts of the movie. Any other characterization is heavy-handed exposition where one person out right tells the audience what they need to know about another character. It’s surprising to see something so basic messed up in a massive studio blockbuster, especially one like this that stresses its characters’ importance.
Despite their mostly paper-thin writing, the antiheroes at the core of “Suicide Squad” are the best part. When the film stands back and lets the five members do their thing, it shines. Their chemistry is genuine and entertaining. Unfortunately, this rarely happens during the movie’s two-hour run time.
This only scratches the surface of the slew of issues facing “Suicide Squad.” Like “Batman v Superman,” this movie suffers from terrible editing and pacing. Initial character introductions are sloppily chopped together at the beginning, and flashbacks litter the first half — removed from the rest of the movie, the first half is just awful. It’s nearly an hour before we get to see the squad in action, and the set-up is messy and rushed.
The most perplexing aspect of this movie is the inclusion of the Joker, portrayed by Jared Leto. For such an iconic, timeless character, the Joker feels pointless here. Besides his role in Harley’s backstory, the time dedicated to him is sorely needed elsewhere, like, for example, developing Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, a surprisingly funny performance. It doesn’t help that Leto’s take on the Joker is underwhelming and, frankly, boring. It’s over-the-top without being scary or intimidating.
“Suicide Squad” should have been a stand-alone film, but it also shouldn’t have existed this early in the franchise. DC wants something like “The Avengers” or “Guardians of the Galaxy,” an ensemble team story, but they don’t want to put in the work like Marvel did. Attempting to introduce and develop this many characters in such a short time span simply isn’t possible, and it hurts the movie.
Additionally, there are serious issues with the film’s treatment of women. The sexualization of Harley doesn’t stop at her skimpy shorts that seem to get shorter as the movie goes on. At one point in the climax, there’s a shot framed between Harley’s legs and butt. It’s grossly blatant, and it feels weird that the film repeatedly reduces her to a sex object. Besides Waller, women are used throughout the film as hostages, subjects of violence or the punchline of a joke.
It all hurts to watch so much because there are bursts of a really great movie beneath all the trash. The scene from the trailers where the squad is sharing a drink in a bar is the best in the film. It lets these characters — whose performers are all phenomenal — shine, and that’s what works. For something marketed as a fun, comedic take on comic book films, “Suicide Squad” is lacking in both. What it could have been sadly wasn’t what it ended up being.