Warner Brothers has been struggling to launch the DC Film Universe for some time now. Man of Steel was a solid movie yet drew a mixed reaction from critics and audiences. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had great moments while suffering from an overstuffed plot and editing issues. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is now facing negative reviews from critics, but audiences are enthusiastically responding to the film.
It begs the question: what’s wrong with this picture?
Six months after Dawn of Justice, the American government is looking to create a special operations team. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes the idea of recruiting criminals from Belle Reve Penitentiary to form Task Force X. In exchange for their services, the felons will receive special privileges and lighter prison sentences. Despite the government’s reservations, Waller is able to get her team assembled with the help of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).
Among the recruits is Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton (Will Smith), a skilled assassin who wants to look after his daughter. Former psychologist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is locked up after going on a crime spree with The Joker (Jared Leto). Australian criminal Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is cooling his heels after a botched bank robbery. Chato “El Diablo” Santana (Jay Hernandez) is struggling with his fire-conjuring powers, because he doesn’t want to hurt people. Meanwhile, mutated strongman Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) continues to antagonize and terrify the guards. Finally, Slipknot (Adam Beach) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) round out the team.
The squad has detonators placed inside their necks to ensure cooperation. As Flag explains, these will explode if they fail, rebel or attempt an escape. Even trying to annoy him will result in an explosion, something which Lawton and Quinn proceed to do on a regular basis.
The team’s mission is to stop the demonic Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) from destroying Midway City. Her plan is to kill all humans in revenge for her imprisonment. Further complicating things is the fact that Enchantress is linked to June Moone, who is Flag’s girlfriend.
The cast works well onscreen together, and their chemistry is strong. Smith does a good job playing Deadshot as a real badass, but he is able to show vulnerability and weariness. Robbie’s Harley Quinn is playful, sinister and over-the top hilarious. Her banter with Smith is one of the movie’s highlights. Davis plays Waller as a strong-willed, assertive woman who’s not afraid to get the results she wants. Jared Leto’s Joker is creepy and unsettling to watch, but he isn’t in the film as much as the marketing campaign suggests.
Kinnaman does fine as Flag, but he serves as little more than Waller’s second-in-command and field leader. Delevigne gets to play the dual roles of Enchantress and June, yet her relationship with Flag isn’t explored much. Hernandez and Courtney both do a good job in providing comic relief.
Suicide Squad‘s biggest problem is with pacing and flow. Sure, the introduction of the team members is visually compelling, but it feels rushed to get everyone ready to go. Juggling many characters can be tricky, and this is where the movie falters. Diablo is an intriguing criminal, but his powers make him seem like a less powerful Human Torch. Similarly, Croc and Katana get the short of end of the stick. Furthermore, Slipknot dies as quickly as he arrives onscreen.
The movie’s tone is also uneven. While there are dark, edgy moments, several more are punctuated with witty one-liners and pop culture references. Many scenes are scored to various pop, rock and rap tracks from the 70s to present day. Some choices are really good like “Seven Nation Army” and “Gangsta”, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “You Don’t Own Me” feel heavy-handed. However, DC fans should be pleased with the various comic references in the film, such as Harley’s red-and-black jester costume and calling her lover “Mr. J” and “Puddin”.
Another one of the movie’s flaws is the role that Leto’s Joker plays in the story. He’s clearly evil, yet the editing gives him very little to work with. Joker has a small presence in the first act, but he disappears for a large portion of the story. Reports suggest most of Leto’s scenes got cut from the running time, which makes it perplexing. Why bother including Joker if you don’t plan to flesh him out?
Suicide Squad is a sight to behold. True, it does have a great cast and cool visuals, but the editing is uneven. Ayer tries to cram in characters with little time to develop them. Had he made an effort, it could have been much better.