Bear with me here…
Way back in 1967 director Robert Aldrich assembled a large, powerhouse cast including Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, and John Cassavetes, and made what many consider one of the best “anti-hero” war films, The Dirty Dozen.
The story? A group of volatile criminals are recruited for a top secret mission behind enemy lines. They are considered expendable because of their history -some commited crimes which may cost them their life anyway- and the mission they’re being tasked to do has a very low probability of survival.
If you’ve seen Suicide Squad, you’re already seeing the similarities, no?
When writer John Ostrander wrote the first “new” Suicide Squad story back in 1987 and for DC comics, he was clearly inspired by the above film. Because he was writing for a comic book universe, the “ordinary” criminals brought together were instead turned into super-villains. Their missions were dangerous and could well get them killed. The series proved a moderate success and, as with many comics, there were good stories to be found along with the bad but, as far as I know, Suicide Squad was never much more than a cult -or perhaps a little better- hit.
With the financial success of comic book movies of late, it came as little shock DC/Warners would eventually try their hand at creating a “shared” movie universe not unlike that found in the thus far very successful Marvel films.
After the “self-contained” Christopher Nolan Batman films were complete, DC/Warners began the process of making their version of a shared universe. They started this with 2013’s Man of Steel, director Zach Snyder’s first crack at Superman, and followed it up with this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS from now on) and, of course, Suicide Squad.
Given what I thought was the cult nature of Suicide Squad and so many more interesting properties DC had at their disposal, it seemed odd to me this one was chosen. Some have speculated the movie was meant to be DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any for green-lighting the project.
Despite some ambivalence regarding the logic of pursuing this particular project, I will readily admit the first official trailer to the film blew me away:
So summer (almost) arrives and BvS is released…to significant controversy. While the theatrical cut of this film did the movie no favors (see the Ultimate Cut) and was hated by most critics and engendered some incredible bile from average moviegoers…the movie nonetheless went on to be a box-office behemoth.
If you’ve been following my thoughts on this blog, you know I found the Ultimate Cut of BvS an ambitious, fascinating -though flawed (the Batman/Apocalypse dream should have been left on the cutting room floor)- work, one that once all the hysteria dies down I suspect will be re-evaluated and, IMHO, eventually viewed as one of the better comic book films ever made.
I could be wrong, but that’s my opinion.
Anyway, history sure did appear to repeat itself once Suicide Squad was finally released (Read my thoughts on that here). You had the critics savaging the film (it, like BvS, scored a pathetic 27% positive among them) and yet audiences liked it far more (BvS and Suicide Squad are viewed positively by approximately 70% of audiences). Further, as with BvS, there appear to be those in the media and disgruntled fans alike that were so baffled and/or bothered by these films’ box-office success that they’re intent on proving the incredible amount of money each has made/is making is really a sign of how unsuccessful the film is (Suicide Squad has made record amounts of money for an August release and even in its second week is performing well -it’s still #1 at the box office- yet some headlines make it sound like the film is a complete washout).
So, given the similar roll outs of both films and my love of BvS, would it follow that I’d feel the same about Suicide Squad?
The short answer is “No,”
While BvS was an ambitious work that carefully took on and deconstructed the superhero genre, Suicide Squad is clearly meant to be a “popcorn” film, an enjoyable romp that doesn’t aspire to terribly high cinematic goals. In effect, this movie’s goal is to be an enjoyable/exciting summer action film and not a whole lot more.
Does it succeed on that account?
Here, its a little more difficult to provide a “short” answer.
While watching Suicide Squad, I found the first few minutes confusing and, frankly, not all that great. Sometime shortly after the credits rolled, the film found its grove and was, for the most part, enjoyable to watch if waaay too dark. And when I say “dark” I’m not talking about the story: I’m saying the director should have brought in more lights. The damn film looks like it was shot in a cave with a flashlight.
Despite the murky look, the movie moved along nicely and was aided immensely by the charisma of its large cast. Will Smith is fine as Deadshot, even if he’s not stretching particularly hard. Margot Robbie is quite good in the film’s splashiest role, that of the Harley Quinn, the Joker’s whacked-out girlfriend. Viola Davis is fine as the steely Amanda Waller, the government agent behind the forming of the Squad. Jai Courtney was also highly amusing as Captain Boomerang even though his character was ultimately irrelevant and unnecessary in the film (see video presented below).
Others may disagree, but I also enjoyed Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg and Cara Delevingne as June Moone/Enchantress. It was their story that wound up grounding the film and, though I didn’t expect it, provided an interesting and satisfying resolution (I don’t want to give away too many spoilers here regarding it, but I’ll just say I’m a softie for matters of the heart and leave it at that).
Of note too was Jaret Leto as the Joker. I thought he wasn’t bad taking on the role but neither, IMHO, was his performance all that memorable. Unfortunately for Mr. Leto, he’s given something like five total minutes of screen time to take on a role made memorable by heavy hitters like Jack Nicholson and, of course, Heath Ledger. And those actors had a hell of a lot more screen time to deliver their work. So at this point I’m willing to give Mr. Leto a pass and wait to see what he does if given more screen time. Maybe he’ll get that chance in the next Batman film?
I’ve beaten around the bush long enough: What of the film itself?
Here’s the thing: After that rocky start, I enjoyed myself. For the most part. However, let’s not kid each other: The film was a mess.
Anyone who has read anything about the behind the scenes of the film knows a) Director/writer David Ayer had to bang this out very quickly and b) the critical bile directed at BvS appears to have caused the people at DC/Warner’s to OK even more hasty re-shoots. Word is that once the film neared release, two “cuts” were created, a more serious in tone one by Mr. Ayer and another, lighter in tone version created by the same people who made the movie’s memorable trailers. In the end a “compromise” cut was created between the two and this was what was released to theaters.
Unfortunately, the end result is a film that very much feels like a compromise between two different visions. Early on there are too many scenes presented with music much as they were in the trailer and while it may work wonderfully there, doing it over and over again in the film itself got annoying. Worse still, some of the lesser characters get shorted badly, perhaps in favor of providing higher level cameos (Batman and Flash). While I enjoyed seeing these bigger heroes appear in this movie, they didn’t really need to be there.
As for the story, this is where the film failed the most. As a writer, I firmly believe the success of any film lies in having a strong story behind it. In the case of Suicide Squad I’m reminded of my feelings for films such as Skyfall and Star Trek: Into Darkness. While watching both films I enjoyed them but the moment they were over and I thought about what I just saw I realized the story made absolutely no sense at all. This too is the case with Suicide Squad and one has to blame Mr. Ayer for that, whether he was rushed or not.
So here’s the bottom line: Flawed as Suicide Squad was -and there are significant flaws in the film- I nonetheless for the most part enjoyed myself. Having said that, its impossible for me to recommend the film.
If you’re anything like me, you will be thrilled to see Harley Quinn, the Joker, Ben Affleck’s Batman, Flash (for all of 3 seconds), Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, the Enchantress, Katana, and, yes, Rick Flagg on the big screen and being played by flesh and blood actors. You’ll probably also “go with the flow” and enjoy the film for what it is. However, I know there will be those who will think back to what they’ve seen and find that the proverbial “bridge too far”.
In the end, DC/Warners has done well, financially, with their two 2016 comic book releases. While I feel BvS was damn good, I feel Suicide Squad can only be qualified as decent at best. Hopefully the powers that be learn from their mistakes and sharpen their next product(s), especially if they involve these characters.
For those who have seen the film and liked it to those who hated, hated, hated it, this video posted on YouTube by Jenny Nicholson IMHO hilariously skewers the plot…or lack thereof of Suicide Squad.
Beware, SPOILERS a-plenty: