It’s no secret by now that DC Entertainment has developed a track record of releasing highly divisive pictures under its banner. Starting with “Man of Steel” (2013) and continuing with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), DC has began to build its stable on the heels of its biggest feature attractions; Superman, Batman, and to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman (trailer at the end of this article). Despite the box office draw of Batman (coming off the highly successful Christopher Nolan trilogy), though, and the appeal that is corn-fed Clark Kent, DC’s opening salvos into the contested comic book movie genre have been critical duds. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I am a giant fan of both. “Man of Steel,” from its very first trailer (seen below), had me hooked (the Russell Crowe voice over, the way you can’t even tell it’s a Superman trailer until Zack Snyder’s name pops up on the screen; it’s the perfect setup for what a Superman movie should be). DC continued that universe with BvS, regardless of whether of not “Man of Steel” was ever even intended to be a universe starting picture or not (more on that later). BvS introduced a new, older, veteran Batman to this universe that is tired of criminals shit and is willing to go to whatever length necessary to stop it. Highly influenced by several high profile DC Comics event runs, it should have been a hit (and it was… you know, just for me and a few select others).
So what exactly has gone wrong? While hard to pinpoint, speculation is easy. Zack Snyder’s direction has been a point of contention, as well as casting decisions, storyline and scripting, editing, and Warner Brothers interference. That brings me to “Suicide Squad,” the newest entry into the DC Entertainment Cinematic Universe that released on August 5th.
It would be next to impossible to start this review in earnest without mentioning the incredible amount of negative attention that this film has received, even before the general public had seen the film. Critical reviews (see Rotten Tomatoes) have been overwhelmingly poor and the usual suspects have been out sounding off on how bad the film is. This has created a harsh battleground between pro-DC faithful and Marvel backers, critics, and review aggregate sites, like Rotten Tomatoes. Having seen “Suicide Squad” now… They aren’t entirely wrong. My single biggest issue with the film, which is arguably the BIGGEST issue period with the film, is that it may be the most poorly edited film I’ve ever seen. There is simply very little logical flow to the film. Without entering spoiler territory, there is a sequence about 5/8 of the way through the film that has the Squad entering a federal building. Directly before this scene is a serious clip of Will Smith’s Deadshot, preceded by a jokey scene of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn “window-shopping,” preceded by a serious scene with the film’s villain establishing part of their plot. Oh, and the scene entering the villain is followed by two jokey scenes with Deadshot and Harley, then more action, then a serious scene. This is the general flow of the movie; scenes like this occur all within minutes and there are no smooth transitions, things just happen, jarringly at times, and you’re along for the ride. It’s like an old school wooden roller-coaster and you’ve previously had a neck injury.
A secondary issue, and this may just be me, is relating to Jared Leto’s Joker. Inevitably, every conversation I have had about “Suicide Squad,” save one or two, has devolved into some form of discussion about who the best Joker is. We all know the usual suspects; Heath Ledger in the Nolan-verse, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s take, and Mark Hamill in “Batman: The Animated Series” (lest we forget Cesar Romero in Batman 66′). I am in the extreme minority on this issue but I loved Leto’s take on “The Clown Prince of Crime.” As I have mentioned to others, this is the Joker I have been waiting to see on screen. I realize the brilliance of Ledger’s performance, at times it bordered on mesmerizing, but he wasn’t The Joker. Ditto for Jack Nicholson who, while he was fun in the film, was essentially just playing Jack in face paint in Tim Burton’s interpretation of Batman’s world (which isn’t much like Batman itself). And while Mark Hamill certainly embodies a voice appropriately for The Joker, playing a character on screen where every emote is captured for all time is a completely different ballgame. This is the closest I’ve seen to a comic book take on The Joker. He’s sinister, appropriately psychotic, and holds court differently. He’s not a raving anarchist, or a mafioso, he’s a lunatic. That’s The Joker to me. Too many people are getting caught up in their opinions on people with tattoos and are quick to label the character as a “thug,” the infinitely more hilarious “juggalo,” or a “hot topic scene kid” (something also attributed to Heath Ledger upon first look at his take on the clown), instantly removing any credibility they had. Once you get beyond the tattoos, and the gang mentality behind the character, this is a character more influenced by the comic roots behind it than any other film take on the character yet.
All of that said, getting to the issue I mentioned, The Joker is barely in “Suicide Squad.” Estimates range anywhere from between 7 and 10 minutes of total screen time in a film around 2 hours long. The character, and Leto’s performance, captured the screen for me every time he was on it, so when he disappeared for the second half of the film, it became distracting when I kept expecting him to reappear every other scene. Instead, nothing was ever explained and I just kept wanting more. It should be mentioned though that this is NOT The Joker’s movie. He is just a side character and the movie could have existed in its current state even if they removed him completely from the film (and if you believe the rumors, they already removed 50% of what Leto shot for the film).
What did I like though? Pretty much everything else. The casting was spot on for the movie (see the individual character trailers above). With ensemble casts like these, often a few roles seem to slip through the cracks and manage to miss the mark. In this film it didn’t feel that way. The two main characters of the film are Deadshot (Smith) and Harley Quinn (Robbie) and they are developed quite well through in more in depth back story. The side characters, namely Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), all tend to be more fascinating on occasion, have less developed back stories, and had performances so good that they left me wanting A LOT more of them. Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag originally had me worried (based on different factors) but both performed their roles well for what they called for and should make solid additions to the extended universe. Sadly, it feels as if Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) were added mostly to fulfill storyline facets, not to be parts of the film and Squad itself. Even these characters though, for as much as they felt tacked on, were cast well and felt fleshed out. Also of particularly good note, the cameos in the film were well done and should please fans of the DC Cinematic Universe. Make sure you stay through the credits!
It is somewhat hard to make a judgement call on the story of the film because the editing made so much of a mess out of it. What I will say is that the threat of the film felt credible enough to need the cast of criminals that were called upon to save the day. It is an A-level threat that the Justice League themselves may be called upon to face… you know, if they had been formed yet. While the actions, or inaction as it were, of the threat itself is questionable, it felt big enough to require a team effort to stop it.
In general, I would count myself among those who highly enjoyed “Suicide Squad.” Is it a perfect film by any means? No, it really isn’t. There are certain issues that WB MUST work on moving forward before they can be taken seriously by the general public to avoid the negative reviews they continually see for their films. Judging by the following trailer for “Wonder Woman” (2017), it seems like they are on the right track:
If I can try to impart anything it’s to see the movie yourself, don’t trust the word of a critic, or a friend who shits on the movie but won’t even make their voice heard with their dollars. Form your own opinion and then, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.