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Wayback Wednesday: Suicide Squad (2016)

A criminal waste of potential. But at least we got an amazing Harley Quinn!

After their polarizing second movie, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) failed to impress, the DC Extended Universe really needed a hit to convince audiences that they were capable of creating a cinematic universe that could rival the one Marvel had built. Suicide Squad (2016) successfully built up fans’ expectations and audiences were ready to go wild over a movie that had the potential to be the goofy, high-octane adventure of lovable rogues that Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was for Marvel. Unfortunately for DC, they fumbled the bag with this one. Hard. So hard that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is rebooting the squad this Friday with his own movie for DC, The Suicide Squad (2021). Here’s hoping it’s more fun and coherent than the first attempt. 

Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

Based on the comic book team of the same name, Suicide Squad follows a group of imprisoned super villains who are recruited by Amanda Waller to carry out dangerous black ops missions in exchange for reduced sentences. When a powerful sorceress known as the Enchantress sets out to destroy the world, the squad is reluctantly called upon to save the day or die trying.

This is a somewhat easy review for me to write because believe me, my brother and I (both hardcore fans of all things DC) have heavily debated the highs and lows of this movie many, many times since its release. It’s a bummer that there are undoubtedly more lows than highs because we, and I’m sure a lot of DC fans, really wanted to love this movie. Even now, the most disappointing thing about watching Suicide Squad is imagining what a success it could have been had only a few simple missteps been avoided. I remember when the first trailer for this movie dropped and I was genuinely super excited. I may have even gotten chills. I loved the idea of a whole movie dedicated to villains, the cast and their characters were all exceptionally chosen, the tone seemed comically dark and badass…Hell, even the music selection was killer! I thought Suicide Squad was going to be DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy and be a ton of cheeky fun. Instead it was a colossal clusterfuck. That being said, I do think it gets an unnecessary amount of aggressive hate. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a good movie. In fact, it’s not even that entertaining if we’re being honest. But Lord knows I’ve seen superhero movies that are much worse. Much worse. Ahem, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). The massive hype surrounding this movie coupled with the underwhelming waste of potential is what I think really sunk Suicide Squad. Well, that and the truly terrible writing and editing. Oh God…where do I even begin?

Without any hyperbole, Suicide Squad literally spends the first 30 minutes of its two hour runtime like a sizzle reel, solely introducing characters through flashy title cards, not so subtle musical cues, and gratuitous flashbacks. I actually do really enjoy the Joker and Harley Quinn flashback scene though I will say. For quite some time we as the audience are subjected to Amanda Waller narrating the rap sheets and backstories of these characters, most of whom we haven’t even met in real time yet. The plot, or any hint of one, hasn’t even been established! Just the vague notion that a team COULD be necessary one day. While they’re somewhat fun to watch, these laboured and excessive introductions rob us of the opportunity to be organically introduced to these characters. This just feels forced and less like a movie and more like some fan’s PowerPoint presentation. If you removed all of the character introductions and flashbacks you probably only have about 40 minutes of actual movie. Suicide Squad is just so slow moving. It’s 50 minutes in before the squad even gets to the city to BEGIN handling the main threat. The opening introductions are an egregious waste of time and end up stalling the rest of Suicide Squad

Instead of a stale opening that feels like it’s being force-fed to us, I would have loved the first act of Suicide Squad to be about the team of villains getting to know each other, training together, messing around, and becoming reluctant teammates who are forced to work together. All the while developing and exploring these characters and making them fully-realized protagonists we as an audience actually grow to enjoy spending time with and care about. Great examples of ragtag groups actually getting to know each other are in movies like – you guessed it – Guardians of the Galaxy and Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. As an audience member I want to get to know and care about these wonderfully wicked bad guys and that just doesn’t happen in Suicide Squad. This movie is in desperate need of those scenes that show the true bond between these characters, the one that makes them the friends and family they repeatedly claim to be in the third act. But no. Sadly we go from narrated introductions straight to the squad sent off to fight a generic CGI army amid a handful of boring action sequences. I think what would have made for a much more dynamic, fun, tonally-on-brand story is if the squad’s mission was not to save the world from Enchantress, but rather track down and capture the Joker. I’m sorry but the Enchantress and her plan are just not interesting. She could have been but the movie didn’t bother to write her as such. 

While the execution is at times a bit over the top, I don’t entirely hate the design and characterization of the Joker that Suicide Squad went for. It’s a bold and interesting choice that’s never been done so I respect the originality and also, I think it fits perfectly into the world that writer / director David Ayer creates. Reel in Jared Leto just a bit and remove a few tattoos and you’ve got yourself a fairly decent Joker. I think the biggest reason this iteration of the crime clown didn’t land is simply because the character doesn’t get enough screen time. Who knows? Maybe if the Joker had been the primary villain and given more material to work with, fans could have ended up adoring Leto’s take on the iconic villain. What fans DID end up loving though was Margot Robbie as the first cinematic Harley Quinn. Robbie is undoubtedly the best part of Suicide Squad. Her portrayal of Harley is phenomenal and everything you could want out of someone tasked with bringing the beloved character to life. If you want to read about my love of Robbie’s Harley at length, definitely check out my Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) review. Robbie nails the zany, unpredictable, reckless Harley and effortlessly injects the movie with as much fun as she can squeeze out of the role. Easy to do considering she’s the best written character. 

The ironic thing about Suicide Squad is that I actually really like the lineup of characters chosen for this squad as well as the gifted actors chosen to play them. Will Smith and Viola Davis in particular are exceptional choices to play Deadshot and Amanda Waller respectively, each grounding the movie with their hardened, badass portrayals. Truly, I don’t have a problem with any of the actual performances in Suicide Squad. No one is embarrassingly terrible, their performances just don’t pack as much punch as they could because as is largely the case with Suicide Squad, they’re led astray by the confused plot and tone. None of the characters are very well developed and some feel like an after thought. Like, Katana is a cool character but what purpose does she serve in this movie? And Ike Barinholtz is a hilarious comic actor but he’s cast as a wooden forgettable side character? At least Jai Courtney clearly looked like he was having a blast playing Captain Boomerang. When it comes to the characters, I have to give the movie props on the makeup and hairstyling. Especially Harley, Joker, and Killer Croc. The bold and stylistic use is something Suicide Squad should be proud of. They even won an Oscar for their incredible work! 

Suicide Squad had the potential to be silly, wild, adventurous fun, but it ends up taking itself far too seriously. Possibly because Ayer has such a strong background in gritty, realistic dramas and police thrillers. I mean, it’s a movie based on a comic book. I don’t want to see Harley Quinn and Killer Croc in a generic action shootout y’know? I want more comic book villainy and action! Ayer has said that HIS version of Suicide Squad is much different than the one that was released in theatres. Maybe if we get to one day see that edit, we’ll be able to see that a good movie was capable of being salvaged from the mess that is Suicide Squad. Hey, stranger things have happened. Just look at Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). 

Are you a fan of Suicide Squad? Will you see the new movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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