Over the past year, anticipation for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has been a movie which anticipation has grown from passive curiosity to rabid lust. A movie with a cast so huge, featuring Will Smith, Jared Leto, and Viola Davis just to name a few, could either be really good or really, really, bad. But Suicide Squad doesn’t just have to please the legions of fans waiting to see favorites like Harley Quinn and Deadshot on screen for the first time—it’s being seen as the movie that is supposed to right the DC Cinematic Universe’s ship. In a lot of ways, Squad will and won’t do that for a lot of people. It’s a big, noisy, pulpy film that shouts “FU” to a lot of common tropes in superhero films—but it also falls into a lot of them too. Where the movie shines is the aforementioned cast, an ensemble that should work on paper and mostly does. Will Smith is invigorated as Deadshot, Jared Leto has given The Joker a new, weirder edge, and Margot Robbie delivers as Harley Quinn. Suicide Squad is the rare popcorn flick in a summer where a lot of movies took themselves way too seriously. Don't let the resoundingly negative reviews blind you—the movie’s a blast, but it's not without faults. Here is what Suicide Squad did right, and wrong. (Mild spoilers ahead!)
What It Got Right
Jared Leto: Perhaps the biggest wildcard on and off screen for Suicide Squad was Jared Leto’s Joker. I’m happy to say that a lot of my fears were alleviated, and he’s a worthy member of the Crown Prince of Crime’s silver screen family. It’s unfair to compare this version of Joker to Heath Ledger’s anarchist turn as the demented clown as he’s chewing scenery in the same vein as Jack Nicholson’s version of the villain. In Suicide Squad, we don’t see a lot of him (more on that later) but when we do, he’s a force of nature. Leto’s strange mannerisms, and even stranger appearance (he has at least eight costume changes in the movie) depict a more modern, unhinged gangster. Tattoos and grills aside, the most striking characteristic of this Joker is that of a love sick puppy who just wants his girlfriend back—a turn that we’ve never seen for the character before. Oh, and his laugh will haunt your dreams.
The Chemistry: Suicide Squad is a movie that lives or dies by its casting, because it would be a full-on disaster if not for the fact that everyone in the movie actually looks like they’re having a great time. From the principal cast to minor characters like Ike Barinholtz, it’s one of the most fun ensembles that I’ve seen in quite some time. The movie even manages to get an inspired performance from Will Smith, who looks like he loves playing a character who is left of center from his usual roles. Most of all, the chemistry between the cast makes up for the glaring holes that some of them have in terms of back story or characterization.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn: Before a lot of people even saw this movie, the cosplay and fan art dedicated to Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn solidified her picture perfect casting. I’m happy to say that during Harley’s first foray onto the big screen, it was awesome to see her wit and insanity displayed onscreen. A huge chunk of the movie is dedicated to the dysfunctional relationship between her and The Joker, as she teeters between her loyalty to him and her duty to the Squad, and that's a good thing. The movie also delves a little more deeply into her mind—showing that her decision to be Mr. J’s ride or die isn’t just out of blind devotion, but for the hope of a more peaceful future that may or may not be possible.
El Diablo Steals the Show: Jay Hernandez plays the most surprising role in the movie, supplanting the other bad guys as the self-righteous “anti-villain” El Diablo. His tragic story revolves around one of his biggest mistakes, and the movie spends a lot more time than I thought it would fleshing out a character who seemed minor from the outset. Diablo is the most tortured of all of the villains in the movie, and his act of redemption in the third act is a big character moment that I had a blast seeing unfold.
Viola Davis: Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller is a bad ass, through and through. Playing a more morally dubious version of Marvel’s Nick Fury, Waller is cold and uncaring. She doesn’t have a sudden change of heart, or a tragic back story––her only goal is to complete her mission regardless of who lies in waste at the end. Davis absolutely snatches every single cast member in the movie, perfectly bringing the character from the comics to life. Waller is painted as the chaotic neutral to Joker’s pure chaos, and her role as the cipher of the events in the movie, and elsewhere in the DC Cinematic Universe, are great signs that we’ll get to see the character mix it up with some other characters in the future.
What It Got Wrong
Pacing Issues: Suicide Squad suffers from a reversed version of the pacing issues that left Batman v Superman unbalanced. Instead of a long, slogging first half, the movie puts you right in the shoes of the characters from the first minute. The introductions are brisk, and the exposition is even quicker. But when the movie starts to slow down and give characters time to breathe, the nagging issues start to rear their head. Flashback scenes are haphazardly thrown into present-day scenes, and the “humor” that everyone allegedly asked for is shoehorned into scenes that needed more emotional weight. Had the movie moved as quickly as it does in the first act, it would have been better.
The Limp Third Act: Not even the great chemistry between the villains can hide the fact that the paper thin story starts to wane towards the finish line. There are a lot of points where the movie could have, and should have ended or went in a different direction, but it falls into every single superhero movie trope—a big CGI battle between two barely recognizable things, a race to a bomb, and a last minute revelation. Suicide Squad works best when it’s about the villains being put together to solve a problem, not stand around and spout exposition, and the third act renders a large part of the team useless.
The Undercooked Villain (SPOILERS AHEAD): Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress and her (completely CGI) brother Incubus are the main villains in Suicide Squad. Cara does a fine job as the resurrected witch, but the movie has absolutely nothing for her to do after the first act. Her motivations are murky at best (why does she want to destroy the world?), and Incubus is merely a construct of the story that is meant to seem more important that he really is. The lack of a villain that we care about just compounds the third act issues that keep a good movie from becoming a great one. Sure, I loved rooting for the bad guys, but it would have been more effective to have them face someone who doesn’t just show up in the last 15 minutes.
Katana Is Barely a Character: There are a lot of people in Suicide Squad, and they all get to have their moments. Jai Courtney’s Boomerang made me a fan, and even Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc had his own memorable lines. Unfortunately for Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, she is merely an extra body that the nameless monsters run into. She appears as an afterthought after everyone gets grandiose entrances in the first act, is given a tacked-on exposition, and has nary a line that sets her apart. If her character makes an appearance again, let’s hope she’s more than just window dressing.
There's Not Enough Joker: This one is pretty self-explanatory, and it’ll probably piss off the people who have been cosplaying as him for the past year, but Jared Leto’s Joker is barely in this movie. If you’ve seen any trailer of the movie since last year, you can probably piece together about five minutes of the roughly 12-15 minutes he appears in. Sure, it may be a detriment to the story of the other eight characters who need screen time, but when you have such a fan favorite like the Joker, you can’t have him relegated to a cameo. There are some interesting roads that Ayer takes him down in the movie, and if it had to be done by cutting out a character or two (sorry, Katana and Slipknot), then I would have loved for that decision to be made. Here’s hoping that Ben Affleck’s upcoming standalone Batman movie gives us the dosage of the Clown Prince that we need.