Suicide Squad: you’re both right – sort of (a movie review)
The DCEU’s third installment has burst upon the scene in unusual circumstances: Suicide Squad has been tasked with reinvigorating a franchise that has been mostly lambasted with negative reviews from critics and a majority thumbs up from audiences (not to mention this) while falling short of Warner Bros’ financial expectations. Like its predecessors, this movie has proved divisive and today, I’m here to tell everyone that they’re both right.
An opinion on art is a subjective thing, but we can use a rubric of sorts to evaluate a movie by discussing the parts that make up the whole while being sure not to forget to back up and take in the entire picture.
You can’t ignore the cast of Suicide Squad. Not everyone gets a ton to do, but Will Smith and Margot Robbie both deliver compelling performances. Jared Leto’s Joker is a new take, certainly, but it didn’t exactly transfix me the way Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger did – that’s not to say Leto did anything wrong, but he didn’t blow me away, either. When it comes to everyone else, I was satisfied with the performances and I think you could argue that Robbie almost stole the movie and that Smith turned a snack into a meal… and that’s about it. Nobody else deserves excessive discussion, praise or rebuke.
Tone & Directing
I would say that the director, above all things, manages the tone of the movie. David Ayer is making this movie and during the course of it, he’s talking to the actors, the director of photography, the production designer, the costume designer, the writer (that’s him, too), the producers and the suits at Warner Bros in an effort to get everyone on the same page because when the cameras are rolling, he’s in charge. Right? Well, maybe. There’s tonal mistakes in this movie that I don’t think the screenwriter of Training Day would make. I get the impression that Ayer made one movie and then, thru re shoots and editing, we got the film that landed in theaters.
Music & Editing
Here’s where we start running into problems.
This movie went waaaaaay overboard (in a Forest Gump sort of way) with the pop music. Whether it’s “The House of the Rising Sun,” “You Don’t Own Me” or “Sympathy for the Devil,” it just won’t stop, and the rapid fire delivery in the opening of the movie, just one after another… It just didn’t work for me. This happened (I think) for several reasons:
- to establish a lighter tone
- because Guardians of the Galaxy was universally liked
- to cover for the choppy editing – since a scene doesn’t make you feel a particular way, you play “Sympathy for the Devil” so you can make sure the audience doesn’t miss the fact that this scene is supposed to be about a bad guy
Since I’m operating under this theory (movie was modified for tone during post production to both capitalize on the success of Deadpool and as a panic move to the reaction of Batman v Superman), the music and editing go hand in hand. The music is often used to TELL the audience something when the movie can’t SHOW us what we need to see.
Namely, back stories that flow coherently.
Writing & Story
This movie is riddled with weak characters (that are often elevated by the performances) and muddled plots. For example, there’s that bit of Harley and The Joker driving around in the car and Batman shows up. That scene is presented without context (Joker and Harley Quinn are in a car for… a reason?) and that’s not a good thing. If all we needed to know was that Harley was captured by Batman, a simple line of dialogue would have sufficed rather than an entire sequence that makes no sense. I thought they were just joy riding until Batman showed up… so that means they were running from him the entire time, right? But why? I’m betting the reason ended up on the cutting room floor, but frankly, that’s not my problem. I don’t have time to read decades of comics or research deleted scenes or search for leaked set photos to try to piece together the plot of the movie.
That’s just one example of the movie not giving us ‘why.’ There’s tons of stuff like that in the flick:
- The reason for putting the team together makes no sense – all of these people put together would stand no chance against someone like Superman.
- I understand that it’s good to create sympathy for your protagonists, but the prison scenes were a little too much – particularly since that one guard was in The Joker’s pocket anyway.
- Waller accidentally creates the need for the team she put together in the first place, which should make the government not trust anyone on the squad, but instead they just decide to go with it because… it’s in the script, I guess.
- Slipknot is in the movie to make it clear that they’ll use the neck bomb – that’s it. He comes out of nowhere, sucker punches a woman and then dies.
- The bar scene is enough to bond them together? Based on what? They’re friends now?
- Captain Boomerang runs out of the room after Flag breaks the “I’ll blow your head off remotely” device but then just reappears without explanation.
- Enchantress has all those powers (she can plant images in their mind, so, she can probably at least influence them to go to sleep or something…) but she still punches it out with them because… I dunno.
- What the hell was she building, anyway? A magic machine? She was building a magic doomsday device out of… magic? And why did she have to dance the entire time she did it?
- If Enchantress can implant images into their minds, why can’t she read them and see what Harley is really up to? There’s no rules to the Enchantress’s powers. Since I’ve seen her do tons of amazing things, I have to assume she can do pretty much anything, but the movie makes no attempt whatsoever to explain her powers, so… there you go.
- Basically, everything that has to do with the Enchantress is stupid – for example, why would Flag’s relationship with the woman possessed by her give Waller any leverage? And what the FUCK kind of archaeologist just starts breaking artifacts right there in the field? This villain is Ultron level bad.
Look, this movie is rife with issues, but I have to say, although I wasn’t especially entertained by the action or the story, the acting kept me interested and the story at least didn’t confuse good guys with bad guys and even if I can’t tell what the bad guys are doing, it’s at least clear that they’re doing something bad (Ugh, the character design for those people they turned into their army was AWFUL! And don’t tell me they went with the comic design – designs can be changed. I don’t see Harley wearing the jester suit, do I?) and that they need to be stopped. So even if I don’t get the particulars, I at least can understand who won, even if I don’t get why a bomb blows up a centuries old ten foot magic monster who survived inside a clay jar for who the hell knows how long.
And by all this I mean that if you enjoyed Suicide Squad, I’m glad and in a sense, I even get why. So 68% Rotten Tomatoes users liked the flick – that’s great. Me, I’m with the critics, and that’s valid, too. What I find so frustrating is that there’s a better movie in there dying to get out and frankly, I think Warner Bros gained nothing by making the changes – in fact, I think it cost them money because if this movie was, let’s say, a 50% score from critics, that tends to mean that the movie is polarizing, which can be a good thing and get a conversation going, elicit passion and so on. Let’s go even further and say it gets into 75% range – then we know this movie has general audience appeal and isn’t just for fans like us. That’s a good thing, too, because that’ll just enhance the power of film makers and give them more creative control so we get movies where a woman shows up and somebody says, “She’s got my back. Oh and her sword stores the souls of the people she kills” and that’s it for back story. Or take it a step further and get into the 90s range and maybe you end up with a Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that my mom AND MY MOTHER IN LAW both thought was “great.” Do you get that? These two baby boomers got emotionally invested in a movie featuring a talking raccoon and walking tree. Sure, that’s a rare thing, but pick your spots. Maybe a movie featuring bad guys should be violent, gritty and even disturbing or frightening or all of these things. But a movie with a talking crocodile that eats people probably shouldn’t feature “Spirit in the Sky.”
Anyway, if you loved or hated Suicide Squad, I think you’re both right. The movie might be a huge mess, but I can at least see through to the concepts, and that’s more than I can say for the Transformers movies.