To be honest, the most intriguing characteristic of Suicide Squad, the film of DC villain misfits cobbled together to serve a kind of black ops kill squad for the government, is the wide-ranging spectrum of feedback it has received, and the fallout that’s resulted from it. The film itself, while not particularly remarkable, makes for an entertaining, serviceable-enough action romp that’s garnered itself the dubious distinction of being a more watchable part of the emerging DC Extended Universe than its two predecessors, 2013’s Man of Steel, and this year’s Orphan Fight: The Movie, aka, Batman vs. Superman.
After watching this film on Thursday and taking the rest of the weekend to simply scroll through all the reactions to it, I find myself mystified by a number of developments around it. Off the top of my head, here are a few of them.
- This movie does not deserve all the hate it’s been getting.
I know I’m not the only one to say this, and the weekend box office projections will certainly back that up, but it looks like Suicide Squad is going to break records despite the sheer ferocity with it’s been attacked by critics from all sides. I’ve seen terrible review after terrible review, roundly lambasting it for its flaws–of which, make no mistake, it has quite a few–but rarely giving it credit for the things it manages to get right, or dismissively glossing them over when mentioned at all. An actual viewing of the actual film leaves me with the impression that some critics are all too eager to see this film fail, and are giving it much shorter shrift than it deserves.
However, by the same token…
- Critics are not beholden to justify their ratings or placate fans.
I realize Rotten Tomatoes isn’t without its critics and detractors. I realize that fans will want to defend a film they want to succeed–and it’s clearly the fans who are making Suicide Squad successful, which I wholly endorse. But starting a petition to shut down a website whose stated purpose is to rate and critique films that are released is taking things waaaaay too far.
Film critics and reviewers, while they can tend to see a film through a lens that can at times paint them as snobbish or pretentious, are, at the end of the day, individuals commenting on a movie, the same as you and me. Rotten Tomatoes itself doesn’t rate films–it collects the many reviews it gets from its film critics and uses an algorithm to determine the movie’s score from those reviews. Bottom line: it’s a tool that gathers data, crunches numbers, and spits out a rating. If you have a problem with the score given to Suicide Squad, you have a problem with the individual critics who reviewed it negatively–not Rotten Tomatoes itself. This is an important distinction to realize if you want to be taken seriously.
With that said, it’s important to realize that film reviewers are not required to change their opinions just because fans may disagree with them. I’ve seen fan after fan repeat the line I heard during BvS‘s critical drubbing, that Disney/Marvel was paying money to critics to intentionally sink DC films, so that they wouldn’t be able to compete with Marvel’s own films from the MCU. There is no evidence that this has ever been true, and until shown otherwise, there’s no reason to give any consideration to such wild accusations. Fans can disagree–vehemently, if they wish–with a reviewer’s opinion, and state as much, but after that, the safest move they can make is to walk away in disgust.
- The movie itself is perfectly watchable.
And finally, I’m at the review itself.
Suicide Squad is an enjoyable, fun film, with a talented cast and decent direction. It does indeed suffer from a few issues–it’s unevenly paced, the villain ends up being lackluster, and there are a few supporting characters who may as well not even have been there. None of this, however, undercuts the basic premise of the movie, which is to grab a few DC villains, throw them all together against a big bad threat, and have some fun while doing it.
Margot Robbie, Will Smith, and Viola Davis are the standouts in this outing by far. Robbie’s Harley Quinn without a doubt is having the most fun, and we get to see bits and pieces of her journey from Dr. Harleen Quinzel to the Joker’s main squeeze, Harley. It’s an entertaining performance of material that is somewhat two dimensionaly written, and she brings the charm and snark with aplomb. Will Smith’s Deadshot, surprisingly, ends up being the character through whose eyes we see the most of the plot, and identify with the most. He’s the most heroic of an unheroic bunch, playing the straight man whose past has caught up to him in a believable fashion. Viola Davis also turns in an amazing performance as Amanda Waller, the boss from hell who is determined to control anything and everything about her newly-formed task force. She plays the part of cool, manipulative superior with all the magnificent bastardry that fans of the comics would expect from this character, and is impossible not to watch in every scene she is in. The writing isn’t the best in this film, but it’s easy to see that the actors did everything they could with what they had, and I commend them for their collective efforts.
Special mention goes to Jay Hernandez’s character, El Diablo, who is played with quiet solemnity until a particularly badass moment in the story’s climax.
While the story tends to give the most focus to these characters, we get a few inclusions that make you wonder why they even showed up. One character seems to only be there for the purpose of showing how severe the punishment is for trying to escape the arrangement set up by Amanda Waller. Another character, Captain Boomerang, feels like the only reason he exists is to give an almost literal 2-second cameo to another character, and Killer Croc, Katana, while the remaining characters are given virtually no development. I realize this isn’t easy to do in a film with this many people, but it still feels like we’re left wanting.
The villain ends up being another nominal member of the group who goes rogue, and I can’t get over how forgettable she ends up being. While there are a lot of nice visuals and special effects centered around this character, there’s also plenty of confusion as to how she’s able to break free on her own, as well as a lack of depth to her character that keeps her from standing out among the legion of movie villains with generic motivations.
Plot-wise, it’s pretty easy to follow. We get a series of origin stories as the main characters are introduced, fun to watch for their visual flair. As the team goes on its first mission, things change in terms of tone and pacing, jarring viewers as the squad ends up fighting monsters sent forth by the villain. There are moments of humor mixed in with the action, and while the plot spirals into your standard boss battle finale, it’s carried through with enough irreverance to be satisfying.
You might notice I’ve said nothing about Jared Leto’s Joker until now, and it’s because I don’t feel he belongs in this story. This Joker is decent enough, I suppose, but he’s mostly outside of the narrative, and should have stayed confined to Harley’s flashback origins. We may get to see more of him in a future movie, but I feel like he’s both underused and entirely unnecessary to the plot.
All in all, this is a film that wants to have fun, and does manage to succeed in a few places. It’s not the homerun I’m sure Warner Bros. wants it to be, but it’s by no means a bad film either. However, in comparison to BvS, and I would argue Man of Steel, it’s leaps and bounds ahead where tone and overall enjoyment are concerned. Hopefully as the DCEU moves forward, its films will get increasingly more entertaining and memorable. Suicide Squad is definitely a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t quite succeed at the level to which it aspires.
In this age of the internet and social media in which we live, it’s more important than ever we keep vigilant about the headlines we see. As Suicide Squad has shown, it’s very possible that you’ll experience something very different than what you read about or research yourself.