I wasn't sure what to think when I walked out of Suicide Squad this past weekend. I desperately wanted this to be the movie in which DC finally gets its ducks in a row and makes a fully competent movie (instead of just half a competent movie). I wanted to find things to like about the movie. I wanted to see some brilliant artistic vision that was realized in the film. But I just couldn't. The whole movie was just off-putting.
I feel like the original creative vision revolved around showing a sense of nobility and honor among villains, while also highlighting that supposed "good guys" can actually be very evil. You know, real Watchmen-level kind of stuff. This would have mirrored some of the more enjoyable elements in the first half of Dawn of Justice (in which Superman and Batman's actions are viewed from different perspectives) and would have offered a pretty solid artistic message. This possible original intent is most apparent with Deadshot and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose behavior is inverse of their perception within society. Deadshot is a vigilante and murderer who is locked up in prison, but he is the most noble and compassionate character in the film. Waller, on the other hand, is a national security adviser responsible for protecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, but she is a merciless, cynical bitch who will shoot her entire staff in the heads because they apparently didn't have clearance to participate in ... the operation that she enlisted them into?
It's all so ham-fisted. Despite being the most likable, relatable, and heroic character in the movie, Deadshot's sense of honor just gets obnoxious. Waller, on the other hand, is obnoxiously vile. The result is that neither character really works for me, and that underlying theme about "who are the real bad guys?" just kind of gets lost in the meaninglessness of the individual characters' actions.
Deadshot and Amanda Waller seem to be ham-fisted attempts at subverting the "bad guys" and "good guys" tropes.
The fact that none of the other characters besides Harley and El Diablo (who ended up being my favorite character in the film) get any development at all certainly doesn't help. A two-hour runtime is pretty standard for a movie, but I simultaneously feel as though half the movie is cut out, and that half of what is present drags on. There's no scene of any of the team members meeting each other or interacting or bonding prior to them being deployed on their mission. The first half of the movie is literally just a brief intro to each character to establish their basic personality and motivations, followed by each character being sort-of told that they're being drafted into some vigilante super team. Then they all get thrown into their first mission. There's no real chance for them to grow to like, respect, or trust each other via some preparatory mission or training exercise. The result is that the forced camaraderie and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the team at the end of the movie just feels completely undeserved. I'd say that it also feels out of character, but considering only Harley, Deadshot, and El Diablo even have a character, that statement isn't really applicable.
Their actual mission itself also felt like it was supposed to be two different movies. Let me see if I understand this correctly... Warren sends the Suicide Squad into a live meta-human attack without telling them what the nature of the attack is (or that their opponent was supposed to have been one of their team members). But their mission isn't to defeat the Enchantress? It's just a test mission for them to "rescue" Warren? Was there an actual plan for dealing with the Enchantress? Is this staged mission supposed to be the training mission that I feel is missing from the movie, and then a separate mission to actually defeat Enchantress was supposed to be the climax?
The problem with starting with ensemble casts is that it's hard to introduce everyone.
Enchantress herself frustrated me. I don't know how Dr. Moone is still an archeaologist if she just goes around breaking the heads off of priceless ancient artifacts. I also don't know how the team that scoured the site for Enchantress' heart managed to just miss the other bottle that contains her brother. And it's frustrating that Enchantress just pulls that brother out of nowhere with no set up or establishment that she has a super-powered brother. And then she starts building a magical super weapon to do what exactly? She doesn't even know what defenses she's attacking yet because she has to mind meld with Warren later in the movie to discover that. She makes some statement about how mankind worships machines now instead of her (gods damnit, now I'm getting flashbacks to X-Men: Apocalypse), so she decides to build some arbitrary machine to kill them all? But this machine (which she is already magically building) has no defined function until she kidnaps Warren and learns how modern human technology even works to begin with?
Imitation is the highest form of flattery
It also seemed pretty apparent that the studio executives in the board room insisted on trying to emulate Deadpool. I feel like there were a lot of attempts to inject wit and humor into the movie whether it was appropriate or not. A lot of the jokes fall completely flat. Basically everything that Boomerang says or does just didn't work for me. Even a lot of Harley's quips just came off as cheesy to me. I was kind of lukewarm about Deadpool, but once again Suicide Squad just makes Deadpool look even better in retrospect.
This film's soundtrack and obnoxious use of 70's and 80's classic rock also seems to be an attempt to emulate Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, DC's execs show absolutely no understanding of how to use these musical selections, and the opening act of the movie ends up feeling like snippets from some crappy MTV music videos.
A new Joker?
I also didn't like this new Jared Leto Joker. First of all, his existence in this movie felt very out-of-place and had little-to-no relation to the actual Suicide Squad plot. The scenes with him felt like a different movie entirely. Quite frankly, I felt like Leto's actual performance (as in his voice and mannerisms) was too close to Heath Leger's Dark Knight Joker, but with all this weird extra gangster stuff. Sure, he didn't seem to project the nuanced multiple-personality disorder that Leger's Joker had, but that just means that it feels like a bad impersonation rather than the actor bringing anything new to the role. This depiction of Joker as a common gangster loaded down with tattoos and bling was just completely off-putting for me; whereas Leger's Joker was a brilliant interplay of masterful writing and expert acting.
Joker seems to show legitimate concern for Harley's well-being.
More importantly though, is that this movie does disservice to the Joker and Harley's relationship. Harley Quinn is not a very complex or nuanced character! How the heck do you mess her up! The Joker-Harley relationship in the comics (as I understand it) is a very one-sided abusive one. Harley has extreme Stockholm syndrome, and Joker does not reciprocate her love. In the comics and the cartoon that created the Harley Quinn character to begin with (as I understand them), Joker doesn't care about Harley. She's a tool to him; an end to a means. Sometimes he just uses her as flat-out bait. He takes advantage of her devotion to him in order to manipulate her into doing the risky or mundane things that he doesn't want to personally do.
That dynamic is completely absent from this movie. There's a strange flashback scene in which Joker asks Harley if she'll die for him, then makes her jump off a platform into a vat of chemicals. He starts to walk away as if to just leave her, but then reconsiders and jumps after her, like, as if he actually cares about her? That seems to be the only purpose of this scene: to establish that Joker actually does love Harley and cares about her. Well, that and to re-create a panel from the comics, but without an understanding of what's happening in that comic panel.
I don't think the writers of Suicide Squad grasped what this panel was supposed to represent...
Joker should not have been in this movie. If anything, he should have showed up briefly during the origin stuff about Harley Quinn, and then maybe at the end to break Harley out of jail. The last bit could even have been in a post-credit sequence instead of that stupid Justice League setup.
This Joker also causes me to lose some respect for Dawn of Justice. One of the reasons that I thought Dawn of Justice's Batman works is because it took place after Joker kills Robin, and Batman perhaps kills the Joker in a fit of vengeance. He, thus, gives up on the idea of trying to "save everyone" and accepts that some people are beyond redemption. That interpretation of the character - a Batman who is on the verge of going off the deep end - was key (to me) in accepting Batman's depiction in Dawn of Justice. It was also key to that character's redemptive arc.
Also, didn't Batman's crime-fighting days end 20 years prior to Dawn of Justice? So when the heck is he out capturing all these bad guys in Suicide Squad? If he did it 20 years ago, then Harley would have to be in her mid-to-late 30's at least, and the Harley that gets punched in the face in the underwater car wreck would have to have been a teenager. I guess the implication is that since DoJ, Batman has been back in action? And I guess the post-credits scene kind of verifies that.
So when I heard that Joker would be in Suicide Squad, I was a little confused, and more than a little worried. The only way that I could think it could work is if either Joker is only in flashbacks, if Suicide Squad takes place twenty years prior to Dawn of Justice, or if the two movies are not part of the same cinematic universe. Joker still being alive (and not even in prison) in Suicide Squad (which explicitly takes place after Dawn of Justice in the same cinematic universe's timeline) just kicks the already-shaky knees out from under Dawn of Justice in my opinion. It clinches (in my mind) the idea that DC and Warner Bros. really don't have any long-term plan for this universe and are just reacting to Marvel's success. The only consistent plan seems to be that they want to be the "darker, edgier, and moodier" alternative to Marvel. It isn't working.
This was your chance, DC!
I feel like Suicide Squad was DC's big chance to right its ship. This was DC's opportunity to let its hair down and have fun with a movie, or to doubled-down on the darkness by going for a full-out R rating and veering into Watchmen territory. Instead, they tried to walk the line between quippy wit and the typical dark theming of their movies in a relatively-safe, poorly-edited PG-13 affair. It just doesn't work. I didn't think that Dawn of Justice deserved the hate that it received, and I suspected that Suicide Squad's low ratings may have just been overreaction from an audience that seems to have preemptively decided to not even give DC movies a chance. This movie deserves its low scores.
I'm not looking forward to Wonder Woman. And once again, Deadpool keeps looking more and more brilliant by comparison.