I don’t think I was ever looking for a Suicide Squad movie. I don’t think anyone was. It’s not like Batman v. Superman. There’s no point as a kid where I was growing up saying “God, I hope one day there’s a movie of this.” That was a huge advantage to WB. Because, a year ago it was announced that there would be one and the footage looked great. It was like the announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy. There was no bar expectations. It was possible to be excited about it on the merits of just what was there And they did a great job of building on that excitement. Even with the critical failure of Batman v. Superman, I think fans were more or less universally still excited about seeing this movie. That might be as much of a curse as a blessing.
After something like BvS, there were basically two things that could happen. Either the bar could be lowered REALLY low or the bar could be raised in hopes that it would save the muddled shitstorm that is the DC Cinematic Universe. I think in a lot of people’s minds, the latter happened. That’s not really fair. Was it great? No. But it was fine. And honestly, I think fine is more or less what they were going for.
And that’s the key thing with this film. What were they going for? I often say that Sucker Punch is the best movie that could possibly made without plot. It never tried to be “good” really. It had very specific goals: Be a fun feature length music video to the screen with pretty people and cool action set pieces and try to hold the audience’s attention for a couple hours. Sucker Punch was amazing at this. I’ve watched it several times and to this day I couldn’t really easily tell you what was going on because what was going on didn’t matter. It was simply a celebration of pretty people killing ugly monsters and blowing shit up to a cool soundtrack.
And so was Suicide Squad.
To be fair, Suicide Squad did have a plot. Or at least, it certainly had more of a plot than Sucker Punch. It wasn’t a great plot or anything like that. If you think about it too hard it didn’t make much sense. There were several logical flaws in it. There’s only the most barebones of backstory or motivation. There’s not really much of an end goal for them to build towards. There’s constant exposition moments to drag the characters from one scene to the next, many of which fall apart if you give more than five seconds worth of thought to them. The villain’s plan isn’t really clear in the movie in and of itself…. it’s just that it’s visually similar enough to the original Ghostbusters that if you’ve seen it (and who hasn’t) you can kind of fill things in in your head and say “ok, this must be what’s going on…” And most egregiously, there are a couple things about the climax and denouement that make literally no sense at all. Like not even a little.
But there was enough there to give you a semi-plausible reason for these characters to run around killing shit. The central conceit of the film (explained in the first two seconds) is that the government is worried about superpowered threats, so they decide to put together a team of metahumans villains that they can throw at the problem. Since Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the stars, Deadshot and Harley Quinn are given the most backstory. They’re given a reason to be in the film and nebulous reasons for you to care about them at least a little. The rest of the team, is rushed through as quickly as possible. And this is probably a good thing. The film basically goes, “Hey, This is Jai Courtney; he plays Captain Boomerang. He throws boomerangs. Let’s move on.” And that’s fine. It really is. Because if you stop to think “wait a second, how the fuck does ‘he throws boomerangs’ make someone a metahuman?” Hey wait, only two of these eight people are metahuman. Isn’t that supposed to be the whole point of this movie?” Then you’ll start to question everything else and if you start to question everything then you’ll notice the massive gaping holes in the plot and start to wonder where the Staypuff Marshmallow Man is and what the fuck is going on in the climax where some stuff just kind of happens for no other reason than it looks cool. So instead, the film says, “don’t think about this too hard. Just look at this shot of Margot Robbie’s ass and move along.” And it kinda works… Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there are a lot of times the movie has to distract you with Margot Robbie’s ass.
For their part, the cast actually does a pretty good job. Robbie isn’t just pretty, her performance is also very good. As is Will Smith’s. They won’t be winning any Oscars… the material isn’t good enough. But two of them were very good at leading the cast. Jared Leto is also good. I’m hearing a lot of people saying that he is the best part of the movie. Honestly, I might have just left him out entirely. Not for any fault of Leto’s. It’s just that the Joker is naturally a big presence. That’s kind of the point of the character. But he has very little to do with THIS story and not being there wouldn’t have really changed the plot at all. Everyone else was fine. Again, they weren’t given much to work with. There’s really no “story” just a bunch of excuses to get to some chaotic action set pieces. But given what there was of the characterization, I felt like I kind of wanted to see more of most of them.
And that’s where this film really succeeds. This is certainly not trying to be Citizen Kane. And I think it’s unfair to really look at it in the same lens that I looked at BvS. It’s just not trying to do the same thing. It really isn’t. The film isn’t that ambitious. In fact, I have a hard time really thinking of it as “a film.” And it doesn’t quite match up to Sucker Punch. The special effects aren’t as good (in fact, there are several things about the CGI in this movie that I absolutely HATED, but not enough to really kill the movie… just … bad… especially for 2016). While the soundtrack is very fun, and works really well for the style that director David Ayers is going for in the film, it doesn’t do enough to really make it feel like a total music video the way Sucker Punch did either. Instead what this seems to be very good at is being the pilot episode for a new TV series. A very very very expensive TV series with a very very very long hiatuses between episodes. I definitely got the feeling at the end of the film that “sure, I’d watch these people again.”
And that’s a net plus. You’re left wanting to see more. At no point in the entire two hours of screen time was I actively annoyed at what was going on in front of me. That’s not how I felt at the end of BvS.
Now, of course the problem is that it isn’t a TV series. If there’s ever a second movie with any of these characters it will be at least a couple years away. Films are supposed to be standalone. But like I said, this isn’t really trying to be a film (BvS was). What I think it is doing is bringing the New 52 style of storytelling to the screen. New 52 Suicide Squad was not a comic book for me and this isn’t a film for me. If I enjoy things about it, fine, but they’re designed to be millennial entertainment. They’re designed to fit a certain style and this does a pretty good job of that. It is a film about aesthetics. It captures the mood that it is going for very well. If anything, the attempts be “a real movie” detract from this. This is where it fails next to Sucker Punch, The Joker subplot (which is really most of the actual storytelling in the film) distracts from what is otherwise a Hot Topic poster brought to life. At the end of the second act, there is three minutes of exposition where Rick Flagg played by Joel Kinsman explains what I guess was supposed to be a plot twist, but it wasn’t very twisty and really almost begs the viewer to think. Thinking is bad, because then the meager plot starts to fall apart. Quick, someone make Margot Robbie do something sexy so that we can get out of this… yep… there it is…
And that’s the movie. I’d certainly see another one, but I’m not exactly in a rush, which is good — because they probably aren’t either. It’s good for what it is. Not great. It is not perfect, but I think people have been a little too hard on it. And hey, I’m obviously very hard on these. But it doesn’t deserve bile. At the end of the day, this one is “a movie” and as low as that bar may be, it certainly makes it the best film in the DCCU so far.
★★★☆☆(3 out of 5 stars)