WASHINGTON, August 5, 2016 – Suicide Squad is not a perfect movie. I do not think anyone would argue that it is. It has pacing problems. There are moments when it hits you over the head with its comically oversized mallet
The mere act of watching this film can be a chore at times, as when director David Ayers seems so excited to have a sizable budget behind his super villain flick that he wants to smash your eyeballs full of as many different kinds of light as possible.
However, the film is not a complete dud. The acrobatics that it is trying to preform are difficult. And while it does not execute perfectly, after all is said and done, it just might stick the landing more effectively than critics are giving it credit for.
The premise of the film is well documented from the promotional material. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to assemble a team of super bad guys who she can control, so that the U.S. government will have a secret weapon in their back pocket just in case any bad guys ever want to take over the world.
Through much cajoling of various government suits who either work for her or for whom she works (it’s ambiguous and doesn’t really seem to matter) she manages to get Task Force X put together. The team—Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and a very short lived Slipknot (Adam Beach)—is hastily assembled and sent into action against a dark force threatening to take over the world.
The Joker (Jared Leto) shows up occasionally, and moral ambiguity ensues. Eventually, our anti-heroes win out and the day is saved.
Perhaps the major flaw with the film is that it didn’t present anything for audiences to chew on. It had the opportunity to do what few comic book films have done up until now: present us with interesting questions about the fundamental nature of good and evil. But rather than go down that road, Ayers (The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T., Fury) opts to take the film in a direction riddled with dead necrotic monsters and machine gun shells.
At the end of the day, should that honestly come as a surprise to anyone? Probably not. We certainly shouldn’t have expected to see Suicide Squad in contention for Best Original Screenplay this year.
Suicide Squad fits into Ayers’ stylistic cannon so easily is a good thing. The folks over at the other major comic book movie studio consistently give us formulaic, substantively identical, popcorn films that can become so similar at times that they seem to be the result of playing Mad Libs in a comic book shop. “This time it’s Thor, and he’s fighting Ice Giants, and is in love with Natalie Portman.” “Okay, same situation but Iron Man, a guy with electric whip hands, and Gwyneth Paltrow.”
And for all of it’s faults, Suicide Squad is not a Zach Snyder movie. It’s not even a Christopher Nolan movie, as so many Zach Snyder movies wish they could be. It is a David Ayers movie.
Not a good David Ayers movie, but a David Ayers movie nevertheless.
DC has decided to give its film makers the freedom to actually make their own films within the DCEU. Which means that Batman v. Superman looks a lot different than Suicide Squad, which will look a lot different than Wonder Woman.
The model should reward film critics and fans alike with rich and exciting new movies that stay fresh. Just imagine what the result would be if 2017’s Wonder Woman was somehow bogged down by the overladen machismo and brute force of Zach Snyder’s style, foisted upon Patty Jenkins because it is what Warner Brothers wanted her to do.
It simply wouldn’t work, and the resulting film would be one that no one would have the patience or appetite for.
But perhaps that very independence is what is disappointing film critics about the DCEU so far. With different directors, all given the freedom to “play in the sand box” as Warner Bros. has put it, one would assume that we would eventually get movies that look and feel dramatically from one and other.
Who knows, maybe one would even eventually be set during the day! And so far that difference has yet to manifest itself.
Going into a Marvel movie, fans and film critics alike know what they are going to get. The formula is written. You’ve seen it before. You’re about to see it again. This time with a bigger budget and 110 percent more Robert Downey Jr. Why fix something that, on a bad day, pulls down a $300,000,000 box office.
But DC and Warners haven’t established themselves as predictably good yet. In fact, if anything, they’ve established themselves as predictably mediocre. And so, with each successive film, the stakes are that much higher for someone to please, please, hit it out of the park and make a movie that is flat out, on its face, good. Period. But that hasn’t happened yet and so the stakes continue to mount and critics continue to be more and more disappointed- or at least more bombastic in their disappointment.
Suicide Squad is not “an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment” as Joe Morgenstern put it in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a fun time at the theaters for people who want to go watch another comic book movie, and maybe even one that is slightly different than ones they’ve seen before.
This disappointment is not in the film itself, but in the expectations for what the film could have been. When the first trailer for the film was released over a year ago, it seemed like the movie that was going to turn the tide for DC. Instead, the studio got cold feet and forced recuts, and the result has people questioning whether Wonder Woman or Justice League will be able to dig DC out of the hole they have now found themselves in.
Suicide Squad is centered around a cast of 10 characters: Amanda Waller, Rick Flagg, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Katana, Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, Slipknot, and Enchantress. Establishing who those characters are, and providing us with an interesting and motivational story that brings them all together in a meaningful way is a heavy lift for any film maker. But it is worth noting that only three of those characters look like the kind of character that would get a main role in a Marvel movie (read: white & male), and one of them dies about 4 minutes after he is introduced.
The diversity of the cast is the same as the diversity of films that DC and Warner Brothers are trying to introduce into the realm of comic book film making. Done right, the results could have the ability to revitalize the genre and allow the studio to surge past its competitor. But until they find their stride, they are going to continue to disappoint, and critics are going to continue to bury them deeper and deeper under a sea of hyperbolic, click-bait headlines which only serve to galvanize the die-hard fans and sour everyone else on the idea of any kind of DCEU.
Here’s hoping that Wonder Woman rocks. Because if it doesn’t, Marvel will still be burying Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Gamora in the background of male dominated franchise flicks that are too big to fail. Meanwhile, film critics will label DC’s newest risk as “literally destroying the art of filming scripted dialogue with a camera and releasing that footage to the public”. But girls will now have a totally awesome superhero to look up to, along with their new totally awesome Ghostbusters.
And if critics all collectively decide that all DC can do is poorly constructed fan service, the risks DC is willing to take are the kind of fan service we should all be able to get behind.