Review: SUICIDE SQUAD, a team-up that’s unlikely to save the DC Cinematic Universe

suicide-squad

There are few comics that I love more than the Ostrander/Yale/McDonnell Suicide Squad. It has a perfect concept and a perfectly drawn together cast, and under that team’s watch, it became one of the seminal series of the 80’s for DC Comics. Honestly, it’s one of those comic runs that’s yet to be equaled and certainly not surpassed, despite the publisher’s many attempts at relaunching the title. I promise you, beyond perhaps Michel Fiffe and John Ostrander himself, there are few people who love Task Force X more than I.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to report Warner Bros’ big screen adaptation of this team of misfits is a film so bad, it makes me long for the return of Zack Snyder to shelter us from the oncoming storm that is David Ayer’s Four Loko take on the DC Universe.

Suicide Squad, which is set in the days following Superman’s death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, centers on a plan by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to pull together a team of incarcerated super-villains with special abilities that could protect American interests by offering them both the carrot (time taken off their prison sentence) and the stick (an explosive device planted in their neck if they don’t comply). For anyone who hasn’t seen the sheer deluge of trailers – and holy cow, how could you avoid them? – the team she recruits with her right hand man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) includes Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach) and the non-criminal Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Waller pulls the ripcord on this team of baddies after one of her other secret weapons, the ultra-powerful mystic, The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), enacts a plan to destroy the world…for reasons that are absurd, and involves a big circle of trash in the sky, a fitting image for a film so poorly edited and obnoxiously in-your-face, I’m a bit shocked that the studio thought they could hang their hopes on this one to be their Summer savior.

It’s not all terrible, really, as it has a first 30 minutes or so that mostly zips along with some exciting visuals and character background, but is continually stopped dead in its tracks whenever its villain rears its head. And as you can imagine, once said villain becomes the centerpiece of the story’s concerns, the film goes from a somewhat fun, if occasionally grating experience, to an outright disaster on par with the cringe-worthy Green Lantern, with equally awful CGI. It’s also quite ugly visually, with the same sort of muddy grey environs that mark Snyder’s two forays into the DCU, but with none of his panache for action to balance it out. I was stunned by just how cheap everything looked, particularly in that maligned second half, which looks every bit of being shot on a sound-stage and is likely the after-effect of being part of the much reported, and very rushed looking, reshoots. In this way, it reminds me a good deal more of last year’s Fantastic Four, notably in that compromised second half.

Suicide Squad is a film of fits and starts, and way too many flashbacks that kill all narrative momentum just when its attempting to come together, underscoring just how ramshackle its editing is. Imagine if you will, the team is about to go face the big bad, and then suddenly, for reasons that are only marginally clear, they all opt to go to the bar instead. In a way, I can see how that might work, given that this is a crew of bad guys; but the scene is so gracelessly plunked in the middle of the third act that I thought perhaps I was having a fever dream, a 15 minute interminable fever dream that ALSO finds the time to include a flashback! Or better yet, there’s a moment where the film decides to display what I assume is supposed to be a twist of some kind, or at least it felt that way based on how the scene is written, but it simply flashes back to an earlier moment in the movie that was already explicitly shown to the audience! You can’t make this stuff up!

There are also a few elements in Ayer’s script that come across fairly uncomfortably. There are far too many references to hitting women than are necessary, and of course Harley is on display throughout, with Ayer’s camera ogling her body at every instance it can. I know many found Lois’ bathtub scene in Batman v. Superman to be problematic, but this is a bit beyond the pale in terms of objectifying content. Then there is Enchantress, who is displayed in what is best described as a “Slave Leia bikini” and the costume you’ve seen in promo material is actually the more covered up outfit. As she gains power, she somehow loses more clothing.

Between the questionable decisions, and an overstuffed, convoluted structure, is there anything to recommend about Suicide Squad? If so, it begins and ends with Smith, Robbie, and Davis. Smith as Deadshot gets every possible opportunity to display just why he was/is considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. His Deadshot is capable, charming, and is easily the funniest part of the film. It’s been reported that some of his dialogue was improvised, and given how much uproariously more hilarious his lines were than some of his more stilted “this is funny, right?” counterparts were, I can believe it. Additionally, Robbie is about as perfect a Harley Quinn as you’ll find, with just the right amount of irreverence and loopiness, and utilizing her same New York accent that she employed in The Wolf of Wall Street, but finding just enough Arleen Sorkin there to make it all her own. She’s terrific, as is Viola Davis, who, to put it bluntly, IS Amanda Waller, carrying the exact kind of steely-eyed terrifying, take no bullshit demeanor that you’d come to expect from the character. You couldn’t do any better than these three standouts, and even Jai Courtney makes for a pretty strong Digger Harkness (words I NEVER thought I’d say), but the plodding and utterly mindless goings on of the plot fail them completely as the running time rolls on.

You’ll notice I haven’t even made mention of Jared Leto’s much discussed grilled and tattooed Joker. I haven’t forgotten him, he just barely makes a blip here and probably has about a grand total of 10 minutes of screentime. He’s not bad, especially in small doses where his rather over the top shtick would likely begin to grate, but he’s also just another distraction that could be plucked from the film entirely and not much would be lost. We’d certainly get less distracting flashbacks that way, but as negatives go on this one, Leto doesn’t even crack the top ten (El Diablo and Killer Croc are far more awful, and Croc looks like crap). And surprisingly, the Harley-Joker relationship, though given some confounding backstory for the uninitiated, at least seems somewhat genuine and not so one-sided for once.

There’s a part of me that wants to apologize to Zack Snyder for my dismissing of his approach to this world. At least Batman v Superman had SOMETHING on its mind, until it didn’t anymore. By contrast, Suicide Squad is basically Marvel lite, but without the fun or compelling characters, or really, much in the way of humor beyond one very noble effort. Really though, all this movie does is make me even more wary about the current DC movieverse approach, and suddenly, I’m a lot more nervous for the fate of Wonder Woman. It’s all on your shoulders now, Diana. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you can carry this weight.

Comments

  1. Andrew L. says

    My thanks to Kyle Pinion for his review. However, based on his previous columns which I find a bit hit-and-miss, I’ll go by the somewhat more positive (but still mixed) assessment given by Ostrander himself.

  2. says

    Amanda and i and our group had a blast watching this. It was flawed, story wise, but we loved the characters and when Smith, Robbie and the crew were on screen, loved the interaction and attitudes. We left thinking its not a game changer, but totally fun over the top take on a group of heroes most people do not know. Sure you can be harsh, but I make the separation from film and comic every time, knowing not to expect them to be mirror images. Final feeling was this was a fun movie that if it does well, will be a better second film. Honestly, any time Harley was on screen, I was excited, which makes sense. lol. I don’t expect anyone to believe me because I co-write Harley and work for DC, but we really did have fun. Amanda is my meter for these things, since she really doesnt read many comics and is not online having preconceived opinions before seeing anything. She goes in raw to see films, read books and experience things. I think people wanting to see these characters play on film will have a good time. In the end, as always and what I think Kyle will agree on, we all need to make up our own mind.

  3. Kyle Pinion says

    Jimmy,

    I really appreciate that perspective, and am so glad to hear you guys had a great time! I very much agree with your sentiment. I’m just another guy spouting his opinions on the internet. Everybody should go see the things that have them excited and then come back here and tell me why I’m wrong. That’s alright too! I love the discussion!

    And Andrew, I would definitely rank the thoughts of John Ostrander, one of the greatest living comics writers, over mine too.

  4. Emmanuel says

    Comparing some of it to Green Lantern is a bit harsh.
    But I agree with almost everything you said.
    The biggest problem is by far the villain, which is awful and way too powerful to be taken down by a nonmagic team. This movie would have been way better with a more down to earth villain, say Lena Headey in Dredd. Except they couldn’t have played the “so bad it needs a whole team of supervillains” card

    Viola Davis and Margot Robbie were perfect.
    I didn’t like the Joker character though.

  5. says

    Molokai, thank you for the free plug. We actually sold 3 more issues of the book since you mentioned it yesterday. Its especially nice when a few years back, Wes Craven asks to have a breakfast at a convention with Justin and I, and sits and tells us that he loved the prequel to the movie he wrote and directed and that he would love to film it one day. That made my year. Seriously.

    And I do know you are being sarcastic about a book I put a ton of love into. Sorry you didnt like it.

  6. Carter says

    Sorry, you’re not “just another guy spouting his opinions on the internet.” You’re someone whose job it is to watch the movie with a critical eye and analyze whether or not it’s any good. Don’t be dismissive of your own work just because someone else liked the film!

    Reviews from professionals are important. Watching a negatively-reviewed movie “so you can judge for yourself” is why shitty movies are profitable and keep getting made.

  7. R. Eric Lieb says

    Can confirm; Wes loved that book. Jimmy, Justin, John, Dennis, Greg (and Heidi!) all knocked it out of the park.

  8. Other Chris says

    Cool, this frees up the opportunity to do a reboot for a *real* Suicide Squad movie, featuring Bronze Tiger and Colonel Flagg fighting over team leadership. Hopefully this time without Bat-characters shoehorned in.

  9. George says

    “Don’t be dismissive of your own work just because someone else liked the film!”

    Yes, Kyle, don’t cave in to some comics pro who has a different opinion. Their skill at writing and/or drawing comics doesn’t mean they have good taste when it comes to movies.

    This movie looks like a very cynical money grab that probably should have been rated R (as the director’s cut on DVD almost certainly will be). But I’ll probably see it anyway.

  10. Kyle Pinion says

    Hey George and Carter!

    Always good to hear from ya’ll and that ongoing encouragement means a lot!

    The Rotten Tomatoes thing is ridiculous, and this past Spring’s mass accusation that critics were all getting paid by Marvel was the silliest thing I ever heard. (Please Kevin Feige, do cut me a check, my post Tokyo + SDCC bank account is a sad sight)

    But I understand the frustration, as a long-time DC guy – the comic book publisher that’s nearest and dearest to my heart and has been for nigh on 30 years – I want these movies to be good.

    They just haven’t been and they keep getting worse. Here’s to a turnaround in the Geoff Johns era, as Heidi hinted to!

  11. Molokai says

    The film is getting ravaged by the critics and my daughter thought it was awful. She said she thought it would be like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but it was ‘all dark and stuff’ and ‘sucked.’

    I’m so proud of my daughter.

    Enjoy the royalties, Palmiotti.

  12. Molokai says

    Jimmy, the fact that you apparently take pride in doing a prequel comic for a film containing gratuitous rape sickens me.

  13. MBunge says

    It’s unfair to compare “Suicide Squad” to “Green Lantern” because the latter didn’t have anything 1/10th as good as Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Will Smith is also doing a perfectly serviceable hero from a R-rated action movie and Leto is pretty good as the Joker. He’s no Heath Ledger but he’s playing a character that is very different in form and function.

    This review is pretty much spot on besides that as a relatively promising opening gives way to a bunch of visually dreary garbage that fails at even the most elementary aspects of storytelling.

    And Hollywood? STOP TRYING TO MAKE JAI COURTNEY HAPPEN.

    Mike

  14. Joseph says

    I agree with just about everything in this review, except that I still think BvS was a much worse film overall. I really wish the filmmakers had made this more of a Dirty Dozen style plot/mission movie instead of using the generic “supervillain tries to destroy the world because REASONS”. You could have inserted almost any superhero/superteam into the last thirty minutes and it would have been almost exactly the same movie. Disappointing for sure, but at least (for me) an improvement over BvS. Hopefully they’re moving in the right direction.

  15. Kyle Pinion says

    It’s my understanding that the 2011 Suicide Squad script written by Justin Marks (who also wrote the script for this year’s big hit, The Jungle Book) featured the Jihad/Onslaught as the primary villains, which I think would have been a much more appropriate conflict for the team.

  16. Daniel says

    Let me just state up front that I have a clear pro-DC bias. I loved the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. I loved the two Tim Burton Batman movies. I loved “Superman Returns.” I loved the “Dark Knight Trilogy.” I honestly think “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” are the two best super-hero movies ever made.

    But wow. Just wow.

    “Suicide Squad” is a terrible, terrible, incompetently made movie. I’m talking “Superman IV,” “Batman and Robin,” “Masters of the Universe,” “Ghostbusters II,” and “Jaws: The Revenge” level bad. Truly awful. I couldn’t even tell you the plot, that’s how incomprehensible it is. It’s like it was written and directed by a 13-year-old who wrote down a list of all the “cool” things he liked and that list was the script of the film. It looks cheap, its visually ugly, and it literally–LITERALLY, in the actual sense of the word–doesn’t make sense. The onscreen graphics are puerile. The music is annoying and cloying. The special effects are on par with an episode of a CW television show. It’s the equivalent of fan film.

    Under different circumstances I would actually encourage people to see the film for yourself just to experience this unprecedented level of incompetence first hand, but every dollar this dreck makes will only encourage WB to make more movies like this.

    People can legitimately debate the aesthetics and narrative and thematic choices made in “Man of Steel” and “BvS,” but those films were still well crafted, professionally made movies. Whether or not one liked the stories or the design of those films, they still made sense, there was still a logic and a coherence to the choices the filmmakers made. “Suicide Squad,” on the other hand, literally doesn’t even make coherent sense.

    Scenes start in the daytime, cut to nighttime, and then cut back to daytime with no explanation at all. The equivalent of a nuclear level threat is occurring over the skies of the DCEU version of Chicago and there is ZERO military or police presence anywhere other than the dozen or so soldiers assigned to babysit Task Force X. Imagine the last 20 minutes of the original “Ghostbusters” (the villains are basically the same as Zuul) but instead of being armed with portable nuclear weapons to neutralize the threat, people are armed with a machine gun, a pistol, and a boomerang. It’s asinine.

    People complain about how Wonder Woman didn’t serve a purpose to the plot of “BvS” (she does: she’s validation of Lex Luthor’s meta-human hypothesis being more than just Superman), but the Joker is completely inconsequential to the “story” of “Suicide Squad.” You could cut every single one of his scenes out of the movie and it would have no effect.

    And don’t fool yourself (based on the recent “Hollywood Reporter” story) into thinking that the original director’s cut of this film can redeem it. The basic plot of this film is flawed at its core. No amount of editing could save this. Easter eggs and fanboy moments are not a story. Audiences shouldn’t have to have a PhD in DC Comics-ology to understand what is going on.

    Again: I LOVE the DC movies. I will (and have) vigorously argued the legitimate artistic merits of “BvS.” But “Suicide Squad” is a level of awful that I haven’t seen in almost 20 years.

    Warner Bros. should be embarrassed.

  17. Daniel says

    There’s an infamous scene in “Jaws: The Revenge” where Michael Caine is on a boat and falls overboard into the water. But when climbs back onboard again minutes later his shirt is bone dry.

    In “Suicide Squad” Viola Davis is being held upside down by a slimy, snake-like creature on top of a building with dirt and debris flying everywhere. Based on everything the filmmakers showed us, once the villain is defeated she would have been dropped and fallen from a height of five or six feet and landed directly on the top of her head. And yet, true to form of every incompetent thing about this film, Davis (from out of nowhere) walks in from off screen and not a single hair on her head is messed up, not a speck of dirt or debris is on her clothes. No blood. No scratches. Nothing. Again, she’s emerging from the middle of a war zone and yet she looks like she just walked out of Nordstrom.

    I’m still having trouble getting my head around how bad this film was. The people comparing this film to “Green Lantern” are being unfair to “Green Lantern.” “SS” makes “GL” look like “Citizen Kane.”

  18. Daniel says

    And I can’t believe no one has commented on the Enchantress’ “dance.” It was cringeworthy. As was El Diablo sitting down to dinner in his middle class house with his middle class family with his ridiculous tattoos all over his face.

  19. Ronin says

    Rottentomatoes or critics are ridiculously overrated. There is something rotten when a masterpiece as The Wolf of Wall Street has less positive reviews than Avengers or Captain America.

  20. George says

    A comment on the latest fanboy assault against “the critics”:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/08/05/the_anti_rotten_tomatoes_movement_is_key_to_understanding_angry_comic_book.html

    Writer Sam Adams perfectly sums it up:

    “The “Crush the Tomato” faction wants to live in a world where other opinions don’t exist, or at least they don’t have to hear about them. They’ve inherited a once-marginalized subculture’s grudges despite the fact that most of them aren’t old enough to remember a time when comics were “just for kids.” It doesn’t matter that they effectively control the culture: Any threat to their dominance, be it a negative Suicide Squad review or a female Ghostbuster, has to be met with maximum force, repelled like an unwanted invader.”

  21. says

    Kyle said:

    “t’s my understanding that the 2011 Suicide Squad script written by Justin Marks (who also wrote the script for this year’s big hit, The Jungle Book) featured the Jihad/Onslaught as the primary villains, which I think would have been a much more appropriate conflict for the team.”

    I don’t think any feature film could feature a menace remotely like the Jihad w/o being condemned by the ultraliberals.

    Though I disagree with various points in Kyle’s review, the only thing I’ll take issue with is the blanket comparison with the Marvel movies and their more “compelling” characters. I’ve seen quite a few Marvel-derived movies whose sins are as bad or worse than those of SQUAD.

  22. Sarah says

    I’m glad I don’t take any notice of critics bullsh*t. Went to see the film on the 6th August. Cinema room was packed out, lucky enough to get a seat for myself and my brother right at the front. Loved loved loved it! The movie was amazing! Best film I’ve watched ever! It was funny and entertaining throughout… yeah the were some parts of sexism but not nearly as offending as in a lot of other films. I loved all the characters. I saw a lot of the joker through most of the movie.. sorry you missed him… must have been asleep through most of the film going by your review. Anyway, the public should go see the film and make their own minds up. I rarely agree with critics and I’m glad I went to see it. Can’t wait for it to come out on dvd.

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