(Note: The overall plot of Suicide Squad is not spoiled here. When I discuss the story’s setup, it may sound like I’m giving away a lot, but that’s just because the entire movie has so much going on, even just sticking to the first act reads like I’m spoiling the entire plot. You can trust in me: I’m not.)
Warner Bros. continues their emulation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (while refusing to admit that’s what they’re doing) with Suicide Squad. It’s likely the last blockbuster of the summer — as well as the studio’s desperate hope of cleansing the palettes of audiences that felt burned by March’s pedestrian Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
What should have been a carefree offshoot of the main DC Extended Universe saga now comes with the added expectations of redeeming the franchise, an unfair burden the movie understandably can’t really handle. As a late summer piece of brainless entertainment, you could do a lot worse. As a superhero movie — even just compared to other 2016 fare, for that matter — you could do a lot better.
In the wake of the “death” at the end of Batman v. Superman, the world is dealing with the dangerous powers that come with “metahumans” and the stakes of human lives left in the hands of them. Intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has put together a plan to put control back in human hands — by proxy, at least.
The titular squad she assembles, like a villainous supergroup, is comprised of psychopaths, mutants, and monsters that she forcibly recruits from prison sentences.
- Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin with perfect accuracy
- Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), former psychiatrist to the Joker (Jared Leto), before becoming his unhinged lover
- Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), whose namesake weapon is a metaphor for his mercuriality and unpredictable bursts of violence
- El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former gang member able to summon and control fire
- Slipknot (Adam Beach), an assassin with an expertise in tactical grappling
- Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), whose skin condition has left him looking like a reptilian monster, which is what he became after the world shunned him
The leader of this “suicide squad” is Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), an elite soldier working under blackmail by Waller. After Flag’s archaeologist girlfriend became possessed by the ancient evil force known as The Enchantress, Waller found The Enchantress’s buried heart, which gave her control over the spirit — and, accordingly, over Flag.
Along with Flag’s second-in-command, the katana-wielding swords woman Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the squad marches into Midway City to stop what Waller describes as a terrorist attack. Flag and Katana’s only assurance of survival are implants in all the villains’ necks, that can kill them with a click of a button from Flag’s phone. (Yes, this is all within just the first act of Suicide Squad. You may start to realize an issue already.)
After the gritty greys and blacks of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the Superman blues of Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad takes its Gotham-ish colour tones back to the dazzling neons of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
Some of the time, at least. Whenever the colours are bright, the movie’s visually stunning. Much of the second half, though, is spent in monochromatic, repetitive darkness that drains the movie of much of its early contrast.
Any spirit that keeps the movie going really comes from the cast, who all bring more to the characters than the script does. Smith enjoys slipping back into the inconsiderate shoes he wore in Hancock, Kinnaman’s noble strength holds equal ground against much stronger personalities, and Davis gives the most powerful performance of a suited character in a superhero movie since Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The two performances people are coming for, of course, are from Leto and Robbie, neither of whom disappoint. Leto’s performance may not be as instantly immortal as Heath Ledger’s interpretation, but it’s just as brave in how much it dares to reinvent the legendary villain. The true star, though, is Robbie, whose performance manages to delicately dance around the misogynistic objectivism that felled Sucker Punch, creating an unpredictable maniac who simply considers her sexuality one more tool in her arsenal of manipulative devices and tactics.
The less said about the overall antagonist of the story the better — it’s not the Joker — but what has to be said is that it feels like the wrong choice. Of all the supervillains available in the DC stable, it’s hard to believe the makers of Suicide Squad couldn’t have picked a more interesting or memorable one. If you were let down by the forgettable Lizard as the villain of The Amazing Spider-Man, you probably won’t be impressed here.
Suicide Squad really has a lot going for it. The problem is that DC keeps trying to copy Marvel without knowing how to accomplish the same results. When they aren’t trying to find shortcuts instead of putting in the time to build relationships, they simply guess by committee input.
Like last year’s Fantastic Four, you can feel Suicide Squad has been repainted by studio heads and focus groups a few times over, smearing the original focus of the film until many scenes are interchangeable and several fit downright poorly against each other.
One person clearly wanted it to be the next Deadpool, except it’s not as daring as Deadpool. Another obviously tried to make it the next Guardians of the Galaxy, except it’s not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy. Even the Spring Breakers colour palette it paints itself with was brighter in Spring Breakers.
That said, while DC has again failed to outdo Marvel, Suicide Squad does earn the dubious distinction of outdoing Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. There’s lots of room for improvement in future efforts, but Suicide Squad is the best movie yet in the DC Extended Universe.