Warner Brothers and DC continue to chase the dragon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Suicide Squad, and they continue to make weird creative and tonal decisions that continuously hamstring that effort.
It made me think a lot of thoughts, so buckle up, this is going to be a long one.
Task Force X, more commonly referred to as the Suicide Squad, dates back to a couple issues of The Brave and the Bold in 1959 where it was a government agency formed when the Justice Society disappeared for a while. They were mostly military people and disappeared into retirement/obscurity after a while.
The second, more popular, critically acclaimed version that this movie is largely based on, dates back to 1987, where a government official rounds up a bunch of hardened criminals with super powers or advanced technology, and sends them across the world to do government wetwork where they either succeed or get themselves killed. Either way, its a win-win for Uncle Sam. But not THE Uncle Sam, who actually is a character in the DC Universe.
Told you so.
There's also a modern version of the team similar to the 80s-90s version, but this time with a little less inter-team backstabbing and with Harley Quinn attached because its a new continuity and they needed a popular character to add to it because that's what temporarily sells comic books.
What this means is that in one form or another, the Suicide Squad has existed in three different major DC comics continuities (Pre-Crisis, New Earth, and New 52). This is also why explaining comic books to normies is both frustrating and time consuming.
So before we get into it, here's the Spoiler-free Review: Suicide Squad is the most entertaining movie of the DC Cinematic Universe, but its still not very good and continues to be frustrating in how close it can get to getting it right and how painfully often it misses the mark. 5/10.
Anyway, the movie version is assembled much like the 80s team. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes a disposable black ops team made up of hardened super criminals in the wake of Superman's bland death in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice so that the government has some way to check the next Superman who shows up and isn't interested in Truth, Justice, and the culturally sensitive way.
Oh yeah. Spoilers for Batman v Superman.
Waller is pretty spot on for what the comic version is all about and is herself a bad, bad lady when she needs to be. She recruits decorated war hero golden boy Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to serve as field commander and babysitter for her team. She does this by setting him up with an archeologist named June Moon (Cara Delevingne) who is possessed by an ancient entity called the Enchantress who is obviously magical but they persist in calling it extradimensional. Waller has the Enchantress' heart in a suitcase that she can stab voodoo-doll style if the freaky witch lady starts getting out of line.
The rest of the team consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), a world-class assassin and marksman; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker's girlfriend and equal in lunacy; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian crook who uses trick boomerangs and fought the Flash; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a former gangbanger with deadly pyrokinetic abilities and a desire for redemption; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) the Batman villain who looks like a crocodile; Slipknot (Adam Beach), a jobber from Firestorm's old series who's good at climbing things. Oh, and they're also joined by Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who isn't a villain at all, but she does have a magical sword that captures the souls of the people killed with it. To their credit, they don't even bother trying to explain that one away as being extradimensional vaguely advanced science. She's a left field pick, but its fine, and it has me crossing my fingers that they actually go and make a Batman and the Outsiders movie. Because I'm the lunatic who wants to see them pull off live action Metamorpho and Geo-Force.
We're introduced to most of the team through flashbacks as to how they got arrested, usually through Batman and in Boomer's case, the Flash in a brief cameo.
While the team is being assembled, Enchantress goes off the reservation and frees her brother, Incubus, only instead of meeting him in outer space, they meet up in a subway. She goes rogue, Waller tries and fails to kill her, Incubus powers her up and gives her a cleaner costume, and the two proceed to build a gigantic glowing bomb that may or may not be a light grenade for vaguely defined reasons. But its definitely a threat. Because Waller says so.
The squad mounts up and chafes under Flag's gung-ho leadership and they fight their way through a city crawling with relatively easily killed minions and yadda yadda yadda, the villains end up bonding with each other and who's the real monster blah blah blah and it literally ends like Ghostbusters.
No, not this year's biggest movie trainwreck. I mean the original Ghostbusters.
The plot is derivative as hell and the only reason it isn't linear is because its broken up by numerous flashbacks. The editing is also really weird and reeks of executive meddling, since there are introductions, then introductions again, then recaps of things that happened half an hour ago, and other messes like that.
The meat of the movie is a ensemble character piece as these weirdos are thrust into an increasingly bizarre adventure. A lot happens, but the actual plot is surprisingly simple. Curiously for a character piece, the three top billed characters are the ones I had the most problems with.
Deadshot. So Floyd Lawton comes from a well-to-do but messed up family and his killing days started early. He tried to challenge Batman with a tuxedo and mask, got arrested, developed a nihilistic “death wish” which was him mostly not caring about whether he lived or died and eventually found out he had a daughter which gave him some semblance of something to live for. Death wish, sleazy white trash moustache, selfish prick, sarcasm, eventual discovery of a daughter that gave him something to live for. These are Deadshot's biggest character traits, and the movie only bothers with the last two. He only ever wears his iconic mask twice, which I understand. You pay for Will Smith, you damn well better use all of Will Smith. Its the lack of a death wish that really makes him generic anti-hero here. The whole appeal of Deadshot is to see him be enormously casual about the deaths of his teammates and about the danger around him, which ironically enough, makes him the perfect member of the Squad because all he cares about is himself and shooting people that annoy him.
Harley Quinn. Personal taste is personal taste, but I prefer the harlequin version from the Animated Series to the modern Suicide Girls camwhore version, mostly because I prefer minimalist designs. Character-wise, this Harley is cheerful, bubbly, and thoroughly psychotic, which is in keeping with the character, but she also lacks an innocence that detracts subtlety from the character. This isn't a knock on her performance, that's fine. My beef is with the writing.
Part of the bizarre appeal of Harley is her innocence. When she's happy, its a childlike joy. When she's angry, its a tantrum, albeit a deadly one that usually involves hyenas tearing someone apart. She taps into a trickster archetype, a prankster. Making her a sexpot doesn't work for me because it means the Joker regressed her to a teenager instead of a pre-adolescent, which is less horrifying. And let's not bandy about here, the Joker taking an intelligent psychologist and manipulating her into loving him and then fracturing her personality into a thousand broken pieces is HORRIFYING. That's the point.
Joker. I haven't mentioned Jared Leto's Joker for a couple of reasons. First, he has absolutely no bearing on the plot. Whatsoever. You could cut every one of his scenes and it would work out exactly the same. Second, its the arguably the worst on-screen portrayal of the Joker, and definitely the worst live-action one. The Joker's entire existence serves as a mockery. A mockery of sanity, good taste, morality, style, taste, whatever you can think of, the Joker exists to deliberately subvert it. The argument can be made that this version's a mockery of modern day gangsters and their aspirations of opulence. My counter-argument is that its simply not funny in its execution. They get the off-putting weirdness of the Joker down on screen, but they miss the point that he's the Clown Prince of Crime.
Much of Joker's atrocities are committed because he thinks they're funny. He's even go so far as to let people live because killing them wouldn't be funny. Its also why his history is littered with outlandish gag weapons and deathtraps. Its because he finds his brand of nihilistic absurdity hilarious, and when the writers are good, we too find it hilarious, which is the greatest element of the horror that is the Joker. We can identify with the Joker's sense of humor, which in turn repulses us, because there's that little bit of the Joker inside us all. Much like Lex Luthor in Batman V Superman, the misinterpretation of such an archetypal character as the Joker is downright tragic.
Now, as to the portrayal of Joker & Harley's relationship. The Joker is the primary mover and his erratic, often dangerous treatment of Harley is also part of his villainy. He created her on a whim, and just as often, casts her aside for those same reasons. HOWEVER, on the flipside, Harley is a monster of his creation and is psychotically devoted to him, in a “if I can't have him, no one can” sort of way, which is also comical because its a kind of karmic retribution for ol' Puddin'. Its a relationship built out of two horrible people who are always on the verge of killing each other. Its anything but healthy, but the abuse runs both ways.
Enchantress. Oddly enough, June Moon is fairly close to her comic counterpart, where she is wildly powerful but wildly dangerous. The problem is that she's also the primary antagonist so she has nothing to do with the rest of the team and does little besides sneer, move around creepily, and give Rick Flag something to angst about. Also, I do miss the green witch's hat.
Rick Flag. He starts out as a standard military action movie guy, then he gets involved with Enchantress, then he turns into the team's wet blanket, and then he gets a little more interesting, but not much. He has to play the straight shooter compared to all the villains, but he mostly gets lost in the crowd, and even his “rivalry” with Deadshot feels hollow.
So with all the legitimate complaints about the movie, there are some real bright spots that stand out, even if they're underutilized.
Killer Croc's a lot of fun as dumb muscle comic relief. He buddies up with Diablo, but aside from a few moments where he rips and tears or tosses off an occasional one-liner, he doesn't really do anything. Which is a shame, since the makeup work on him is fantastic.
Captain Boomerang steals every scene he's in because, like the comics, he's a complete and total shitbag. Drunk, filthy, womanizing, cowardly, backstabbing, and yet a survivor who, in the comics at least, is capable of giving the Flash a legitimate fight because he's such a tricky bastard. The scene where he dupes Slipknot into making a break for it only for the bomb to go off is lifted from the comics (except in the books, Slipknot lost an arm, not his head, so he could come back later and job some more).
The part where Flag smashes the detonator and sets the Squad free because he's mopey about Enchantress is perfectly punctuated by Boomer grabbing his beer and bolting from the bar they're in. Of course its ruined by him showing up again outside when they all march off to the final action sequence for no reason that makes any sense outside of a shoehorned attempt to make these villains into “A FAMILY.” It would've been more in character if Boomer actually did run off only to get dragged back after the final battle's over. But whatever, I'm a big Flash fan, and seeing them otherwise get Captain Freakin' Boomerang done right on the big screen gives me some hope for the Flash movie. Not a lot, but some.
The real standout of the movie, and the character who legitimately gives it heart and soul is Diablo. He's soulful, mournful, and his self-imposed pacifism and hopeless quest for redemption is the actual beating heart of this movie. Sure, his arc's predictable like most of the rest of the movie, but its also the best executed and genuinely more compelling than Deadshot learning how to be an antihero or Harley being an awful person and getting away with it because “WE'RE A FAMILY NOW!”
Top-to-bottom, this is a deeply flawed movie with a lot of bad narrative decisions, but there's also some flashes of gold in there that make it the best entry in the DC Cinematic Universe. Its just a shame that “The best entry” in this case is a mediocre 5/10. Not recommended, unless you like C- and D-listers like I do.