Let’s look at some of the positives first. In order to do that, we’ll have to take a few steps back and start with some extremely broad strokes and smear some vaseline on the lens a little bit. Suicide Squad is definitely a movie. An action movie even. It’s also part of a very ambitious push on the part of DC comics that a lot of people have worked on for quite a long time, trying to convince people that they can handle a multi-film, multi-character, and multi-story universe just as well as Marvel does. Another good thing is that Will Smith is in it. That’s good. Also, Joel Kinnaman is in it, and if any of you watched that show “The Killing” on Netflix or AMC you probably liked him in that, so it’s good to see him again. It’s just a shame that he, Will Smith, and all the other great actors in the movie had to move on from their past projects where there was a cohesive vision and a crew that knew what was going on… Hm, I guess we’re out of positives.
On that note, let’s dig into the meat of the film. Suicide Squad does offer some great visual effects and excellent performances from the cast, however that’s not enough to offset the excessive amounts of dead-end plots, the dismissal of even the illusion of continuity thanks to the absolutely jarring and barely cohesive editing, and the overall disregard for what the audience was expecting and wanting based on the source material the movie was meant to emulate.
Let’s start with the plot. Most people who saw the movie will likely know what I’m talking about when I say that I was confused for a good portion of the movie. I wasn’t confused by what was happening, but by why it was happening. What Suicide Squad makes up for with hit-you-over-the-head action scenes, it lacks in reasoning. I have now seen the movie four times and there are still things I can’t explain about major plot points. That’s not a good sign. The initial incident is not the worst of these, but arguably should be the strongest plot point in any story. In Suicide Squad, the initial incident is best described as the failure of a lot of characters’ common sense on more than one occasion, which allows the villain to rather leisurely set up a doomsday plan all while in captivity. This makes the best analogy for what went wrong a cheesy slasher movie where you know if those dang kids had their heads screwed on straight in the first place they could have avoided the whole situation. After that initial incident, there are arguably four or five plots going on at the same time in this movie, which some films have made work, featuring different sets of characters, using flashbacks effectively to give them backstory, and then tying it all up at the end. Suicide Squad did not make it work. Plot #1 is the primary one which follows the Suicide Squad itself as they go through the city to reach the high value target they’re trying to save. Plot #2 is the Joker plot that happens in real time (maybe?) alongside the primary plot. Plot #3 is the backstory plot for Harley Quinn told through flashbacks. Plot #4 is the villain plot where we see what the antagonists are up to—sort of. Plot #5 could be considered part of the primary plot since it’s about the “big picture” of what’s going on, but I count it separately since you don’t actually find out what the “big picture” is until about 7/8ths of the way through the movie. That’s a lot of plots and therefore a lot of jumping around. The saddest part is that they wrote themselves into a corner that would have only allowed them to cut the Harley Quinn backstory subplot if they wanted to cut something, and that’s the most well developed plot in the whole movie; so it makes sense that they left it in, however it can’t help but contribute to the busyness of the movie. Beyond being simply busy, this movie also fails to deliver any stakes over the course of any storyline. Some characters do die over the course of the film, but it ultimately doesn’t matter, partially because the deaths themselves are fairly meaningless and furthermore, some are kind of dumb. Now I could probably go on about the failures of the plot for a long time, but those are the highlights.
Now let’s move on to continuity and pacing—or rather the lack thereof. There’s been some buzz about the fact that there were two separate edits done on the film that were eventually just stitched together at the last minute and it really shows. Here’s an example of a scene that I really hope was a victim of this weird mashup strategy: A short way into the movie, our anti-heroes are all on board a helicopter on the way to… well the plot I guess, or at least one of them. That helicopter promptly gets shot down by a flurry of high calibre bullets, which is par for the course in an action flick. However this crash has a unique mystery surrounding it that not many action movie crashes have: Who shot it down? We literally never find out who shot down the helicopter in the course of the entire movie. This would be less of a big deal if the crashing of that helicopter was just one of those little speed bumps in a movie that delay the protagonists from advancing for a little bit, but this crash is the whole reason that 80% of the movie happens. I know some people who missed that little detail when they went to see the movie and honestly I can’t blame them because they were probably too distracted by all the other stuff that was going on at the same time. There are a few other smaller examples like this, but I think you get the picture. The pacing is another weird thing that may have suffered as a result of the editing mashup but may have also been just bad technique. Sometimes this movie flies along, introducing characters left and right, blowing stuff up, and montaging around all over the place. Then some other times the movie gets caught up in a completely senseless firefight for way too long and then crawls along so slowly after that, that they have to have one character confront another and force him to explain the plot of the movie up until that point because the audience forgot what was happening. Also apparently someone with enough clout to make it happen, decided that there needed to be a flashback during that scene that’s not even a flashback to anything we haven’t seen already, but rather just playing back a few minutes of the movie we’ve already seen with a voiceover. WHAT? Who thought that was a good idea? And shouldn’t you know you’re in trouble when you actually think you have to do that to make sure you haven’t lost any audience members along the way? I’d also like the point out, that there is a scene near the end of the movie that would have benefited immensely from a short flashback to a scene we saw earlier on at the beginning, but that never got included of course. I’m not totally convinced that anyone actually watched the final edit of the film before sending it off to the theatres. Yeah, let’s distance ourselves from that now and move on to how the whole concept of the protagonists being villains got messed up.
Behind all the technical issues and highly questionable plot decisions, the movie in itself is a great concept. It’s about a group of villains who get rounded up by the government to go on missions that are too high calibre for normal government agents or the military, and that superheroes won’t do because of predominantly moral reasons. Or at least that’s what the Suicide Squad comics and movies/tv episodes were about. Instead the movie turned out to be about a mission that really didn’t have any moral question on the part of the squad at all. In fact, it pretty much turned them into heroes. There’s even a line in the middle of the movie that you might recognize from the trailers: “We’re bad guys, it’s what we do.” In a similar vein to reusing footage with a voiceover to explain the plot, the people in charge decided that this movie needed a line of dialogue to remind the audience that the protagonists are supposed to be bad guys. Yup, subtle. Besides the throwaway line, that would even be mostly fine if these characters’ villainousness wasn’t key to the entire DC universe at large. How is an audience supposed to root for a hero like Batman or Wonder Woman or The Flash when they’re going toe to toe with villains who have so far done just as much, if not more good on screen than any of the heroes? If DC doesn’t change this, they’ll flip the whole system on its head, and not in a way that makes us see the world from a new perspective, but just in a way that makes us feel dizzy and pass out.
Now I know I’ve said a long of bad things about the movie, but I will give it this: if you want something to zone out and watch for the sake of turning your brain off, Suicide Squad will serve you very well. It’s high octane and big and explode-y. Critically and technically however, it’s just a steaming pile of absolute garbage. That is of course my professional opinion. But the worst part about it—the part that upsets me the most—is that it was almost great. The premise, the casting, the acting, the effects, the action, they’re all fantastic, but it’s all just fluff. Without the substance of a good antagonist, cohesive editing, a streamlined plot, and a sense of creative responsibility on the part of the crew, it all falls flat on its face… then continues to fall down a Suicide Squad shaped hole in the ground in a fairly comical fashion until you realize how sad it is then just start to feel bad.
Well that’s it for this review. I can say with great confidence that the next one of these you see from me will not be nearly as harsh because nothing else can possibly deserve that harshness this much. So until then, I guess I’ll see you when I see you.