Suicide Squad has been getting completely panned by most reviewers while breaking box office opening week records. Is there something about the film that can explain this seeming discrepancy?
As a matter of fact, there is. Suicide Squad–one of the most hyped films of the summer, and directed (thank god) NOT by Zack “slow motion fetish” Synder but by David Ayer of Fury fame–is not at all original, which leads to many of the critic complaints. That said, it is well executed and such a fun movie that it’s simply impossible to hate.
The movie opens with the idea of the “suicide squad”– a group of very bad people able to be disavowed if anything goes wrong–being floated at a dinner by a masterful Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, who steals every scene she’s in). The bios she has prepared are brief, and I’m sure people would like more on each of them, but they get to the point of each of the members. Of course, having some familiarity with most of the characters through the Arkham games helps greatly–and indeed, it’s the character that doesn’t appear in any of the Arkham games (Captain Boomerang, played by Jai Courtney) who is the weak link in terms of fleshed out characterization. It’s not clear why he’s part of the suicide squad or what his role is, or even much of his backstory. I know he’s part of the suicide squad in the comics, and the film wants to stay true to the comics, but Captain Boomerang could have been cut or replaced in the name of artistic license, and the film would have been better for it.
In addition, Harley Quinn’s bio features both her and the Joker, which is nice, but it’s hard to introduce the Joker and use him appropriately. Now of course the Joker created Harley, and they are the King and Queen of crime–but Joker only needs to show up to provide backstory for Harley Quinn. He doesn’t need to show up in the film itself, and the film manages to strike the awkward middle ground between not using him at all (fine) and making him a central figure (also fine). It doesn’t work. The stripper scene with the Joker and Harley Quinn is pure fan service that adds nothing to film except “He’s edgy, unstable, and they have an abusive relationship”, which anybody who knows anything about the Joker and Harley Quinn already knew. Everybody knows the Joker is prone to random acts of extreme violence, but unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker—who was genuinely menacing, especially with the broken pool cue and the pencil—Suicide Squad’s Joker ungracefully tries to hammer that point home.
The other big issue I have with pacing of the film is the bar scene. It’s the comedown from a big action sequence, but it feels a little bit forced. There’s a little bit of character exposition, but having Deadshot go from “I’m out” to “I’m back in” in the space of about 10 seconds is such a fast turnaround that I thought I got whiplash from it. The bar scene, like much else in the movie, could have been cut or expanded, and either way the film would have been better for it.
Even though the film was not directed by Zack Snyder, I can still see his fingerprints all over it. While David Ayer is a much better action-scene director, the film suffers from Snyder Syndrome. Snyder syndrome is where the director looks at the source material—the comic—and sees pretty pictures and words, and completely and utterly fails to get the broader scope or take a deeper look at translating those characters to film. The biggest problem here is the Joker, but the whole dynamic of the team feels off, as well as the pacing of the action scenes. It’s very pretty—Zack Snyder has always been good at taking those pretty pictures in the comics and shooting them artistically—but the interpersonal dynamics of the team are not fleshed out enough, even with characters we already know from other media. I suspect the film was much different and better before it got edited to hell, and for that I blame Synder. Entrusting your big DC universe to the same man who made the execrable Watchmen adaption is a decision I will never understand, and he has certainly “proven” himself with Man of Steel (bad) and Batman V Superman (worse).
The plot is fairly unoriginal as superhero movies go. World-ending calamity happening, city devastated, big battle at the end. However, I’m not going to dock it many points for that, as it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of superhero movies, which is to take itself too seriously. In the Marvel universe, I’ve always preferred Marvel’s smaller, more personal films (Ant-Man, Thor, Iron Man) to the big superhero extravaganzas that get the big names and the big bucks (Avengers), because the Avenger movies do indeed take themselves too seriously, with Age of Ultron being the worst offender. Suicide Squad is Avengers-lite, if the characters didn’t get their own movies to set up, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s self-referential, humorous, and works well with an unoriginal plot. The lack of original thought of the plot is a large part of why critics are hammering it, but it works well with what it has and so I can’t dislike it for that. The villain has no depth, really, which is always unfortunate, but is fairly par for the course for the DC universe from what I’ve seen.
It may seem like I’m taking the film to task over the past few paragraphs, and I suppose I am. But the thing about Suicide Squad is that you really can’t hate it even for all its flaws. It’s not hard to watch in the same way that Watchmen is, and it is in fact genuinely fun. Suicide squad is the puppy who knows the rolled up newspaper is imminent, but who rolls over and gives you puppy eyes. I know in my heart of hearts that I should be mad at it, but after watching it, I simply can’t be. It revels in its garish gritty neon glory, and I have to admire it for that, plot and all.
Suicide Squad does get great points from me for its soundtrack. Any film that opens with “House of the rising sun” and pulls out “Sympathy for the Devil” at exactly the right moment, as well as fitting in “Seven Nation Army” , “Spirit in the Sky” and “You Don’t Own Me” has to get points. Even the credits are great, with “Sucker for pain” being the perfect thing to play over them. If the soundtrack were any less good, the film as a whole would suffer, but Suicide Squad is saved by its music.
8.2/10. For comparison, I would give BvS a generous 6/10 and Man of steel a 7.5/10. Zach Snyder is the reverse King Midas—everything he touches turns to shit—but he’s been kept far enough from this to only give it a faint odor. It’s not good, but fun to watch, and those two are often quite different and can live separately.