*Warning: A Few Spoilers*
In the 2 months since its release, Suicide Squad has racked up over $300 million worldwide and broken records all across the board for any movie ever (meaning not just superhero movies). And yet, for every fan who was happy with the film, you can find three or four who walked out of their theater complaining. There are fans who will insist that it was the worst movie they’ve ever seen, and other fans who will gladly join the petition to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because they gave the film a 26% Rotten rating (just a hair below the heavily criticized Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which garnered a 27%). So what is it about this movie that is causing such opposite reactions? I’ll admit to not being a fan myself, but why is it that DC is consistently getting bad reviews for their content? Especially since this is the film that got reshot specifically before release, which you would assume was to try and make it better. Let’s take a look at a couple of the elements of Suicide Squad to try and make sense of it all.
In all fairness, DC is already playing catch-up to Marvel in terms of their live-action films. While most comic fans will agree Marvel produces good content in their live-action (Captain America, for example, has only improved since his first film in 2011, and The Avengers set the standard for current large superhero collaboration films), but they will also state that DC has better animated content. So why is it that the live action is falling behind?
There was a recent comparison of DC’s currently released stories in their Justice League timeline – Man of Steel (2013), Batman vs. Superman (2016), and Suicide Squad (2016) – that said it would be like Marvel releasing their films in the order of Iron Man (2008), Captain America: Civil War (2016), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). In all fairness, comparing some of these movies is kind of unfair, since Marvel has had nearly eight years to strengthen their own titles since the initial Iron Man film and fans have only had three years to get used to their new DC faces (it’s only been four years since Christopher Nolan finished up his own Batman trilogy, after all). It is worth it though to compare Suicide Squad to Guardians of the Galaxy – both are meant to be fun, maybe a little more lighthearted, and both revolve around a cast of criminals (but again, Suicide Squad is a little darker and perhaps intended to be, even if it didn’t always play off that way). So maybe DC’s problem is that they are trying too hard to catch up quickly, because they feel like if they don’t Marvel will just own everything. They can’t afford to stop. Honestly I don’t feel like that should be a concern – people love Superman, they love Batman, they love the Justice League. People will still see the movies – just give us something to love. Don’t try to beat Marvel, just try to be a good DC.
Characters are a large part of any story – in order to get your audience to enjoy themselves, you have to give them people that are both fun and relatable to watch. In this, Suicide Squad wanted their team of ragtag villains to be fun and still inspirational, still relatable. So where did they fall short?
To begin with, you can immediately tell which characters aren’t going to matter in the long run of this story. Which is basically all but three, maybe four of them, and it becomes even more apparent when a character is brought in, given a name, and killed within ten minutes. The film starts off with quick backstory into the main members of the Suicide Squad, but Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Deadshot (Will Smith) are given a significantly larger portion of time to give backstory (complete with flashbacks to interactions with Batman) than any of their fellow “teammates”. For anyone who doesn’t know about Killer Croc’s (Adewale Akinnnuoye-Agbaje) backstory, Suicide Squad is not about to clear it up for you because you need to know more about Harley Quinn’s abusive relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto). One the one hand, you could only understand about half his lines anyway (and people complained they couldn’t understand Tom Hardy’s Bane voice), but his attitude alone could’ve made him an interesting character. Granted, this isn’t just a problem in the DC universe – Marvel does it too. All of its least popular characters (Hawkeye, Falcon, Agent 13, etc) are the ones who’ve had the least time devoted to them. Black Widow, despite her own lack of a movie, has had fairly large roles in other Avenger films to make us like her. None of the Suicide Squad characters have had that. Everyone loves Harley Quinn because everyone knows her, since she’s a popular DC character overall. Deadshot got a backstory with a daughter and a weird moment with Batman, so he’s covered. Even though she was a poorly written villain, Enchantress/Dr. Moone (Cara Delevingne) had backstory time, a love interest, and primary enemy status, even though the Joker is way more interesting. Most other characters were left scrambling for bits and pieces, and that made it hard to really like any of them. The only character at the end that I kind of liked was El Diablo, and he was saved for the second half anyway and then taken away from any chance of future films.
This was my biggest qualm with Suicide Squad, and I have no idea if it was just because of all the rewrites or if someone really didn’t just check the script before they put it through, but one of the reasons that people complained about the film was that it seemed half-assed. So much of the story had issues, and so little time was devoted to it because of half-backstories (surprisingly not enough either) and attempted fun fight scenes. So what were the issues?
Well, I like to start with the basic premise of the movie (which isn’t a great start for the movie honestly). The government is scared that one day Superman will decide he’s too strong to listen to humans and go nuts, and if that day should ever come, they should have a backup plan. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) throws out they idea that they use a team of super-villains as a make-shift team to take him down (after they’ve been implanted with bombs to control them, of course). So let’s take a look at the line-up. We have Deadshot, a good sniper, even though Superman is impervious to bullets. We have Harley Quinn with her gymnastics and her bat (because no one in their right mind will let her use a gun, even if they’re scared of Superman). Captain Boomerang, which I feel needs no explanation of my incredulity of how this guy is going to take Superman, who’s overpowered as it. El Diablo can light stuff on fire, which is cool and all, but I’m pretty sure Superman is fireproof (because what can’t he do?). Killer Croc is strong and can swim really well, maybe tear with his teeth if he gets his mouth on something. Katana has a magic sword that sucks souls, which would be cooler if I believed Superman would get anything more than a paper cut from that. And I can’t believe Enchantress would care much about hurting Superman at all, which is too bad because I think magic could actually do some damage. It’s no wonder they got rid of Slipknot as soon as they told the audience he was “an expert in climbing with unbreakable ropes”. In an already crowded movie, he was a bit much, and clearly they knew he couldn’t take Superman in a fight. But how many of them can, really?
We also should probably mention the Joker of it all. For all the publicity surrounding Jared Leto’s insane-looking incarnation of possibly the most famous comic book villain of all time, Joke gets maybe 15 minutes onscreen. And that’s being generous. Not to mention Leto has gone on record saying that there was more than enough footage shot of him to have his own film if they so chose. So what was the issue? Enchantress wasn’t so compelling as a villain that she handled the movie by herself – it’s why in Thor: The Dark World (2013) Loki was a helpful addition, because Malekith was a second-rate villain at best. So what’s with the distinct lack of crazy laughter, especially when the audience has so many new ticks to adapt to? Is it because they just needed him and Harley to appeal to the teens who (for some reason) view them as relationship goals? Did they think Harley couldn’t be introduced with no Joker but he didn’t need any more screen time than as a plot device? For the same reasons, it has been argued there was too much Joker because he didn’t really help the plot along and was just distracting from the story, especially since it’s highly doubtful this was his last appearance in the baby DC universe. But would we have taken Harley seriously without him? If we wouldn’t, was that a problem with Harley? It seems especially unfair when you hear about all the work Leto put into his Joker (just as much as Heath Ledger’s from The Dark Knight, it sounds like) and realize that despite most of the promotional materials including him, it seems like DC never meant to bring the Clown Prince into this narrative – at least, not enough for him to satisfy anyone, not even his girlfriend.
But perhaps the most annoying part of all of this is that at the end of the movie, it didn’t feel like it had earned anything it had worked towards. The ragtag team of villains was meant to come together and have this big moment of family, where El Diablo and Harley both stepped forward and announced that the Suicide Squad was a family and no one messed with them. But to me at the very least they didn’t deserve this grand a statement. Nothing they’d done throughout the film ever made me believe they considered each other family. Sure they joked around and maybe even looked out for each other, but Deadshot’s realistic tenderness towards his daughter was believable. El Diablo’s pain at his family’s death and his role in it was believable. Harley Quinn telling Enchantress that that no one messed with her family, aka the squad, was not. Nothing in 2 hours and 3 minutes made me believe they meant that much to each other. Maybe it was because the whole scene felt rushed with fight scenes thrown in and witty one-liners tying it all together. Maybe it was because the premise was more than a little worthy of eye-rolls. And maybe it was because I was getting distracted by things that the filmmakers should have been able to make me overlook, like how fast Harley’s hair dried after they all got soaked.
Suicide Squad was not a godawful movie. For someone with little to no DC exposure, I did enjoy it as a casual viewer. Sure there were things that, as a Cinema major and film enthusiast, bugged me in the production, script and creation of the movie, but the story itself was a very small part of it. As just a summer blockbuster to have fun at, I was decently amused. The two DC fans that I took with me to the movie, however, walked out really, really pissed. As a Marvel fan, maybe I can be accused of being prejudice, but at least one of these guys was really wanting Suicide Squad to be better than anything Marvel has put out. So why isn’t it working.
It might be any one of the things I mentioned above. It might be all of them combined a little bit. But the point is, DC needs to pull itself together. It shouldn’t become Marvel, the world doesn’t need two Marvels. Maybe it should just start ignoring Marvel all together. But I would recommend it slow down. Put out good content, and people will like it, but if they keep rushing themselves to put out just as much as Marvel and to catch up, the content they put out won’t be good. It will be half of what it could be, and the characters they’re trying to bring to life (not to mention the fans who love them) deserve more than half of DC’s best.