Suicide Squad should not technically exist. The tone, set-up, and characters are the antithesis of how DC has handled their films up to this point. Apart from introducing a new incarnation of Joker, I fail to see the point. Of all the available teams, why Suicide Squad? Why does Deadshot, Slipknot, and a bunch of other Randys get their own movie? Then you have the gritty aesthetic mixed with color that seems to conflict with each other. In Marvel’s case, either you go full bright (Avengers), or full dark (Daredevil) because it is consistent. Squad takes an in between approach that does not look like it will work, especially considering the other factors at play.
What gives me hope, however, is director David Ayer. I have only seen Sabotage and Fury, but I know the man cares about the craft of cinema. He applies that craft to action that rides the line between spectacle and logic where everything makes sense and looks cool. Fury in particular was framed like an old fashion WWII epic with an emphasis on the horror of war. Sabotage was ultra modern with many quick cuts and some shots captured from guns as they were fired. With that kind of talent, will Squad come out on top despite itself or join Batman v. Superman as another failure?
To combat threats that ordinary humans cannot Waller, played by Viola Davis, assembles a team of convicts with special abilities in exchange for taking time off their sentences. When a disaster takes place in Midway City, the team is sent in to rescue a high value target before the situation spirals out of control.
Style and substance go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other unless you are Zack Snyder. Style has its merits (see Neon Demon, Drive, and Bronson), but without even a shred of substance, why bother? Substance is what gives characters, dialogue, and story flesh. It is the material that makes fiction seem real and after watching Squad I still do not get it.
On the one hand, fans of Harley and Joker will enjoy seeing their characters, but the rest of the film has no purpose. I have not the slightest idea what it was trying to accomplish. Did it want to subvert superhero genre tropes? Add a little color to DC’s grim-dark aesthetic? Challenge the idea of what makes a hero? I cannot say because there is literally no substance. It is impossible to care about those involved and the story is just stuff that happens. All of the characters are Some Guy that say and do things that ought to have meaning. I do not care about Deadshot missing his daughter, Diablo walking the path of peace, or Harley suffering from severe Stockholm syndrome. I fail to invest because the movie has no thematic meat to invoke emotional engagement.
It is the same problem with the Fox movies where producers bank on name recognition without exploiting the depth that defines character, regardless if they are superheroes or not. You cannot have a guy named Cyclops and not make him a brooding control freak trying to be a leader. That is what happened with Deadpool before people that care about the character took over. You know why Captain America is sympathetic? Because war is all he knows and he cannot relate to other people. Ayer can write characters with substance, but clearly something happened behind the scenes that screwed it all up.
Squad’s style is fine, I guess. It gets by with nice shots and the fight scenes were decent. However, as I predicted, the dark tone and fun aesthetic did not work together. The first act is most telling where everyone gets an annotated introduction with neon font before it goes right into a Call of Duty scenario. The soundtrack, which is probably the worst I have ever heard, is a mess of pop and rock that fails to make you feel happy when the movie cannot. In Guy Ritchie’s hands, this issue of tone versus aesthetic would not exist. Can you imagine the Snatch equivalent of a superhero film?
Despite those massive issues, Squad is very watchable. Totally mediocre, but I would see it again if I did not have to spend money. The idea of a penal unit made up of Z-Tier villains as super powered cannon fodder is interesting. I also liked the dynamic between the interchangeable pairs of characters and their motivations, even if it did not matter. The whole deal with Joel Kinnamen’s Flagg and Cara Delevingne’s Moone gave the movie heart and Davis’s Waller was an incredible titanic bitch that made the whole thing worth it. Also, it was nice to see Jai Courtney get his acting back and newcomer Karen Fukuhara was okay. Her costume was weird, though.
The only other problem is Jared Leto’s Joker. His take on the character is interesting, but we do not see much of him. He will pop up, disappear for a long time, and then show up later down the line to do nothing of consequence. Like the substance issue, he is just there because the studio needed a name like Harley Quinn.
Batman v. Superman was depressing because it was trying to be something it was not. It attempted to establish an entire universe in one film and compromised the themes it was trying to convey in the process. Suicide Squad, while not worth the emotional investment, impossible though it may be, it is such an improvement over DC’s last effort that I find it admirable. Someone obviously cared about doing something different, even if the end result is pretty bad overall. The movie is not perfect and you will hate it, but if you absolutely need to see something and you can buy a cheap ticket, it is a harmless endeavor.