For the sake of getting up to date on the DC Extended Universe, I watched “Suicide Squad”(2016), which is now available on HBO. It’s the most maligned of the four DCEU movies, rating a 6.2 on IMDB, compared to 6.6 for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” 7.1 for “Man of Steel” and 7.6 for “Wonder Woman.” It has some major problems, but I actually connected with the characters faster than I did with Supes or Bats in their DCEU debuts, and I wouldn’t mind following this bunch into sequels so I can get to know them better.
Written and directed by David Ayer, “Suicide Squad” is inferior to, say, “Wonder Woman,” because it just has too many characters. As such, they too often don’t extend beyond sketches. In his brief backstory, we only see expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith) take one job: Killing a bad guy for another bad guy, for money. The line between him and Batman (Ben Affleck) — whom I was pleasantly surprised to learn has a beefy cameo, starting with capturing Deadshot — is arguably tenuous.
That line between “good” and “bad” goes from gray to upside-down when Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) – the head of a secret military branch – kills all of her technical assistants in cold blood because they didn’t have clearance to know about the mission. “And I’m the bad guy?” Deadshot asks, reflecting my reaction. Indeed, Waller and her colleagues would make excellent villains in a future movie – although, being a mainstream franchise, they’d be presented as a rogue faction of the U.S. government rather than representative of the U.S. government. It’s probably too much to hope that Waller would be the Big Bad in “Justice League,” although we do know that she’s on Batman’s radar. But at any rate, it’d probably be more fitting if the Suicide Squad takes her out.
Another standout is Colonel Rick Flag, a role totally in the wheelhouse of “The Killing’s” Joel Kinnaman. I like how his relationship with Deadshot advances from his holier-than-thou “I’m a soldier” attitude to hugging him at the end (although Deadshot isn’t a hugger). And Flag makes sure Deadshot isn’t harassed by the guards during his visits with his daughter. This is the closest thing to friendship for two guys not wired for friendship.
Flag’s relationship with his wife also adds poignancy. June Moone/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne, whose name I’ll always have to look up in order to spell it) is very similar to Amy Acker’s Fred/Illyria arc, which was cut short when “Angel” was canceled (it was continued in the comics, but your mileage may vary). It’s not a ripoff, though, as Enchantress made her DC comics debut in 1966.
June’s story is tragic and fascinating, and it’s done pretty well, but there’s not enough of it. Delevingne is intriguingly different when playing buttoned-down archaeologist June or the primitive and sexy Enchantress, who has the power to drill into people’s minds and enchant them with happy thoughts.
Fans of “Batman: The Animated Series” couldn’t ask for much more from the big-screen debut of Harley Quinn than Margot Robbie’s appropriately off-kilter turn. This is one time when off-and-on accents are a valid acting choice. As with Rick and June, Harley-and-The-Joker is a little too sketchy. She’s in love with him because he fried her brain to make her that way, and that’s too dark and trippy for a brief backstory.
Some people had a problem with the shortage of Joker (Jared Leto) scenes, but I didn’t mind; I’ve never had a strong grasp of the character – even Heath Ledger’s turn in “The Dark Knight” didn’t hook me like it did the rest of the world. The relationship between Harley and The Joker needs a movie of its own, but as far as “Suicide Squad” goes, Joker could be in the film less.
But since he IS an important part of the plot, he needs to be in it a little more – and this brings me to the biggest problem with “Suicide Squad”: It doesn’t treat it’s plot seriously, and therefore it asks the audience to not take it seriously (even though the movie works better if you DO take it seriously). On three – yes, three – occasions, a helicopter crashes and everyone (well, all the main characters, at least) walks away unscathed.
In one of the crashes, The Joker is aboard. We know he survived because 1) Of course he survived, and 2) He pops up in an epilogue to rescue Harley from prison. But I think those missing scenes of him surviving the crash are essential. Really, blockbuster franchises shouldn’t even pretend main characters are dead in the first place (here’s looking at you, “BvS: Dawn of Justice”), but at the very least, they should bother to show HOW they survived their seeming demise. It’s simply a matter of playing fair with the audience.
But as the disappointment with “Suicide Squad” abates with time, I think people will notice the good things more, and it will be seen as a decent movie. Certainly, the characters are in place, and I wouldn’t mind following them – particularly Rick, June, Deadshot and Harley – into better-constructed sequels.