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‘Suicide Squad’ – A Look Back at one of DC Comics’ Most Fascinating and Frustrating Movies

*I co-run this website with two other guys: Managing Editor Artur Galvao and Senior Editor Mathew Simoes. Both of them do not like this film. I on the other hand, think it’s a lot of fun. So this is my retrospective look on Suicide Squad, two years later.*

August 5, 2016. Two years ago, Warner Bros. and DC Comics premiered the third entry into the DCEU (now titled Worlds of DC) canon, Suicide Squad. The film followed the controversial Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that, while I personally (along with many others) maintain is great, was riddled with negative reviews and a much lower-than-expected box office performance. David Ayer’s feature on one of DC’s most popular villain groups faced equal amounts of fan anticipation as well as pressure to perform. The film’s marketing campaign was, by all accounts, a resounding success as all three of the film’s trailers received millions upon millions of views on YouTube and the film was already rumored to be the DCEU’s “saving grace.”

With an all-star cast, a solid director in Ayer and all the faith in the world from fans, it looked like DC had the hit they were looking for. And then, critics saw the film and sure enough, yet another DC film had received resoundingly negative reviews. I, personally, was shocked. This was a film that I had been looking forward to since it was first announcement and yet again, critics bashed the film and labeled it a “hot mess” that included an incoherent story, sub-par performances and Jared Leto’s Joker receiving the most mixed response — being called both a terrible interpretation of the character as well as different but great.

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The question again arose of “is there a divide between critics and fans?” The answer is yes. Without-a-doubt, critics and the fan base have never been so far apart than they are right now (and if you do not believe, me, go look at the Rotten Tomatoes ratings for films like Man of Steel and Hereditary). Taking a look into these SS reviews, it is clear that (some) critics did not review the film in… let’s say an objective manner. Many continued to compare the film to those of Marvel (which yes, in some cases works but to compare a film like this to something like Guardians of the Galaxy makes no sense). Marvel is not the standard but it is easy to see why most superhero films are always compared to them. Marvel is on such a hot streak right now that other studios looking on from the outside see this and want to re-create it. But David Ayer’s Suicide Squad never wanted to be like Marvel… initially anyway. Films such as Logan, Deadpool and yes, even Batman V Superman, try to separate themselves from the Marvel mold and stand on their own. Just because a film is not as fun as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, does not make it bad.

Additionally, false criticism will not help anyone when stating an opinion, Kyle Buchanan, a critic for Vulture, tweeted that Batman punches Harley (without giving context to the scene) and implies that he sexually assaulted her when giving her CPR. He is not the only to think that Batman sexually assaulted her during that scene and it is amazing to see how many people became sucked into this lie when the film clearly showed something else. Batman knocks her out because he had to take to her prison and she was coming at him with a hidden knife. What Buchanan failed to say was that she was going to try to kill him if he did not stop her. What did you expect him to do? High-five her? It is things like this that hurt modern film criticism.

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Still, even after leaving the theatre, there were certain things that I definitely agreed with critics on. For one thing, the film’s pacing is nowhere near the level it should have been. Its pacing is off and this can be attributed to Warner Bros’ rumored last minute changes to the film (which resulted in an extended cut this is much better than the theatrical release). The setup in the beginning moved too fast and it would have benefited from slowing things down. The character intros worked, but additional scenes were needed for Enchantress, who is the film’s main villain and we do not know anything about her backstory on Earth. Additionally, while I called the marketing of the film a success, it do prove to be somewhat of a false flag as these “at the buzzer” changes led to Jared Leto’s role in the film being reduced. Now, I never expected him to have a massive role in the film. It is called Suicide Squad after all. But as Leto’s name received second billing only behind Will Smith, it was expected that he would have a substantial supporting role in the film. Alas, this never came to be either, only adding to people’s problems with the film. I will not complain about how he was used however as his role in the creation of Harley Quinn was very well done, especially the “chemical bath” sequence.

This is where the film arguably suffers the most. David Ayer once came out and spoke about The Joker’s role in the film and confirmed that, while he stands by his film, the one thing he would have changed was the main villain. That role should have gone to Leto’s Joker instead of the Enchantress. As a fan of the film I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. Having the Squad go up again a magical force without having a member with similar power levels on the team makes little sense and it was one of my biggest gripes with the film. Suicide Squad ended its box office run with $745 million and that is terrific. But, the film could have been so much more considering more WB meddling and Ayer’s script (which by the way, was written in apparently six weeks which makes NO SENSE).

If anything, Suicide Squad brought some great characters that could be used in future movies. Jared Leto played the Joker as he should be played—a psychopath in an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn. Because Harley is a part of the squad, it was vital to show the Joker in her story because there’s no Harley without the Joker. This goes into another problem that people had about the movie—Harley’s portrayal. Harley is a complicated character and she’s been portrayed multiple ways ever since her debut in Batman: The Animated Series, but the fact always remains that she’s sadly in love with a man who doesn’t love her back. He is emotionally and physically abusive, but despite this she still imagines this perfect future with him.

Some have actually said that the movie romanticizes her relationship with the Joker and that is just a lie. When one re-watches the film it is clear that, while the audience does not see the abuse, the movie shows The Joker from Harley’s perspective and obviously it is unsettling to watch because we know it’s wrong but she’s so blinded by love that she can’t see that. This was a very accurate portrayal of Harley (more on that later), and the script stayed very faithful to its source material – most of her story was drawn from Joker by Brian Azzarello – so how can you fault a movie for respecting what it’s based on?

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I maintain that this film is fine, but it is NOWHERE near the untouchable mess critics made it out to be. It is not a perfect story; the director readily admits that. But, what is the best thing Suicide Squad has going for it? It is so much fun. Seriously, even if I remember liking this film more when I first watched it compared to know, what has not changed is how much fun I have watching this film and this is all credited to David Ayer’s casting of these characters.

Let’s start with Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the architect of the central “supervillains are forced to defend America or be killed” plan. There is so much potential in this character: she’s an ambitious, uncompromising black woman trying to sell her scheme in a world of white men who don’t acknowledge her authority. Ayer isn’t blind to what Waller needs to be to succeed, so he undermines all of his supervillains by giving them secret sentimental sides and soft hearts, but she’s the full-on murdering sociopath who’s colder than all of them, and she gives the film a spine and a dark edge.

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Then there Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the film’s breakout character. Harley steals the show more often than not, and it says something that she’s the marquee character in this film. She’s so much more than the Joker’s girlfriend, especially when you consider her history in DC canon. Margot Robbie is as committed as ever to the part , giving glimpses into Harley’s inner life, which Ayer crafted superbly. Harley is so appealing in this film because she makes the DC Extended Universe so much fun. She’s the epitome of what all the Suicide Squad lead-ups promised us: she’s cheerfully, recklessly amoral. She’s got some great quips. She spread mayhem, and was gleeful about it.

The film’s lead, Will Smith as hitman Deadshot (a personal favourite DC Comics character) is someone I cannot speak more highly of. Senior Editor Mathew will disagree with me here but I loved the way Ayer and Smith portrayed Deadshot’s inner conflict about his work when he so clearly loves killing for money, but it’s so clear Smith came out to play for this role, and was going to sell this vision of the character. While yes I do agree that Deadshot was more of an anti-hero than full-fledged villain here, I like how, from the get-go, the film introduces viewers to Deadshot’s weakness and motivation and reason for living, his 11-year-old daughter. We see him still love the thrill of being a hired gun but it is all in an attempt to show his daughter that he is not the monster they portray him to be.

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As for the rest of the cast, while they are not as fleshed out as the three characters above, this does not take away from all of them being entertaining. Jai Courtney portrays Captain Boomerang in the film and this is easily his best performance yet. Boomerang is a loud-mouth, uncaring individual who could not care less about the mission at hand. Courtney plays the aloof nature of the character perfectly, even if he was thinly written. Karen Fukumura was great as Katana but she deserved more scenes. She worked very well with what she had and because she’s not considered a villain, it was interesting watching her work with villains. Finally there is El Diablo, a character who proved to be much more emotionally driven than previously thought. Despite the character sometimes leaning on negative Latino stereotypes, Diablo’s arc in the film is emotional and impactful because you could tell that he genuinely feels guilt over what he did to his family so seeing the squad become his new family pulls at your heartstrings.

What does not get talked enough about as well, probably due to the film’s actual soundtrack, is Steven Price’s riveting score for the film. From start to finish, Price’s pulse-pounding and heroic/villainous score will draw you right into the battles and emotional moments on screen.

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Suicide Squad is frustrating because although I like this movie, I recognize that there are faults. But a part of being a critic and a fan is finding the positive and negatives in films that have clear positive and negatives. Like I said before, this isn’t a perfect movie. Just because I liked the film doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious flaws in it. But, it is also a fascinating feature as it paved the way for critics to lay unnecessary attacks on a film that holds great characters, solid visuals and amazing music. When someone asks if the divide between critics and fans remain, the answer is yes. Did the film deserve all the hate critics threw at it? Some would say no while others say yes. Personally, I am in the camp of no due to my love for these characters. Story problems aside, Ayer did a wonderful job of adapting these villains to life in a wickedly fun film. Suicide Squad can be something of a jumbled mess at times, and it’s certainly not as unique or hilarious as something like Deadpool, but it’s got plenty of charm, a great cast of villains, and a fun if somewhat silly plot. Two years later, I still have a good time re-watching this film and with plenty of spin-offs and a sequel planned, DC has carved a nice villainous corner of their fledging film universe. Not everyone will like the film’s you do, but for fans and critics to make false notions about a movie in an attempt to criticize it, that’s when their opinion becomes invalid.

 

What do you think of Suicide Squad? Let us know in the comments down below!

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