The DC film universe is one of the most divisive I’ve seen in recent memory. Any time a film comes out with that DC logo at the start, vitriol and “critics vs. fans” fights are sure to follow. This week’s release of Suicide Squad follows that pattern perfectly. When reviews started pouring in from the professionals, they were overwhelmingly negative, affirming the hope of some, and the fear of others. With this, though, comes people that like to strike back against the critics. So, needless to say, my twitter feed has been almost unreadable the past week, with one side talking about how dreadfully terrible Suicide Squad is, and others lashing out against the negativity, screaming about how great the film is, admittedly, before many had even watched the movie (but that’s a trend you learn to deal with when you spend as much time on social media as I do). Much like with Batman vs Superman, no matter how negative the reviews may have been, I was paying to see Suicide Squad on opening weekend. Also much like Batman vs Superman, I’m glad that I did.
The most interesting aspect of Suicide Squad has to be the fact that there are almost no traditional “good guys”. Batman makes a couple appearances, but these are all in flashback, and not really related to the story being told here. The military figures, lead by Rick Flag, are the closest thing you get to good guys, but even they are clearly flawed, and do bad things like force a group of prison inmates to carry out acts against their will by using the fear of getting their heads blown off. This is an important element in Suicide Squad because it makes a lot of the things that we see in the film make more sense. For example, there is a good amount of overt sexism in the film. At one point a male character punches a female guard in the face, and then gives the explanation “she had a mouth” as his reasoning. Is this a disgusting display of sexism? You bet it is. But it’s coming from a bad guy that we get nearly no character development from. A piece of shit human being who kills for a living, and is even now being exploited because he is so good at killing for a living. We aren’t supposed to like this guy, and god knows that I don’t. Sexism exists, and this film uses that reality to make the bad guys feel like the trashy assholes they are, with some notable exceptions.
(The biggest exception has to be Deadshot – a bad guy that we are supposed to like – talking about smacking a female character’s ass to get her back in line. That is just plain ol’ Hollywood sexism at its finest, and while I’m not giving that a pass, I will say, for better or worse, it fits the character that Will Smith and David Ayer have created.)
Another reason I find it fascinating that we’re watching a film filled with bad people is that we get some dramatic character arcs. We get to see what made me these people vile, unrelatable murderers in most instances, and then we get the human side of the main players, which softens them and makes their journey more engaging. Harley Quinn and Deadshot are the best examples of this. Harley seems like a psychopath – and she is – but she also wants what a lot of people want: to get married, have children, and live a traditional lifestyle. Deadshot is a hitman, but we see his human side thanks to his eleven-year-old daughter, who he genuinely loves. The group becomes more cohesive as the story progresses, and watching them work together is hell of a lot of fun.
The biggest problem with Suicide Squad is that the plot is incredibly weak. The main villain that the group is fighting is poorly developed, and as uninteresting as it gets. As the plot moves on, it feels more and more like the main baddie is just there out of necessity because this group of outlaws need something to fight so that they can come together. I couldn’t even tell you the main villain’s name without looking it up. Sure, it was trying to destroy the world and all that, but this never really feels like the central focus of the film, thus making it forgettable. Even the world being destroyed felt secondary to us learning more about the Squad itself.
Suicide Squad is an instance where the characters trump the story. This doesn’t always happen, but I enjoyed spending time with these characters so much that I didn’t care that the plot was below average. This film is about Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Flag, Diablo, Killer Croc, and so on. As someone who hasn’t spent any time with this Squad in comic book form, I didn’t quite know what to expect. From the characters we get here, though, I now can’t wait to see more.
A lot has been made about Jared Leto’s approach to the character of The Joker. It seems that he’s used his “method” acting style – really a bastardized, dated, and misinterpreted approach to acting – to justify being a terrible person on and off the set while filming his role. I don’t like the things I’ve read about what he did to his cast mates, but frankly that should have nothing to do with my final thoughts on Suicide Squad, and it doesn’t. This is not The Joker’s film by any stretch of the imagination. That said, when The Joker was on screen, I found him to be a slimy, creepy, uncomfortable character, which is exactly how The Joker should make you feel. What was most interesting about Leto’s take on The Joker was how androgynous the character felt. He would slither about the room, rubbing on whoever he wanted, touching others when he shouldn’t, and finding the sexual in the most mundane moments. It was repulsive and seductive all at once.
Suicide Squad has a forgettable plot with a weak main villain, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a great time with it thanks to the flushed out characters that make you smile, cringe, and cheer, often at the same time. It made me laugh, but I expected that. What surprised me was how well it did the small, quiet character moments. This is where the film thrives, in fact, and is the real reason I enjoyed it. Don’t see Suicide Squad for The Joker – it isn’t his film – and don’t see it for the action because you’ve seen that all done before, and better. The characters, especially Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Flag, are the reason to watch Suicide Squad. They’re deeper than you might expect, funny as hell, and kick ass in a different way than we see with Batman, Superman, or any of The Avengers, which makes the Squad a worthy addition to the DC film universe.