I’m not going to tell you that there is nothing to like about Suicide Squad. The latest DC offering, with it’s confetti-colored Hot Topic aesthetic, is a fun time at the movies. But like it’s similarly underwhelming big brother Batman V. Superman, this movie unnerves me in a way that goes beyond just poor film making. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Squad is an ostensibly anti-superhero film about a handful of colorful villains that, through the cloak-and-dagger machinations of some deadpanned civil servants, get drafted into the hero business. They can save the world in exchange for a commuted prison sentence, or they can get dead. Even so, it’s a hard sell. These baddies are, apparently, the only people in the entire DC universe equipped to take on Enchantress, an extra-dimensional witch-demon who is, I don’t know, trying to bend mankind to her will? As ever, villain motivations are a little fuzzy here.
The story itself is about as messy as it could be, and not it a good way. The entire first act is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller sitting in a restaurant with a colleague, delivering endless backstory and exposition between bites of steak, and even then the film manages to forget to introduce some of it’s characters (sorry, who is Slipknot?). It then proceeds to hit all the predictable notes, never letting you forget what kind of people the protagonists are (at one point, Harley Quinn smashes a store window for no discernible reason and drawls, “What do you expect, we’re bad guys!”, as if we were likely to forget).
As sloppy as the writing was, I’d happily overlook it if, just this once, DC had given me some interesting, fleshed-out characters to work with. Swing and a miss. All attempts at depth and humanity fall just short, resulting in a coterie of criminals that never really feel like much more. Deadshot (Will Smith) stands out as the most sympathetic character, a man who is trying to reconcile the killer he is with the father he wants to be. Otherwise, there isn’t much to relate to here. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) is an archeologist with all the charisma of a Crate and Barrel lampshade. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a former kingpin who murdered his family in a fit of rage. Killer Croc and Boomerang, who between the two of them accrued about ten lines of dialogue, zero of which were memorable. And these were the least troubling of the crew. No, the majority of my beef lies with loony lovers Joker and Harley Quinn.
On the one hand, you’ve got the Joker (Jared Leto), who’s particular brand of crazy is surprisingly formulary. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between this Joker and the Heath Leger performance that preceded it. The scariest part of Leger’s Joker was his restraint; his outward insane levity was constantly at war with the much darker madness within. Leto’s Joker wasn’t quite so…layered. And for as much unjustified screen time as he had in this film, there should have been layers.
Speaking of missing layers, we have Harley Quinn, who in true DC fashion is yet another female character not allowed to cover more than 40% of her body at any given time. As with the Joker, we are told that she’s nuts rather than allowed to see any evidence supporting that fact. Not to mention the fact that she’s fetishized beyond the point of relateability. I present exhibit A…
I don’t want to say there was nothing redeeming about Suicide Squad. It boasts some pretty impressive cinematography and special effects. You might even say that Harley Quinn is a metaphor for the film itself: pretty to look at, and not nearly as wild as it could have been.