Way back in 1987, I walked into a tiny newsstand in a tiny town and made my way back to the comic book section. Sitting there, huddling amidst the typically color-saturated and dynamic covers of the other books, was this image of eight morally-ambiguous characters emerging from inky blackness, surrounding a promise writ in yellow caps that one of them would die.
Of course I was hooked. I gushed about the book to my friends, talked about how unique it was, how it was so much different than anything else we were reading. I wouldn’t become acquainted with the term “antihero” until a few years later. But John Ostrander’s “Suicide Squad” was where I really learned about the importance of complexity in characters, and especially in villains.
So, of course, I really wanted “Suicide Squad” to be amazing. I would have settled for mildly entertaining. But I preferred it to be inspirational. Sadly, while I was watching it, the only thing inspirational about “Suicide Squad” proved to be the first word of the title.
Oh, it wasn’t all bad. There were good parts. Most of it came from the actors. It’s no revelation that Margot Robbie hit a homer as Harley Quinn. Will Smith is always on point in whatever he plays. (The dude’s a star. There’s nothing original about his portrayal of Deadshot. It’s basically the dude from Independence Day in a Deadshot suit. Which is great.) And I’ll go on record as saying that Jared Leto’s Joker was solidly restrained … which might have been a good thing. An over-the-top portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime could well have overshadowed the performances of the other actors, and not in a way that would have saved the day.
The performance that surprised me the most was Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang. The last time I’d seen him was in the much-maligned “Terminator: Genisys,” in which he gave us a barely-adequate reboot of Kyle Reese. In contrast to that, Courtney’s portrayal of Digger Harkness was deliciously filthy, resulting in what is probably the purest antihero in the Squad. Delightfully despicable, he’s the detestable Ozzie you’ll love to hate.
While I’m addressing what works, I should point out that the film is gorgeous. The lighting was on-point, and the color palette was glorious — true to the film’s comic book origins. (Harley and Joker fans will delight in a couple of homages, which director David Ayers intentionally held for perhaps too long.) The sound design was adequate…nothing jumped out at me, and some would argue that’s for the best.
But for the entirety of the film, I kept thinking that it felt more like a 2-hours-long trailer for a Netflix series. Which is perhaps what “Suicide Squad” should have been. The story and all of its characters combine to create a saga too dense for cinema, the end result of which is a cornucopia of characters struggling for equal relevance under the constraints of a timetable entirely too short for proper development.
That’s not to say that anyone should’ve been downplayed. Supervillains are an egotistical lot. Not one of these characters is the type to settle for playing second fiddle. With the exception of El Diablo, whose redemption story made him perhaps the most sympathetic character. But the story itself felt canned.
And perhaps that’s the greatest sin of Suicide Squad. Nothing felt original. Deadshot wanted to take care of his daughter. El Diablo wanted redemption. Harley wanted to be loved. Flagg wanted to save his girlfriend. Everything here is entry-level. (Except for Boomerang, who just wants to escape, and Croc, who just wants to go swim in a sewer. By the movie’s midpoint, I was sympathizing with both of them.)
Ultimately, “Suicide Squad” felt like a dish served up by too many cooks. The recipe for the film worked great on paper. But my guess is that someone(s) higher up than Ayers on the WB ladder wound up dropping bits of direction into the film. “Make it like Guardians of the Galaxy” is the most obvious one.
Which was a wretched suggestion. Marvel captured lightning in a bottle with that film. Everything about it worked because it hadn’t been done before. Trying to imitate a brilliant film like that has to be an unenviable position in which to find oneself.
My advice to DC and the execs at Warner: Let your talent play. Hire the people who are ostensibly the best in the business, and most knowledgeable in terms of the source material. And then let them produce for you. (For example, I would have loved to see what Whedon could have done with this team.)
Because if you keep interrupting your artists in order to insert your two cents into a film, the only thing you’re benefiting is your egos. And even then, the benefit is only short-term.