(This review contains some spoilers for Suicide Squad. I wouldn’t worry about it.)
It’s rare to make a decision that you can stand behind with complete, unwavering confidence. In the last year, I can only think of a few. Marrying my wife is one. Not voting for Donald Trump is another. Now, I can comfortably add “not paying to see Suicide Squad in theaters” to the list.
When you consume as much entertainment as I do, it becomes increasingly easy to pinpoint where, exactly, a film fell apart. But Suicide Squad is special, in that nearly every creative decision made is the wrong one. It is such a thorough, spectacular mess of a movie that no one area, be it the script, the direction, or the editing, can be seen as a weak link. This movie is the product of a creative team that never figured out what movie they wanted to make, and the rot starts at the very top.
It’s no secret that Warner Bros. is freaking out about its DC superhero franchise. The executives made a huge bet on Batman v Superman, hoping that it would serve as a sequel, crossover event, and launching point for several different movies. It was a recipe for disaster from the start, but given the film’s complete inability to track its character motivations and its abysmal reception by critics, WB was faced with a decision: keep steering its ship off of a clip, or try something different.
They chose the latter, after already beginning production on Suicide Squad. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the script had been rushed to completion in six weeks and production started before anybody had a clear idea of what they were making. Sometimes this type of horrendous planning is covered up in post, and every element miraculously comes together. That didn’t happen here.
Instead, after an early teaser trailer made waves, WB hired the team behind one of the film’s trailers to re-cut the already-edited movie, adding the kinds of of stylistic flourishes found in the film’s marketing. Neither version was quite what the executives were looking for, so they had another (uncredited) editor chop them up and splice them together into a Frankenstein monster of a movie that fails to satisfy on either a stylistic or narrative level.
Let’s start with one of the movie’s biggest flaws, one that could be a result of either horrendous editing or bad scripting: the actual mission that the movie is supposedly centered around doesn’t even begin until 48 minutes in. More than 1/3 of Suicide Squad’s running time is spent on exposition. Deadshot alone gets three different scenes which could have served as his introduction to the audience. It’s entirely possible that they shot a number of potential intro scenes and just decided to use them all.
The film opens with a pair of scenes in which a guard threatens Deadshot, then Harley Quinn. It establishes how their characters deal with abuse, but little else. Then, there’s an extended prologue in which Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller narrates the backstories for each character as she explains the idea of the suicide squad. Each character is given a history, but again, none of these sequences really help establish what drives them. Deadshot comes closest, as we find out that he has a daughter and was incapable of killing Batman in front of her, but his sequence does little to demonstrate any sort of internal moral conflict. Harley Quinn is completely botched, with a flashback that establishes nothing about her current incarnation, outside of the fact that she’s crazy and hot and in love with the Joker. Killer Croc is defined by his skin deformation, El Diablo is barely mentioned (although he is given far better characterization later in the film), and the Enchantress, who doesn’t feel like she should exist in the same universe as these other characters, is glossed over. One character, Captain Boomerang, is literally only notable because he uses a boomerang when he pulls heists.
It’s also worth noting that, at this point in the film, there has been no actual inciting incident for which the team is being assembled. There are multiple scenes and meetings where characters discuss the concept as being a defensive measure in case Superman or another “meta-human” went rogue, and in theory, that makes some sense. But the team that Amanda Waller is putting together only includes two actual meta-humans (El Diablo and Enchantress). The rest are at best extremely skilled (Deadshot) or at worst a crazy lady with a baseball bat and a guy who throws boomerangs sometimes. They’re actually less useful than a team of highly-trained soldiers would be, and significantly less loyal. Oh, and one of the meta-humans, Enchantress, never actually joins the team because she re-unites with her brother and becomes the main villain. Did I forget to mention that she has a brother? So did this movie.
So, after re-introducing Deadshot in a negotiation scene which does nothing beyond re-establishing his perfect aim (something already well-established in his flashback sequence), and having Harley make a few toothless threats against her captor, we finally get on with the mission to take down the Enchantress. They get on a plane, and squad leader Rick Flagg (who is The Enchantress’s boyfriend, by the way) briefs them on the Enchantress. One team member asks about a mysterious masked lady with a Katana onboard the ship. Oh, that’s just Katana, Rick explains. She has a sword that absorbs the soul of anybody she defeats. Later, he also adds that she had to kill her own brother and his soul still haunts her. Nobody seems phased by either revelation. Katana goes on to have no impact whatsoever on the plot, then dies.
The rest of the movie, at least on paper, sounds like it’s functional. The team works together to find The Enchantress while The Joker follows in their footsteps to reunite with Harley Quinn. Quinn betrays the Squad to go with the Joker, but rejoins the team after believing The Joker to be dead. There’s even a scene in an empty bar where the team members discuss how to go forward, which contains some decent dialogue between characters and hangs on a revelation about El Diablo’s past which actually gives him depth and purpose as a character. If it existed as the turning point in a baseline-competent movie, it would be perfectly fine.
But just glossing over the overarching structure of the movie completely misses why it’s such a spectacular failure. That Harley Quinn betrayal scene takes place roughly 15 minutes after the team forms, so when Deadshot violates orders and intentionally spares her, it fails to mean anything. These people might as well be strangers. The Joker’s “death” feels insignificant because, even aside from the fact that they obviously didn’t kill him off, the character barely appears in the movie and doesn’t register as anybody we should be interested in. The only thing separating Jared Leto’s Joker from any generic, douchebag gangster character is the make-up. If there was anything shot that defined him as a compelling interpretation of the character, it was left on the cutting-room floor.
The film also employs some scenes that have no internal logic. At one point, it is revealed that Amanda Waller has been in the city the entire time, at a command center. After Flagg has a conversation with her, she immediately kills all of the technicians in the room, because they aren’t cleared to know about the operation. The thing is, she’s the one who oversaw the operation and brought the technicians there in the first place. So, if we’re being generous, Amanda Waller planned on bringing a full team to man her command center, and then kill them. The movie tries to position Waller as a brilliant and dangerous individual, but applying even the slightest bit of reason to her decisions throughout the film reveals a wasteful, impulsive buffoon. I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers were going for.
I could go on and on, detailing the rest of the movie and bullet-pointing all of the things that it does wrong, but it’s just too much. I’ve been writing this review, on and off, for almost a whole month now. I keep trying to form something cohesive, tying together Suicide Squad’s litany of cinematic offenses into some grand theory on the film’s failure, but perhaps I’m missing the point. Critics like to approach art and entertainment as if every work, successful or not, has a point, or at the very least a goal. But after much deliberation, I don’t think Suicide Squad does. It’s a phenomenal waste of time, money, and talent that can hardly even be called a “failure,” because the very word suggests that the film had an intent in mind. This movie is garbage.