SUICIDE SQUAD: A Second Opinion

– by Joseph Medina

No doubt by this point in the game you've made your rounds at your favorite film sites, perused the YouTube critics, and checked in on Rotten Tomatoes for a consensus on SUICIDE SQUAD, the third and latest film in the DC Extended Universe. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the reviews have largely been abysmal. Our very own Kellvin Chavez stated that the film was "caca," and one of our reviewers, J. Don Birnam opened HIS OWN REVIEW with the following:

"It’s an amazing feat of sorcery that only the best of the worst Hollywood metahumans can pull off: to entertain you for two hours while keeping you completely bored and disinterested."

With all the critics out there having already expressed their distaste for the film, one may wonder what someone like me could possibly add to the conversation. While I can't promise that what I have to share is particularly unique or insightful, I couldn't help but share my confused feelings on the matter. This, after all, was a film I'd been over-the-moon excited for ever since the San Diego Comic-Con footage was shown last year. My excitement was bolstered by the two amazing trailers we got in subsequent months, and finally by all the TV spots we reported on that were scattered around the web.

SUICIDE SQUAD has the kind of premise that I'm especially drawn to: wherein we have a few (not terribly altruistic) forces at odds with each other. It features an ensemble cast with some memorable anti-heroes and villains, and with every new spot, I felt my confidence in the project grow and grow. Imagine my disappointment when the reviews start rolling in. But I was steadfast and determined to push any preconceived notions aside. I would go into this movie fresh, and I would form my own opinion. So what are my opinions, you may ask? Well, therein lies the main reason why I felt compelled to write this  "second opinion" piece.

SUICIDE SQUAD may have been one of the single most confusing moviegoing experiences I have ever had in my entire life.

I know. That sounds pretty terrible, doesn't it? But before you write this off as another endlessly negative review, allow me to say that I genuinely liked SUICIDE SQUAD. I'm close to saying I kind of loved it, in fact.

Let's break this down a bit, and by the time we're through, perhaps you'll have a better idea of why I felt so confused by this experience. 

THE POSITIVES

Make no mistake, this film isn't perfect. But I wouldn't be writing about this movie at all, if I didn't have some serious positive to speak of -- and they're important ones too.

The Joker

I'll admit, it's a bit difficult to say much about the Joker in this movie. As it stands, he's probably in a total of 10-15 minutes of the film, and as such, the sample size isn't quite big enough to make a completely solid judgment of the character. That being said, I really dig how he was portrayed here.

Where Heath Ledger's interpretation seemed like more of a result of a loner who was picked on too much when he was a kid, Jared Leto's Joker in SUICIDE SQUAD is more of a gangbanger on steroids. Both are terrifying in their own way, but in terms of sheer unpredictability, I'd have to give the edge to Leto. His Joker is mad, unhinged, and beyond intimidating. If I had a choice to walk down either an alley with Heath Ledger's Joker waiting for me or Jared Leto's, I may feel a bit safer with Heath Ledger's. At least his Joker seemed to have beliefs. Leto's Joker is pure impulse -- an impulse that oozed off the screen in every way possible. In those instances, some may feel that Leto may have over-acted a bit here, but I felt it very much added to the creep element that we hadn't yet seen in any live-action version of the Joker.

As it stands, I still think Ledger's interpretation is still much stronger on the whole, but Leto's is certainly a worthy follow-up.

The Squad

Here's where the movie really nailed it. Writer and director David Ayer had a gargantuan task of getting us familiar with a bevy of characters in a relatively short span of time. How in the world would he get us care about these more-than-handful of characters in a feature-length movie? While there are some characters that get the short end of the stick here (Katana, Killer Croc, and Boomerang come to mind), the film did an okay job of getting me to care about Harley, Deadshot, Rick Flag, and Diablo. 

Sure, the methods they used in terms of flashbacks, music video-style montages, etc. gave the whole thing an artificial feel, but at the end of the day, it was enough to keep my interest. 

What's more, even with the characters who got shafted in the development department, I loved their interaction with the main cast. Caring about the characters was one thing, but I full-on enjoyed all the scenes with the group just playing off each other (not to mention looking for ways to escape their Task Force X obligations). In many ways, I really didn't need to know their backstories as much as I just loved seeing their personalities clash (and mesh) with one another. With every scene that played out, I looked forward to seeing how they'd react to specific circumstances, and that was enough to both keep me interested and hunger for more.

I won't mistake my liking the characters for actual good character development, but all the same, it had a positive effect on me.

Style and Tone

I can't deny that SUICIDE SQUAD feels like a result of a studio checklist. After the fallout of BATMAN v SUPERMAN it seems like Warner Bros. made the most obvious editorial decisions to lighten the tone on this one. The result is a flick with a music video-style flare, montage flashbacks, and an abundance of quirky personalities. Like how a lot of the character motivations felt forced, so did this tone.

But you know what? I liked it. A lot. The entire first half had me smiling from ear-to-ear, and by the time that interesting flavor had worn off, I was engrossed enough in the character interactions to be fully entertained.

THE NEGATIVES

In my mind, the film worked on a few levels it needed to. But, as countless critics pointed out, there are some pretty inherent flaws. But for the sake of being a completionist, let's dive in anyway.

The Plot

Yeah, the plot is weaksauce -- about as weak as anyone could possibly imagine, in fact. For the sake of keeping away from spoilers, I won't get into specifics, but let's just say that Amanda Waller's plan makes zero sense. I understand her motivations well enough, but her actual plan is so deeply flawed on a surface level, that I wondered how she couldn't have seen the events coming that ended up playing out.

It's bad enough that this film has roughly 87 characters in it, but throw in an overly-convoluted, unclear, unmotivated plot, and you have a recipe for disaster. About 40 minutes into the film, my fiancée leaned over to me and whispered, "the last 20 minutes made no sense."

While I could've argued that it did make sense, I couldn't argue that the film did a good job of conveying the villain's plan or the Squad's mission. The flick did neither well. 

The Villain

To me, the villain is the film's worst offense. I won't reveal who the villain is, but I will say that SUICIDE SQUAD may, in fact, have the worst villain of any superhero film to date. I'm including all FANTASTIC FOURs and all the Marvel movies in that equation (which includes Ronan the Accuser and Malekith from THOR: THE DARK WORLD). While many villains are boring and stupid in these films, SUICIDE SQUAD's villain manages to be embarrassing to watch from beginning to end.

It'd be easy to blame the actor for this, but at the end of the day, I don't think any actor could have saved that horribly-written role. As I write this, I still don't understand what the villain was trying to accomplish, nor do I understand how what they did in the film would have helped. To top it all off, the visual effects, dialogue, and general direction of how the character physically moved were bottom-of-the-barrel bad. I can't express enough how horrible the villain was handled.

Conclusion

So I think I've made it clear that SUICIDE SQUAD failed pretty hard where most movies should succeed. If you don't have a compelling plot, then it's hard to care about what drives the characters, and if they're not up against a formidable force, then it's hard to really put them to the test.

Literally, I feel as though my credibility as a film geek dictates that this movie be sent to the trash heap without any further questioning. And yet I can't make myself do so.

By the end of the movie, I'd had such a great time watching Task Force X in action (in all the non-villain scenes) that I didn't want it to end. Yes, the mission had been balls, and the antagonist even worse, but I couldn't get enough of these anti-heroes. It was a weird instance where I pretty much hated everything onscreen when it came to moving the story forward, but was held captive by the sheer charisma of these weirdos.

And so I sit here, still utterly confused by my own opinions of SUICIDE SQUAD. As a film school graduate, lover of movies, storyteller, and general, all-around story junkie, this flick should be considered a fail, and I suppose if you were to break it down into parts, it is. But I've since thought things through. Had the villain literally been plucked out of the film, I probably would've absolutely adored it in almost every way.

Then I gave myself the ultimate litmus test: I asked myself if I wanted to see a second SUICIDE SQUAD. Without a question, I answered a resounding yes. Actually, I'd be angry if there wasn't one -- and I'm not just talking about a sequel that sets to redeem this one (though that would still be nice).

SUICIDE SQUAD isn't a movie I like ironically, and it isn't even a movie that I consider a guilty pleasure. It's a movie I like in spite of its flaws, and that I could recommend to folks if they want to see some fun interactions with a handful of DC supervillains.

On the surface, this long ramble may make me sound like a blind DC fanboy scrounging for good things to say, but I'd argue otherwise. I'm not blind to the flaws of this movies by any means. Heck, I'm not sure I'd even call SUICIDE SQUAD a good movie, let alone a great one. But when all said and done it's a movie that worked well enough for me to make my day just a little bit brighter. And isn't that all that really matters?

Grade: B-

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