This review will contain mild spoilers.

The Squad. Image courtesy Warner Bros.

“Thank Squad, the wait is almost over.”

 

Thus proclaims the Comic-Con footage that Warner released to the masses at Hall H during the comic book adaptation-heavy previews of the day. And indeed, many shared the same sentiment. I know I did. Initially, I wasn’t too interested. It was a film that featured a bunch of unknowns. That wasn’t unheard of, as Marvel had done something similar with Guardians of the Galaxy. That film succeeded. The difference was that DC hadn’t yet established itself as a crowd-drawing brand in Hollywood. Or rather, Warner Bros. hadn’t established DC as a crowd-drawing brand in Hollywood. Oh, they’ve had successful movies, but the only hugely bankable character that DC had at the time was Batman. Man of Steel was a critical and commercial “meh” in terms of a solo effort, and instead of a bevy of introductory cinematic efforts to put their universe together, they cut the middle man and introduced damn near everyone in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which, unsurprising for a film that has to juggle that much, was also a “meh.”

As such, DC’s brand wasn’t as entrenched in the pop culture as Marvel’s was when Guardians dropped. At most, they get a shout-out in the collage of logos that populate the beginnings of tentpole films. And so Warner faced an uphill battle with getting the Squad into the public awareness. Which was probably why they introduced a new incarnation of the Joker for the film, to tether the team to Batman, one of the most popular superheroes of all time. There’s also Harley Quinn, another hugely popular character from the Batman mythos, first introduced in Batman: The Animated Series. Those two characters were by far the most distinctive. The second tactic was to get a killer cast together. Will Smith’s casting was huge news and an obvious draw. In addition, the movie was to benefit from the enormous talents of Jared Leto, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie. Last but not least, the cast was more racially diverse than most tentpole films, featuring a nice balance between male and female leads, and actors whose presence would help garner interest from African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.

Jay Hernandez as Chato Santana aka “El Diablo.” Image courtesy Warner Bros.

What followed was an intense advertising campaign that indicated to everyone that the upcoming film would be a fun, adventurous romp filled with eccentric and evil, but lovable, characters. Something akin to Guardians of the Galaxy, if the classic rock suffusing the soundtrack was any indication. As I said, initially, I wasn’t too keen on watching this film. As time tracked on, though, my interest grew, and I would find myself reading news articles about the film and rewatching its fun trailer over and over again. Come August 4th, I immediately headed to the theater instead of resting after a day’s work and waiting until tomorrow. What were my initial impressions?

 

  1. Warner Bros. needs to give whoever marketed this film a raise.
  2. Warner Bros. really needs to get its act together.

 

As is obvious to anyone keeping up with the news on this film, there is a staunch divide between the opinions of film critics and general audiences when it comes to Suicide Squad. Among critics it currently holds a 26% “rotten” score. Among audiences on the same site: 70% liked it with an average rating of 7.4/10. It also scored a massive opening weekend, earning $133.7 million. Some might argue that this is indicative of the critics being wrong and that Warner Bros. shouldn’t care what they think. While it is true that many movies can become hits despite critical panning (see: any Transformers movie after the first one), Warner Bros. is investing in a long-term cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s. To do this, they need to succeed on all fronts, which means a film that can reliably target all major demographics while pleasing critics and audiences alike. Critics are paid to have an opinion, and while it might not always jive with the average moviegoer, it would be remiss of WB to discount the critics entirely, many of whom have studied film and whose opinions and critiques go in-depth, beyond the surface level impressions that most filmgoers make. The films can’t be “average;” they have to excel.

In fact, it was Warner Bros. overreaction to the criticism of Batman v Superman that led to some of the problems with Suicide Squad.  Supposedly, after the critical panning of BvS, WB became extremely worried that the tone of Suicide Squad would turn audiences off, especially since the tone was at odds with the fun and good times promised in the trailer. They set out cutting their own version of the film. Eventually, they reached a compromise with the director and ordered reshoots to help make the director’s darker film several shades lighter.

Altogether, this film is average. The plot is very simple. Amanda Waller is a tough, no-nonsense government agent whose primary skill is getting people “to work against the self-interest.” Her ruthlessness is legend. Her current objective is to build a spec-ops team with members that are 100% disposable and allows the government total deniability. Thus she forcibly recruits Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie), and others from high-security prisons. In her personal possession is the heart of an ancient being from another dimension that humanity once worshiped as a goddess. Seeing that she is no longer the center of worship, The Enchantress, as she is called, seeks to build a “machine” that will bring humanity to its knees and under her control. She frees her brother, another being of incredible power named Incubus, and together they conquer and terrorize Midway City. From there the objective is simple: stop the bad guys, and save the world.

Cara Delevingne plays “Enchantress.” Image courtesy Warner Bros.

I suppose that’s the film’s first mistake: playing it safe. WB could have taken genuine risks with the plot; they know audiences will accept bizarre and outlandish characters (again, Guardians of the Galaxy comparison is relevant), so why not have the team do what they’re supposed to do: Black ops missions where their death is supposedly certain, morally ambiguous objectives that only villains could readily accomplish. It’s dark, but America is used to having a bad guy as the protagonist: Walter White, Frank Underwood, etc. It would be a nice alteration from the comic book adaptations that have come before and those that are slated for release.

The film’s second detriment is the characterization. Most of what we know about the characters is expositional. We get brief flashbacks for a few of them. And while most of them are supposedly “evil,” we come to see that they have revelations or character developments that don’t make sense. Deadshot, an expert marksman and ruthless hitman who kills for money at one point selflessly spares Harley Quinn from certain death at his hands even when the government is willing to pay him his highest price: freedom, and custody of his daughter. Despite their antics together, the film doesn’t give us much reason to believe that the Squad functions as a cohesive unit, let alone as friends, yet the story insists that they become as close as family by the end of it all.

The editing is also a mess. I’ve already explained how WB tried to “fix” this film, and it shows. The editing doesn’t have a polish to it. The fight scenes are jumbled and confusing, with no sense of space. Closeups and wide-angle shots are interspersed jarringly. The choreography was subpar. And the atmosphere of the film seems to be one of constant darkness; even the scenes in broad daylight are dim. And the dialogue is also laughable at parts. “Stay evil, dollface,” Deadshot quips to Harley Quinn. At one point the villain goads one of our heroes by saying “You don’t have the balls.” Which, while it could work, clashes with how she’s carried herself before that instance.

 

This is not to say it’s not a fun film. I had a good time seeing another chapter of the DC Extended Universe opened up for me. But while I can look past many things in terms of enjoyment, I can’t really do so in terms of a critical analysis. What we got was a fun romp, but not necessarily as fun as we were promised. It’s a messy, and at times lazy, film. As always, take heed of your local critic, but don’t let that put you off from seeing the movie and forming your own opinions. As for me, I just hope that one day, DC can bring us a movie that stands up to both critical evaluation and audience anticipation alike.

My final rating: 6.5/10.

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