Warning: There are spoilers galore in the review below.
You’ve no doubt heard a great deal about the new Warner Bros and DC film Suicide Squad. Comprised of a team of villains and criminals, the Suicide Squad is designed to go where the good guys can’t (or won’t). Dreamed up and prepared by their ruthless leader, Amanda Waller, this team is the last line of defense from meta-human threats, and also the first to be “thrown under the bus.”
With each new Marvel film seemingly dancing on the corpse of Batman vs. Superman in triumph, fans were deeply hoping that Suicide Squad would breathe a fresh perspective into the DC film universe. Here’s a breakdown of what the film did right, and what it got so wrong.
What Suicide Squad Got Right:
- Viola Davis is a national freakin’ treasure. She played Amanda Waller as if she was an even more conniving version of her character on How to Get Away With Murder, Annalise Keating. It just worked. She was smart, wicked, and did whatever it took to get the job done. She kept herself on equal footing with her male cast members and carried a great deal of this movie.
- Will Smith gives a deep portrayal of a criminal with a code and a father’s devotion. Deadshot is shown to be deeply protective of his daughter in this film. His parental instincts, acumen with a firearm, and attitude are enjoyable and keeps the film flowing in areas where it tries to mire itself.
- Despite all odds, Harley Quinn is strangely fun to watch. Margot Robbie, while not the version many of us have come to love, comes alive in this film (when she is without the Joker). Her acrobatics in her cell are really cool, and her portrayal of Harley Quinn is just crazy enough to do the character justice.
- Boomarang is not necessary, but a hilarious distraction. To paraphrase one of my friends, he’s like a drunk guy that wanders into a party and doesn’t realize he’s actually in danger until he sobers up at the end.
- The film makers include a brief allusion to the infamous Alex Ross painting of Joker and Harley Quinn.
What Suicide Squad Got SOOO Wrong
- David Ayer’s undertone for women is painfully misogynistic in Suicide Squad. I will admit that I desperately tried to give Ayer’s the benefit of the doubt in his portrayal of women for this film, but the sheer amount of casual sexism is noticeable. Margot Robbie does an incredible job with the script she is given, but what is scripted is more than a little cringeworthy at times. While Harley’s character was originally the Joker’s moll, she always had some sort of fight to her that sets her apart from being just another damaged woman caricature. In one flashback sequence in Suicide Squad, the Joker OFFERS HARLEY’S BODY TO ANOTHER MAN. He tells her that she belongs to someone else now, and Harley just goes with it. In fact, Harley’s body seems to be really the chief focus of most of the film. During this same sequence with Joker, she’s seen to be shaking her body on the dance floor in a way that is so suggestive, watching this film with your parents would be uncomfortable at best. I had to grit my teeth when the Joker tortures her with an electroshock machine to make her crazy. Ayer’s attempt to verbally put her on equal footing with her male cast members is to call the men in the film “pu##y” more than once. When given the chance by Enchantress to view her ultimate fantasy, Harley Quinn mentally chooses two kids and a normal Joker husband, rather than to return to her psychiatrist days. Diablo’s wife is portrayed as a submissive Latina who loses her life when she dare choose to protect her children from her husband’s violence and wrath. In the film, Diablo is shown smacking her ass, and in his ultimate fantasy she is kneeling before him talking about how they can spend time together after the kids are in bed. The entire time, her face looks like she’s terrified she’s going to upset him and that he’ll take it out on her. Enchantress spends most of the movie as either a half-naked demi-god, or shaking and crying as if she could faint at any moment.
- Most of the characters are horrifying ethnic or cultural caricatures. Killer Croc is portrayed as a BET-loving black man with a velour jogging suit and a bad attitude. Diablo is shown as a an East Los Angeles ganglord, covered in tattoos and prone to offing women and children. Rick Flagg is given the role of white male American hero, complete with the Miller Time attitude and golf handicap. Boomerang is Australian, and for some reason must regularly be seen pounding a tall can of beer. Slipknot is a Native American tracker, before quickly being written out of the narrative entirely, ala an American history textbook.
- The film is disjointed and it’s painfully noticeable. Io9 reported earlier this week that this feeling of watching two different films at once is thanks to an attempt to force two edits of the film together. No place is this more obvious than the music, which bounces from classic rock to pop and rap from scene to scene. Characters also pop in and out with little preparation. Katana’s backstory is shortened to a few clips. Boomerang is initially set up as a character and then forgotten, only to be suddenly dropped into the film like a parent realizing they’ve left their youngest in the backseat of the car when they forgot to drop them off at soccer practice. Slipknot, the only Native American in the film, is around for about two seconds before being blown up.
- What the hell is going on with Jared Leto’s version of the Joker? With a mouth full of caps and a series of terrible tattoos, I’m not sure what Jared Leto was going for, but it sure as hell wasn’t the most infamous Batman villain. His look made me wonder if he was preparing to go to an ICP concert or participate in a drive-by shooting. All the method acting in the world couldn’t save his portrayal.
In the end, Suicide Squad is a tolerable comic book action film with revealing cosplay options galore. Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, and Will Smith kill it and truly carry the story along, despite editing shortcomings. Unfortunately, the film was often so busy being disjointed (with a dash of casual racism and sexism) that it felt like DC wasn’t even trying to create an enjoyable script. The Marvel film universe has managed to combine women, men, and races of all types successfully, even with hiccups in marketing in toys and clothing. Marvel finally gets it, so I’m not sure why it’s so hard for DC to catch up. Suicide Squad is worth a watch if you have a free movie pass or if you want to rent it at Redbox in a few months.
If you haven’t read the recent comic book versions, I recommend starting there. The film is not such a great introduction. For a better portrayal of Harley Quinn, check out the most recent DC version of the comic. You’ll respect her a great deal more, while still getting the crazy you crave.