by Michael B. Hock
Writing good guys is pretty easy. For the most part, most of us aren’t psychotic, so while we may have had the odd fantasy about robbing a bank, if we were given superpowers we’d probably do something good with it. Writing bad guys… now that’s difficult. You need a motivation. Why would someone call themselves “The Legion of Doom” or “The Brotherhood of Evil.” I’m sure at some point some random stormtrooper was talking to his family about the evil rebels, and someone asked him why he was working on something called “The Death Star.”
The trick to a good bad guy is to realize they have their own motivations that drag them into evil. Lex Luthor, in his mind, is trying to save the planet from the alien that can crush a tank without a thought. The Joker thrives in his anarchy, and wants the system to be taken down.
I’ll say this for Suicide Squad, the latest from DC Entertainment: it gets what it means to be a believable bad guy. The rest is up for debate.
Suicide Squad has a long history in the comics of being a covert team of “bad guys” who have are willing to do what needs to be done to take out extreme threats. Batman and Superman have their codes, but the Suicide Squad is typically recruited to do what needs to be done.
In the wake of the death of Superman (one of the many references to the larger DC Extended Universe) covert operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to recruit a team of metahumans to take down big threats… such as another Superman… if they arise again. Dubbed Task Force X, the team consists of Harley Quinn, one time psychiatrist and current girlfriend of the Joker (Margot Robbie); the deadly assassin Deadshot (Will Smith); Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang for some reason; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as well as a few other C-list DC Comics villains. Naturally, they are called into action when an evil force attacks Midway City, and it’s complicated by the Joker (Jared Leto) trying to free Harley Quinn.
Here’s the thing about this blog and my reviews: I’m an amateur. Which means I don’t see these movies in advance. By the time they come out, I’ve already heard the reviews. I heard the negative reviews on Suicide Squad. I was going to see it anyway, mostly because I love Will Smith and Margot Robbie. I think their work on Focus was one of the better con artist movies I’ve seen in recent years. Having them together in a movie about villains going to down on a mystic force? Sure. Why not? The thing is, and I stand by this: I don’t think DC movies deserve the hate they get. I think they exist in a narrative where movie bloggers are waiting for the Superhero bubble to burst, and calling out the flaws in the Marvel movies won’t work because they’re a guaranteed draw.
Suicide Squad succeeded when it focused on a character and their reason for redemption. This was done a little with Jay Hernandez as Diablo, wanting to redeem himself for losing control of his fire powers and killing his family, but I felt the movie didn’t focus on it quite as much. The real focus was Will Smith as Deadshot, focusing on how he was trying to be a good family man. I liked how they drew this out in him. They put some work into realizing him as a redeemable character, one that wasn’t just a one note villain.
Margot Robbie also completely nailed it as Harley Quinn, as well as Jared Leto as the Joker. Robbie’s Quinn was just as maniacal and crazy as she was in the comic, and Leto’s Joker only really seemed to care about her when he couldn’t have her, which keeps well with the abusive relationship between the two. Let’s remember: this isn’t a stable, normal relationship. The Joker is only happy with Quinn when he can show her off, when she is an object of desire for others. She also has quite a few wonderful moments where she proved she can keep up with the guys without the dedicated superpowers.
I also need to take a moment to point out the work done by Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Waller often gets lumped in with the good guys in the books, but I think people tend to forget that she is essentially the eyes and ears of the entire DC Universe. She’s the one who knows Batman’s identity. She’s the one who controls just about everything. And Davis works this part like she actually was Amanda Waller. She was simply amazing in this role, standing up to people who could snap her in half with a thought. I hope she appears again in other movies.
There’s another thing this movie did beautifully that really gets forgotten when dealing with the whole Marvel vs. DC divide. The DC Extended Universe revels in the fact that its a shared Universe with cameos from the Flash and Batman. Suicide Squad might go down as one of the first movies to have an appearance from Batman in a way that didn’t feature him or another hero. Batman here is a bit player, which takes some getting used to in a movie like this, but DC doesn’t spend time mocking the fact that everyone is together, or that people want to see these people together. Harley Quinn doesn’t hold up her jester outfit while people mock the idea that anyone would want to see her in it. DC is ambitious.
That being said.
The third act of this movie is a complete mess. Gone is the cool neon-coated start of this movie, it’s a deadly sludge of monsters and a quest that I don’t know they really needed the Suicide Squad for. The point of the Squad is to bring them in when Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman wants to get their hands dirty. This is kind of a straight forward mission: Stop the Enchantress from destroying the world. It was as if they had created this really cool concept from the start, and then didn’t really know where to go with it.
In addition, the Flashbacks that frame each character is pretty amazing, particularly the way it lists off the crimes of each person. However, it’s clear the movie has a lot of love for Harley and Dead, while skimping out on the others. It could have benefitted from spreading them out some more, and focusing on establishing a more Squad-worthy goal.
Is this the giant mess of a movie that’s being presented? No, it’s really not. It’s a movie that contains a lot of greatness, that shows the ambition of the DC Extended Universe. Is it the best movie it could have been? In my opinion, no its’ not. It’s a fun movie for the most of it, and some outstanding performances make up for the slog that is the third act. It’s a small step in the right direction.