Written by Alfie Shaw
Suicide Squad is the worst film ever to include DC comics characters. Before the squad was even deployed on their mission I was mentally begging for Schwarzenegger to skate in and drop some ice puns or Halle Berry to rock up and start spewing cat puns. It is an awful mess of a film, inconsistent in both plot and characterisation. To highlight some of these problems, I will have to…well I’d say spoil the plot of the film for you, but that is not possible as it would imply that the film could engender in you any emotion but disappointment. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fun little game for you to try. Go and watch all the trailers. Aren’t they good? Now write down the plot of the film in a paragraph or two, including the characters that they will kill off. Now go and endure Suicide Squad. You will probably have guessed the entire plot, if not written a better one. The film fails in almost every way save one, so let’s start there.
Whoever does the casting for the DC films needs a raise. A big one. Like Batman Vs. Superman: Some Martha’s do ‘ave em, the film boasts a brilliant cast. Voila Davis’ Amanda Waller oozes the threat and control the same way her comic counterpart does from every panel. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, whilst not the scene stealer the trailers imply, manages to catch the underlying mania of Quinn. I know Will Smith as Deadshot has divided some, but Smith’s charisma helps to balm the grating inconsistencies in his character. I could go on, but by and large the cast do put in some solid performances. The standout characters are definitely Waller, Batman and the Flash. Both of the last two characters are cameo roles, the Flash being in only a single scene with a single line. They were the only part of this film that sparked any sense of excitement in me other than the credits.
It's a shame the cast is good, as the characters are lousy. They fall into two categories, inconsistent and irrelevant. In the latter camp falls Katana, Slipknot, Killer Croc, the Enchantress and Incubus. The film could do without all of them. I can appreciate why these characters are included. They are on various incarnations of the squad in the comics after all. Croc is the least offensive of these, he just does nothing of note, but at least you can understand why he is there. Katana, however, just turns up. She’s not a villain that’s threatened with a bomb in her head, her justification for being there is to help keep the baddies in line. But why? We will never know. Katana adds nothing to the film as she is given only slightly more character development than the Flash (who again, only has one line and is in one scene). Slipknot is introduced entirely to kill off and prove that Waller’s threat is genuine. The only way they could have made it more obvious that he was going to die really quickly is if they’d put him in a red shirt. There have been points made outside the film that Slipknot is arrested for being a serial rapist, but since none of this makes it into the film, it can’t really be considered. We aren’t told why he’s there, why is he dangerous or why we should care when he dies. Antagonists Enchantress and Incubus motivation to destroy the world by the doing some magic or using a machine. It might be a machine made of magic or a magic machine. At one point she calls it a spell and later a machine. Whatever it is, she activates by doing a dance. As though David Ayer had gone “Yeah Cara, I like it, but this time can we have a bit more Macarena?” Her transformation is actually creepy, but other than that she and her brother are entirely forgettable. All of these characters should have been jettisoned.
The former camp is just infuriating. Amanda Waller falls foul of being inconsistent only once, but in a crucial way. When Enchantress goes rogue, Waller stabs the heart of the enchantress a few times (the only thing that keeps the enchantress in line). She keeps the heart in a suitcase next to some explosive to exploit Enchantress. Waller is written, in both film and comic, to be an uncompromising individual who distrusts metahumans. She is not an idiot. As soon as Enchantress bolted, Waller would have blown the case, destroyed the heart and killed Enchantress. Whilst her character remains consistent otherwise, Enchantress’ escape is what causes the plot to move forward. Waller could have dealt with the situation before it had even started. The film needs a generic villain to fight and so she acts against character.
Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is another minor offender. He has some minor comic relief in the form of a unicorn fetish and if you wish to see that done properly, please go and watch Deadpool, the film it was directly lifted from. Near the end of film, Rick Flagg says the squad can go and Boomerang instantly legs it. Great gag. It’s consistent with the cowardly nature of Boomerang that has been established. However, he is back with the squad in the very next scene as they all walk off to fight the main baddie. No reason is given. The joke is ruined and it, once again, goes entirely against what has been established.
Deadshot. Oh Deadshot. The character receives the most character development time save Harley Quinn. It starts well, he doesn’t miss and the only thing he loves more than money and killing is his family who he will do anything to protect. The problem is this is ignored completely when Waller offers him complete immunity for his daughter if he shoots Harley Quinn. He decides to miss. A hastily added explanation of not killing women and children is added after the fact, but it flies in the face of his character. From this point onwards, Deadshot isn’t painted as a villain at all, but as an anti-hero that is heavy on the hero with only a whiff of anti. No reason is given for this transformation. Not even mother’s name. It just happens and we’re told to accept it.
￼The other character who is defined in one way, only to act against this at almost every turn is Robbie’s Harley Quinn. She is love sick for the Joker and will do anything to be with him. Right, fine. Not the nuanced character in the comics, but there’s a lot to set up in this film and it can’t spotlight all of her character aspects. it’s a simple through line to follow. Let’s run with it. Harley uses the mission to meet up with the Joker and run away with him. Good, excellent start. Joker dies, Harley cries for a little bit and is then basically fine. The psychologically damaged killer whose identity has been built around her lover has just watched said lover die. Does she go on a rampage to get revenge? Does she breakdown and try to work out how she will forge an identity for herself? No, she has a little cry and then moves straight back on to being with her new friends. When at the end, the Enchantress offers her the chance to be reunited with her lover – who I really must stress has become the centre of her existence – she rejects her to save the world and be all heroic. I’M SORRY, BUT WHAT?! I must also address the outfit which is used at every turn to highlight Robbie’s breasts and bottom. The first time she puts it on, the camera literally pans creepily up her body from bottom to breasts, just in case you missed the really subtle reason why she is dressed like this. The character is sexualised in every other frame and it does nothing but take away from the character. Her classic outfit (pictured here) is teased in the film, she wears it briefly in a tribute to the famous Alex Ross cover. When the team are given their gear, she is shown to be handling it only to discard it for the new, all revealing outfit.
Jared Leto is also in this film. He plays a gangster who breaks out Harley Quinn. It doesn’t really matter as he’s not in the film all that much. I think they should give him the chance to play the Joker some point in the future, I think he’d do well at it.
To every rule, there is an exception and in this case it is El Diablo (played by Jay Hernandez). His character is the only one that can be said to have a logical arc and his pacifist stance helps to distinguish him from everyone else constantly saying they’re the bad guys. His redemption in the finale is a nice payoff to his journey although his claims to be doing it for his “second family,” doesn’t sit with the tone of the film or the characters within it.
￼ It’s not just its character arcs that Suicide Squad can’t really commit to. The title and concept suggest that anyone can and will at any time die. The film sticks to its premise about as well as Donald Trump does a coherent argument. In fact, a Trump speech is a good point of comparison for Suicide Squad. Both are illogical, stupid and really like guns. The film is incredibly predictable and the film’s lack of risks works heavily against it. The main problem Suicide Squad suffers, as I alluded to when talking about Diablo and Quinn, is that the characters become friends. Really quickly and for no given reason. They spend more time being friends than the heroes do in “The world’s thickest detective vs mopeyman: no dawns or justice feature”. It should feel like the characters can and will die at any point, that the team in no way get on but work together solely by the iron will of Amanda Waller. It lacks all of this. Everyone feels very safe, in particular Harley Quinn and Deadshot due to the fame of the actors that play them. The fact that they pull together doesn’t feel earned by the plot or in keeping with the tone that film presented in the marketing and it clearly intended to stride for. The film’s generic plot is aided by some truly generic villains. Not just the Enchantress and Incubus as I covered above, but also their foot soldiers. Their design is an almost direct copy of the villain from City of Death, a 1979 Tom Baker Doctor Who serial written by Douglas Adams that I recommend whole heartedly. For those who have seen Suicide Squad, I present said villain for to compare for yourself.
The erratic character arcs and self-defeating generic plot aren’t aided by choppy editing and the soundtrack. Much has been made of the quality of the soundtrack and it was used to great effect in the film’s marketing. A friend of mine described it best when he said like it felt as though “someone left a playlist running over the top.” The songs are great, but when they fit the scene they accompany it feels more by chance than design. At worst, they run against the action given and drown out the dialogue. It was clear they were aiming for the use of music to be similar to a film like Guardians of the Galaxy, but instead of adding bombast and excitement it just adds to the mess.
The whole film is just frustrating as there is a good film buried in there. One where the team aren’t sent after a generic threat, but the Joker who is actually doing something the Joker would do. One where Harley Quinn, in full original costume, is torn between being obsessed with the Joker and the bomb in her brain. Where Deadshot just loves his family and killing. Where the whole team doesn’t get on, the personalities clash and they don’t form a family. It’s only Waller that keeps them together and she really doesn’t compromise. A film where real risks are taken, like Deadshot or Harley Quinn being killed. An 18 rated, violent, tense, character driven piece like the comic it is based on. That film doesn’t exist and the fact that Warner Bros didn’t commit to it shows. Whilst Marvel has cracked the secret of popular superhero films (be true to the character and tone of the superhero), DC still seems to think the tone should direct the plot and characters. It’s why they have a Superman that doesn’t inspire hope, a Batman that is a cranky killer instead of the world’s greatest detective, a Suicide Squad that never once feels like they really are a suicide squad.
All in all, the film is awful. It doesn’t just leave a sick taste in the mouth on its own merits, it adds an extra awful aftertaste as it’s trailers were great. It leaves me watching the trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League with the voice at the back of my head going “Please don’t be awful. You look great and I really want a good DC film.” But, thanks to Suicide Squad, I just don’t feel like I can trust any of their advertising. I really wanted to like Suicide Squad, I’m a big comics fan. But I couldn’t help but hate it. Everyone I went with, all non-comic book aficionados, also thought it was a dire mess. So maybe give this one a miss and wait for the next one. Maybe, just maybe Wonder Woman will turn it all around. I pray that it does.