If Suicide Squad were terrible, it’d be the final nail in the DC Extended Universe’s coffin. Man of Steel was mediocre at best. Batman v Superman was a trash fire without the excitement. Is the third time the charm?
I am here to report that Suicide Squad is not terrible—but it is painfully mediocre.
It’s a movie of two halves: the first is a colorful extravaganza that showcases great performances and a committed comic book tone; the second leaves all that behind to focus on a hackneyed story and shoves cheaply written dialogue to the forefront.
Suicide Squad explodes onto the screen like the first pages of a gleefully vicious graphic novel: skating over the background details quickly enough to establish the characters and with a focus on sucking you into a multifaceted world.
The movie boasts a solid understanding of what it means to exist within a comic book universe. The land of Suicide Squad is one of vibrant immediacy: it’s obvious that the battle between heroes and villains has been raging on for a while now, but in a blithely historical way, rather than drowning in the dreary mentality of Batman v Superman.
The beginning of the movie is so busy that the rest might feel boring by comparison. Every thirty seconds or so, a snippet of a ubiquitous song plays before snapping to the next, as if the soundtrack consisted of the iTunes samples of a greatest hits playlist. It’s schizophrenic, but the shoe fits.
The first act is comprised of interactions between squad members that are intermittently hilarious or enrapturing—barely because of director/writer David Ayer’s apparent dedication to the ridiculousness of the material he’s given; largely due to the choice cast.
It should be no surprise to anyone that Margot Robbie is the movie's electrifying, crazy heart as Harley Quinn. This is the first time the character has been portrayed outside of animation and it already cannot be topped. From wide-eyed wonderment to her enthralling madness, Robbie shoots the role full of definitive vivacity.
Speaking of the clown prince of crime: Jared Leto’s Joker barely has ten minutes of screen time, so there’s not a lot to dwell on concerning his performance. His voice is stolen from Ledger’s Joker and his demeanor from Hamill’s, but Leto manages to bring a few fresh takes to the classic villain: he's more criminal than crazy; more intentional than insane. The romanticization of his abusive relationship with Harley is condemnable, though.
Also of note are Will Smith’s Deadshot—Smith’s sensitive nuance makes you forget the big name behind the antihero—and Viola Davis’ firm turn as a government agent. The latter overcomes an obvious “society’s real villain” trope with terrifying rigidity.
Suicide Squad’s first half finds fun in letting these characters bounce off of one another. But when the final battles ensue and the interplay makes way for a crowded narrative, the film’s bare bones are exposed: David Ayer’s insipid writing. And then Suicide Squad stops short.
I’ve been skeptical of Ayer since his underwhelming and offensive World War II movie, Fury. The man just cannot generate genuine connection between characters through dialogue. Everyone talks to each other like personality-devoid macho men grunting their way through a video game. Ayer tries to pass the villains off as a tight knit family, but on the foundation of his forced writing, Suicide Squad inevitably falls flat on its face. Character growth moments are not effective when they’re clearly marked as character growth moments.
Ending on a whimper but starting with a bang, Suicide Squad is sure to please fans of DC Comics and pique the interest of newcomers, but don’t expect the thrill to last forever.