It seems like superhero films have been obsessed with the words “realistic”, “gritty”, and “grounded” for probably the last ten years now, but in a way that has made way to a backlash. The less than welcoming reaction to the brooding Batman V Superman and the positive reaction to the goofy Deadpool proved that maybe a shift in tone is going to be necessary to grab an audience these days. In terms of tone, this is where Suicide Squad succeeds, but aside from that and a few characterizations, that’s about all it can manage.
For those who don’t immediately recognize any character name from the cast immediately, don’t sweat it, as that’s kind of the point of this not so heroic team. They’re meant to be for the most part the B-list and below parts of the DC Comics cannon. In other words, DC and Warner Bros. clearly wanted this to be their take on Guardians of the Galaxy, with rogues fighting the good fight for a reason other than a sense of trying to be heroic. But what this film failed to learn from that far superior film is that the reason we cared about Star Lord, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, and others was not just because they could do some cool stuff and said a snappy line here or there. Guardians took its time to give everyone a bit of characterization to connect with each member of the team. In Suicide Squad, this idea is pretty much dropped after the first act.
The title team is made up of B-list villains and a couple soldiers that we really only find out about through a giant information dump from the team’s commander Amanda Waller, played here by Viola Davis. There is so much of this film that shows only a glimpse of potential at best, but Amanda Waller is fully realized throughout. She’s in charge, willing to kill anyone who gets in her way, and gets her way by any means necessary. Essentially, imagine House of Cards’ Frank Underwood getting so good at scheming that he doesn’t have to stay quiet about his intentions. If only the rest of her team could get as many moments as her. After the quick introduction, no one is really expanded upon and no where is this more apparent than with the handling of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. There are awkward flashbacks put in at odd times to try and let us know about her relationship being the girlfriend of The Batman villain Joker, but it’s so insanely unfocused that every attempt at development feels like a last minute afterthought at best.
I should probably mention the plot at this point, but I can’t be bothered. It seems director and writer David Ayer stopped caring at a certain point too. The basic premise of bad guys being forced to fight battles for the government in firmly established early on, but story telling is pushed aside for a film that just wanted to have as much action as possible in the middle of an abandoned city filled with faceless pawns for a big baddie. This team has one mission and they do it because they are told to. Why and how we the audience should care is given next to little attention and it wouldn’t surprise me if every slow moment develop the team’s dynamics and inner workings was edited out to allow more action scenes to be put in instead. But speaking of editing, there is just something wrong with the pacing of this film. Maybe it’s because what would normally be the last third of a film is dragged out for over an hour. Maybe it’s the repetitive set up of action then brief talking, action then brief talking for the entire film. Maybe it’s the hinted at B-plot of The Joker throwing a wrench in the team’s activities is limited to maybe 5 minutes of the film total. But whatever the problem is, there is no denying this film desperately needed a few more drafts taken care of before it should’ve started filming.
Also, on a personal note, I am done with threats that plan to destroy the entire world. I was pretty much reaching boredom with this in comic book films when the cluttered Avengers: Age of Ultron came out. I was absolutely over it by the time X-Men: Apocalypse arrived. It’s a lazy plot point in this genre, but I have never seen it so lazily thrusted into a film like in Suicide Squad. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but this film’s villain boils down to an Aztec take on the magic seen in the Thor fans who clearly hates a specific character. You could absolutely have this be a personal battle that presents some grey in a battle, but instead chooses the easy way kill out: kill everyone and everyone because reasons. It cheapens the drama and devolves tension to nothing. I beg you DC and Warner Bros., take a lesson from Captain America: Civil War and make us worried for the players on the stage and not the stage as a whole.
As for the good, I can at least say that even if the bits of character development are minimal, the moments that are there actually work. Nearly everyone is giving a fantastic performance, aside from some over the top antics from Jared Leto’s Joker. I would have no problem seeing another film from this team if they promise to allow Will Smith’s Deadshot just talk with members of his team about anything aside from directing them who and what to fight. I would love to see some more moments from the romance between Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker. But instead we’re told to simply be entertained by half realized characters fighting in repetitive action scenes to fill a running time that’s a drag to get through. There is potential for a fun yet grounded Guardians of the Galaxy-styled film here, but it looks like we’re going to be waiting until a sequel to hopefully get that film.