A film critic’s task is to rate a movie on its strengths and weaknesses. Of course, when it comes to comic book adaptations, knowing the source material can add to the experience, but it can also color the experience for better or worse. Let’s get this out of the way: I know nothing about DC Comics’ “Suicide Squad,” one character’s slang name for Task Force X. I readily admit this movie wasn’t made for me, a fact I can appreciate and live with. However, as an average filmgoer, does David Ayer’s adaptation of Suicide Squad hit the notes necessary to make it enjoyable for people like me as well?
I liken my reaction to Suicide Squad in the way Charlie Murphy reacted to being punched by Rick James, as told in Murphy’s “True Hollywood Stories” from “Chappelle’s Show”: “’Maybe I’m overreacting.’ I actually went there. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do nothing.’ But my ghetto side was goin’ ‘Yo, stomp this mother**ker out right here. What the f**k is wrong with him?”’ Why? Because on the average filmgoer side, the movie serves its purpose: to provide additional groundwork for Zack Snyder’s 2017 Justice League film. It’s a two-hour examination of what Eminem describes as “what happens when Bad meets Evil.” Most of its characters are made interesting enough, and yeah, you’re going to have a few laughs.
However, my critic side has to wonder if comic book adaptations stand up to the scrutiny of those who look for criteria different than the film’s intended audience, such as the glaring plot holes and unnecessary adornments which damage Suicide Squad irreparably. By the midway point, Suicide Squad turns into a garbled mess, bearing too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough substance. If this film’s intention is to feature a group of irreverent, nihilistic villains and their goofy personas either clicking or causing friction for comedic purposes, so be it, but forgive me if I ask for a little more than one-liners and the novelty of psychotic prisoners working for the US government.
Suicide Squad is all too caught up in its casual “Aw, shucks, we’re killers, but we’re cute and we can have fun, too!” air to have any real, meaningful fun. Maybe it’s not supposed to be fun; maybe we’re supposed to be watching a two-hour humanizing of these folks and what’s wrong with them. However, the way Ayer presents it makes us want it to be fun, which brings us to its first failing: a forced sense of humor.
For instance, we’re told Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) has a pink horse fetish, going so far as to carry a stuffed pink horse, even into battle. It’s a piece of exposition which makes no sense in the film, other than to demand a few laughs when he has to pick the horse up and stuff it back in his coat after dropping it in battle. It’s completely forgotten by the third act, but at least they get some miles out of it. Furthermore, what is he even doing here? What skill set does he contain which makes him a viable member of the group? Aside from one reconnaissance task he is completely useless, except for maybe showing off what a horndog he is by relentlessly bombarding one of the Squad’s women with pickup lines.
For the most part, the comic relief and tomfoolery comes mostly at the hands of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a former psychiatrist whose brain has taken a long walk off a short pier, driven mad by her paramour, The Joker (Jared Leto). She is whimsy in human form, breezing her way through beatdowns (either given by her or to her) with a lascivious look on her face, adding a sexual level to the over-the-top violence. It’s Robbie’s character, and she owns it well; the mere sight of her seems almost meant to provoke Pavlovian laughter every time the camera’s on her as she delivers deadpan snark which gets old halfway through. To the film’s credit, at the halfway mark, she’s turning from The Joker’s pet into a hard-hitting member of Task Force X, which winds up being her saving grace, but we still have to put up with funny lines which really aren’t all that funny. True, she’s insane, so maybe they’re funny in her head… just not ours.
As Will Smith is in the movie, you know you can depend on him to be Will Smith – the hot-dogging, funky-strutting, one-liner-shouting goof we’ve all seen time and again. He’s the best feature of Suicide Squad, playing the assassin father of the only person he cares about in the world – his daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) – for whom he would do anything to make sure she’s all right. Which includes using his incredible sharpshooting skills for protection, not to rub out mafia informers for money. He’s the strongest actor playing the strongest character in the movie, but when his erudite, thoughtful persona is undermined by being given unnecessary lines like “YOU! ARE! EVIL!” to shout at an obviously evil entity, one has to wonder what possessed Ayer to even think that was acceptable.
This leads to the film’s second failing: a lack of logic. Once assembled, Task Force X is sent on a ground mission to rescue a subject caught in a building near what’s being called a terrorist attack. This mission and its extension leading to the film’s climax take up the entire second and third acts of Suicide Squad, both of which drag on while personalities, superhuman powers, and conflicts are established. As fast-paced as that sounds, it takes a mighty long time to get from point A to point B, with their arrival at point C being delayed by a stop at a watering hole. However, once the ground mission is completed, helicopters are used to complete the mission (why didn’t they use them in the first place?), thus negating any kind of sacrifice or purpose for the mission itself; the bad taste in one’s mouth is further deepened once the identity of the rescue mission’s subject is revealed.
Likewise, the climax shows Task Force X battling the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a centuries-old witch whose powers are handily demonstrated early by her disappearing from a Pentagon briefing room, only to reappear a split second later with an Iranian weapons book in her hand. With this kind of ability, do we really think the Enchantress, who spends half of the movie creating an indescribable superweapon capable of destroying humanity, needs to waste her time having hand-to-hand combat with Task Force X, much less using her power to take out the US military in various places around the world? These types of illogic turned Suicide Squad into a qualified mess, which makes me wonder what the major motion picture studios must think about how stupid their audiences are. But hey, if it makes money, who cares if it turns America into Idiocracy?
Suicide Squad isn’t without merit, though. Storylines like the ones belonging to Deadshot and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a self-imprisoned fire-wielder, are strong underpinnings for this morally ambiguous tale. However, they’re undercut by throwaway characters like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Slipknot (Adam Beach). There are way too many characters in this film to give our attention – wait. Let me rephrase. There are way too many unnecessary characters in this film to give our attention. Suicide Squad is not Marvel’s The Avengers, where characters are clear and laden with purpose. It’s as if Ayer needed to somehow include all the members of Task Force X without giving them direction or meaning, and that’s where the film lost me.
However, as I said at the beginning of this review, this movie wasn’t made for me; it was made for comic book fans. The bad-guys-turned-good conceit isn’t new; if you want to look at how it’s done right cinematically, watch Guardians of the Galaxy, a comic book film featuring a genuinely sizzling and funny script, a killer soundtrack, massive character development and depth, and terrific action. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad seems to want to replicate the success of that film, but with a lackluster script, a fair soundtrack (all due props for using K7’s “Come Baby Come” and resurrecting it after 24 years), ridiculous characterizations, and mediocre action. If The Powers That Be think Suicide Squad is “respecting the comic book fans” and “giving them what they want,” I am honestly scared of what’s coming next.