Probably some spoilers
With the possible exception of ‘The Dark Knight,’ I don’t believe these super hero films are masterpieces. Most of them are kind of silly, and the fact that they’re all on a carefully conceived thirty year master plan to squeeze as much money out of the general public is kind of off-putting. However, I do find the DC movies with their darker tone to be a bit more engaging than what Marvel offers.
The critics have been hard on these movies but although their criticisms are consistent they don’t seem to be intellectually honest. There is plenty to nit-pick in the DC films, but the critics seem to keep their objections vague in accordance with a general perception rather than point out individual flaws.
‘Suicide Squad’ is a pretty solid little movie that does a couple interesting things. The actual super hero component of this film is subdued, as the characters go without masks for the majority of the film. I happen to like that, as I pay to watch actors perform, not CGI rendered suits. For that reason, I really enjoyed Iron Man 3 which showed Robert Downey Jr. playing the most vulnerable manifestation of his character.
In an era where there is a constant call for “Strong Female Characters” Harley Quinn is an interesting anomaly. She really steals the show here and even manages a bit of dignity despite the fact that her whole character is something of a male fantasy. I’m not overly impressed with Margot Robbie as an actress, but all she has to do to effectively portray Quinn is laugh and try to be seductive. She’s interesting though because she’s a sex kitten that intimidates men because of her over pronounced desire. The fact that she’s wresting power away through the magnification of the typical male/female interaction is compelling. The only scene that kind of bothered me with her was the dream sequence in which she revealed all she really wanted was a normal life. I don’t think that’s the fundamental desire of Harley Quinn, although I couldn’t substitute what I think she really would like. The reveal that she wanted a regular life kind of felt dis-empowering. By the way, I watched this film with my wife and she preferred Harley Quinn to all the other characters by far.
Will Smith does his typical star routine which is effective but as bland as yellow cheese. He plays one of those assassins who kills mafia king pins, etc., so although what he’s doing is technically illegal, he’s essentially the Punisher and people can relate to him. Plus he’s got a little girl…the go two heart tugger to show deep down he’s a kind and gentle ruthless assassin. There’s nothing objectionable to his performance, and I liked the scene where their handler assassinates a bunch of her underlings just to keep the operation covert. I’m not sure the film was making the handler a good guy or not, but I think it’s interesting that there is a huge outcry over depictions of Batman being overly violent, but nobody bats an eye when a government official does the same. At some point people are going to have to realize that the cynicism of these DC films are reflective of a deeply felt current sense of cynicism towards our own government. “Truth, Justice and the American Way” just sounds like another con to a generation of kids who can’t find a job and are labeled as “entitled” even though they’ve got to pay off their parents 20 Trillion dollar debt.
I have to spend a few seconds talking about Jared Leto. He had the toughest job in this film bringing the Joker back to life and I thought he gave a solid effort. In some ways I’d say it’s a “safe” performance since he doesn’t break radically from the comic book representation (as you could argue Ledger did…though I’m not a comic book expert so feel free to disagree). I still don’t feel a great Joker has made his way to the screen. Leto tries for menace with growls and hoots, but I think the smile kind of gives him away. There are people out there who can smile and have it appear terrifying, and Leto doesn’t have a smile like that. Honestly, I’d like to see a more reserved Joker. I think the menace has to build, the audience should sit there thinking, “when is he going to laugh, when is he going to laugh?” and when he does it should peel the skin from their bones. A Joker laugh should be used about the same as “Bond, James Bond” it has to mean something when it happens, I want to feel a little more torment from the character. However, I don’t mean to detract too much from what we get. This is a very solid Joker.
I thought the overall driving conflict of the film was a bit on the bland side. It seemed like sort of a generic world ending threat that was just sort of tacked on. This film starts out as a kind of “7 Samurai” as the handler puts together her “Dirty Dozen” just in case “the next Superman to manifest happens to be bad.” The early scenes introducing us to the Suicide Squad are the best. There have been some critics who claim the film suffers from two personalities, but I didn’t get that impression. If another cut of this film exists I’d be interested in seeing it, but what we have works well.
The sequence in this film that sets it apart, however, is the moment when El Diablo rejects the temptation dream sequence. Everyone else is being temporarily subdued by a vision of their deepest desire, for El Diablo this is a glimpse of a life with his wife and children that he burned alive. He is able to break the spell of the vision because he knows it is impossible to overturn that act. I thought that was a fascinating comment on guilt and remorse and the toll it takes on your whole psyche. It basically crammed the whole emotional impact of ‘The Machinist’ into one thirty second moment which is impressive.
So don’t listen to the other critics. There’s plenty to like in ‘Suicide Squad.’ It’s a dark, mature film that taps into emotions Marvel seems to fear.