(HEAD GEEK’S NOTE: This is a slightly re-edited post from my initial reactions to watching Suicide Squad five years ago. With the The Suicide Squad coming out this week, I wanted to revisit the first movie and watched it last night. It was the first time I had seen it since going to the theater. My views on the film really haven’t changed all that much after seeing it again, so it’s time to re-up the original post.)
The latest installment of the the new DC Comics Extended Universe was expected to be a mess, then after a series of reshoots, there were high hopes. But those didn’t last long once the movie was released, even though it still did well at the box office. But was it really any good?
The short answer is that I enjoyed it, and that’s really all that matters to me. The rest of it is all pretty unimportant.
The SUICIDE SQUAD is a DC Comics group of supervillains brought together by government agent Amanda Waller to do off-the-books jobs for the country’s national security. The group as we know it today was created by John Ostrander in 1987 and has frequently been the subject of comics and other media. It’s a great concept, a group of bad guys forced to work together to do some good. I say “forced” since Waller has a device implanted on Squad members that would kill them if they disobey. Not dying is usually a good motivation.
The cinematic version of the Squad has the same general origins as the comic book group: bad guys brought together to defend the country against metahumans – the DC Comics term for superheroes – inspired by the fear that the new Cinematic Superman could have been a force for evil instead of good. Of course, bringing together a group of violent criminals, sociopaths and psychopaths might not be the best way to form a line of defense.
The story follows the formation of the Squad right through to the end of its first mission, which involved bringing down mystical entity The Enchantress, who was trying to end the world because humans used to worship her 6,300 years ago. Waller – played brilliantly evil by Viola Davis – thought she had The Enchantress under control as another fail safe, but it turns out Waller was being played. So when this mystical menace managed to mangle Midway City, Waller calls in her new team.
(Note from the Present: Having recently re-read Ostrander’s original run on the Squad, pitting this team against a serious mystical threat like the Enchantress isn’t totally off-brand, but maybe bringing the threat level down a bit from “end-of-the-world” would have been better for a first outing.)
I was really skeptical about a lot of this movie going into it, including but not limited to Will Smith as Deadshot and Jared Leto as the Joker. While I’m still not on board with Smith as Deadshot (he was more Will Smith than Floyd Lawton throughout the movie), I certainly enjoyed his performance. The former Fresh Prince can be great in these roles and giving him a script that seemed to have some humor in it and not just action and menacing helped a lot, because Smith is usually at his best when he can let out a little bit of snark here and there.
Leto’s Joker, on the other hand, was a complete surprise. How is this the guy who leaned against lockers as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life? Then again, I shouldn’t be surprised. Heath Ledger was the pretty boy in a ton of movies before THE DARK KNIGHT.
With the exception of the weird face tattoos and the teeth bling Leto had, it felt like his Joker was a close representation of the comic book character. The various outfits he wore as homages to different comic book stories were great Easter eggs. I was actually relieved he wasn’t in more of the movie, because Joker could have easily overtaken the film, but making him this presence that you keep waiting for to show up and cause havoc was a great decision. And the ending perfectly sets him up as the antagonist for whatever Batman movie Ben Affleck decides to make in a few years.
(Note from the Present: I guess that didn’t really work out.)
And speaking of Leto’s Joker, the character’s main squeeze, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was also fantastic, although it was clear she was trying to emulate the voice of the character used in Batman: The Animated Series. Up until Suicide Squad, Arleen Sorkin was really the only voice for Harley that people know, and I imagine people read Harley Quinn comic book appearances with Sorkin’s voice in their head. Still, I thought she had a good handle on the character and I admit to smiling at several little comics homages they threw in to the movie, like the Alex Ross cover to her first comics appearance and calling Joker “Mr. J” and “Puddin’.”
I also felt like the rest of the cast drew in an emotional involvement – which I wasn’t suspecting – especially Jay Hernandez’s Diablo. His character arc built to its climax perfectly and had me really attached to the character before he met his untimely end.
All of the hate and critical panning the movie received is somewhat baffling to me, because it was no worse than a good number of big budget action flicks released this summer, and the cast did a great job with what I’m sure was something of a mess of a script. The movie also managed to have several instances where it was fun… which has been an issue since DC rebooted its movie-verse with Man of Steel.
Hopefully, Suicide Squad signals a tonal shift for the DC movies and things take a turn for the positive. This was a good first step that provided some hope for what’s to come.
(Note from the Present: That didn’t really work out, either. I guess we’ll see how things go with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, out in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday.)