Following the critical panning, yet massive box office success, of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the third installment of the DC Extended Universe has been the talk of fanboys and critics alike for the past few months. From outrage over the facial tattoos and blingy grill of Jared Leto‘s Joker to rumors of rushed reshoots, Suicide Squad, with its ensemble of lesser-known DC characters, could either be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy or another lackluster attempt to recreate the magic of beloved comic book and cartoon characters.
The first act of the movie offers quick introductions of some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, supervillains and metahumans as government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) explains her plan to assemble a team of bad guys to help protect humanity from the possibility of an evil metahuman with Superman-like powers. Waller’s superiors naturally have some trepidations about employing the talents of death row inmates, and the villains are reluctant to cooperate with their oppressors. But when witchy would-be Squad member the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) starts turning Midway City into some sort of mystical weapon to take over the world, the Suicide Squad is forced into action.
With Deadshot (Will Smith) assuming the role of leader, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) falls in as his hyper-sexualized crazy chick sidekick. These are the obvious stars of the film and the only characters — aside from field commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), whose girlfriend is possessed by the Enchantress — that evoke any emotional connection with the audience. Deadshot longs to be able to see his daughter again while Quinn is incessantly texting with the Joker, who eventually shows up to try and whisk her away from the chaos. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje‘s portrayal of former sideshow performer and alligator wrestler Killer Croc is impressively ominous for most of the film before providing comic relief toward the end. Otherwise, most of the Squad is relatively forgettable.
Like Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad‘s biggest flaw is that there is simply too much going on in one movie, despite a runtime of more than two hours. Director David Ayer, who has proven to be adept at directing movies with villainous main characters (Training Day) as well as rough-and-tumble ensemble casts (Sabotage), does his best to introduce a multitude of characters, explain their motivations (some better than others) and advance the story as quickly as possible. However, had we been introduced to some of these characters in previous movies, Ayer’s job would have been much easier here.
Another problem with Suicide Squad is that it often contradicts itself, most notably when Quinn gives the Squad a pep talk about why their desires don’t mesh with those of “the normals” of the world. Moments later, the Enchantress casts a spell on members of the Squad, allowing them to see their true desires, all of which involve the same happy home lives for which the rest of society strives. Keep in mind that these are mentally unstable metahumans, so we shouldn’t expect logical consistency from them, especially when they are being enchanted by an equally unstable witch. So, this inconsistency can be explained away fairly easily.
Despite its setbacks, Suicide Squad gives comic book fans something to look forward to as DC’s cinematic universe continues to expand. Ben Affleck reprises his role as Batman for a brief appearance, which makes sense considering that this film features four Gotham villains. At least one other future Justice League member makes a cameo (it’s not Hawkman, even though Midway City is traditionally his base of operations). And there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it recreation of Alex Ross’ Batman: Harley Quinn cover art, one of several visually stunning moments in the film.
Are these characters faithful to their comic book counterparts? Not completely. Do the movie’s departures and contradictions make it any less fun to watch? Not at all.