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Suicide Squad: How DC turned a perfect chance into a misstep

Given its chaotic editing on a dull script full of campy, over-stylized but lifeless characterization, Suicide Squad just has to face with the fact that critics are absolutely correct.

After an impressive promotion campaign including trailers with classic numbers and original soundtracks by Skrillex and Twenty One Pilots, Suicide Squad finally opened in theaters on August 5 last year. The hype for this movie was undeniably humongous. DC hardcore fans expected it to be the much-needed breakthrough for their cinematic universe with a mix of humor and action; movie enthusiasts have been waiting for another cinematic reimagination of Joker, as well as live-action versions of other DC beloved villains/antiheroes. And while it performed pretty well at the box office even without releases in the Chinese market, its quality fell short of the kooky premise.

As the third installment of DCEU, following Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad is set after the death of Superman in Trinity’s carnal battle with Doomsday. Concerned by the next powerhouse’s unpredictable nature to label good deeds and wrongdoings, ruthless government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) plans to recruit a special team of (supposedly) metahumans under her supervision in order to prepare for said circumstance. Then we meet up with our baddies through a colorful by-the-book sequence of expository intro-cards and flashbacks.

“What are we, some kind of Suicide Squad?”

The so-called Task Force X consists of Deadshot/Floyd Lawton (Will Smith) – man of faith, gun-for-hire, and devoted father; Harley Quinn/Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie) – Joker’s sidekick/lover with almost deranged mind as his; Captain Boomerang/George ‘Digger’ Harkness (Jai Courtney) – part-time thievish lowlife, full time Brony; El Diablo/Chato Santana (Jay Hernadez) – ex-gangbanger who gets conscience-stricken after his involuntary manslaughter of his family; Killer Croc/Waylon Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – Gotham-based thug with a skin condition rendering him reptilian traits; Enchantress/June Moone (Cara Delevigne) – powerful extradimensional sorceress sheltered in the body of an archaeologist; and Slipknot/Christopher Weiss (Adam Beach), who is… good with ropes.

To get them under her full control, Waller manipulates Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and modifies him into being Squad’s field leader. Also, Flag has developed a relationship with Enchantress’ human identity – June Moone. She then takes advantage of him to hatch her own scheme. Consequently, the first assignment of the newly formed Squad is to extract a VIP from the middle of Midway City, where an unidentified threat has now infested the whole domain.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, or how Suicide Squad won an Oscar

For who was confused about the main villain of the movie, let us get straight to the point: it is not The Joker (Jared Leto). With all of its trailers, Suicide Squad, together with fans, suffered from what could be called “false advertisement”. Particularly, there is this exact one scene in a trailer with Joker’s reverberating laugh in the background; meanwhile, Suicide Squad members is nervously preparing for their upcoming battle. In the movie, Joker is not the big bad boss at all and only shows up for his own personal purpose: rescueing the love of his life.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as The Joker

In prior to his appearance as the Clown Prince of Crime, Leto had received mixed responses from fans regarding his look and acting, possibly due to the shadow that Heath Ledger cast upon any future Joker portrayal rather than just the rich legacy of this Batman’s arch-nemesis. That being said, The Joker’s debut in DCEU seems anti-climatic. His presence is thrown all over the place because of the reshoots back in March – after principle photography had wrapped up. Therefore, Leto’s performance was just… okay. The actor was not terrible as certain people expected it to be but did not stand out as the groundbreaking act that would properly deliver the nihilistic and ominous essence of this walking enigma. Leto is a talented actor, and I do not suppose anyone seriously doubts his Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club. Yet, this time he did not capture the abominably charismatic vibe that should have associated with all of Joker incarnations. Supplemented by a gangsta, modern look of mob bosses with his bling-bling, tattoos, and slick back pompadour, Leto found his screen time stretched out over about 15 minutes of awkwardly directed sequences. He barely had any memorable moment to come close to anything significance as the audience had high hope for; but at least, the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman did a fine job with materials handed to him, which leads us the biggest problem of the whole movie.

Suicide Squad got chopped off into irrelevant bits that are too embarrassing to watch and declare that this is even a DC comic book adaptation. Fans will always have David Ayer to blame for this, as his version of Task Force X’s first assignment is a convoluted quest filled with mediocre action, forced humor, and bland characters. Everyone can tell Squad’s messy editing is the result of materials that are irresponsibly mounted together (Ayer wrote the script in 6 weeks), especially the scene when Flag and Moone go under the subway – in correlation with a revelation about a bomb in the final act. At first, the flashbacks, despite being all exposition through Waller’s narration, are done in a highly stylistic manner. The sequence makes the audience excited for this band of misfits, only to let us down once the so-called action starts to kick in. Midway City is set up to look so horrendous – not even gritty in a good way – and blends into one banal, dull ground at the beginning of act two. There is no dynamic at all. In spite of all the PG-13 violence, it is just dead air.

David Ayer and Will Smith on set

From this point on, the plot progresses in a conventional adventure with such cliché: a mindless ‘Eyes of the Adversary’ army – checked; a crusade through the wasteland to rescue an oddball ally – checked; a crossing with a vile third party resulting in the group’s unavoidable breakup – checked; a rushed reunion and a pretentiously profound pep talk – checked; the final battle, checked; a moment of heartbreaking decision involving the loved one of a member- checked. No one can truly understand Waller’s common sense in assembling a group of gunmen, scrappers, and crazies to battle a raging force of mythic entities. The idea of Suicide Squad, despite bearing several similarities to MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy, does not share its premise and the same approach to characterization. Not to mention, the story is full of silly plot holes that were hastily brushed over to compromise for the giggles or to continue the story for the sake of… continuation.

If there is one factor that saves* Squad* from being a total dumpster of sloppiness, it is the main stars. Will Smith nailed this Deadshot anyway, showing up as the wisecracking hitman, who is lethal on the field and caring beside his daughter Alice. And while Smith provided the role with his trademark charm, Deadshot is really just another Will-Smith-action-guy type, wearing too thick a plot armor with infinite ammunition. The script tries to ground him to humanity more with the intervention of his daughter, but that is pretty much everything (and also I wish he did put on the mask more, but Will Smith sells).

Will Smith and Margot Robbie in the leading roles

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn delivers a well-balanced portrayal of this villainess; the demented aspect of her mind is effectively fleshed out. The most problematic complaints with Quinn lie in the ill-treated depiction of her relationship with Joker. Mad love is perversely toned down into an adorable teenie story, of which the Internet will surely make fun. It is not the unhealthy, mostly one-sided affair between an abusive madman and his lovelorn sidekick anymore because their interactive chemistry also underwent Ayer’s script treatment.

Amanda Waller is the last intriguing character. Despite the terrible writing, Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), delivered a fantastic performance as this decisive, menacing figure of authority that, more than once, tells you that it is not wise to get in her way. Davis also just won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role – of course, not for this role but for her character Rose Maxson in Fences.

The supporting cast is stretched as thin as possible due to its overabundance. Boomerang has a comical fetish with pink unicorns and manages to throw about 5 actual boomerangs in the movies (unlike him in the last act, all of them just bolt away and never return); Croc does not even demonstrate any feat of strength and only sit back to throw pompous one-liners about his beautiful appearance; Katana/Tatsu Yamashiro (Karen Fukuhara) appears later and does absolutely nothing; El Diablo is poorly written with cliché as a guilt-struck ex-con and only stands out in two show-stealing scenes. Lastly, Kinnaman (RoboCop remake) is as bland as he always proves to be.

It all comes down to the final showdown with an, again, supposedly menacing ancient witch. However, Enchantress is just another one-note villainous force of nature with no clear motivation and background to relate. Her epic apparatus of destruction is the same as that of Fant4stic while the action sequence is shabbily choreographed with messy camera work and cheap quick-cuts. It is nonsensical when such a powerful entity even bothers fooling around (literally in Nightcrawler style – teleporter with two blades) with and offers a full-time job for her adversaries. Not only do they just blow her brother into pieces one moment ago but also display no impressive feats of metahuman powers. In fact, the only Squad member worthwhile of recruitment has just kicked the bucket.

Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, and Jai Courtney

Even with its record-breaking performance at the box office and on Billboard ranking, Suicide Squad, accompanied by vainglorious music cues, did not live up to the hype and only delivered a tasteless experience in the time of superheroes fatigue. Given its chaotic editing on a dull script full of campy, over-stylized but lifeless characterization, Suicide Squad just has to face with the fact that critics are absolutely correct. With Wonder Woman and Justice League underway, 2017 is surely make-or-break for DCEU.