Thoughts on Suicide Squad

Before I kick this thing off, I just want to say that I have no intention of turning this into a movie review blog. As someone who wants to make films, part of me feels like it's an odd place to heavily critique other people's work when my own gallery is one tab over. For the past number of years, I've felt odd giving films scores, grades or ratings, because even numbers can feel wholly reductive towards my overall feelings on a piece of work. I may feel in my gut that a movie deserves a solid 8/10. I may feel the desire to watch that film far more often than a movie I would give a perfect 10/10 rating. In a time where audiences want immediate answers to "What do I spend my money on?", your overall feelings towards a film, both good and bad, get reduced down a single number or grade. All of the emotional attachments you have towards a piece of work that took years and hundreds of people to bring together get whittled down to a rating on a 5-star scale. I understand its purpose and why people prefer to categorize their film consumption like so, but for the past few years, it's been a practice I've generally shied away from.

So on that note, is Suicide Squad worth your time

Photo by Clay Enos

Photo by Clay Enos

Probably even more anticipated than its superhero older brother Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeSuicide Squad feels like a mixed bag of goodie snacks and a few generic no-name brand candy pieces. The critical response has been harsh, to say the least, with the film currently sitting on a 27% rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. As one of the minority group that thinks Batman v Superman is a good movie, its rating on Rotten Tomatoes, only slightly higher than Suicide Squad at 29%, has thrown my relationship with the site into a state of flux. I've often and still do use the site to give me an on-the-fly guide to what film I should gravitate more towards when weighing up viewing options, but at the same time, I believe people rely on these numbers too much without understanding how this rating system really works. If my preface to this post outlined my hesitance to give out scores to films, imagine my frustration when audiences use these numbers to argue their feelings against a film they didn't connect with. 

As a whole, I do not believe this film has as much meat to bite into as Batman v Superman. But, as with that film, I feel the response from the critical and geek community has been harsh to a level I find hard to subscribe to. The film has a number of issues with its overall structure and editing that it's frustrating when it doesn't work when it totally should. All of the ingredients are there, and those ingredients are the cast and the characters who make up the Squad. 

This film reminded me why Will Smith is a movie star, why Margot Robbie is absolutely becoming a movie star, and why I think actors and actresses like Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis need to be in more things. Within a really erratically edited film is enough screen presence and chemistry to carry the film through its more frustrating aspects, but it's still a shame that they had to be there, to begin with. Reports have surfaced that director David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) had only 6 weeks to write the screenplay. This would not surprise me. Other new sources also report that Warner Brothers screened two differing cuts of the film in the lead up to release, Ayer's version and another by the studio. This would also not surprise me. With Ayer recently coming out and declaring this version of the film "my cut", despite those earlier reports saying otherwise, we may never see that version screened for test audiences months ago. And after seeing just how much better Batman v Superman feels with its 30-minute longer Ultimate Edition, it would be nothing short of frustrating to see the studio releasing broken theatrical cuts just to release the as-intended version later down the track. 

You feel as you're watching that either important character moments or simply helpful transitional scenes have been axed from the cut. There's something about the film that feels like it's been jury-rigged to what the studio may think will make it the most fun  it can be after the numerous complaints of Batman v Superman's dark and morose tone. But we didn't need that to be forced upon us. Batman v Superman is a darker film because its themes require it to be so. Suicide Squad had enough chemistry between its cast that its attempts to be a "fun summer blockbuster" at times come off as insecure when it should feel organic with such a big group of colourful characters. The soundtrack is a good time, but most of the first act feels like one long music video, with montages inside of montages. This is a technique that can absolutely work, but here it feels slightly haphazard, pulling you in a number of different directions. 

But you know what? I had a good time. 

As did the group I saw this with. We all enjoyed ourselves while recognizing a number of issues with the films overall construction. We enjoyed the banter between characters, seeing Ben Affleck's Batman interacting with a number of characters never before seen in a live-action film, and the intention behind the visual design. There's good in this movie to go along with the not-so-good. And this type of "film criticism", as casual as it was, should be encouraged. We live in an "all or nothing" age of consumption where if what you're watching isn't the best thing ever, it's a horrible mess that is bad and you should feel really bad if you like it. There is no in-between. Let's get back to the in-between. 

Photo by Clay Enos

Photo by Clay Enos

But anyway, I nearly forgot Jared Leto. While his post-release interviews have been particularly eye-rolling, I thought his Joker was kinda ... great. Friends have been quick to point "But he's no Ledger or Nicholson or Hamill!", but I have to ask; how exactly was he supposed to be with the little screen time he had? He had zero on-screen interaction with his "other side of the coin". We weren't able to see how the relationship dynamic between Batman and Joker works in this Cinematic Universe, but I would love to see it. People saying he puts in a bad performance I feel aren't looking at his performance, but rather their ideal interpretation of the character. To me, Leto felt like a modern Clown Prince of Crime. As a friend pointed out to me, when The Joker was first created in 1940, he was a perversion of the gangster, pinstripe suit and all. This is 2016. The gangster image is far different now, and thus Leto is a perversion of that. Modeled after Cartel member attire, Leto brings a level of insane glee in causing chaos that is right in The Joker's wheelhouse. His cronies wear insane outfits while blasting away automatic machine guns. He laughs with glee while firing his golden AK-47 out the back of a helicopter. He had little time to make an impression, but I wanted to see more. Leto brought it to life in a way that felt dangerous and criminally shortened judging by the list of deleted scenes. 

As a fan of these characters, seeing Harley Quinn and The Joker together in live-action form was a joy. It also brought with it something I wasn't expecting to see; The Joker's sexuality and how that plays into his relationship with Harley. It's a toxic relationship originated from a place of emotional manipulation and straight up abuse, but introducing this aspect to their relationship was both odd to see and also fascinating. It worked in a way that made The Joker feel more dangerous, and Harley's transformation more tragic. 

There are things like this that really work in the film. But it tends to be let down by haphazard editing and a villain who provides no authentic conflict in the film. This is problematic. If we don't have authentic and legitimate conflict in these movies, it's dramatic dead weight. I would have liked to have seen this developed further.

So at the end of this unintentionally long post, do I think Suicide Squad is a good movie? Yes. And no. Mostly yes. But there are parts that aren't. And that's okay. It doesn't suck because of it. The parts that work still work. Those parts should be recognized and praised. The parts that don't should be recognized by the studio and those in charge of carrying the DC Extended Universe forward. 

So go see it. Make up your own mind. Let's get back to that in-between.