Suicide Squad is often labeled as the worst entry in the DC Extended Universe canon. While I may disagree, it’s clear that this seems to be the majority opinion. It’s the DCEU film with the lowest critical and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it doesn’t look like its legacy is changing any time soon.
And I’ll admit, Suicide Squad is not some misunderstood masterpiece. It’s a flawed film and I’m not blind to those issues. Although, a lot of times, certain flaws end up overshadowing the things a film does right. And that’s something that’s happened with this particular DC superhero flick.
It’s time to look at what works about Suicide Squad because it’s got a lot more bright spots than its reputation leads you to believe.
A Suicide Squad of Great Actors
As the first big ensemble piece in the DC Extended Universe, Suicide Squad had to come out of the gate swinging with its cast. And despite the almost unanimously disliked casting of Jared Leto, the rest of the ensemble deserves some serious praise.
It’s clear that Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was a winning decision as she’s gone to portray the character in Birds of Prey and the upcoming sequel, The Suicide Squad. Talking about Harley’s depiction in the film is a worthy complaint, but in terms of performance and embodying the character, Robbie will likely go down as the definitive version of Harley Quinn for a certain generation.
But, she isn’t the only member of Suicide Squad that made a strong impression. Will Smith doesn’t get the accolades he deserves for his version of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot. Harley and Floyd are the driving characters in the film from an emotional standpoint, and Smith sells the heart of the movie better than anyone else. He’s a blockbuster star for a reason, and his presence brings a specific brand of charm and cool to the whole movie.
And that effectiveness extends to the majority of Suicide Squad‘s cast. Viola Davis is pitch-perfect casting as Amanda Waller, bringing a cold and calculating steeliness to a woman that can scare any metahuman. Jai Courtney is goofy and great as Captain Boomerang, and it might be one of his better on-screen roles. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje delivers some fun toughness and humor as Killer Croc. Even Joel Kinnaman and Cara Delevingne manage to work really well considering a lot of their plot was lost in the edit.
And then, there is Jay Hernandez as Chato Santana/El Diablo. It’s so unfortunate that his portrayal of this pyrokinetic gangster never gets talked about because Hernandez adds a layer of genuine pity and sympathy that works extraordinarily well. When the movie finally reveals his backstory, it’s legitimately tragic and makes his eventual arc hit home. If Suicide Squad has a secret weapon in terms of the ensemble, it’s him.
But really, when Suicide Squad allows the squad to bounce dialogue off one another, they all shine in particular moments. With a few exceptions, there is a reason the majority of these actors are coming back for James Gunn’s sequel. They work together way more than they don’t. This is a good ensemble, and the presence of one poor casting choice shouldn’t devalue the good work being done by everyone else.
An Impressive Production
Suicide Squad gets a lot of flak for its perceived direction, but something I don’t see getting praise is the exorbitant production value that’s on display. Maybe we’ve just become numb to blockbuster cinema being extravagant pieces of production, but this movie has a lot going on that I never see getting its due.
One of the best elements in this regard is costuming. Suicide Squad went above and beyond when it came to outfitting its many comic book characters. You can absolutely dislike the particular take writer/director David Ayer took with the characters, but it’s hard to argue that the costuming isn’t a successful and impressive execution of that vision.
And what’s nice is that the costumes feel comic book inspired. There is a trend in superhero cinema post-The Dark Knight to strive for more realistic or grounded takes on superhero costumes. Suicide Squad mostly eschews that in favor of delightfully gaudy outfits and monstrous makeup. Even the much-maligned Joker has a wardrobe that stands out with characteristic flair.
It’s not just the costumes. Suicide Squad is a surprisingly tactile piece of superhero spectacle. A lot of superhero movies nowadays really heavily on green screen for locations, but this is a movie that has a bunch of great sets and a real sense of space. That might seem like a minor element to praise, but when so much of modern blockbuster action goes for totally digital spaces, it’s worth applauding when a movie does things for real.
For example, the many monsters the Suicide Squad faces in the movie are called the Eyes of the Adversary. Ayer could have done what many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies do and make the army of bad guys totally CG. Instead, they were actual performers with makeup appliances that were enhanced by CG. It adds a level of texture and polish that a lot of movies would rather replace with completely digital artifice.
A Solid Sense of Tone
This one might get me the most dislike but I’m willing to go to bat for Suicide Squad‘s attempt at tonal management. It’s widely reported that the film was reconfigured in post-production in an attempt to make it more widely appealing after the critical drubbing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice took for being too grim. That’s obvious in the finished cut of the movie, but it doesn’t mean the movie was po-faced at its core.
There is a concerted effort in Suicide Squad to make this band of villains likable. Whether that’s through humor or by letting us know a lot more about them, it’s a tactic the movie uses and it works. The tonal criticisms are likely asserted due to the film’s first act being heavily manipulated through a different edit.
This brings us to the part that I have to acknowledge…
The Problems With Suicide Squad
There are some valid reasons why Suicide Squad has earned its infamy. Some come down to a matter of taste, but there is one problem that is pretty universally acknowledged: the edit.
As I mentioned, Suicide Squad was being tampered with all throughout post-production. There were even competing cuts going on at one point. The cut Warner Bros. eventually went with was one that was submitted by a studio that primarily cuts movie trailers. Because of this, the first act of the movie feels incredibly choppy and tonally discordant with the latter part of the film. Plus, this first act is overloaded with notable pop and rock songs that feel like a cheap ploy after Guardians of the Galaxy made such a point of utilizing classic pop and rock songs on its soundtrack.
Another issue I see brought up is Ayer’s idiosyncratic interest in “gangster” theming. Personally, I don’t see this as a negative. It’s distinct and a flavor that felt fresh to superhero cinema. If it’s just not to your liking, that’s valid but I don’t think it’s a purely negative idea in concept. The way Ayer shoots Harley Quinn though? Yeah, I ain’t goin’ to bat for that one.
And yes, it’s finally time to bring up everyone’s biggest problem with Suicide Squad: Jared Leto as the Joker. Removed from the world of fiction, Jared Leto seems like an insufferable, egotistic loon who has developed his own cult of personality that seems suspicious and potentially dangerous. But, just judging him as the Joker, I don’t think he’s the worst version of the character I’ve seen. His performance isn’t bad but if you can’t get past the aesthetic, I get it.
Even with these problems, Suicide Squad has a lot going on that’s right. More than Zack Snyder’s new cut of Justice League, I’d love to see David Ayer’s far different cut that he had assembled during post-production. With the ability to change the edit, it’s possible the parts of the film that work can shine even brighter.
What Suicide Squad Could Have Been
Suicide Squad director David Ayer has been pretty vocal about not being allowed to make the movie he wanted due to studio interference. Recently he on Twitter he revealed one change in particular he wanted to make. Below is Enchantress as she appeared in the movie…
And here’s how David Ayer wanted to make Enchantress look, if he’d been allowed to…
It’s a pretty big improvement.