I know, I’m a week late. I don’t get paid to write these, not yet at least, so I can’t always get to the movies on opening night. Luckily, I’m not here to beat a dead horse. I’m not going to trash the movie (because lord knows I was prepared to going in) nor am I going to hail it as the superhero film as the year, because it isn’t. It’s not even close. The days of a middle ground in regards to superhero films seem to be a thing of the past. This is most likely because of the massive influx of them, as well as the lopsided-ness of the genre (Marvel cornering the market of shared cinematic universes for years before DC even started its attempt). Whatever the reason may be, a superhero film can’t just be “good” anymore, or decent, or alright. It has to reinvent the wheel, or it is deemed a colossal failure. A movie is either masterpiece or piece of hot garbage, and it all depends on who you ask. DC movies, in particular, especially this year, seem to be inspiring one of those two reactions. There’s an innate, aggressive defensiveness among fans, and in response non fans have taken on a more aggressive offense in their criticisms of the films.
In the end I suppose it all comes down to what you value, fan service, strong writing, visual flair, or subtext. All four of these factors add up to a great film, superhero or otherwise. For Deadpool, it had fair balance of all of them, though maybe light on subtext. Batman V Superman had visual flair, subtext and fan service to spare, but a complete lack of strong writing left it as a series of montages loosely strung together. Captain America Civil War probably had the best balance of all of them. Suicide squad was…certainly a way to kill an afternoon. If I were to review it in a sentence, that sentence would be: “Not great, or even very good, but it has some bright spots, so it’s worth a watch.” It had the possibilities for subtext, about the nature of good and evil, the mindset of a criminal, ect. This largely goes unexplored in lieu of an aesthetic of sheer carnage and mania to match the unstable nature of some of its characters. This results is a god awful 15-20 minute stretch at the very beginning of the film that feels more like a playlist on YouTube than the opening of a film. It’s like having constant noise thrown at you in a bad children’s film, a cadophany of light, color and sound to keep you from getting bored in case Batman v Superman didn’t do the trick. Luckily this manic, hot topic Andy Warhol routine is dropped when the film starts zeroing in on an actual plot, but the disjointedness never leaves.
There are obvious gaps in characterization throughout, with character developments feeling very unearned by the end of the film. This also leads to a generic villain that’s like an amalgamation of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World and Viper from The Wolverine. Rather than emphasize the “true villain” of the film (Viola Davis as Amanda Waller), the film instead opts for the avengers formula of “big bad has a shiny thing that’s blowing up the sky while an army of minion fodder get thrown at the squad to deal with.” And therein lies the main problem with this movie: focus is put on the wrong people at the wrong times. Why is Enchantress (the default antagonist in a film full of villains) singled out as evil, when she, along with every member “task force X” are black ops slaves to shady, Machiavellian government figure who is framed with multiple allusions to the devil throughout the film? Every other criminal on the team is given some element of tragedy, why not her? There is a good movie here, a great movie, even. But something went very, very wrong in the production. Removing some excess characters like Karana or Killer Croc, fleshing others out more, shifting the role of antagonist, and an editor who actually knows how to do his or her job would have accomplished just that.
While so far I’ve done nothing but pick the movie apart, I must stress that I do so because there are parts of this movie that I really, really liked. The cast all around if fantastic. The characters are enjoyable to watch and easy to get invested in, which is more than I can day for DC’s other outing this year. There are even some pretty inventive visual designs and effects work peppered throughout other highly questionable directorial choices. Will Smith is great as Deadshot, Margot Robbie is infectious as Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis is sublimely intense as Amanda Waller. This is also the first movie where I actually really enjoyed Jai Courtney in a role. I’m hoping for a sequel, preferably with a new crew behind the camera, because there is the making of something special here, and it is the shot in the arm that the DC cinematic universe desperately needs. To quote Deadshot, someone just needs to get it there.