Suicide Squad – Critics vs. Fans

Suicide Squad is one of the summer’s most anticipated films.  With a very colorful, pop heavy marketing campaign, and the promise of an intriguing new spin on one of pop cultures most famous villains, people were wondering (hoping) that this would be the movie that would deliver the DC side of the superhero ship from the rocky waters that the last 2 attempts have left it in.  But now with a harsh shellacking by prominent movie critics and an equally loud fan base shouting back, this movie has garnered more controversy than I think Warner Bros. and DC Comics were hoping for.  So what is the final verdict? Is the movie really that bad?  Or were critics just being overly hard on another summer tent pole?  Honestly, the answer lies somewhere in between.  The movie is…okay.

(Warning: Minor spoilers ahead)

I kind of wish I could come away with a stronger opinion one way or the other.  Really good or really bad tend to be easier to write about.  But the honest truth of this movie is that it’s kind of an uneven romp.  It has it’s highs and lows, and some really confusing choices in presentation, all of which add up to a slightly above lukewarm response.  Make no mistake, this movie isn’t bad.  I’d even go so far as to say it’s pretty good.  I guess the tragedy is that I honestly believe that somewhere, likely the cutting room floor, lies a great movie instead of just an okay one.  So why does this movie stumble?

To start, it relies an awful lot on spoon feeding you the information it wants you to absolutely know. Whether it’s through clunky exposition or constant flashback sequences, the momentum of the story is often brought to a halt so the movie can explain itself.  An argument can be made that with such a large ensemble, it’s the cleanest way to give you the relevant backstories.  But other movies with similar hurdles *cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough* handled that problem far more organically, through character interaction and dialogue.

Also, the movie suffers from uneven pacing, and janky editing.  It often feels like we leave a scene too early or arrive right in the middle of whats going on. It can be jarring, especially when you, on occasion, feel like you might have missed something important.  It never gets to the point where you get confused about the goings on, but it certainly leads to some pretty glaring plot holes.

Also, because the cast is so large, some characters unfortunately get left by the wayside.  The character of Katana could have been completely cut from the movie with no noticeable effect on the plot.  Similarly, Killer Croc is an interesting character who gets shortchanged in the character development department.  Joker, one of the most widely marketed characters of the movie, may suffer the most, as he’s one of the most well known characters in the movie, yet gets precious little screen time.  Relegated to flashbacks and a side plot, Joker rides the periphery the whole way, not getting enough time to leave as much of an impression as you would like.

My last real complaint is the conflict of the movie feels underdeveloped and frankly cliche by this point.  There is a real disconnect between the sort of street level skill sets of our Suicide Squad members and the otherworldly, mystical threat they are meant to fight, and frankly, I’m more than a little tired of blue light beams shooting into the sky creating portals of havoc.  For goodness sake, I feel like I saw it twice this summer already.  But none of it, not the flashbacks or blue beams are enough to break the movie.

Indeed this movie has quite a bit going for it, starting with it’s cast.  Will Smith just shines in this movie.  His casting as Deadshot, the assassin who never misses, was well thought out, and you can tell he’s having a good time playing the badass.  Similarly, Margot Robbie can be delightful as Harley Quinn.  Admittedly, not all of her madcap shenanigans work to her advantage, but her zany behavior and one liners land more often than crash. Jai Courtney gets to go off the rails as Captain Boomerang, and it’s just so fun to watch.  Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje deserved more screen time as Killer Croc, as he was fascinating to watch be absorbed by the animalistic nature of the character. Jay Hernandez perhaps gets to play the most sympathetic character as the repentant El Diablo, an ex gang leader who doesn’t want to use his special gifts, as he’s trying to redeem his past misdeeds.  Viola Davis plays the absolutely cold, calculated Amanda Waller, and she might be the most terrifying character in the movie.  Finally, Jared Leto as the Joker.  Well…if I’m honest, he didn’t always feel very Joker-like.  He was portrayed more like an insane mob boss, the clown motif being almost an afterthought.  But as I said before, his screen time is so limited that it’s tough to make a real assessment of his version of the Clown Prince of Crime.  Certainly his chemistry with Margot Robbie is intense enough to keep his appearances engaging.  In fact, I’d say the chemistry between all the main players is the biggest strength of the movie.  Watching the characters interact is a real treat, as they develop interesting relationships as the movie progresses.

Suicide Squad also benefits from good direction behind the camera.  It’s color palette is vibrant, which is appropriate for the tone of the film.  And the action sequences are just so well captured.  Every time the focus is shifted to another character, the camera is perfectly placed to capture the feeling and the intensity of the action.   The quieter moments are also shot with great care.  Indeed, a scene near the end, where the movie slows down to let the characters catch their breath in a bar, is one of the best conceived moments of the movie.

The soundtrack is packed to the brim with classic rock and pop tunes.  I will say that the soundtrack is often used to mask the clunkier scenes of the movie, which unfortunately can be a bit distracting, especially when you cycle through 3 recognizable hits in as many minutes.  But just as often, the soundtrack is used a complement to the tone of a scene, and I never object to a soundtrack that doubles as a good car playlist.

Overall, I left the theater feeling pretty good, but not great, about the movie. So, why did the critics seem to be gung ho to bash it?  Well, it’s hard to say.  One theory is that the movie wreaks of studio tampering.  The hasty edits and odd scene placements feel sometimes out of sync with the tone that the director was going for.  And it’s easy to feel cheated when it feels like a sense of genuineness and sincerity is stripped away by studio big wigs. Or maybe the critics are also tired of the same taking-over-the-world plot with blue light beams?  Or maybe we’re misinterpreting the general consensus of critics based on aggregate review sites taking a multifaceted opinion and boiling it down to just good or bad?  I dunno.  I’m not an expert.

At the end of the day, we all have our opinions, and movies are always going to be subjective things.  We each take away our own experience.

My finals word on the subject is that you should give the movie a watch.  Blockbuster season coming to a close, and this is a perfectly serviceable flick to wind down the season.

 

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