When the casting for Suicide Squad was announced, social media went into a frenzy.
Jared Leto, Will Smith, Viola Davis and more — the film appeared to be box office gold. Written and directed by David Ayer, the characters are anti-heroes everyone loves, especially comic book fans.
However, there is a calculated risk attempting to bring childhood heroes to life. We’ve seen the wrath that comes when superhero movies fail the fans (2009’s Green Lantern, 2015’s Fantastic Four, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Expectations are high, maybe too high. With Suicide Squad dropping in theaters tomorrow, fans are waiting to see if the critics are evil or sensible. In my sensible critical opinion, Suicide Squad wasn’t a complete disaster, but inexcusably mediocre. To be fair, the audience I saw the film with appeared to love every frame: big laughter, cheers for the action and clapping as the credits rolled. Is there a disconnect between critics and audiences?
Suicide Squad is the story of bad guys turned good. A flock of characters like Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and more are forced to be weapons of mass destruction under the guidance of government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) Things go comic-book-awry when one of her evil superheroes, a witch with a perfect body and lip gloss for days, escapes. Going by the name Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), she summons her hunky brother and is ready to destroy the world. Who will save the day? The so-called Suicide Squad. Yes, a standard (and predictable) plot, but it's the quirky, dangerous and witty superheroes who are supposed to save the film. Unfortunately, not even the superpowers of Will Smith, Jared Leto and Viola Davis can fully redeem Suicide Squad.
Ayer shoots for big explosions and quick action, but considering the film’s title and the characters, the movie’s biggest flaw is zero edge. None of the characters feel dangerous enough. We hear more about their evil ways rather than seeing the drama onscreen. Maybe Ayer was afraid of an R-rating (the film is a surprising PG-13), but the movie needed less Walt Disney and more Wes Craven. Still, I can’t deny the Suicide Squad wasn’t a crowd pleaser in my theater, especially from Harley Quinn, who delivered the best lines. Moreover, the actors mastered the swag of their characters, but whenever Suicide Squad attempted to blend storylines, the movie crumbled.
A huge blow to Suicide Squad is underutilizing Jared Leto as the Joker. From the previews, audiences might believe the Joker is the lead, but he barely has a supporting role. Although Leto's performance is brilliant, as always, the lack of the Joker was a huge let down. Smith as Deadshot and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller are interesting and at times fun, but not even these Oscar nominees could save Suicide Squad.
On a good note, the movie is extremely diverse. Superhero films are famously whitewashed, with the characters of color limited to a handful of fights and one-liners. In Suicide Squad, everyone is represented without tokenism. In addition, the film offered interesting themes of labels, identities and fear, deeply relevant for our troubling times. There are important takeaways in Suicide Squad; I only wish these cinematic lessons were presented in a better film.
All of that said, maybe critics are overanalyzing the David Ayer movie. If the audience I saw the film with is any indication of the movie’s appeal, Suicide Squad just might be the escapist pop movie the world needs now.
(Photo: Clay Enos/TM/DC Comics)