David Ayer can make competent and arresting action/dramas. His movies are mostly centered on men and their various issues with broken masculinity in a violent environment. Suicide Squad is a David Ayer movie, through and through. It features every cliché that he’s known to dabble in, along with all the various characters that he’s contractually obligated to work with. Unfortunately, the director ran into some highly publicized issues with the studio and, most surprisingly, the company that made the trailers for the movie. The finished product is a very broken film that seems to have been broken from the very conception of the picture. Suicide Squad is a disappointment with the expectations put upon it after the abysmal Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. That doesn’t make it completely terrible though.
After the death of Superman at the end of BVS, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) attempts to scaremonger support for a group that would stop a theoretical evil version of Superman. Davis’s portrayal of a viciously mean, but subdued, woman is on point and her ability to play such a character is as strong as ever. It’s not as if this information was ever at doubt, but it’s nice to know that even with pretty terrible material, she can always pull it off. Her character, unfortunately, is the one to spout every bit of information about the characters we will spend the majority of the film with. Yet, we’ll be given this information again, and again, and again…
This information is used to flesh out the cardboard cutouts of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). The first 30 minutes of the film is dedicated to this info and the film loses any momentum it carried from its utterly confusing scenes. Almost all of the actors do a tremendous job attempting to make the characters work with what they have, but they don’t have a lot. Will Smith is back in his peak mid ’90’s form as a wise-cracking assassin that really isn’t a bad guy as much as he is one that’s made some very dumb mistakes. That seems to be the case for almost every “bad guy” in the crew. It’s almost as if Warner and DC wanted to make a movie about the bad guys but take almost none of the risks of going through with the concept.
And another big problem for the picture is the lack of risk. If glorifying the misogyny that’s plagued Harley Quinn and accepting the latino gangbanger stereotype with El Diablo is a risk, than maybe they did succeed. But from my point of view, painting lazy caricatures is not risky in the slightest. Again, it’s not as if the actors don’t give it their all. These are capable actors (aside from Courtney and Delevingne perhaps, but they do just fine), but their presence has enough character for the filmmakers to be fine and dandy with everything within the film. But let’s get real specific.
Harley Quinn has always had a bit of an issue in the storytelling department. As a brainwashed love slave for the worst Joker (Jared Leto) that’s ever been on the big screen, Quinn’s portrayal has had to ride a kid friendly wave during her initial introduction to the DC universe in Batman: The Animated Series. This has brought along criticisms from the community shouting out how her depiction has had a multitude of issues. These people were not wrong and Suicide Squad will not change their mind on those issues. There’s no redemption here. El Diablo’s little backstory is equally problematic on the racial side of things. There’s a conversation to be had about the struggles to grow up in that neighborhood, but those conversations are not had here, mildly referred to perhaps, but not discussed. Then again, it’s not like Ayers ever wanted to make films that belonged in this century, politically or socially.
As the sole credited writer of Suicide Squad (though we all know there were several more), Ayer gets to take the brunt of the issues for the depictions of these characters and where the focus lies. His claim to fame was his writing job on the smash hit, 2001’s Training Day, a mildly superficial look into the dirty cops near the Los Angeles ghettos. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, that film became the mark that Ayer takes from for every one of his directorial projects. I don’t want to tell you that Ayer hasn’t directed some very good films. I was particularly surprised by the hyper-masculine and passionate war film, Fury. Whether or not this is his Director’s Cut of the film as Ayer has suggested, somewhere along the way, and maybe even from the start, he lost control of the film and never got it back.
Between the rotten editing to the confused plotting, Suicide Squad can’t cohere into anything worth recommending. That being said, the cast is able to bring together some chemistry and create a version of these characters that you wish you could see in a much better film. This is the saving grace of a disappointing movie that was ironically destroyed by the trailer company that gave us the footage that got us all amped up in the first place. Let’s not strike the last nail in the coffin for the DCEU yet; we’ve still got the fantastic looking Wonder Woman on the way, but Suicide Squad is not the savior of this universe that we were looking for.