I don’t know much about DC comics and its characters. I’ve seen a few Batman movies, and Tumblr’s introduced me to Harley Quinn, but aside from that I walked into the movie theatre to watch “Suicide Squad” as a total outsider. I walked out again both impressed and unimpressed.
Let’s start with what left me unimpressed. The story’s a mess. The writers don’t know how to naturally deliver exposition. The first ten minutes are a video-game manual's introduction to the Squad, explicitly telling us what we should think about everyone as well as who is important enough to survive the first half of the film. I spent too much of the film wondering why anyone was doing what they were doing – not in an “I don’t have the canon context” way, but a “That literally makes no sense” way. The film’s two big reveals are poorly executed. One (who the Squad was sent to protect) is interesting but doesn’t give the viewer any time to think about it. The other (what the Squad is fighting) is “explained” using flashbacks of footage already used in the film and so tells us nothing that the characters and audience didn’t already know.
What was impressive was how quickly and completely “Suicide Squad” made me care about its characters. Though I had no nostalgia for these villains to make me root for them, before the first hour was through, I liked the Squad and wanted them to find a happy ending. Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) wisecracking optimism in the face of abusive prison guards snatched my admiration and sympathy just as much as Deadshot’s (Will Smith) unashamed concern for his daughter. El Diablo’s (Jay Hernandez) emphatic reluctance to use his powers engaged me long before he finally explained why. Even Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who mostly stands around looking grim, won my heart with a couple one-liners that I shouldn’t spoil.
I could gush forever about the delightfully despicable Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). It’s rare to have a woman step onscreen as the toughest, baddest boss around, without any explanation of what “made” her that way. She just is that tough boss, and everyone accepts her as such, and she is never unseated from that role.
If you like Cara Delevingne, you’re in luck; her eerie Enchantress gets more than enough screen time to establish herself as the most villainous character in a film full of villains (yes, including Jared Leto’s Joker). Karen Fukuhara’s Katana, on the other hand, is criminally underutilized, getting little more than a backstory flashback and a few fights. I hope her role in this film was an introduction to a later, greater study of her character in the spin-off films that she and most of the cast deserve. Is DC attempting a “reverse” version of the Avengers franchise, creating the “team” movie before the individual character-based films? Only time and box office results will tell.
I’d recommend this film to anyone interested in DC villains, excessive amounts of violence without a single drop of blood spilled, and, surprisingly, a moral. “Suicide Squad” champions a variant on the standard “be yourself” message: you can’t change who you are or what you’ve done, so you might as well own it and be the best version of what you are that you can be. I half expected the Squad to start reciting the Bad-Anon affirmation from Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” at the climax, but while Marvel movies can get away with characters whistling “It’s a Small World” these days, Disney doesn’t own DC. Yet.