Let’s jump right to it: Will Smith was great as Deadshot, Margot Robbie was even better as Harley Quinn. Harley was a very, very poorly written character, but Margot Robbie made her her work – or at least came close – based pretty much solely on the strength of her acting.
We have a new winner for “worst superpower ever”, though, ousting everyone’s favorite archer (shut up, “Arrow” fans), Hawkeye, from the top spot (really like the character, but I always imagine him stopping at the arrow store before battles). Let’s all give a hand to…Slipknot! He can climb anything! And that’s it. Seriously. That’s it. That’s his superpower.
The plot of the movie is ridiculous swiss cheese. It’s not really clear why we need something like the Suicide Squad as opposed to, say, the Justice League: If Amanda Waller is that skilled at manipulation, wouldn’t it be in her best interests to gather all of the heroes together? In fact, somebody once did just that. His name was Nick Fury. It worked out really, really well.
The idea that we can pin any mistakes or atrocities on the Squad is absent here, since there really isn’t any opportunity for them to commit atrocities and their original mission is something that could easily be done by a swat team task force; they actually decide to go for the “Save the world” stuff of their own accord, which is really stupid and the sort of thing they should have been saved for anyway.
The methods used to control the characters was dumb: Try to run and you get blown up. This is stupid because there are plenty of things you can do that don’t justify blowing you up but are still harmful to the overall cause. For example, at one point in the movie Deadshot intentionally misses a shot; he’s not blown up because, hey, they could still use him after all. The obvious thing to do would be to ALSO attach some sort of device that causes pain; this way if you try to disobey you can be tased or something to stop you in your tracks, force you to comply, or punish you. But apparently this never occurred to anyone.
And yet…Harsh as I sound “Suicide Squad” was actually a whole lot of fun. As said before, Deadshot and Harley Quinn were both entertaining; even Killer Croc had some great one-liners (Captain Boomerang remains a half step above Deadshot and roughly on par with Hawkeye on the “Stupidest powers” scale. He throws boomerangs!). El Diablo’s actor put on a good performance and had one of the more interesting arcs in the movie, even if it ended up being something of a cliche in the end; he also ended up with the coolest powers, showing off a nice little surprise at the end of the film.
Leto’s Joker was a disappointment. He wasn’t in it a ton and actually didn’t even seem overly menacing. He seemed to have a real connection with Harley Quinn (something I had a real problem with, which I’ll get to later), and we didn’t see him kill anybody but criminals and prison guards, who we’ve established earlier in the movie as sadistic.
And there was one moment that was absolutely perfect, which I’ll get to later. I actually recommend the film if you’re looking to see something stupid but fun. It’s the poor man’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”, continuing the DC trend of making inferior versions of Marvel movies – but inferior or not, it was definitely entertaining, if nothing else. It’s probably a 6 of 10 or so on the star scale.
Was the film superversive? Well…kind of? It depends on how you define superversive – whether it’s about the final result or the effort. Certainly the movie clearly TRIED for that superversive feel – a band of misfits and villains coming together and deciding of their own accord and without coercion that they were going to try to save the world, redeeming themselves, at least partially, in the process. But the execution was meh. Still, it really did go for it, and that, at least, is to be commended.
There was one moment in the movie that was absolutely perfect – and here be a minor spoiler. During the climax, the villain shows the heroes visions of their fantasy of a perfect life. Most were pretty standard fare – Deadshot wants a life with his daughter, El Diablo wants his family back (in a very nice moment in and of itself El Diablo is the only one to reject the fantasy world, being the only member of the Squad up to that point who really accepted the fact that he didn’t deserve anything more than what he got).
Harley Quinn’s vision is of her and the Joker with no deformities, dressed normally, with three kids, living a perfectly normal life. It’s poignant, it’s sad, it’s moving, and it’s a pitch-perfect insight into what makes Harley’s character tick. In a weird way this little thirty second scene was the highlight of the movie.
It also highlights the movie’s biggest problem. Early on we learn that Harley Quinn is the “Queen of Crime”, with Joker as the king. He goes on crime sprees with her, brings her with him everywhere, and seems to have genuine romantic feelings for her. At one point he “offers” her sexually to another villain but it quickly becomes clear that he was playing mind games and never really intended for her to do anything with him. He even saves her life at one point and organizes a major rescue mission for her.
This is all, all wrong. At her core, Harley is a tragic character. In that one scene the movie comes SO CLOSE to hitting upon this but never really backs it up. Harley is never Joker’s Queen: She’s his minion. He’s her abusive boyfriend. He does just enough to flatter her so she does what he wants her to but throws her aside and treats her like garbage as soon as she serves her purpose.
Harley Quinn was introduced in “Batman: The Animated Series”. The Joker/Harley dynamic is best demonstrated in the episode “Mad Love”, widely regarded as a classic and originally an award winning comic. In it, Harley decides that to impress the Joker, she’s going to kill Batman herself. She actually manages to get Batman into an impossible to escape death trap, but is kept from killing him when Batman tells her that the stories the Joker told her in order to get her to fall in love with him (and spring him from Arkham Asylum, where she was his psychiatrist) were lies that Batman himself had already heard. He convinces her to call the Joker over to witness the trap for himself.
Harley’s near-success enrages the Joker. Despite her protests that she was trying to help, he pushes her out a window into a dumpster, and finds the whole thing so insignificant that it’s not even worth a laugh. This is some dark, dark stuff. This is abuse on a really dangerous scale.
In her hospital bed (!!!), Harley renounces the Joker forever…right up until his flower and card. All of a sudden, back to true love.
Harley Quinn’s relationship should be completely one-sided. The Joker shouldn’t rescue her. When she gets out, he might try to find her to use her somehow, but he’d abandon her – even kill her – in a heartbeat if she interfered at all with his plans. Harley’s dream life with the Joker is tragic, and it’s tragic in the movie as well – but it should also be tragic because it’s clear that not only is the dream impossible, it’s completely delusional: The Joker simply doesn’t care about her. She’s a minion, a disposable tool, worth only the most perfunctory efforts to keep her as a sometimes useful ally. That normal life isn’t just impossible because they’re both bad. It’s impossible because the relationship doesn’t even really exist at all.
The plot could easily have made more sense, too. The Joker should have been the real villain. You start off with the Joker and Harley doing something heinous – say setting off a bomb – when Batman shows up. Despite nearly catching the Joker he is forced to rescue Harley, who the Joker has pushed into water or something like that. A bomb goes off in a building, and in the chaos Joker escapes. Batman simply gets lucky that the building, for whatever reason, was empty that day.
Cut to Amanda Waller, who explains to a group of stuffed shirts that Batman is clearly too much of a goody-goody to get the Joker: To catch a guy like him, you need people just as ruthless and just as crazy – she proposes the suicide squad.
Everyone balks until word gets out that the Joker is planning another, even larger terrorist attack – and all of a sudden the idea doesn’t sound so bad. And there’s your premise. It gets Harley in on things too – as his ex-“girlfriend” she would supposedly know various hiding places of the Joker, and Harley of course, despite publicly renouncing the Joker, secretly wants to impress him and get back into his good graces….
There’s a plot that makes sense! The concept of a Suicide Squad makes sense. Harley’s inclusion makes sense. The villain is interesting. The stakes certainly are high enough. This is exactly what we should have seen in this film.
But we didn’t.
What we saw was still fairly good (due mostly to the strength of the lead actors), and highly entertaining, but it could have been so much better. And that’s a real shame.