What you're about to read may cause some of you to throw heavy objects at your computer, tablet, or phone: I saw Suicide Squad and I enjoyed it. *ducks down for safety* Okay, I hear what you're saying, the movie is a hot mess, but I found it to be an appealing hot mess.
As loyal readers and contributors to this website, you are likely open to contrary views, and my opinion of Suicide Squad definitely runs counter to the prevailing opinions, which mostly amount to "The movie is a disaster!" No, it's not. It's being judged a bit unfairly from all corners, really. Some folks dislike comic book movies and are therefore predisposed to hating it. Others are fans who feel like Warners Bros. is ruining the DC characters and intellectual properties that have meant a great deal to them since they were kids. Both are valid stances to take, but neither will help you see the movie from a fresh perspective, one unsullied by preconceptions. Obviously, going into this or any movie these days with as few preconceptions as possible is nearly impossible. With that in mind, I did my best to go to the theater without expectations. As someone who wasn't exactly enamored with Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, it would've been easy for me to dismiss Suicide Squad completely. But I like a challenge, plus at heart I'm an optimistic cynic, meaning my skepticism is always tinged with a strong dose of hope. So I based my opinions of the movie on what I saw and not what I'd heard and read about it over the last year—obviously that's nearly impossible to do, but I tried my best. This movie's been hyped for so long, and the negative feedback loop has grown so disproportionately pervasive that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone saying anything positive about it online. We're living in an age where movies are declared failures before they're even released, which appears to be what happened here. Suicide Squad opened strong, broke some box office records, but was overwhelmingly panned by critics, bloggers, geeks all over the world, and even your friends. To be clear, it's far from perfect and has plenty of problems preventing it from being great, but it's not the epic failure that it's already been declared.
I repeat: Suicide Squad pleasantly surprised me. I would even say that I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact. Yes, it has some of the hallmarks of what's made the previous Warner Bros. DC movies so turgid and humorless at times—that grim and gritty aesthetic that can drag them down under the weight of so much angst and despair. But in this case, that grim tone actually makes sense: the bad guys are the stars of the movie! And that grimness is laced with dark humor throughout, making Suicide Squad the most fun DC movie in recent memory. It's still a bit of a hot mess, but in the way that cult classics often are. As a big studio, big budget production, Suicide Squad will probably have a hard time ever being perceived that way, but underneath the surface beats the heart of a hot mess just waiting for cult classic status. It might be a stretch to say, but it's possible that in a few years once audiences have had some time and distance from the negative feedback loop, they'll come around to seeing it as a guilty pleasure.
You likely know the basic plot of the film so I'll keep this brief. When intelligence official and one-tough-cookie Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X ("the Suicide Squad") to take on jobs no one else will, she brings together a wacky assortment of oddballs and lunatics—some with extraordinary powers and others with extraordinary booty shorts. The team is a mix of convicted sociopaths and psychopaths, including marksman extraordinaire Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), enigmatic and pacifist El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and lizard-skinned sewer dweller Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Together with Waller's team leader Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and expert swords-woman and all-around badass Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the Squad is assembled in order to combat the evil witch-goddess Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who has unleashed demonic monsters all over fictional Midway City in an attempt to annihilate the human race. You see, she's been imprisoned inside a cursed idol for a very long time and someone has to pay for that. I neglected to mention that the witch-goddess has possessed Flag's special lady, the brilliant archaeologist Dr. June Moone (old school comic book names are the best). This adds some melodrama and intrigue to the proceedings: will Flag be forced to kill the woman he loves in order to save the world?! Maybe!
I'm ratcheting up the silliness here in direct response to Suicide Squad's willingness to do the same. Look, this is not an all-time great film, but it's not a disaster like the commensurate would have you believe. It's a summer romp, a popcorn flick all the way. One of the movie's more endearing qualities is just how casually the characters react to the most bizarre of revelations. Characters say things like "She's a witch," or "Her dead husband's soul is trapped inside her Soultaker sword," and other characters react with shrugs and bemused sideways glances. It gives the world of Suicide Squad a real lived-in quality. These characters have seen it all before—so when they see even more, it barely phases them. As Midway City is overrun by monsters, the movie starts to resemble the loopy insanity of the original Ghostbusters' final act, with all sorts of bombastic displays of fire and brimstone. I almost expected to see the Stay Puft Marshallow Man show up. I realize comparing any part of this movie to the original Ghostbusters will be seen as sacrilege to some (and no one wants to incur the wrath of a certain subset of Ghostbusters fanboys, as we've seen online this year), but if you look closely there's a similarity in both film's willingness to embrace absurdity. At times Suicide Squad is immensely entertaining precisely because it doesn't take itself too seriously. This will help the film to gain a better reputation on Blu-ray and DVD. Just look at that cast of characters and tell me this isn't an inherently silly concept. Leaning into that silliness is one of the movie's strengths, one that seems to have been ignored by most critics.
Let's get back to Harley's booty shorts for a moment though, shall we? What exactly are we talking about when we talk about Harley Quinn? In the build up to the movie and in the days since, the Internet has been arguing about whether or not Harley is merely there to be objectified, which has elicited responses along the lines of, "Have you read her comic book appearances?" Harley's characterization has always been tricky, with subtle shadings here and there that reveal glimmers of hope and potential in her character's development over the years. I think the world's recent discussion surrounding Robbie as Harley proves the meme, "It can be two things." Robbie exudes sexuality in the role — I mean, she is Margot Robbie after all— along with impeccable comic timing and a real joie de vivre that brilliantly bring the fan-favorite character to life. But, you ask, is Robbie being objectified? At times yes, but it's not that simple. There are a number of scenes the camera frames Harley as an object of desire for the male gaze, but it's also evident that she's self-aware and, in fact, owning it herself. She uses her sexuality to get what she wants, in the grand tradition of the femme fatale. It should also be noted that, alongside Deadshot, she's the heart of the team. Underneath those layers of flirty madness lies a sweet and strong woman, one is both willing to help save the world and tough enough to do it. She has no super powers yet holds her own throughout the film, wielding her baseball bat with aplomb. She's also wrapped up in a wholly dysfunctional and abusive relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto), one that will rightfully make audiences uncomfortable. But by portraying that relationship, one that has a long history in comics and animation, the film isn't condoning the Joker's mistreatment of Harley. If anything it pushes us to sympathize with Harley and condemn the Joker. Harley Quinn has been a controversial character for more than two decades now and the film has simply brought this controversy to a larger audience. People will debate the merits of the character and her treatment in Suicide Squad, but it's hard to ignore some simple truths: Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn in this film, with all that entails. Robbie is a star here, shining brightly in the part with a perfect mix of playfulness, charisma, kinetic energy, passion, and humor.
There are plenty of flaws here, I won't lie. It's overstuffed and at times edited together haphazardly. Director David Ayers, or the music supervisor or both, rely far too heavily on cliched and obvious classic rock and hip hop songs to score too many of the scenes. The opening of the film takes far too long to set up the plot and introduce the characters. Certain scenes require you to completely suspend belief in order for them to work. That last one isn't really a flaw for me though because this is a comic book movie—belief should be suspended early and often. For the most part, the entire cast acquits themselves very well here, with Will Smith especially deserving praise for his performance as Floyd Lawton, or Deadshot. When Smith stars in a film it's often hard to see anything except "Will Smith, Movie Star," but here he turns in a soulful, determined performance that actually makes you forget about his celebrity persona. He makes us believe in his unconditional love for his daughter, which brings depth to the character. Smith also brings serious badassery to the proceedings, especially in the exhilarating scene where he shows off his perfect marksmanship for Waller and Flag. Jay Hernandez also shines as the tortured El Diablo, who swore off using his unstable pyrokinesis after it cost him his family. Joel Kinnaman is strong and steady as the one relatively sane person trying to wrangle this group of insane misfits. Jared Leto is not in the film much, although the Joker's influence is felt on several of the film's bigger scenes. It's almost impossible not to compare Leto's performance to the phenomenal ones given by Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson in the role, so I'll simply say that it doesn't really compare. Karen Fukuhara isn't given much to do as Katana, nor many lines to utter in Japanese either, but her action scenes are more than enough to make me wish for a Katana solo movie. My inner fanboy was totally geeking out every time she unsheathed the Soulsword.
To sum up, Suicide Squad is the hot mess you've been hearing it is, but it's an entertaining and engaging hot mess. Clearly the film is not for everyone, but it's also likely that some perceptions have been colored by the critical drubbings of previous DC movies and pre-release negativity. Try to see it with an open mind and you'll likely have an enjoyable time at the movies.