Critics Need to Calm Down
Saying that film critics are catching a bit of heat for the wide spread opinion of DC’s Suicide Squad is like saying that peace in the Middle East has been a complicated endeavor. But of course you already knew that since every reviewer and their dog has taken to the streets trumpeting their opinions to every passerby like Paul Revere just discovered Twitter. Meanwhile, those of us who play by the rules and wait for review embargos to pass are stuck looking like that coworker who shows up mid conversation and agrees with your last statement, even though they were not around for the discussion prior. With reviews coming in a full week before the movie even came out, people seem to be of the mind to tell critics to stick their opinion where the sun don’t shine and, despite being a critic myself, I find it increasingly hard not to agree. Over the last three years’ DC film properties have been treated more like a shooting gallery than a movie going experience. The entire DC library garnering a measly 41% across both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and I am beginning to feel like there is more to this story than just “DC movies suck.” The biggest problem DC faced was not that they had to go up against objectively better movies, but that they are trying to bring their own style to what is ostensibly an established genre.
This was always going to be one of the major obstacles DC movies would face when showing up late to the party because Marvel got there first and has already established it as a fun loving costume party. Then DC saunters in wearing a tailored tuxedo while brandishing a bottle of Dom Perignon and wonders why everyone is giving them nasty looks. At this point there is an entire generation that has been trained to believe that the “Marvel Method” is the only way to tell a superhero story and anything that differs from that is going to be met with contempt the same way a Warcraft player reacts to natural light. So am I just here to regurgitate an opinion? Surprisingly no, as I am in the minority of critics in that I am not convinced that Suicide Squad murdered my father and posted embarrassing photos of me on the internet, unlike the way some critics have reacted. Does that mean the movie is good? Well, I didn’t say that either.
Suicide Squad is the third installment in DC’s attempted line of connected universe films and is, in some ways, a sequel to Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. With the death of Superman in the previous film, those in power seek to create a team of “meta humans” to confront the next Superman sized threat that looks at the Earth with suspicious glances. After scouring the world for the “worst of the worst,” government agent and professional shit bag Amanda Waller manages to scrounge up a witch with the power of a god, a mentally derranged sociopath, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the Human Torch – gangbanger edition, and three other people who don’t matter. This “crack” team of scoundrels are sent into hostile terrain with no information about their goals, no training as a unit, and no incentive to work together other than the hope of continued existence in a maximum security prison. What kind of trouble will these kookie kids get into I wonder?
While the plot is not the kind of thing that would make Daniel Day Lewis consider calling Warner Brothers, it is not offensively bad either. The costume design is hit or miss and really the only defining line is whether or not the character mattered to the story. Staples like Harley Quinn and Enchantress look phenomenal and are crafted with loving detail either in the special effects or in the design of the costume that remains true to the source material, while still remaining unique. But a few of them are as budget as you can get, especially Captain Boomerang, who is basically just an Australian in a jacket, and whoever the fuck Slingshot is, or as I like to call him, the Poor Man’s Spider-Man. The biggest problem the film suffers from is a lack of substance. There are about eight members of the squad with only enough material and screen time for three, yet the film drags the others along anyway rather than say, I don’t know, kill them off along the way in order to better represent the danger of their mission.
The biggest misstep in the film is the portrayal of the Joker. Jared Leto does an impressive job of losing himself beneath the makeup of the clown prince of crime, but the problem is that he is less of a clown prince and more of a jester. What few scenes Leto has do nothing to establish him as the feared and psychotic king of Gotham’s seedy underbelly and instead paint him as some wannabe gangster with too many bad tattoos. This interpretation of the joker simply has no teeth, something that could have easily been remedied with a few different lines or a darker direction that alluded to his dark and sadistic nature rather than simply telling us how much of a threat he poses. Sadly, what little we see is not enough to make me or many others clamor for more. Without wishing to draw the obvious comparison, Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight establishes himself as both a madman and a force to be reckoned with in his opening scene. Conversely, Leto’s Joker does not have any moment nearly as memorable or as frightening that help establish him as a villain as the now infamous pencil scene. Unfortunately, despite the actor’s abilities, this cameo screams of studio decision making as he does not enough screen time to make him a necessary part of the plot, but has just enough to sprinkle him in every trailer.
The strange thing is that despite its issues, I still found the film more enjoyable than I expected. Yes, the story is rudimentary and there is not enough of the pie for everyone to get an equal share, but it is still a refreshing take on what is quickly becoming a formulaic concept. I was one of the few people who enjoyed Batman vs. Superman and one of the fewer still, who enjoyed it more than I did Captain America: Civil War (as should anyone who read the fucking comics that inspired them). It is not the best comic book movie out there, but let’s not pretend that Avengers: Age of Ultron was not a fucking mess that gave us a watered down version of one of Marvel’s most iconic villains. My point is that you can like Marvel movies for what they are and still like DC movies for what they offer as well. Not everything in this world has to come down to politics and what side you are on. Do you really want your choices only to be between Coke and Pepsi, when there are other choices out there? Like beer for example.