Suicide Squad Fights Through Cliches
Where do I begin? David Ayer’s (End of Watch, Fury) Suicide Squad has been getting as much, if not more, controversial feedback than Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. I have spoken to so many people who absolutely hate the film. They think it was a transparent attempt to capitalize on some big name DC characters. They think the movie was awkwardly pieced together and riddled with balance problems. I’ve also spoken to numerous people who thought the movie was incredibly enjoyable and felt that there was a lot of fun to it. People who believe that this was a great intro into the lighter side of DC to steer us away from the dark, brooding, sadness of Batman V Superman. So where do I stand? Well…kind of in the middle but for different reasons than you may think. If you read my review of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, then one thing you absolutely know about me is that I know a whole heck of a lot about DC and I’m a huge comic fan, and if you haven’t, go read it! It’s on the site. So let’s get down to business.
The first thing I saw when Suicide Squad was released was that DC fans were trying to get Rotten Tomatoes to shut down for their terrible rating of the film. At the beginning I wanted to slap all of us fans in the face, pretty much touting the “We’re better than this!” mantra. Then I read the ratings and the reasoning for those ratings. It seems to me that some of the biggest issues people had with Suicide Squad were that Joker was barely in it, the characters didn’t know whether to be funny or serious, and Jared Leto copied Heath Ledger. These three points are what I’m probably going to be spending most of my review on and I can see this review getting long winded, so bear with me.
These three points are what I’m probably going to be spending most of my review on
First off, The Joker is not a part of the Suicide Squad. Amanda Waller refuses to use him because she knows that he can’t be tamed, unlike all the other villains under her belt who still have an inkling of humanity left in them. The Joker doesn’t have this. You tell him you’re going to blow his head off and he laughs and awaits the boom. If you went into this movie thinking that Mista J was really going to be an integral part in the film then I’m sorry but you should have known better. It really isn’t even an argument of “know the source material!” It’s just common sense. None of the trailers showed him as being part of the squad. David Ayer even said in an interview that Joker is more of a cameo than anything. So saying that you didn’t like the movie, because a character who’s not a lead wasn’t in it that much, is just kind of naive. Yes, the producers marketed the movie with Joker as a main name, Jared Leto as a main face, why wouldn’t they? Saying the name Joker in reference to DC sells tickets, that’s a given.
A quick point on the “they didn’t know whether to be serious or funny” opinion of some reviewers: The Suicide Squad is a comedic comic, they always have been but there are characters that have incredibly serious and tonal moments in the series. The best one to point out here would be Deadshot, who is constantly having internal drama. So who was the most serious character in the film? Would you be surprised if I said Deadshot? You shouldn’t be. I’ll be the first to say that I was incredibly surprised at how well Ayer and Will Smith did this character. It’s definitely something in Smith’s wheelhouse but he’s never been a star I would have thought for Deadshot.
Leto is truly insane. Throughout the film I never felt like there was a moment I could tell what he would do.
Now…to the point that makes my blood boil: the comparison of Jared Leto’s Joker to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger was a superb Joker. To this day, he’s the only actor to ever win an Academy award for a superhero movie. Granted, I do believe that Ledger’s death was a major point to making his portrayal so legendary but it still stands: his Joker was phenomenal. There is no comparison here. Jared Leto’s take on Joker is wildly different from Ledger, or Nicholson, or Romero for that matter. No actor should ever be compared to a predecessor. You shouldn’t compare Sean Connery’s Bond to Daniel Craig’s. You shouldn’t compare Christopher Reeve’s Superman to Henry Cavill’s. When an actor takes on a role, they are doing it from a point of bringing something new to it. So to compare their portrayal to a former actor’s is really a moot point. It just doesn’t make sense. There is no reason to compare Leto to Ledger. Their versions are wildly different and for good reason. What Leto brought to the table is something that I truly do believe no other actor has been able to do. He brought insanity and I’m not talking his method acting skills. Say what you want about Jared Leto as a person or how he treated his costars in his method. I’m not here to talk about his personality, I’m here to talk about the Joker. Jack Nicholson was a suave, calm, mobster; and to be completely honest I have never liked Nicholson’s portrayal. Ledger was a maniacal, chaotic genius, but he was a genius. Leto is truly insane. Throughout the film I never felt like there was a moment I could tell what he would do. He was unpredictable and that is the most important feature for the Joker to have.
It was one of the very few times where I felt I was watching a comic book on screen.
Most of this review has been spent dissecting Jared Leto’s Joker and that’s definitely not the intention I had for this. This film is an ensemble piece, I don’t want to take so much time to discuss one aspect of one character, but I felt it needed to be said. If you’re saying Leto was a worse Joker than Ledger, then you’re completely missing the point of the character. Costuming aside, Joker and Harley were an incredibly strong duo in this film, much stronger than I expected them to be. Ayer handled Harley’s origin story tactfully, in well placed flashback sequences and gave us just the right amount of information. The few scenes of Harley and Joker we got were strong, not one of them felt mediocre or out of place. This is where I think the “balance” issue many are having with this film was one of my favorite parts. The quick cuts, the bursts, the fast action, all these are detrimental to comic books so what Ayer and his crew did to bring them into the film-verse worked fluidly for me. It was one of the very few times where I felt I was watching a comic book on screen. The only other time I can truly recall feeling this way was with Watchmen.
My biggest gripe with Suicide Squad comes down to the plot. 90% of all comic book movies these days are “end of the world” stakes and I’m honestly tired of it. Not every single movie needs to be facing the end of the world because when it is, there’s only one outcome: the world doesn’t end. It’s the comic book movies that don’t force the end of the world on us that are the strongest contenders we’ve had. Think about it: The Dark Knight’s main terror plot was for a bridge or boat to blow up. Deadpool was a film about revenge and nothing more. Iron Man focused on arms dealing. These films are some of the strongest comic book films we’ve ever had and none of them were pitting our main character against the end of the world. I definitely feel a lot more on this subject so stay tuned for my next Op-Ed piece dissecting this exact issue.
Not every single movie needs to be facing the end of the world because when it is, there’s only one outcome: the world doesn’t end.
Look, I know I’m kind of rambling in this review. It’s impossible for me not to when it comes to DC. I have a lot of feelings on these films because they are late to the game and they mean a lot to me. They’re trying to catch up to Marvel and in the same way you shouldn’t compare Leto to Ledger, you shouldn’t do it with Marvel and DC either. The only battle between Marvel and DC that’s taking place is among the fans. Don’t compare apples to oranges. Suicide Squad was fun, action packed and the origins we got from our new characters were well placed. The film’s balance may be a letdown to some but I enjoyed it. Was it choppy? Yes. Were there some incredibly cliché moments? Of course. Did the film keep me happy and entertained throughout its runtime? Definitely. As a critic I’m about to say something that no critic ever should: let’s not be so critical about it! DC is starting to catch its breath. They’re starting to understand what the fans want and what the fans like. To me, it seems that most people that didn’t like the film were people who aren’t major comic book fans and I can totally understand that. It’s hard to fall in love with a group of anti-heroes who aren’t major names in the universe without knowing the source material. Suicide Squad was fun, it had a better balance and pace than Batman V Superman which to me just means that DC is heading in the right direction, and I’ll be there following down the path the entire time.