When the first trailer for Suicide Squad dropped in July 2015 (pre-Batman vs. Superman) the film looked as if it would be an exciting, horror-esque supervillain movie which would bring a fresh outlook on the superhero genre, just like Captain America: The Winter Soldier had just done and Deadpool was about to do. The film had a great director behind it, David Ayer, who is most known for the incredible 2012 found-footage cop movie End Of Watch starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. Moreover, the film had a fantastic cast attached to it. There’s Oscar-winner Viola Davis, who plays a tough-as-nails intelligence officer with a similar demeanour to her Emmy-winning performance as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder, as well as another Oscar-winner, Jared Leto, who has proved how incredible of an actor he is with transformative roles in Dallas Buyers Club and Requiem For A Dream.
Yet, despite all of this, Suicide Squad turned out to be disappointing. Not just for die-hard DC fans but for regular film goers as well. In terms of box office results, the film did very well; it grossed around $746 million worldwide and was the 10th most profitable film of 2016. However, figures don’t represent the detailed reaction of the public. With a terrible 25% rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and extremely slating reviews from Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal, Suicide Squad was critically roasted. Below are some personal, as well as critically unanimous, insights into why Suicide Squad, a film that had potential to be brilliant (all it takes is a look at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to understand how villains, specifically DC villains, can anchor a compelling, dark and enthralling film) was so unsuccessful in the DC fanbase and in the world of film lovers and critics. Without further ado, here are just five reasons that suggest why Suicide Squad was so critically attacked.
Firstly, the script. The main problem with Suicide Squad was the way it was crafted, or more specifically, rushed. Director and writer David Ayer was given only six weeks to produce a script, which is enough to explain this reason. The script itself was subject to a lot of criticism upon the release of the film and the fact of its rushed production is very clear. A lot of the dialogue was unfathomably cringe-worthy, with an abundance of forced-in one-liners and jokes. Many of the characters were written off to the point where they couldn’t even be recalled at the end of the film. Slipknot, for example, was glossed over entirely whilst other characters had their backstories dug into, and was then killed off within the first act of the film. There were so many shifts in the tone of each character that it often felt like a different film after each half hour. The principle characters are marketed as bad guys, painted as the bottom of the pit of humanity, yet at the end they band together in a typical gang-of-misfits trope, calling each other “family” and other eye-roll inducing names to “defeat evil”. But they’re bad guys. Do not forget, they’re bad guys!
A lot of the story and dialogue makes no sense to the characters it sometimes feels like the actors have walked out of the make-up trailer and onto a different film set. The award for worst line in a film in recent times has to go to Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag; “This is Katana…her sword traps the souls of its victims.” A very close runner-up; “We gotta cut her heart out!”
Secondly, the editing. The cut of the film also went through numerous rehashes, with Warner Bros deciding to chop about with David Ayer’s initial vision. The film also reportedly went through another recut after the release and success of Deadpool, the brilliant R-rated Marvel film starring an authentically hilarious Ryan Reynolds, as the studio decided to add more “humour” into the film (the word “humour” is used in inverted commas as there really isn’t anything funny about this film). Suicide Squad relies too much on flashbacks and dream sequences to make the narrative move and the characters interesting, and it really doesn’t work. The introductory sequences for the characters feel more like elongated Hot Topic advertisements rather than character building sequences for a film. The editing in Suicide Squad feels so choppy and back-and-forth that it completely obstructs the narrative from being anywhere near plain-sailing.
Third, Harley Quinn. Many people online, as well as critics, have legitimately named Harley Quinn, the baseball-bat-slinging pigtail-wearing girlfriend of the Joker, a feminist figure. Even more offensively, there is a trend on multiple social media platforms of calling Quinn and the Joker, “relationship goals”. In this film, there is absolutely nothing feminist about Harley Quinn, who is portrayed by Australian actress Margot Robbie. Robbie is excellent in the role, despite her being cheated through a terrible script and storyline, she nails Quinn’s nihilistic attitude whilst also reminding us that this a woman who has been psychologically damaged and abused. However, Harley Quinn is not a feminist figure, far from it. Harley Quinn’s lover, the Joker, played hauntingly by Jared Leto, treats Quinn with the upmost abuse (he pushes her body from fifty feet into a vat of chemicals, for Christ’s sake). It is crystal clear that Harley Quinn’s life means absolutely nothing to the Joker as he beats and talks down to her in every scene together, merely using her as a pawn in his diabolical plans. Harley Quinn is driven to insanity by the Joker and becomes so obsessed and dependent on him that she repeatedly puts herself and others into death-defying danger just for her “puddin'”. The unhealthy dynamic between Harley and the Joker isn’t even represented as toxic in the film, with the Joker swooping in during the finale to break Harley out of her high security prison in the most horrifically offensive version of the damsel-in-distress trope. To say that Harley Quinn is a feminist figure would be like saying that Richard Spencer is an advocate for civil rights.
Fourth, the Joker wasn’t the villain. With Jared Leto’s chilling appearance at the end of the initial trailers, it appeared that he would serve as the main antagonist of the film. Alas, this wasn’t the case. The Joker appears in very few scenes, providing intel into Harley Quinn’s backstory as well as Batman – as it is briefly mentioned that he killed Batman’s sidekick Robin. The villain of the film is Cara Delevingne as Enchantress, an ancient evil force who is seeking revenge on mankind for imprisoning her and her brother’s souls in ancient artefacts. Whether or not the storyline was lifted straight from the comics or developed for the film is irrelevant, it just doesn’t fit here. Not only does the cliché ancient supernatural spirit plot feel completely out of place within the themes of Suicide Squad, but Cara Delevingne’s lackluster performance as the helpless archeologist with a demon inside her and the forced and confusing romantic subplot with Rick Flag just makes this “antagonist” a complete disaster. Leto admitted in press interviews that a lot of footage that he filmed was cut, hinting that his character would’ve had a meaningful role in the film and a possible antagonistic storyline. If the filmmakers had made the Joker the villain of Suicide Squad it would improve the film by miles. Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight is the main factor in what made Nolan’s film one of the best superhero films of all time. The Joker is the most notorious DC villain and his role in Suicide Squad had the potential to make the film thrilling and compelling, as well as rewarding for fans.
The above reason isn’t just an opinion of audiences, it seems, as director David Ayer admitted himself that this was also the foremost undoing of Suicide Squad. Ayer admitted on Twitter earlier this year, “Wish I had a time machine. I’d make the Joker the main villain and engineer a more grounded story.”
Fifth, director Ayer had some pretty revolting methods. This could probably excuse some of the performances in the film (particularly the aforementioned Cara Delevingne) as Ayer’s reported directoral methods seem to cross the line into territory that should never, ever be entered. Granted, it may just be another publicity pull not asimilar to Jared Leto’s harass-your-co-stars acting methods such as sending dead pigs or used condoms to the other actor’s homes (which was so obviously a stunt for the press campaign for the film, all it takes is a look at the B-roll footage to know that Leto wasn’t THAT into the roll of the Joker). However, many actors in the film confessed that Ayer had some unorthodox and arguably unprincipled methods. Obviously, as a director, the more unique and deep methods and rehearsal you use to get your actors to truly develop their character the better. David Ayer went beyond that. Joel Kinnaman, the actor who plays Rick Flag, reported that Ayer had co-star Viola Davis verbally abuse Kinnaman to rile up his anger. Davis reportedly was told to call Kinnaman a string of politically incorrect and degrading names until the latter burst in anger, in order to create an “authentic” scene.
Furthermore, Ayer had actors confess their personal weaknesses and close-to-the-bone tidbits about their relationship, childhood and family history. Margot Robbie admitted to EW that she “didn’t like that at all.” Cara Delevingne said in a junket that David Ayer had her imagine that she woke up to pictures of her online molesting a child. This might be just a personal opinion, but that doesn’t strike as a clever, unique method at all. That is just appalling. His unethical style didn’t even translate either, as Joel Kinnaman and Cara Delevingne’s characters held no emotional complexity and their characterization was nothing short of bland. Perhaps David Ayer regrets potentially psychologically traumatising his actors as well.
Suicide Squad is not one hundred percent terrible. It would be cruel to say so. There a very few redeeming qualities of the film but they do exist. Will Smith stands out as Deadshot, he brings life to a film that ultimately feels close to death and delivers could-be cliché lines with style and ease. Viola Davis is also incredible in this film (which shouldn’t be spoken about with surprise) as she delivers a cut-throat performance that particularly stands out amongst other lackluster performances.
On the whole, Suicide Squad built a crumbling house on a fantastic foundation. Even with the brilliance of DCEU’s most recent picture, Wonder Woman, the cinematic universe can’t be redeemed from the awful and nonsensical characters and storylines that Suicide Squad and its predecessor Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice set up.