The premiere of DC’s long awaited “superhero” ensemble flick, Suicide Squad, has been overshadowed by yet another round of less than stellar reviews. As soon as the negative chatter began to flow, DC fans did what they’re known for: blaming poor reviews on the smug elitism of out of touch critics–as they did with Batman v Superman a few months back. Being so angered, they began an online petition to take down the popular rottetomatoes.com clearinghouse because it had the audacity to report (not give) Suicide Squad an abysmal 27% rating. The outraged DC fans collected tens of thousands of signatures in their pursuit of critical justice. I’m here to tell them, and you, there is no need to worry about the poor reviews. No damage has been done to DC by Rotten Tomatoes’ green tomato splat. It’s quite simple. No harm can come to DC because Suicide Squad is not a DC movie. It is a dumb late summer Will Smith vehicle. It is a thoughtless mash of pop song cliches. It is group of characters written by someone who, either has never read DC comics, or doesn’t give a shit. What it is not, certainly, is a DC movie.
I’d been watching the development of Warner Brothers’ Suicide Squad going back to 2014. I was skeptical from the start. Transforming this particular franchise into something palpable to a mass movie going audience would be problematic for even the most skilled and nuanced director. Those problems are what initially drew me to the print format Suicide Squad. Its long comic history has seen several lineups, but I began my love affair with the villainous hit team during its New 52 reintroduction in 2011. The story, penned by Adam Glass, was dark. It was adult. It was violent. Its characters, typically minor players, were given depth, internal conflict, and frankly, none of the things that work in a major Hollywood production. To really make Suicide Squad, the studio would need to take serious risks, and the director would have to commit to the vision laid out by the comics.
Yeah. None of that happened.
Honestly, Suicide Squad is not a terrible movie. It’s just not a very good one. In fact, it’s more like a two hour Carl’s Jr. commercial: enough pseudo-sexuality to give your teenager a hard on and enough random classic rock music to make you feel like you’re still relevant. It’s just offensive and nostalgic enough. In other words, it will make a ton of money. Suicide Squad panders shamelessly from beginning to end without a single nod to storytelling. In the first thirty minutes alone, there were so many pointless song additions that I lost count–none of which held any meaning or contributed to what was happening on screen. By the time CCR’s Fortunate Son starting playing behind Killer Croc’s montage, I just started laughing at it. Between Harley Quinn’s hot pants and White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, there was something in Suicide Squad for everyone to love…unless you were an actual fan of DC.
The award for “Least Surprising Phoned-In Performance” goes to Will Smith. He is a complete waste as Deadshot, the antiheroes’ group leader. When Smith was originally cast as Deadshot, my concern was with his ability to tackle such a nihilistic and sadistic assassin. Could a star as well known as Smith strip away who he was and become the supervillain, Deadshot? Well, there was no need to worry. Smith doesn’t even try. The only character Will Smith plays in Suicide Squad is Will Smith. Or was he playing Captain Steven Hiller? Or Agent J? Or Detective Mike Lowrey? What’s the difference, really? None. If your idea of fun is a psychopathic killer with a death wish yucking it up in classic Will Smith style, you will love this movie. Out of context and in abundance, the one liners drop like comedy bricks. It’s like watching the Fresh Prince with an AR-15, but middle-aged and less funny.
The single bright spot of the film, Jared Leto, fades as quickly as he arrives. His astonishing performance in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club is indisputable evidence that Leto can, under the right direction, act. And to his credit, the popstar turned Academy Award winner attempts to construct his own interpretation of the most iconic bad guy in comic history, departing completely from previous iterations. Sadly, Leto’s Joker is only a marginal improvement on Halle Berry’s Catwoman. In a word, he’s awful. Even worse than Will Smith playing himself, Leto absolutely fails to capture a single authentic strand of the Joker’s persona. Where Joker is chaotic, Leto is polished. Where Joker is terrifying, Leto is cute. Where Joker is Joker, Leto is Leto, and you can see right through his thin veneer of white make-up. I can’t entirely blame Leto. Much of the blame has to be levied against director, David Ayers. Ayers’ Joker is a well-dressed, Ferrari driving, lovesick gangster. All the sick and twisted violence between Mr. J and Harley has been cleaned up for the kids. Ayers ruins Joker by making him conventional, by making him boring. THAT, my friends, should be unforgivable for any fan of the DC universe.
So, go see Suicide Squad. Make it a generational family night out. The kids will love it. Your parents and grandparents will think it’s a hoot. Everyone will find something to enjoy in this faux-edgy popsicle stick of a film. Then next week, when your kid is at school, check under her bed for paraphernalia. If you find a copy of Suicide Squad, Vol. I, Kicked in the Teeth, you will know your kid is actually the real thing. Cool. Unlike the very uncool, un-DC, Ayers’ film.