Suicide Squad is a critical fart of a film.
Large swaths of it are a struggle to endure. The plot thrashes wildly, like a kid struggling to get a sweater over his head. The writing tries so desperately to be edgy and wicked but ends up sound tinny and unnatural. The characters are irksome at best, itchy and irritating at their one-note worst. Somehow the movie has managed to hit a rockier, deeper bottom than Batman v Superman did.
But I was surprised, while watching this soufflé of dumpster waste, by how much I liked certain elements of it.
Amid the gory bits of celluloid, there were a few legitimately solid components — parts of Suicide Squad that shined brighter than anything in Batman v Superman, and threatened to challenge some of the best superhero movies out there. That’s not to say they were enough to make Suicide Squad salvageable, but if the movie has any saving graces, they’re these five things:
Spoilers follow for Suicide Squad.
1) Viola Davis’s performance
The best thing about Suicide Squad is Viola Davis’s portrayal of Amanda Waller. Granted, the character isn’t that far off from Annalise Keating, Davis’s character on How to Get Away With Murder, for which she won a Best Actress Emmy. Both Waller and Keating are morally compromised, tough, damaged women who wield a lot of power (an extreme amount in Waller’s case).
Davis’s heartless, airless delivery really brought the character to life — making her more menacing than any of Suicide Squad’s supervillains and perhaps making her the supervillain of the movie.
2) The romance between Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman
The romantic chemistry between Will Smith’s Deadshot and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is by far the most believable and sizzling in any Warner Bros./DC movie to date — and that includes Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It’s not quite to the level of love and fanfic that the relationship between Marvel’s Captain America and Bucky Barnes inspires, but then again, nothing is.
3) A willingness to be silly
Midway through Suicide Squad’s first act, Flagg introduces a supervillain known as Slipknot. According to Flagg, Slipknot is known as the "man who can climb anything." Five minutes later, we find out that the man’s climbing abilities are a trash power that relies on his grappling hook gun.
So, to be clear: Amanda Waller is assembling a team of the most powerful supervillains on Earth in order to save it, and she needs Slipknot, who is basically an upgraded REI salesperson, to help by … scaling a wall? Are we supposed to believe that if the world were threatened, Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman would just sit idly by and letting Slipknot do his thing?
This is absolutely silly.
Waller knew Slipknot was going to die. The audience knew he was going to die. And I’m sort of impressed that DC Comics was aware enough of its own camp to not only introduce a third-tier character in a completely serious manner but also show viewers the ridiculousness of this wall-climbing man.
4) Margot Robbie makes the most of a poorly handled Harley Quinn
Margot Robbie’s superpower of late is being the best part of a terrible movie. She was charming in Tarzan. She was convincing in Focus. And in Suicide Squad, she brings an acidic brightness to Harley Quinn.
Let’s be clear: Suicide Squad makes Harley Quinn feel like a character written and filmed by men who are doing their best to be "cool dads" by introducing their teenage sons to Penthouse. She’s the walking inverse of the Bechdel test. It’s a gratuitous portrayal — her shorts appear to have ridden all the way up into Robbie’s lower intestine at one point (they were rumored to be digitally altered in trailers after production on the film was complete). What happened to the beloved character fans remember from the comics?
Robbie does her best to cut through the misogyny, leaning into the character’s humor and instability. It makes me hopeful that Harley could get a solo movie, even though I wish the character were in better hands when it comes to concept.
5) Suicide Squad is proof that Warner Bros. and DC are looking to improve
After the grim disaster of Batman v Superman, there was a collective sense among many comic fans that Warner Bros.’ DC movies are trying too hard and taking themselves too seriously. And based on the tone of Suicide Squad, it seems like the company’s executives are making an effort to improve them.
Of course, Suicide Squad feels like someone grabbed the steering wheel and swerved too far toward wackiness. The course correction went a bit too far. The result: a scene in which the powerful 1,000-year-old being known as the Enchantress literally says the word "balls" to taunt one of the movie’s antiheroes.
But while it may seem like Warner Bros. can’t make up its mind (I actually think Suicide Squad would have benefited from a grimmer tone), I will applaud the studio for trying new things and not settling for the status quo. This comes in contrast to Fox with its Marvel properties, and, to some degree, Marvel too. Those studios have a tendency to fall into redundancy — sticking to a formula that "works."
Sure, Warner Bros. can’t stick to a formula because it hasn’t yet found one that works, but at least its leadership is thinking about what makes a good superhero movie and tinkering accordingly. I’m not entirely sure how much weight the studio should give to viewers and critics, or how it should balance outside opinions with confidence in its own artistic vision, but I believe it will get there eventually. I’d rather have a studio with a pulse than one that will just churn out sad shells of celluloid labeled as Fantastic Four films every so often.
Maybe everything will come together for Warner Bros. in Wonder Woman, the studio’s next release. The trailer looks great. Gal Gadot was great in her tiny role in Batman v Superman. Yes, back when we saw Suicide Squad’s first trailers, I thought the movie would turn out a lot better than it did. But at least it offers proof that Warner Bros. is looking to improve.