**This review is SPOILER FREE, so read away!**
Let’s start off with my major takeaway from Suicide Squad: That rumoured Harley Quinn spinoff movie that might have Batgirl, the Birds of Prey, and Poison Ivy in the mix needs to be greenlit tomorrow. Margot Robbie is a fantastic Harley Quinn, and with a decent story and some solid directing that could make for a spectacular film. She’d need to ditch the Joker, though, since he is far and away the worst part of Suicide Squad. But apart from him, she’s delightful.
The rest of the movie is less so. It’s kind of a mess, honestly, but I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s not good by any means, but it’s not bad. The plot is pretty ridiculous and makes very little sense if you think about it at all; the villain should have been able to off the whole team in about three seconds. For a huge tentpole franchise film, they put surprisingly little thought into the story. This wasn’t helped help by the very obvious reshoots, rearranging, and general flow chaos throughout. Suicide Squad is a mangled flick. You can see parts of a darker, more menacing movie and parts of a lighter, funnier movie, and they don’t really mesh together well.
Luckily, they hung the film on Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who have just enough charisma to carry it through to the end without everything totally collapsing. Deadshot is the heart of the film, insomuch as it has one, and Will Smith does what he does best and gets you instantly invested in a character by making the most of the few hints of layers that the script gives him. In the hands of anyone else, Deadshot could have been completely unlikeable, maudlin, or just plain boring, but Smith strikes the right balance. Robbie does as well, bringing an endearing and bubbly chaos to Harley Quinn that stands in stark contrast to the somewhat flat and often morose characters that surround her. Smith keeps the film grounded and Robbie keeps the film fun, and the few scenes with just the two of them are dynamite.
Not so much Harley’s scenes with the Joker. The abusive nature of their relationship is a given; it’s been a messed up scene for two decades now. But something about seeing it with real people instead of cartoons or drawings makes it extra offputting. It didn’t help that Harley was sexualized throughout the entire film, far more so than she typically is in the comics. Her costuming and the camera work leaves her more exploited than empowered. And Jared Leto’s Joker is a boring bag of creepy affectations that lacks any fun, style, or force. This movie would be a lot better if he wasn’t in it or was just relegated to a couple of flashbacks, and honestly he could just lift right out without affecting things much at all. Having Harley turn into a fawning puppy whenever he showed up marred what was otherwise a great, impeccably performed character. Even with the Joker nonsense, Harley still steals the movie.
Viola Davis is great as Amanda Waller as well. She is DARK, as the Wall should be, though dang do they really run with it. In a movie full of villains, it’s obvious that she’s the most dangerous of them all. Her interactions with the Squad are fun, but even more enjoyable are her various meetings with arrogant, powerful dudes in which she brutally and incisively turns them around to her way of thinking. She is a force to be reckoned with and it’s fun to watch her work, even when she’s hard to root for.
Generally speaking, Suicide Squad deserves to be commended for its representation. We’ve had over a decade of superhero movies where white dudes fight white dudes, and Suicide Squad is a movie where a black guy and a woman are the two leads. Moreover, four women have significant roles and two of them are women of colour, while more than half of the main cast are people of colour. This is a game changer. Now, not all of the characterizations were great; Katana was sorely underutilized, and the treatment of Slipknot was very disappointing. But in a way, it’s progress to have a film with so many women and people of colour in key roles that a couple of them end up sidelined. We’re used to having these folks sidelined in superhero movies where there’s only one of each to start with.
Ultimately, Suicide Squad doesn’t hang together very well. The plot is silly, the team camaraderie by the end largely feels unearned, and the pacing is kind of terrible. It’s not a good movie, but it remained just entertaining enough throughout. And it’s a masterpiece compared to DC’s earlier efforts like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman; it was a relief to sit through a DC movie and not fume about how the creators fundamentally misunderstood every character on the screen. Also, the plot of Suicide Squad is pretty dumb, but the plot of Batman v Superman was even dumber. And ultimately, Suicide Squad is buoyed by a lot of winning performances. I don’t think I ever want to watch it again, but there are some characters I’d love to see in another film with a better story, for sure. A Harley Quinn movie in particular. Get on it DC! I want Harley Quinn vs. Batgirl hitting cinemas in 2018, please. It’ll be a monster hit.