We live in a time of Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine videos where you have only a few seconds to tell a joke, a few sentences to tell a story, and a few jump cuts to get it done before the timer runs out. While this may work for 6-15 second videos, it does not transfer over well to film, but we’ll come back to that.
Last night my wife and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to watch the latest installment of the DC Extended Universe. We both follow a few media- related podcasts, and so it was absolutely impossible to go into this film without hearing a week’s worth of critics bashing this film to death. Suffice it to say, we went in with low expectations. I knew from the beginning that this was DC’s answer to the Marvel that was Guardians of the Galaxy, a film I absolutely loved, but I had faith in this one because it was directed and written by none other than David Ayer. I’ve been a fan of Ayer’s writing and directing for years. He wrote films like U-571, The Fast and the Furious, Training Day, Dark Blue, and Fury. I believed he was perfect for a team-up movie like Suicide Squad, and so I knew that I at least had that to look forward to.
Let’s talk about the overall gist of the movie before I get into what I liked and didn’t. The film starts out with introductions to the team members. Very much in the vein of Inglorious Bastards, each character gets a still frame and some text on the screen giving the audience a rundown of the character before showing a brief backstory clip. The backstories with the most substance are most certainly, but not unexpectedly, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Deadshot (Will Smith). We get to see how each of these bad guys were caught (Batman included at times), and where and how they are currently incarcerated. The only one that isn’t incarcerated is perhaps the most dangerous of them all, the Enchantress. June Moone, played by Cara Delevinge, is a possessed archaeologist who can become an ancient magical creature by only speaking her name. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government oversight of this group, believes in her arrogance that she can control the Enchantress by way of threat of death. After she convinces the government and military heads that the U.S. will eventually need to fight super humans with super humans of their own, Waller brings in Rick Flag, played by The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman, to lead the group if and when a threat arises. Predictably, a threat arises not soon after, and the team is sent in to face it.
I want to start off by saying that I did like the film. Was it perfect? No, absolutely not. It wasn’t, however, the crapshow that many critics are making it out to be. Let’s go over a little backstory on the production of this film.
After Warner Bros. read David Ayer’s script, they agreed to move forward and bring him on as director. This was encouraging to many, since Ayer is known for gritty action dramas surrounding corrupt characters. So he seems perfect to direct a film about a team full of bad guys. His films, while heavy, usually have great dialogue that can provide the right amount of humor despite the dark overall tone. The film was wrapped last year, and a source inside Warner Bros. described the film as “somber.” The studio hired a company called Trailer Park to cut a trailer, and it was released in January of this year. The trailer, set to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was a massive hit with audiences and the hype couldn’t have been higher. This trailer was definitely a good call for the studio, but it may have also been the downfall of the film.
Reportedly, Warner Bros. once again began to doubt their director. Audiences and critics mostly panned the theatrical cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though a lot of them reversed their opinions when the extended cut was released. A large consensus was that the studio should have trusted Zack Snyder and let him release the complete film. In the case of Suicide Squad, the studio once again felt the need to intervene with the film.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. decided to hire Trailer Park again to work on an alternate cut of the film, fearing that Ayer’s “somber” film would not match the tone of the trailer. Let’s stop right there and examine this decision. Trailer Park is a company that cuts 1-3 minute trailers for films. They are not in the business of editing the actual film itself. If true, it was certainly a bizarre decision by Warner Brothers.
This hearkens back to the first sentence I wrote in this review. One of the major changes supposedly made to the film that was birthed of the Trailer Park cut was the opening intros to the characters. It was more than apparent that these scenes were taken from other natural positions in the film, and redesigned to open the film and appeal to the Snapchat/Instagram/Vine generation. The clips were splattered with graphics and an immense amount of text, except you weren’t expected to read said text because it was gone within seconds. The backstories were flooded with filters of different kinds, a screen glare or color distortion, and were full of awkward jump cuts.
On top of this, each and every scene for the first 15 minutes or so started with a new pop song of some kind. This is not an exaggeration. Were the clips still fun and interesting? Yes, most definitely. It was clear, however, that they were once solid clips directed by a solid director but recut by a company whose strength is cramming information into short quick spurts of time. As a frequent moviegoer, and a fan of Ayer’s storytelling, I could easily tell that Ayer’s original version of the film had been disassembled, rearranged, and then flooded with graphics and contemporary music to make the footage “pop.”
So, by the end of this past spring, the studio supposedly had two versions of the film: David Ayer’s version, and the Trailer Park cut. Both were shown to audiences in test screenings and apparently the Trailer Park version won. The cut, however, didn’t flow as well as Ayer’s version, and so additional reshoots were in need. Audiences had theorized that these reshoots were forced attempts to bring in more humor after the backlash of negative reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it appears this wasn’t the case. Even with the reshoots, it was clear that the film meant to flow in a different direction.
That isn’t to say that the film is unwatchable. The film flows better when the scenes are allowed to breathe a bit. When an actual score plays in the background, instead of a random hit song, and the actors are allowed to have some conversations, you can see the brilliance in Ayer’s writing. Obviously certain characters are given more screen time that others, but that screen time does seem to fit what each character really needs.
Fans of the television show Arrow might wonder how the crew compares to the TV version of the Suicide Squad. While Arrow’s version was fun and it was great to have it tie in deeper to the DC Universe, the big screen versions of all the characters shines on a stronger level. Amanda Waller is more vicious and true to her comic and cartoon portrayals. Will Smith’s Deadshot is cocky but badass, and is nowhere near as over the top as some critics are saying. Margot’s Harley is the absolute perfect live-action version of the character. If you close your eyes, you can see her voice sync up perfectly with the original character created for Batman: The Animated Series. Her portrayal of the Joker-obsessed doctor is spot on and an absolute highlight of the film, and there are more than enough throwbacks to the cartoon for the audience’s pleasure.
The film is packed to the brim with action. The villainous army is definitely designed to resemble anything but a human, so head shots and dismemberment wouldn’t push the film to an R-rating. A lot of these scenes are cut very well, including the climax action scene, which pits the entire team against an ancient god of magic. Unlike 2015’s Fantastic Four, the battle seemed to last for awhile giving the audience a chance to enjoy the action. Each character is given his or her time to kick ass with their various forms of combat. Yes, I wanted MORE of each character, but that speaks more to how much I enjoyed these scenes and not so much a lacking element in the film.
One of the best parts of the film was the the Joker/Harley side plot. While the ragtag team of villains are forced to work together against a common threat, the Joker is using whatever resources he has to get his Harley back. Sadly, Jared Leto told Telestar that several Joker scenes were cut saying “yeah, there are a lot of scenes that didn’t make it to the final film. And hopefully they’ll see the light of day.” Having seen some of the behind the scenes footage and set visits, I did notice the absence of some Joker footage that I was looking forward to, particularly a scene involving a heated argument between him and Harley.
What scenes we did see of the Joker, however, were super fun and made me yearn for a more Joker-heavy Batman film in the future. Jared Leto’s creepy performance does make for another great cinematic version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Although the main villain in this film could have been fleshed out a bit, I do have to give the studio props for deciding against the lazy decision to have the Joker be the main adversary so early in the DCEU.
So, how do I rate this film? I have seen a ton of critics go on emotional rants with this film, culminating in high pitched fits of rage when delivering their final score, almost as if they believe their rating will be the final nail in the DC Films’ coffin. I don’t believe this to be a bad film whatsoever. I do wish to have seen the darker, truer David Ayer version, instead of the teenage youth of the nation cut that we received. Still, I got a fun siege flick starring some iconic DC villains.
I truly wish Warner Bros. and other studios would trust their creators more. Marketing does have a role in the industry, as we saw with the successful Deadpool campaign. Warner Bros., however, needs to focus on believing in itself instead of worrying so much about competition and bending to the whim of the public. I believe the original version of this film would have been better, and it is disappointing to say that. I hope this isn’t a trend for Warner Bros. I believe most people will enjoy this film, so long as their goal is to try to enjoy their time at the cinema and not fuel their hate for the DCEU. Those looking forward to Justice League will find some easter eggs in this film, and yet be pleasantly surprised that this does not serve as a throwaway set up film for the Justice League (do stick around for a mid-credits scene).
Suicide Squad is a fun action flick that has its flaws, but also has so moments that will make you smile.