When I first began seeing promo materials for “Suicide Squad,” whether on subway platforms or splashed across my TV screen, I was struck by the vibrant, in-your-face nature of the trailers and posters. It was riveting in a way that films rarely are. Warner Bros. seemed to be ripping this story straight from the pages of their beloved DC comic books, bringing the infamous Task Force X to life through stunning pop-up art and vibrant letters. A highly-anticipated film, with a diverse and star-studded cast, the villain riddled “Suicide Squad” got me all the way into the theater, only to abruptly leave me hanging a mere twenty minutes into the film.
Written and directed by “Training Day” scribe David Ayer, the story opens shortly after the events of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (which I called aggressively overblown, but fun to watch). Government Agent Amanda Waller, (who is played ferociously by Viola Davis) has managed to round up some of the worst criminals in society. Holding them hostage at a Black Ops site, Waller hopes to manipulate them into becoming a team of super villains. It is her hope that this team will help serve her in taking other meta-humans and evildoers down.
So who are these mega villains? There is a motley crew, which is where I think the film began to trip over itself. Along with Davis’ Waller, the main cast consists of Will Smith as the assassin Deadshot, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto as Harley Quinn and The Joker respectively, Joel Kinnaman and Cara Delevingne star as Rick Flag and Enchantress, and rounding out the supporting cast is Australian actor Jai Courtney as Boomerang, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, British-Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaj as Killer Croc, Adam Beach as Slipnot and Karen Fukuhara in her first ever film appearance as Katana. With a cast bursting at the seams, there was little room left for poignant storylines and a well thought out trajectory. Furthermore, the gaps in acting ability were glaringly obvious. When juxtaposed with heavyweights like Davis, Smith, Leto and even Margot Robbie’s topsy-turvy Harley Quinn, Delevingne and Kinnaman’s performances as star crossed lovers felt false, and fell flat.
Since I’m no avid superhero fan, I hate to choose sides. However, it is clear that what Marvel does consistently is the very thing that DC Comics continues to struggle with. Marvel excels at deeply grounding its characters with rich back-story and context, so that viewers get a true understanding of each character’s motives. Aside from The Joker, this is the first time the majority of these characters have been seen in a live-action feature film. Yet, I left the theater still not understanding who these people were on a whole.
Leto’s Joker was definitely fun to watch, but instead of threading the film around such a polarizing character, he was on screen for maybe thirty-five percent of the entire film. Though hokey flashbacks of his relationship with Harley Quinn were dispersed throughout, those who know little about the DC Comic franchise will be left to grasp at straws. It seems a shame that Robbie and Leto weren’t given their own standalone feature as a foundation for “Suicide Squad,” in order to really draw the audience in. Their manic and diabolical relationship seemed alluring for viewers, but we were never given the opportunity to really delve deeper into it.
Perhaps one of the most compelling characters in the film was Will Smith’s Deadshot. More than any other character in the film, the audience was at least cognizant of his motivations and weaknesses. The former “Fresh Prince” certainly delivered with the material that he was given. Aside from Harley Quinn, Deadshot also delivered the most quips and jokes in the film. Perhaps this decision reflects the astonishing success that Marvel found with Ryan Reynolds’s star vehicle “Deadpool” earlier this year. As expected, Viola Davis delivered; stealing every single scene she was in. Her performance was so stellar that I actually found myself wishing we learning more about Amanda Waller, rather than focusing on some of the unsightly and oddly chosen special affects. Furthermore, while characters like Delevingne’s absurd Enchantress are given far too much focus, Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc and Hernandez’s El Diablo are peppered with stereotypes and relegated to the background.
With nearly $100 million dollars less in budget than was allotted to “Batman v. Superman”, and with a much larger cast, “Suicide Squad” (aside from Harley and Joker) did not deliver the lush shots and effects that were in the previous film. Instead, I found myself chuckling at some truly peculiar special effects, and actually laughing out loud at one particularly wacky slow motion sequence during the film’s climax. There were many strange aspects to “Suicide Squad,” but perhaps the most glaring was that there was just too much jam-packed into one film.
While the colorful and boastful nature of the film’s marketing might draw people into the theaters, the fast pace nature and dizzying plot of ”Suicide Squad” will leave you with a feeling of restlessness and discontent. If they have any hope in keeping up with Marvel, DC Comics is going to need “Wonder Woman” to show up and show out come 2017.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a Black cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami