The movie we saw in the Suicide Squad trailers would’ve put the floundering DC cinematic universe on track long before Wonder Woman leaped onto the scene. That film was imbued with a pervasive and striking neon aesthetic, featured a pleasantly off-the-beaten path conceit for a team of exclusively anti-heroes, and captured the pulpy levity that has made Marvel’s universe such a success.
But the movie Suicide Squad could’ve been pales in comparison to the movie Suicide Squad actually is. Instead we have a film that hints at style but retreats into the hideous blacks and blues that defined Batman vs. Superman. We have a film whose anti-hero premise devolves into characters merely stating “Don’t forget, we’re the bad guys” ad-nauseum and occasionally contemplating escape. We have a script that substitutes genuine character-driven comedy and cleverness with bafflingly bad “jokes.”
Suicide Squad is a mess. It tries to introduce close to a dozen major characters in the span of 45 minutes, and so becomes forced to resort to cringe-worthy tropes to give the story any meat at all. The action is jumbled and confusing, switching from character to character without ever giving the viewer a chance to get oriented. The team is terribly balanced, combining a man who can shoot fire with a woman whose only power is…holding a baseball bat.
But such flaws have plagued similar super hero movies in the past, and have never seemed to drag them down.
No, Suicide Squad ultimately fails not because of sloppy craft and jumbled pacing, but because it simply isn’t fun. The film tells us that they’re bad guys so often that it forgets to clue us in into why we should be rooting for them. None of them are quirky enough or fleshed-out enough to care about their individual fates, and the dull villain driving them forward doesn’t seem like anything a few well-placed missiles couldn’t solve.
Despite its lighthearted trailers, Suicide Squad takes itself much too seriously. This is partially due to the film’s odd insistence on trying to force “tragic backstories” on all its characters, and partially due to the fact that the characters themselves interact with each other almost always through raw hostility or cold indifference. Not even Jared Leto’s Joker, who seems more like a pimp than the clown-prince of crime and who probably should’ve been cut from the movie, can lighten the mood.
That’s a shame, because Suicide Squad had the potential to be the Guardians of the Galaxy of the DC universe. The comics on which they’re based are similarly niche, and their premises similarly goofy. Instead, the ending of Suicide Squad could’ve been improved with all characters actually taking their own lives. Then we wouldn’t have to endure the inevitable sequel.