Don’t get me wrong: Suicide Squad was a helluva lot of fun, with solid performances all around and Will Smith and Margo Robbie in particular earning their paychecks. But Suicide Squad is not a well-constructed film, and at times it’s so choppy and lost it’s almost hard to watch. I think two issues could have been fixed that would have changed that.
First, that awful beginning. We get introduced to Deadshot (Will Smith), then Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Then Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, just one of the many terrific casting choices in Suicide Squad) meets with some military types to try to convince them to create her Suicide Squad, wherein she reintroduces both Deadshot and Quinn. Then she introduces other members of the squad, but doesn’t even mention Slipknot. As the squad members are pulled from their cages and assembled to get their embedded neck bombs – which will blow their heads off should they try to flee – we are re-introduced to Killer Croc and Diablo. Then, when it’s mission time, Slipknot, who hasn’t even been mentioned, shows up. But at the first opportunity to escape, he gives it a try, and since he’s the only member of the squad which has hardly been a part of the first 20 minutes of the film, we all know he’s going to get his head blown off, and sure enough, kaboom! Then Katana, who, much like Slipknot, isn’t mentioned for the first fourth of the film, joins the mission. She’s not a meta-human, she’s not American military, she’s very likely not even American, but she hops on the helicopter with a once sentence explanation that explains virtually nothing, and immediately she’s Rick Flagg’s right-hand man. It’s a freaking sloppy, redundant, train-wreck of an intro, something that seems like it is more the product of a 12-year-old who has been off his ADD meds for a few days than the creation of a respected writer (Training Day) and director (Fury) like David Ayers. If the rumors are true – rushed script, re-shoots, etc. – it sounds like Ayers was at the mercy of an unforgiving release calendar and a studio that’s already made a mess of Batman v. Superman and may be doing the same to Wonder Woman as I write this. The intro sets the tone for the entire film, and this one didn’t help develop character or story and just felt like a muddled effort to get Smith and Robbie extra screen time.
Second, fewer characters. This is where Marvel gets it right. Before the first Avengers film, we had Iron Man, Thor and Captain America in their own films while introducing Black Widow in Iron Man 2, as well as brief appearances by Agent Coulson and Nick Fury throughout those films, giving us at least a sense of what to expect from these characters. So when Marvel gathered those six with the Hulk and Hawkeye (who is even teased in the first Thor), you had a fully functioning unit from the jump off. DC, of course, couldn’t take the time to introduce at least a couple of these villains in the heroes’ movies, which means all the character development has to be done in Suicide Squad. And given that the characters driving this film are Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Rick Flagg (and, to a lesser extent, Diablo), that should have meant that Captain Boomerang, Katana, the Navy Seals and even the Joker received less screen time. Boomerang was redundant, another fighter like Killer Croc, except, because of his water skills, Croc was more valuable to this story. Katana, again, is just another fighter whose character is underdeveloped. Each could have been saved for the sequel. The Navy Seals don’t add enough to justify even the small amount of screen time they ate up. And the Joker, not being the main villain, would have been better served being a largely faceless presence asserting himself at various times throughout the film, only showing up for the jailbreak. Jared Leto’s performance is terrific, which is a serious problem, because I spent most of the film wishing the Suicide Squad was fighting he and his weirdo minions rather than the really underwhelming Enchantress, her less-powerful-than-he-looks brother and a bunch of rock-head foot soldiers. Leto stole the show when he was onscreen. Of course, if they had sidelined the Joker a bit, there may have been time to develop the relationship between Flag and the Enchantress/June Moone, Rick’s main squeeze and damsel in distress, making the Enchantress more interesting. Because the main characters here are Deadshot, Harley, Diablo and Flag (Joel Kinneman), and it’s their stories we should focus on. But because DC wants to sell action figures, we get an underdeveloped and unnecessary Boomerang. Because DC wants more diversity onscreen and wants to tap the Asian market, we get an underdeveloped and unnecessary Katana. Because DC wants to up the body count, we get all the superfluous Seals. And because of Leto’s dynamic performance and audience familiarity with his character, we get a terrific Joker who overwhelms a significant portion of the rest of the film, of which he really only is a small part. It smacks of poor planning on the part of DC, which isn’t a new or original criticism, but a vital one, particularly since DC is swimming in the wake of Marvel’s well-designed universe.