Essays · Movies

I’ve Changed My Mind About Suicide Squad

By  · Published on August 23rd, 2016

A second viewing has delivered a new perspective.

Art by Mike S. Miller

Prior to its release, I wrote a review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad that was middling at best, unenthused at worst. It was an earnest attempt to understand what’s going on in the world of DC Comics adaptations and why it’s not hitting the mark with myself and a number of other critics and fans. The ultimate conclusion, fully realized during a subsequent episode of A Storm of Spoilers, is that DC is not currently in the deconstruction business as much as it’s in the cosplay business.

STORM OF SPOILERS TOUR: Suicide Squad and The Killing Joke (animated movie)

What does this mean? It infers that DC isn’t the filmmaker-friendly alternative to Marvel that it pretends to be. That version of DC existed in the mid-aughts, when Christopher Nolan was given free reign to deconstruct, reimagine, and rebirth Batman in his own way. What he accomplished alongside his partners David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan was breaking down Batman and his rogues into elemental themes – chaos vs. order, civic duty vs. personal vendettas, Bane vs. malnutrition. These formed a foundation for telling good stories that just happened to include Batman.

The problem now is that Warner Bros. team of guiding hands – which includes Zack Snyder – appears to be letting filmmakers make their own versions up to the point where a final cut must be made. Then they take over and cut together what they think is the best version based on “audience feedback.” By all accounts, David Ayer’s first shot at Suicide Squad was a dark, disturbing, possibly R-rated mindfuck about really bad people under the thumb of an even worse person. But after the first trailer promised fun and games, Warner Bros. forced a final cut that ultimately resembled neither ideals. It wasn’t dark and disturbing, nor was it any fun. This is something I addressed a bit in my review, but also something that stuck out more emphatically during my second viewing over the weekend. (I wasn’t about to let my roommate, a longtime DC Comics fan who has been very disappointed in the Zack Snyderverse, suffer alone – plus, the Alamo Drafthouse serves beer at 11am).

It was after this second viewing that I changed my mind. Suicide Squad isn’t a middling effort ruined by a conflict of visions and a lack of authorship. It’s terrible.

What makes a movie terrible (in italics, no less)? For me, it’s that sinking feeling you get somewhere in the middle of the first act when you realized that you’re about to go through it again and that no, they haven’t changed it. It’s a physical aversion to seeing the movie again. In a way, it’s as if my body began to surrender to the existential dread of watching Suicide Squad a second time.

There are a number of problems with Suicide Squad, but none are more prevalent than the following:

  1. The film attempts to make all of these characters sympathetic, even The Joker. The problem is that you end up with the #relationshipgoals version of The Joker and Harley Quinn instead of the far more interesting, less family-friendly story of abuse. Harley suffers from her own psychotic version of Stockholm Syndrome, constantly being punished for her love of Mr. J by the man himself. In the movie, they are basically just two crazy kids who fell in love. It’s a big misread about the foundational elements of their relationship.
  2. The film has no idea who its villain really is. It should be Amanda Waller, but they had to shoehorn in some Enchantress/Incubus stuff because every single movie needs to have apocalyptic stakes these days. The problem is that you’re working in an expanded universe. Which means we get to ask Expanded Universe Questions – like why didn’t The Flash or Wonder Woman notice that the world was being engulfed in Enchantress-ness? This is why a story like the one told in Batman: Assault on Arkham works better: it’s a heist movie involving Task Force X in which Waller is the ultimate villain, Batman is there to be the heroic antidote to all the fun-bad, and The Joker can just be a real dick the whole time.
  3. The reshooting/re-editing process robbed the movie of a three act structure. Even on first watch, I was bothered by what feels like a 1.5 act structure. There’s no second act to the film. It’s 30-minutes of narrated setup introducing characters (some multiple times, others not at all – Hi, Slipknot!) followed by one long action sequence. This is where you see the “Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen” theory really take hold. And to be completely honest, it’s just plain boring.

After seeing it the first time, I was disappointed in Suicide Squad. The deeper I dig, the more I’m actively angry about its final form. Could David Ayer have delivered a more mature, devious DC answer to Deadpool? I’m more than confident that he has that ability. It just doesn’t appear as if anyone was willing to let him do it. The result is another hastily made superhero saga that has grossed $575 million (and counting) at the box office despite the fact that it’s just a group of talented actors in great cosplay with no semblance of a coherent story.

I’m not saying that anyone who payed to see it and loved it is wrong – different strokes for different folks, as they say – but I’d like to ask for a moment of silence for what could have been. I understand the plight of DC fans. They’ve spent the better part of the last decade watching “rival” Marvel fill dump trucks with critical acclaim and box office cash. They want their own side’s cinematic universe to not only work, but to receive the acclaim that was realized during the Christopher Nolan era. I want that for them, as well, as a fan of good movies and a Batman kid who grew up in the late-80s. But there’s no escaping the fact that DC and Warner Bros. are holding something back. No escaping that these fans deserve better.

Whether or not better can be delivered in the Zack Snyder era remains to be seen. From where I’m sitting, this is what we’re going to get for a while. Until another voice – please be Geoff Johns – takes precedent, we know what to expect. And this battle will rage forth with fans on the defensive and critics trying to reason with them, neither side ever getting what they truly want or deserve.

Related Topics: , ,

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)