Has DC Entertainment set itself up for suicide with their latest film, Suicide Squad?

In the eternal battle of the comic giants, what exactly does DC Comics have to prove to Marvel? Short answer; nothing. DC was the first to break the one billion dollar box office with The Dark Knight. Marvel was able to do that four years later. The Dark Knight has also won an Oscar. DC Comics has absolutely nothing to prove when it comes to their live action movies compare to Marvel. It’s just a shame DC doesn’t realize that.

Since the announcement back in October 2014 that DC Entertainment was moving forward with Suicide Squad and that it was slatted to be released between Batman v. Superman and Justice League, DC has been met with questioning and criticism of their film slate and of Suicide Squad in particular. These criticisms have follow the production and only added fuel to the fire of the internet rumour mill over the film’s production. From the antics of the certain actors on set. Jared Leto’s gifts he sent to the cast while in character. If you follow Jai Courtney on social media, you will have been introduced to the live rat that Jared Leto sent Margo Robbie that became the cast mascot. Chief among these rumours – and only adding credence to the leadership problems at DC Entertainment (it didn’t have any at the time) – was the reshoots and DC bringing in editors behind the back of writer/director David Ayer. And if it wasn’t for David Ayer’s undeniable talent for strong dramatic character direction, and his extremely talented cast, the problems with the film, that was released in theatres August 5th, would be far more noticeable.

Suicide Squad centres around the actions of Amanda Waller played by Viola Davis. Government agent and a patriot, Waller is a woman that even the most alpha of the alpha males because they know Waller will literally bleed on the American flag to keep those stripes red. Waller almost feels like the true villain of this story as the you see just how far she goes to use the people available to her. To the absolute  credit of Davis, Waller comes across as a woman that is more then ready to play that role as the ultimate villain for the benefit of her country. But is clearly in conflict to the evil she does. Waller gets the green lit for her new project after the events of Batman v. Superman. Assemble a team, the best of the worst, most evil criminals available to her. Codenamed “Taskforce X”, this team is given an explosive implant in their neck. Step out of line and Waller will separate your head from your neck. The team affectionately begins calling themselves “the suicide squad”.

The right hand of God is the greatest special forces officer in American history, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag. Flag is Waller’s field leader stuck with a team that he doesn’t want. He’s threatening to kill them and they’re threatening to kill him. Throughout Kinnaman’s career both in America and abroad in the Swedish film industry, he’s shown that he excels at playing characters in internal conflict.  Flag is no different for him. Kinnaman is given a lot to work with from the angle of how Waller is working him and his bonding with the team through battle with the Taskforce is finally mobilized that leads to his ultimate choice of committing to the squad. Will Smith creates one of the better performances of his career by using his experiences as a parent to bring genuine feelings and reactions to his performance as the master assassin who never misses, Deadshot. Margot Robbie should be given credit just for taking on the legendary role of Harley Quinn. The character of Harley Quinn has been consistently one of the most popular character in DC comics since her creation in the 90’s for the Batman animated series. Robbie brings an honesty to the role and plays Harley has more of a victim of trauma more than a straight up psychopath.

Flag, Deadshot, and Quinn are also at the centre of the issues with this film. Ayer has given his characters backstories. These backstories truly feel real, and in the case of Jay Hernandez’s Diablo is genuinely more interesting then journey Ayer has his characters on. Often, these backstories come into the main story at odd times with cuts that feel quite jarring and pull you from the story. Ultimate it ends with a first act that is slow to start and often hampers the direction and understanding of our characters. Especially in terms of the relationship between Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker. Leto has created a Joker that can stand against Heath Ledger’s performance by creating what feels like a genuinely legitimate performance of a psychopath. But the story never truly capitalizes on the story it wants to tell between Joker and Quinn. It’s hinted at the genuinely tragic love story but never truly capitalizes on it to the point where Joker plays his role of upsetting the balance up to the midpoint of the story and virtually disappearing from the story for an hour.

Jay Hernandez steals the entire film with his performance as Diablo. Ayer and Hernandez create a man who’s ability to generate and control fire feels almost like the physical personification of the rage inside him. Diablo wants nothing more than to live out the rest of his life alone until his forceful recruitment into the squad. Every member of the squad is a talented actor in their own right, and half of that cast never gets the chance to truly shine. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is virtually forgotten about as Killer Croc to the point that you never really care about Croc when the stakes get high. Karen Fukuhara’s Katana is reduced to the heavy in the background with Croc. Her past with her dead husband and her sword that traps the souls of it’s victims never really feel covered or allow you to connect with this character. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang feels like he’s only in the film for the sake of comedy. Cara Delevingne’s performance as the centuries old witch, Enchantress never truly feels like any sort of threat and has the majority of her performance hidden behind a great deal of CGI. Having the opportunity of performing dual characters of Enchantress and the vessel she’s in, June Moone, is alluded to in the first act but is completely forgotten going into the second act.

It’s more then satisfying when this squad finally comes together for the climax  because you want to see this squad join as a unit. That’s how Ayer crafted a working narrative through the mess of editing when he clearly had a much darker film in mind. He followed the characters and pushed them to the breaking point. And when they do, you’re with them. You can feel the rage in Deadshot. You can feel the tragedy in Harley and Diablo. It’s enough to make you notice the pacing, story, and editing issues but push them aside because you want to see what happens to these characters. Without Ayer’s work and focus on these characters, the pacing issues would have made for an extremely soft climax. Ayer’s been criticized as the wrong choice for the film because he’s never having done a big budget effects film. But, at one point in time, neither had James Cameron or George Lucas. Despite it all, Ayer has managed to craft a film that is very entertaining. One can only guess what the original film could have been. But this film is 3 out of 5 stars as it is.

But, when you look at the film, it was clear what it was originally meant to be. A dark character driven drama – exactly the kind of film that you hire someone like David Ayer to make. And that’s not the film that we received. Marvel Entertainment has Kevin Feige’s laser-like focus leading them. When DC Entertainment started this back in 2013/14 they didn’t have anyone to call the shots. And Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad are victims of these creative problems. That has all changed now with DC Comic’s CEO Geoff John stepping in. But the question remains; is it too late for DC? The final box office for the Suicide Squad will be the true tell if DC Entertainment has the kind of legs Marvel does. Because you can only release so many “ultimate cuts” of your films on bluray as an apology to the fans.

3 out of 5 Stars