Spoilers for Suicide Squad within!
As you may have noticed, somewhere, a small movie has recently flown in under the radar with next to no marketing and a cast of complete unknowns. Literally no-one is talking about it, but hey, as I’ve shown, I’m a champion of indie movies.
DC’s latest attempt to finally make people like them, Suicide Squad, is a weird, weird movie. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of filmmaking that’s been taken apart and glued back together again about three times, resembling a music video directed by your dad for about half an hour before segueing into a classic ‘PlayStation 3 game from 2007’ aesthetic for the rest. It’s vaguely enjoyable and at least wants to be entertaining, giving it a leg up on BVS, but as a piece of filmmaking this was borderline incoherent. Rather than reviewing a film on which my thoughts are pretty complicated, I’m doing something different that no-one else has done on the internet: ranking the members of the Suicide Squad from ‘most bad’ to ‘least bad’, in terms of how the movie portrays them!
Note: I’m aware that Amanda Waller, Enchantress and Joker aren’t actually Suicide Squad members, but they’re here anyway because my opinions on them are really good (and they’re given enough screen-time anyway).
Oh dear lord.
Enchantress, marketed as if she was part of the Squad, is actually the film’s main villain, nipping off after she’s rounded up for inclusion in the force to resurrect her mysteriously awful-looking brother to create an evil sky portal to destroy humanity because…? No, really, that’s her characterisation. The introduction scene where archaeologist June Moone discovers her tomb is quite good, but for roughly 60% of the film, she’s belly-dancing in front of a green screen in some kind of bizarre ritual at a subway station. As the villain, you’d think she’d have more motivation than ‘humanity worships the machines’, but hey, you’re out of luck if you were expecting a good central villain in a film about villains.
Cara Delivigne tries, in fairness. Trying is good, but trying, in this case was not enough to offset a character who seems to have been created, sketched out and scripted in a lunch break.
10. Killer Croc
“Not me, shawty, I’m beautiful.”
How, exactly can you do a bad version of Killer Croc, a character who virtually writes himself? Suicide Squad shows you how, with that quote above showing its impressive process of reducing Killer Croc to a complete irritant. The design of his character is really great, but every bit of dialogue that comes out of that crocodile’s jaws is either completely unintelligible, spoken in a bizarre garbled crocodile tongue resembling English, or just painfully unfunny with an unsettling undercurrent of racial stereotyping. He’s supposedly the ‘comic relief’, but he just kind of embodies this movie’s desire to please and make people laugh, which is so desperate that it kind of forgets how comedy is done.
9. Rick Flag
The human embodiment of white bread, Rick Flag is potentially the definitive average white male action hero for our troubled times. Played with a perfectly balanced middling amount of charisma by the reliably alright Joel Kinnaman, Rick Flag is a strong leader type who is motivated by love for Cara Delevingne’s June Moone. It’s not a very interesting or fleshed out romance, and the age gap between the 23 year old Delevingne and the 36 year old Kinnaman really does not help in that regard. In a mid-budget, critically panned action movie starring Tommy Lee Jones in a supporting role, Rick Flag could definitely flourish as the lead character.
Leaving aside the unimaginative name, Katana is a wee bit forgettable. The movie’s attitude towards her characterisation is summed up when she’s introduced hopping into a helicopter that’s in flight, apologising for her arrival amidst a 15-second backstory flashback. Then, we’re told her sword steals souls. She then disappears from the movie for about 20 minutes. She gets some very cool moments in the action sequences, but the development for her character is so minimal that it’s actively weird when she speaks. Potentially fascinating, Katana is just window dressing with a really sharp sword.
Alright, now we’re getting to the good stuff! And by ‘good stuff’, I mean ‘adequate characters’.
Boomerang is kind of fun. Jai Courtney, derided for being a total charisma vacuum when he’s been forced into leading man roles, is actually pretty great as the team’s resident dickhead, and there are a couple of comedic moments that actually work. Unfortunately, Boomerang is a one-joke character – one joke that the movie decides to tell over and over again. He stars in the movie’s defining moment of total incoherence where he leaves the team and immediately returns for the big group shot with no explanation in the next scene, so he’s got that going for him, but overall he’s an very shallow and repetitive presence after a while. His pink unicorn fetish is perhaps the most genuinely interesting thing about him, but there are no flashbacks to show its origins.
I used the most obnoxious picture of Leto’s Joker as I could find!
This movie’s incarnation of the Joker has been one of its most hyped-up elements, and he’s been front and centre of all the marketing with lovely stories about Jared Leto’s method acting in which he borderline harassed the entire cast and crew by sending them used condoms and anal beads. I’m surprised he bothered, really – the Joker is basically insignificant in the grand scheme of things here. He gets about 10 minutes of screen time, split between tiny flashbacks and a present-day subplot that intersects with the Suicide Squad for a stunning 40 seconds, and his role in the main story is completely superfluous. Jared Leto is fine, I guess – his Joker laughs a lot and says things in a different tone of voice every now and then, because that’s what the Joker does. Leto’s take on the Joker a very predictable portrayal, really – it delivers the basic checklist of character traits for the Joker but doesn’t really add anything on top. It’s a generic, standard Joker, inoffensive but completely forgettable. While it’s not as bad as Jesse Eisenberg’s awful Lex Luthor, I’m not really bothered about seeing Leto again in the role.
5. El Diablo
The first character on this list to get actual development!
El Diablo is interesting, but also a frustrating missed opportunity of a character. His basic character arc is, on paper, substantial and worthy – the kind of solidly executed development you’d want from a film about villains overcoming society’s perception of them to do some good for the world. Jay Hernandez is good in the role, delivering a quiet and relatively subdued performance that conveys a lot of repressed self-hatred and fury, and his final moments are relatively good as he takes down Enchantress’ brother, although it’s undermined by the fact that literally no-one mentions or regards his sacrifice after it happens, 15 minutes before the movie’s end. That said, his actual backstory is dull and cliched, verging on the vague racial stereotypes of Killer Croc with no depth beyond, and the flashbacks of his family’s death involve him screaming ‘NOOOOO!!!’ into the sky while cradling someone’s body. Yes, it’s 2016, and people still do that in movies. El Diablo is a decent character, but with more focus and depth in his backstory, he could have been the movie’s breakout hit.
4. Amanda Waller
This list is all about milestones the further you go up: the first recognisable character, the first adequate character, the first interesting character and so on (these milestones are not exactly high bars, but hey, this is Suicide Squad). Amanda Waller is the first character who actually just works – the movie sets out to achieve something with Waller, and it does so efficiently and effectively. A lot of that is down to Viola Davis, who overcomes Waller’s lack of character depth (she’s ‘a mean lady’, but that’s it) with a great performance that’s all icy authority and veiled threats – scarier than most of the villains here because her sociopathic nature isn’t clumsily spelled out for us; it’s simply lurking underneath every line of dialogue, implicit in everything she does. Waller as a character is a great deconstruction of the Nick Fury-esque chessmaster behind a heroic team, and it’s good to see that the movie gets across that key function nicely. Low bar, but it cleared it.
3. Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is a fascinating character, but she’s also a deeply problematic one whose uniquely weird and violent relationship with the Joker is fraught with all kinds of nasty subtext that sits awkwardly in an era where issues of abusive relationships and gender roles are right at the top of the cultural conversation. Suicide Squad‘s attempt to deal with these issues is a wee bit awkward: it kind of gives them lip service, which theoretically removes it from engaging with the worst parts of her relationship with Joker, but in practice just makes matters worse because it simplifies the issue and makes it come across as cheap, quick usage of abuse for shock value. Her character arc relating to this is borderline nonsensical – she wants to get back to the Joker for very little reason, chooses her newfound ‘friends’ to fight with in the end but only because she thinks Joker is dead, but then reverts back to where she was at the start of the movie when the Joker rescues her at the end. Along the way, we learn she wants a completely normal and domestic life, something that contradicts almost everything else we learn about her.
Parallel to that, you’ve got a performance by Margot Robbie that is near-definitive: she’s having so much fun in an unapologetically crazy role that those huge flaws in her characterization somehow seem manageable. As a character who bounces off others and creates new, weird relationships with almost every member of the Squad, she’s genuinely great, which helps with the camaraderie in a team made up of 50% moving cardboard cut-outs. She gets most of the best comic relief moments, too, and they’re – wait for it – actually funny. With a weaker actress than Robbie, Harley Quinn would sink under the weight of that weird, troublesome back-story and incoherent arc – but she’s just fun enough here that you can forget about the shaky foundations, at least for a time.
2. Will Smith’s Deadshot
Deadshot is arguably Suicide Squad‘s best contribution to the universe in terms of interesting, well-developed characters backed up by a strong performance that mixes intensity with levity. Is he a true classic villain who will be spoken of by camp fires 100 years from now in hushed tones by the android generation who will have overcome humanity by then (I put thought into this stuff)? No. But he’s a character that changes in a way that feels earned and logical – a simple transformation from unrepentant assassin to man with a conscience, fuelled by love for his daughter that’s given sufficient attention throughout the movie so we can actually see the change.
Also, in a pleasant surprise, Will Smith turns up for this. Perhaps unfairly, I pegged his casting when it was announced as a pay check for him and a marketing device for DC, but Smith’s performance hits all the right notes – charismatic, swaggering but also introspective and quietly regretful. Smith makes anything the script throws at him sound convincing even when the dialogue is painfully obvious and emotionally manipulative which papers over some of the cracks script-wise (the inclusion of his daughter is just there to push all the very standard ‘be a better dad’ emotional buttons, and very little else), and while the performance is still very Will Smith, it’s good to see a leading man performance in a movie that would otherwise have lacked an emotional centre. The
Also, the flashback where Ben Affleck’s drops down from an alleyway, confronts Deadshot and says “It’s over, Deadshot” hinting at dozens of encounters before is legitimately one of my favourite moments in this universe so far. See, Zack Snyder, it’s not that hard to world build!
Still, Deadshot pales in comparison to the number 1 character of the Suicide Squad; the DC universe’s greatest champion; a new hero for our troubled times. Number 1 is:
The man, the myth, the legend: your favourite DC hero has made it to live action, and he’s incredible.
Slipknot, the man who can climb anything: introduced not with a flashback and fancy graphics like nearly everyone else, but instead by abruptly arriving in a jeep like an 8 year old late to his table football tournament with absolutely no fanfare. “That’s Slipknot, the man who can climb anything”, says Joel Kinnaman, presumably dreaming of what there would be for lunch that day at craft services. In his next scene, Slipknot is convinced to escape. As the man who can climb anything, he climbs a building… and his head is blown up to prove the Squad’s neck bombs do work. He is not referenced after.
Don’t let the briefness of his screen time fool you. Slipknot is a true hero: the DC universe equivalent of Harambe, the gorilla who, like Slipknot, was taken from the world before his time by the United States government. I salivated in euphoric anticipation at the potential of Slipknot’s adventures, only for my dreams to be crushed. Fear not, readers: Slipknot lives within my heart. He will not be forgotten.