Suicide Squad: A Gritty World In Vibrant Color

By Gary Johnson · August 11, 2016

There's no use mincing words – Suicide Squad has undeniably found itself the subject of a thorough critical hammering. And don't get me wrong – some of the criticism is warranted, especially if we're talking about editing and pacing, but the film as a whole is charming more often than not, and a lot of fun to boot. We could talk for days about how silly some of these action movies are, with our hero wearing no shirt and running out there with a machine gun in each arm blasting countless numbers of goons, never running out of ammo, and not even coming down with a scratch (except maybe one on the cheek for effect). Yet, at the same time, we appreciate these movies because they’re entertaining, maybe because they’re a little bit ridiculous, but mostly because they’re a lot of fun. Suicide Squad delivers on that promise with a punk rock attitude, a pop art edge, immensely unique style, and a different perspective than we’re used to seeing in a super hero movie. If the purpose of cinema is entertainment and escape, you'll find both in spades, though not without a few rough patches. 

The plot itself is rather simple. Amanda Waller, portrayed excellently by Viola Davis, is a cold, deadly, and determined government official who has a hell bent mind for national security. She assembles a team of people who have special skills and abilities to get sensitive and particularly dangerous jobs done. The catch is that the people she’s recruiting for this team, dubbed Task Force X, are imprisoned super villains chosen specifically for their varied skill sets and primarily for their expendability. The film overall is less plot driven and more focused on the character elements. Being a ‘team’ superhero movie, this film has quite a few characters that have to be introduced to the audience.

Archeologist Dr. June Moone unearths a hidden tomb and unleashes a powerful witch known as the Enchantress who ultimately possesses her body as a host. Amanda Waller learns of her ability and discovers that the way to control her is by taking physical possession of the Enchantress’ heart, which was buried separate from the spirit in the tomb that Moone discovered. Waller obtains it and uses it to control the Enchantress for her bidding in sensitive situations. Waller puts Rick Flagg in charge of overseeing Dr. Moone throughout her involvement.

Rick Flagg is, for all intents and purposes, your standard action movie military guy. During their time together, Flagg and Dr. Moone become romantically involved, which Waller uses to her advantage. After Enchantress finds a way to escape her control and seeks vengeance by unleashing a powerful force in attempt to destroy mankind, Amanda Waller manipulates Flagg into leading Task Force X against the threat. These villains are motivated into action with bombs implanted in their necks. We discover later that some of these villainous characters have other, deeper motivations that drive them as well.

Deadshot, who is played by Will Smith, delivers both veteran leadership and comic relief throughout the film. The portrayal makes us feel empathy for the stone cold assassin that we likely wouldn’t have otherwise, and is a definite strength to the film that helps to move the story along. The Batman brings Deadshot to justice in front of his daughter, who is the only person in the world that he cares about, and becomes his character’s driving force for going through with the mission.

Harley Quinn, formerly known as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, is a psychiatrist turned mad, having fallen in love with the utterly insane Joker as played by Jared Leto. For the most part she is a tortured soul driven to lunacy and is now simply hell bent on escaping to get back to her beloved puddin’. Margot Robbie is stunning and charismatic in her performance, which is something fans of the character have been longing to see for quite some time. Harley is charming in her unpredictably violent and single-minded nature as she manages to bring the team together while at the same time making a break to escape and/or cause chaos at every given opportunity.   

Leto’s portrayal of the Joker is different than we’ve seen in the past and he is portrayed as more of a psychotic gangster rather than the clown that we’re used to. His Joker has excellent taste in style and wardrobe and doesn’t fail to deliver in is performance by putting the audience on edge with his madness. You can never quite trust what he’s going to do, or where his intentions lie. He is more of a side character in this film, so we don’t get a full dive in to his warped psychology. There are many elements that are still a mystery yet to be unveiled about him, but the few scenes that we do see him in are magnetic. This Joker is one that has potential to be quite terrifying should we see him in future DC films.

El Diablo, a character who turns out to be one of the film’s hidden gems, is a pyro kinetic metahuman played by Jay Hernandez. He is a street gangster who has used his powers in the past for criminal activity but lost control of them in a fiery rage, driving him to do something that he’ll regret for the rest of his life. He loses the people who are closest to him in life, and this causes him to be very reluctant in using his abilities again, even as he is forced to be a part of Task Force X against his will. We find out later that there is more to him than meets the eye and he ends up using his gift for the greater good, serving a penance for his past sins. The character becomes very relatable emotionally because we’ve all done things in our past that we regret and hope to find some way to make up for and that adds a strong human element to the film. Even villains draw a line for themselves that if they cross, they can never forgive themselves for.

Killer Croc is a misunderstood creature, and somewhat different from what we’ve seen in other interpretations. He’s got a human side that’s been rejected and alienated from the world and this turns out to be relatable character trait once you get past his rough exterior. Croc as a character however is a bit underutilized and I would have liked to see him with a bigger role. Personally, I would have made him more of a savage in taking out his enemies as well, but he does use his unique condition does become useful towards the end.

The remaining characters are left a bit more vague. We don’t learn a whole lot about the character Slipknot in his short-lived role on the squad, but he does serve to illustrate a certain point of motivation for the rest of the group. Captain Boomerang adds a comedic element to the film, as he is something of a trickster character. He doesn’t play too big of a role but does come in handy with one of his trick boomerangs later in the film. This is reminiscent of the gadget use of remote batarangs from the Arkham video game series, which adds a nice touch. Katana is also a bit of a mystery. We don’t learn too much about her backstory other than how she came about an enchanted sword that holds the souls of those who’ve been slain with it. Beyond that, she’s a fierce but silent killer and a fearless warrior that makes an excellent accent to the team’s diverse roster.

For those of you who are going into the theatre expecting a film comparable to The Godfather or perhaps Titanic, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. However, if you are going in expecting a fun, vibrant, smash ‘em up action flick, you’ll be delighted. The film isn’t perfect, but then again, most films aren’t. It plays upon the human elements of the villainous characters to make them appealing to the audience, and uses their faults to add flavor and excitement. It’s not your typical super hero movie because, of course, these are not super heroes. They are villains; criminals who are forced into a situation that they have no control over nor do they particularly care about the outcome. They’re acting out of self-interest for their personal motivations and self-preservation because they would rather not have their heads explode. They’re thrown into a garbage situation, threatened by relentless and seemingly infinite hordes of attacking enemies, and are lied to at every twist and turn by the people who put them there. The deeper they get into it, the more they realize how perilous the situation is.

The film is controlled chaos, the action set against an aesthetic of vibrant neon colors over a gritty backdrop. The many characters push the story forward, each initially having their own unique direction that they move towards. Eventually, through all of the mud that’s thrown at them in their wake, they come together to overcome a common foe that threatens them all. In effect, they save the world (and more importantly, their own heads) in the process. While the story itself isn’t overly ambitious, the film does give us a distinct insight into the world that these characters exist in and gives us a drastically different viewpoint than typical super hero movies do. In the end, it serves the purpose of setting the backdrop for the extended cinematic DC universe. It won’t be an Oscar winner, but all in all, the movie was emotionally engaging, visually entrancing, and a very enjoyable experience. Sometimes it’s just plain fun to root for the bad guys.