Is it a stretch to say that Suicide Squad was DC's answer to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy? All the key points are there: a bunch of villains or anti-heroes teaming up to defeat something powerful, while being quirky and funny.
In the latter aspects, they did succeed. There are points in the film that are genuinely humorous, and the characters are quirky and interesting. There were bits to like about each character; some more than others, but there was still something to like.
The characters aren't the film's problem though (at least, not the biggest problems, but that will be covered later). The biggest problem is the plot, followed by how the film plays that plot out. Then, there are tonal problems, and problems they made for themselves in the future as a result of this film's now cemented canon.
This list of the film's problems will serve as the table of contents for the problems of the film, and subsequently possible fixes. Note that some fixes might bleed into others, but if you wish to only hear my thoughts on certain aspects, this should allow you to do so:
1. The Plot
2. Willingness to Kill: Tone issues and future problems
3. The Joker and Harley
4. Misc Canon Issues
1. The Plot
The plot is as follows: Amanda Waller, an operative for the pentagon, makes a list of villains that have been caught, and that she can manipulate into doing the government's dirty work, and ground pounding against metahumans. As a part of this team, she finds a woman that has been possessed by a powerful and ancient creature named Enchantress. after her attempt to control her fails, she begins wrecking the city. This team Waller collected is thus called in to deal with it.
Sounds straight forward right? Unfortunately, the film doesn't really have the right set of priorities when it comes to this.
Picture this: Cthulhu is threatening New York City. A team of badasses are called in... to extract the secretary of state from a nearby building. It's... a problem that has to be solved, yeah, but it really seems like treating the symptom and not the disease. That's the plot of Suicide Squad. the team is introduced, we are told how awesome they are... they are taken out of prison, implanted with bombs to make them behave, and told they will be extracting someone from the city. That person turns out to be Amanda Waller, who was stationed in the city.
The antagonist of the film is supposed to be the Enchantress, but she doesn't feel actually threatening until the last 5 minutes of the climax, because she does practically nothing for the majority. She turns some people into asphalt zombies to malice the suicide squad with, but ultimately little else.
In the absence of this antagonist's presence, the audience is left to seek the film's other antagonistic presence... which ultimately ends up being Amanda Waller, and her ground commander, Captain Flag (yes that is in fact his last name, and army rank. He was invented in 1959, 18 years after Captain America). These guys become the villains because our sympathies lie with members of the suicide squad, and they are in opposition to them. But, they suck as villains too, because they are supposed to be the good guys, and are subsequently not threatening. All that is left as a strong antagonist is the Joker... but he is definitely not the villain for reasons I'll discuss later.
The characters are good, my favorite being Diablo, followed by Deadshot. But characterization doesn't help much when the goal is unclear, the villain isn't a big enough presence to threaten them... and when they aren't actually focusing on the villains they set up.
To refer back to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser is introduced fairly early on. He makes it clear he wants to destroy a planet because he is a raging racist. He becomes a threat by immediately interfering with the affairs of the heroes. He maintains a presence through how two characters view and oppose him, with the MacGuffin of the story being a key to making Ronan even more of a threat. So, even when Ronan isn't the direct target of the plot, he is a presence that moves the plot in a certain direction. The antagonist of Suicide Squad, the Enchantress, creates the inciting incident to get the plot rolling, but ultimately is in the background and not a true presence until the climax.
So, what's the solution to this problem?It mostly involves editing, and conservation. The film front-loads a lot of backstory for characters; we are told who Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Diablo, Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang are, their abilities, and how they got caught. However, this front loading is actually unnecessary. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the backstories, and the details of them, are doled out as needed. Peter Quill has the focus, so we see his backstory in full (minus a myth arc). Rocket and Groot are mercenaries and bounty hunters, which is all you need to know to start with them. Drax's motivation IS his backstory, with Ronan killing his family, he wants revenge. Everything important about a character should be told quickly. We don't need to know right away that Batman caught Deadshot while he was shopping with his daughter (which really, REALLY is out of character, but more on that later).
All we need to know about Deadshot, is that he's good with a gun, he kills for money, and he has a daughter he loves. Diablo catches himself and his surroundings on fire, and he turned himself in willingly. Harley Quinn was turned insane by the Joker. These are the important bits, the stuff the audience needs to know about the characters, and can be given to the audience in a quick and organic manner without a big flashback sequence. Everything else, like why Diablo turned himself in, can be explained later, at the right moment.
Second, make the antagonist of the story actually be the antagonist. Don't futz about for an hour with an extraction mission, because even if that went without a hitch, there would STILL be the villain to deal with. If you need to fill running time, have the team deal with having to get to the antagonist, using the team's unique skills to do so, figure out a plan for how to go about defeating the antagonist, and then do it.
You know, like the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2
|Actually, just the suicide mission in general should've been the guide for the film.|
The plot is the film's biggest problem. If they had a different, more comprehensible plot, the film probably would've been very good.
Also... nix the zombie army crap. The asphalt zombies just made me think Will Smith was in I Am Legend mode. They provided some action scenes yeah, but they did nothing for the villain's presence, left the audience in confusion until they were finally explained, and even when they were they were not threatening. (That's true of a lot of things in this movie actually.)
2. Willingness to Kill: Tonal issues and Future Problems
Remember how I said Diablo was my favorite character in the film? He has a lot of parallels to Groot. He is the most powerful member of the team, but also the most peaceful. Of the people in the suicide squad, he's probably the only one that, with a little convincing, could like the idea. Like Groot, however, he pulls a heroic sacrifice to save his teammates... but unlike Groot, he isn't coming back.
When I say "willingness to kill," I am not talking about the characters, that obviously comes with the territory. I am talking about the writers. When a named character is killed, possible stories with them are gone. Killing a character is NOT something to be taken lightly. Even if it seems powerful to have a heroic sacrifice, there must be MORE in favor of their death than their life for it to be worth going through with.
With Diablo dead, no further stories can be told with or about him. What's worse is that possible answers to problems in writing future movies cannot be accessed. So, if a writer ever has a problem where a fire guy would solve the issue... they don't have Diablo. Because they killed him.
This is a problem for the DC universe, which Marvel found a solution for. DC recently killed Superman in their Batman VS Superman movie. Of course Superman is alive again, rendering death completely meaningless and pointless, but it sets a tone for their cinematic universe. The writers are willing to kill characters off without thinking of the consequences.
Now, characters can die. In fact, some characters should die. Death is a powerful tool in story telling... but you have to use it right. Death is very permanent, and should have a lasting and powerful effect. A character dying should affect those around them heavily.
The two famous deaths, Uncle Ben, and Thomas and Martha Wayne, are deaths that define characters. Uncle Ben's death made Peter become a hero, because others may be hurt if he does nothing again. Batman fights because he believes no 8 year old boy should ever lose their parents to a gunman ever again (coming back to this later...). Even Groot's sacrifice in Guardians profoundly affects the story and the sequel, where Groot is still regenerating and is still small.
Point blank, the death of a character should open more doors than it closes. If more stories can be told as a result of a character's death than a character's life, then their death ultimately aids the story.
DC's Cinematic Universe is willing to kill characters when stories could still be told with and about them. This is not a sign of "maturity" but of lack of foresight and forethought. What if they want to make a sequel to suicide squad? They'd have two weapons experts, a boomerang guy, a strong man, a crazy girl, and a samurai girl. All physical fighters, which limits the scope of enemies they could fight. If they just replace Diablo, then they have to introduce them, and give their backstory and motivations, which goes right back to the first kettle of fish.
DC really needs to stop killing characters; even Marvel left the door open for Red Skull to return one day.
3. The Joker and Harley
So, Jared Leto, the actor who played the Joker in Suicide Squad has been complaining about how much footage of the Joker was cut from the final film... Honestly I'm surprised he's still in there at all.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that NONE of the joker's scenes are essential. They add nothing, they change nothing, they aren't involved with the main plotline at all... The Joker is entirely pointless in the film. Which is criminal.
The Joker shouldn't even be a side villain in anything but an ensemble villain cast. He is a main antagonist, the ring leader and primary threat. Having him as a supporting character is the first problem with his character. He is a main character only. He's center stage, or not on the stage at all.
But, maybe it is better this Joker isn't actually important... because he's a terrible Joker. Not in reference to Jared Leto's performance, he did fairly well with what he was given, but the design and characterization... they were all wrong.
The Jared Leto Joker is not threatening. There isn't any tension when he's on screen, because he just isn't scary. He's weird, but not scary. Part of the lack of tension comes from the fact he is a straight ally of Harley, who is a partially sympathetic protagonist. In the comics and TV show where Harley made her first appearance, it was clear the Joker had no respect for Harley. He didn't care for her, he just saw her as a devoted lackey that was easily twisted around his pinky finger. He could throw her out of a building and she'd blame herself for it.
Yeah, that is what their relationship is supposed to be: blatantly abusive, both mentally and physically. Harley's just too far gone to see it most of the time. But, DC tried this and it was rejected because focus groups didn't like Harley eventually sticking up for herself and breaking off from the Joker, so they went with the straight romance that parts of the general audience likes on the surface... Again, showing lack of foresight when people think on their relationship more and realize how goddamn awful it is after the fact.
Then there is the design... goddamn the design...
|Note the tattoo that says "Damaged" and the grills on his teeth.|
The Joker's design isn't threatening, or insane, or creepy... it is just straight "edgy."
This is Reaper from the most recent Blizzard game, Overwatch:
He has DUAL WIELD SHOTGUNS named HELLFIRE, he has a SKULL mask (actually a barn owl), wears ALL BLACK, and a HOODIE, and he has POUCHES. and he EATS THE SOULS of his enemies while talking all about how he is DEATH and PAIN.
An edgy design was cool in the 90's. Now it is laughable. It's even noted in-game how not scary Reaper is. Jared Leto Joker is trying too hard to be edgy, that he just appears silly (and not in the good Joker way).
How do you fix this? Well, honestly just go back to the original canon material, for both Joker and Harley.
Make Joker the insane clown whose main weapon is a gas that makes people laugh so much they die:
|Also wearing a nice suit helps.|
The film took every chance it got to show off Margot Robbie's ass. Haven't heard any feminist complaints about this crap... Could we PLEASE get some uproar so DC at LEAST gets the message to have Will Smith give some fan service as well? It feels really sexist and off balance to only have male-centric spank material. (Shirtless Joker doesn't count, his existence already gets the wrong side of humanity turned on. On BOTH sides of the technicolor rainbow.)
4. Misc Canon Issues
Why the flying duck does Batman attack Deadshot when he's with his kid? Does he WANT to create more villains? Does he want her to get hit in the crossfire? His entire motivation for becoming batman goes against what he was doing in that scene. He doesn't want any child to go through what he did; he should've caught Deadshot when she WASN'T around! If she wasn't there, she'd be sad her father was caught, but she wouldn't have the image burned into her head of her daddy aiming a gun at her, telling her to move so he can shoot the Batman. Can't even blame Deadshot for that, that situation is entirely on Batman.
Also, related to the killing problem above... Slipknot. The most forgettable character in the movie. No backstory, we're just told he can climb anything. He tries to escape and gets his blown off as a result. That's it for Slipknot! Had to waste him showing the audience what we already explained what would happen if they tried to run away like two scenes ago! He was entirely pointless, and just made it so they can never use him again in the future. Wasn't important enough to mention in the main section though, so he's here. The sacrificial lamb to show that the film was "for seriouz yo"
Finally... The Jared Leto Joker would've made a better Lex Luthor than Jessie Eisenberg's. Jessie pretty much just played the Joker, because apparently that's the only villain DC understands. His joker personality would've fit better in Suicide Squad than in BatmanVSuperman, and Jared Leto's gangster nature would've fit better with Lex Luthor. Not a good fit, but a better one. A great fit would've been making him act like a cold, logical billionaire instead of a crazy man... Just a strange thing I noted when I realized Leto was more tame than Eisenberg.
Suicide Squad has the right kind of central characters and dialogue, but the wrong plot. Cut the Joker, refocus the plot, make the antagonist a threat.
This film very well could've been good, and in fact a decent answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, so it is unfortunate that these problems exist.
Additionally, Wonder Woman looks good; maybe being set during World War 1 will help with the plotting issues DC seems to have. We already know her love interest dies, but at least we don't know if it's from old age or "dramatically" in Wondy's arms; I REALLY hope for the former. Also Chris Pine, so it has that going for it.