Suicide Squad (2016) - poster

“Worst. Heroes. Ever.” reads that tagline for DC “dark action epic” Suicide Squad. Except: really, the film is like any other “underdog hero” film – of which we’ve seen precisely eleven thousand – and there is nothing really new here – and a whole lot of old music hits and hot babes trying to convince you that you’re having a great time.

Boasting a feel-good soundtrack, an energetic production design, and a charismatic cast, Suicide Squad nevertheless performed rather poorly with critics. I think everyone’s just cranky over the superhero film scene, personally. But hey – superhero films are hard to do. Can you make the die-hard comic fans happy, in a two-hour runtime – especially considering the very retcon nature of the genre? Can you make the story compelling to viewers who don’t care about the sacred history of the graphic novels and just want a good action story? Even if you could do either – can you do both simultaneously?

Briefly, for plot: top brass baddie Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gets permission to put together a group of criminals – most with supernatural/superhero powers, and a handful of sociopathic and skilled thugs – to pull off naughty black ops. The concept is easy: the squad are a bunch of dirtbags who no one will miss if they have to be killed. They are held hostage by money, blackmail, that sort of thing. Oops! One of the supernatural baddies gets loose. Waller sends the others after it. Meanwhile, will this ragtag bunch of creeps find their humanity and band together against all odds? Why, yes. Was anyone wondering?

The most talked about controversy in the film (besides the comic fans that hate what was done with it) is that of the character Harley Quinn (one of only four women in the film’s important roles). Played with a lot of zeal by Australian Margot Robbie, Harley is by turns defended as a legitimate action character in her own right, and decried as being a really gross actualization of an abusive relationship (with the Joker), as well as overly and unfairly sexualized. I agree with all the above – and although I was pleased to see Harley get more lines than I thought she might, it was still really grody how many times the camera cut to lingering shots of her bod. (Imagine how ludicrous it would feel if every five minutes we were subjected to Will Smith’s buns in hot pants providing the, “be-BOOP!” punchline to sassy jokes!).

Suicide Squad (2016) - still

As awesome as Harley is at times, this film relies on silly tropes where women are concerned. No one is surprised, I know (especially considering an all-male massive writing team). Besides Davis and Robbie we have a witch-lady thingie (Cara Delevingne) and stoic assassin Katana (Karen Fukuhara) – a Japanese woman once again subject to a role as near-silent egregious window dressing. There’s not a covered midriff in sight. Maybe they spent too much licensing the music? I hope our ladies weren’t too cold.

As for the rest of the players, we have a decent cast diversity – they’re not all white guys! – and a great deal of acting talent. Unfortunately, the film’s writing and plot don’t hold our anti-heroes to best advantage. Will Smith and Joel Kinnaman (as Deadshot and Rick Flag, resp) play exactly the kind of guys you think they’re gonna, with exactly the story arc you guess at. Jared Leto‘s Joker is saved up a bit because you know they’re going to trot him out a lot more in a later film. And while his performance annoyed people, the guy’s got a tough act to follow as so many still miss Heath Ledger’s turn as the character. Jay Hernandez‘ role of Diablo, despite getting short shrift in the storyline/character department, was nevertheless another charismatic entry in the ensemble.

So, I sure didn’t hate Suicide Squad as much as so many others seemed to. If I have one regret, it’s that I’d seen most of the film’s good scenes (and fun characters), through one avenue or another. The film would have been more fun had I known nothing going in. And in any case, it was a lot more enjoyable than DC’s Batman v Superman (2016), a dour violence-fest with little going for it.