Why DC’s Latest Crushed the Box Office Despite Lukewarm Reviews
There’s a really good movie hiding somewhere in “Suicide Squad.” But that’s the problem: it’s pretty well hidden. A potentially enjoyable film with a great premise and exciting cast is weighed down by goofy CGI, groan-inducing dialogue and — what is quickly becoming the staple of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) — too many characters stuffed into every nook and cranny of the movie.
Much like “Batman vs Superman,” “Suicide Squad” dominated its opening weekend at the box office. This is where having all-stars like Batman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn on your roster and in the trailers comes in handy. The mere mention of these names almost guarantees a blockbuster opening weekend, as evidenced by the $135 million “Suicide Squad” raked in. That’s a feather in DC’s cap, as “Squad” toppled Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” to become the highest-grossing August opening of all time. Certainly, $135 million is a huge achievement, but whether or not the film will continue to put up big numbers will depend on word of mouth from both fans and critics. And that’s where you start to see a stark divide.
Critics have been pretty sour on “Suicide Squad,” labeling it as passable at best and an embarrassment at worst. On the other hand, the so-called fanboys and fangirls of DC seem to be much more accepting. On the surface, “Suicide Squad” does have a lot that would delight fans of the comics and movies in general: an enticing plot, tons of action, explosions, excitement and, of course, Harley Quinn and The Joker. The dastardly duo is reimagined as tragically twisted version of Bonnie and Clyde, backed by strong performances by Margot Robbie and Jared Leto. The Joker will put butts in seats on opening weekend. Harley Quinn will sell t-shirts and action figures. Their mere involvement will get DC and comic fans in general into the theater with high expectations. But does the duo actually add anything to the film other than name recognition? That seems to be where fans and critics are divided.
Remove the two characters from the movie, and is there any way the film has a $135 million opening weekend? Would fans care enough about Deadshot and Katana to propel the movie to record-setting numbers? Honestly, and it pains me to say this, probably not. The critics seem to agree, as they pick apart the movie for having a disjointed story and not much to offer besides the booms and blasts. Midway through the movie, you stop to care so much about the Enchantress’ reign of terror and start to anticipate the next Joker scene and Quinn’s next appearance. And this point, intentionally or not, the duo becomes the focus of the movie while everything around them is just background noise. And while that’s great for people who are waiting for a Quinn standalone movie and the inevitable Joker-Batman confrontation, it brings to light how empty of a movie “Suicide Squad” really is. Most signs point to the movie having a significant financial drop-off in its second week, something that will most likely be accredited to poor word of mouth.
As a comic book guy, this is the hardest type of movie to review. We are usually jaded going in, expecting the worst and prepared to roll our eyes the entire time. You know the famous words by now; the battle cry of die-hard comic geeks when their beloved characters move off the page and onto the big screen: “______ is WAY better in the comics!” In recent times, however, comic book fans seem to agree on one thing: Marvel is rocking it right now, while DC is stinking up the screen.
Years removed from Christopher Nolan’s generally adored “Dark Knight” trilogy, DC is rushing to play catch up to Marvel in the world of cinema. For the better part of the last decade, Marvel has rolled out a sprawling universe featuring everyone from heavy hitters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, to lesser-known heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.
One of the big reasons Marvel’s cinematic universe is a hit with both comic fans and the general movie-going population is because it’s had time to introduce us to the characters, give them storylines and provide them plenty of room and screen time to let their adventures play out in front of our eyes. DC, on the other hand, has crammed about eight movies worth of material into three films with the hope fans will buy in just because Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn are on the marquees. “Suicide Squad” is the latest example of why that strategy is failing to appease the comic community and missing the mark with critics and the basic audience in general.
This isn’t, however, a Marvel vs. DC debate. The focus is on what Suicide Squad — aka “Harley Quinn and All Her Pals”– did to ultimately become one step forward and two steps back for the DC Extended Universe.
She Really IS Quite Vexing
Let’s get this out of the way: “Suicide Squad” is Harley Quinn’s movie. Sure, Deadshot gets a lot of the focus as well, but Margot Robbie steals every scene with a twisted smile as everyone’s favorite sexy nutcase. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that Quinn is a building block for DC’s cinematic future. And while the decision to change the character from the easily-seduced pawn of The Joker’s wicked schemes to the apple of his evil eye may get scoffed at by hardcore comic fans, it’s hard to deny how good Robbie is in this role. She makes Harley Quinn *hers* in the same way Heath Ledger owned The Joker, and that’s the highest praise you can really give. It may not be the Harley Quinn everyone wanted, but it’s a unique, modern take on a character that is poised to become a breakout star for DC.
A Joker for the New Generation
Jared Leto’s Joker is NOT Ledger’s Joker, but the beauty is…he doesn’t try to be. The Joker in “Suicide Squad” will, of course, be unfairly compared to the the one from Nolan’s “Dark Knight” for years to come, but rest assured Leto brings something different and fresh to the character. And while Leto’s take on the maniacal prince of pain won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, you have to give him credit for going for a different Joker than we’ve ever seen before. Sure, the movie doesn’t give The Joker a ton of screen time, but it does manage to introduce us to a new iteration of an iconic DC legend while letting everybody know the character is heading in a completely new, wild direction. If Leto’s Joker has staying power depends greatly on how he gets fleshed out in the coming years, but consider this “soft launch” a pretty decent success.
Finally, Will Smith is back. Smith is still considered a huge movie star but hasn’t had a blockbuster role in many, many years. Thankfully, this changes with his on-target performance as Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton. Long removed from action-packed hits like “Men in Black” and “Independence Day,” Smith’s turn as Deadshot reminds everyone the actor can be a pretty awesome action star when given the chance. Lawton probably gets more screen time than anyone from the Squad, so it’s safe to say he will probably be a big part of the DCEU going forward. Along with Leto’s Joker and Robbie’s Quinn, DC has a great foundation of villains to build upon.
The Thrill of Mass Appeal
Let’s say you walked into “Suicide Squad” having never picked up a comic in your life. Your first introduction to Harley Quinn was the film’s trailer a few months back, and you have zero idea who or what a Killer Croc is. If this is your reality and you’re just looking for a big-budget action flick with lots of bangs and kabooms, “Suicide Squad” will work for you. Sure, the story is disjointed and there’s a lot of groan-inducing attempts at comedy, but if there’s one thing the movie delivers on, it’s balls-to-the-wall action. As far as mindless summertime popcorn blockbusters go, this movie delivers (a lot) of bang for the buck.
Everyone Not Named Harley, Joker or Deadshot
Look, DC had to fill out a deep roster for this movie. After all, you can’t have a Suicide Squad without the squad part, right? But my goodness, there are some duds in this one. Katana just comes bursting in without a proper introduction other than, “Hey, Katana is running late.” Same with Slipknot, who gets the grand introduction of “Here’s Slipknot, he can climb anything.” No cool intro videos, no back stories, no character-specific soundtrack. They just kind of meander into the scene and start doing stuff. Poor Slipknot’s only purpose in the movie is to die, which is pretty apparent since he had absolutely zero representation in anything advertising “Suicide Squad” prior to its release. Enchantress is just a complete mess, ruined by quirky CGI seemingly borrowed from last month’s lame “Independence Day” sequel. And her brother’s “possessed” form looks entirely too much like Jamie Foxx’s Electro from the truly awful “Amazing Spider-Man” sequel. While we’re on the topic of character missteps…
Stereotypes Ruin Potentially Cool Characters
Poor Waylon Jones, aka Killer Croc, and Chato “El Diablo” Santana. Their inclusion in the Squad should have helped round out a strong, diverse cast, but instead, they fall victim to ethnic stereotypes thanks to some shoddy dialogue and writing. El Diablo ends practically every sentence with “homie” and “esse,” while Killer Croc talks like he’s straight out of a 1970s blacksploitation movie. The last we see of Croc, he’s in jail bobbing along to a rap video on his new flat screen. These stereotypes are painful to watch and make the characters feel so out of touch with today’s world. It’s like the writers based the character’s dialogue strictly off what they heard Hispanic and black people talk like in bad movies about barrios or black ghettos. I was half expecting Captain Boomerang to come riding in on a kangaroo spouting off Crocodile Dundee one-liners. Bad, bad stuff here.
Mistimed One-Liners and the Follies of Failed Humor
One of the biggest complaints of “Batman vs. Superman” was the film’s dark, dreary atmosphere and bleak seriousness. It’s almost like someone involved with “Suicide Squad” read all those reviews, highlighted every time someone mentioned its somber tone and decided to inject a fresh sense of funny into the DCEU. Unfortunately, outside of a few of Quinn’s trademark quips, most of the humor in “Suicide Squad” fell flat. The trailers made the film out to be a zany, wild romp much akin to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the end result was a bunch of corny jokes and unfunny one-liners that wouldn’t be out of place in the Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear. Certain reviews call the corniness an honest nod to the comics, and while that may be the case, some stuff just doesn’t translate well to the big screen. The moments of true humor are brief and fleeting, good for a quick chuckle, but nothing worthy of an all-out laughing fit like “Deadpool” achieved earlier this year.
Final Verdict: Overblown, Overstuffed, Overwrought and Overpacked
In a few months, the “Suicide Squad” Ultimate Extended Edition will come out on Blu-Ray. It will be like three and a half hours long and will promise, among other things, scenes that “flesh out” the characters and the story. Problem is, they just did this with “Batman vs. Superman.” It’s DC and Warner Brothers’ way of saying “Hey, we crammed ENTIRELY too much into this movie, especially the theatrical cut. So thanks for spending your money at the theater, but now spend even more money to buy this version. It’s better.” DC is rushing hard to introduce us to all the characters in its stable, and it’s becoming painfully obvious. In just three movies, we’ve met: Superman, Lois Lane, General Zod, Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, Wonder Woman, The Flash, AquaMan, Cyborg, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, El Diablo, Killer Croc, Enchantress, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, Katana, Slipknot, Amanda Waller and probably a few more I’m missing. That’s more than TWENTY major characters sharing less than eight hours of theatrical screen time across three movies. DC needs to SLOW DOWN and give these characters some time to breathe and get their stories across. Unless DC wants critics to keep throwing out phrases like “hot mess” when reviewing its movies, they need to take a step back and realize less is more.
DC is extremely close to making an incredible movie. You can feel it starting in “Batman vs Superman” and improving with “Suicide Squad.” If the trailers for “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” are any indication, we are on the verge of the DCEU really starting to come into its own. Unfortunately, as a standalone movie, “Suicide Squad” does little more than make you look forward to that seemingly promising future. It’s a film that tries desperately to juggle 50 plates, but ultimately has the majority of them crash to the floor and shatter. Ultimately, “Suicide Squad” will be remembered for the first DCEU appearances of The Joker and Harley Quinn and little else. For a film that struggles to do anything particularly memorable, at the very least it paves a path for brighter days to come.
Unless you really, REALLY need a dose of The Joker and Quinn on the big screen, skip the theater experience and wait for the Blu-Ray. The extended edition will likely include a better, more engaging cut of the movie that accentuates the film’s positives and patches up some of its glaring issues.
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