Suicide Squad ignites fervor off-screen, leaves audiences unmoved
After three movies, there are some distinct differences between the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. One is brightly colored, funny, and rarely boring. The other is DC. At least, this seems to be the consensus among film critics who practically stumble over themselves to write sarcastic reviews and dismissive headlines.
On the opposite side are the fanboys, who despite having not seen a particular film, leave glowing comments and ratings on aggregate sites, defending their favorite characters enthusiastically while hurling insults at the out-of-touch elite on the payroll of the mainstream media.
Everything now is a battle of spiteful bickering over cultural products, from movies to politics to cat food, and every opinion held that differs from our own is a referendum on the integrity of the individual.
In the case of film, this simplicity of thought can be traced back to Siskel and Ebert, who refined criticism to the direction of a thumb and left it at that. It worked well enough for television and the insightful commentary was left to their respective newspaper columns.
Of course, even with the decline of print, there are many places online to find such commentary—The AV Club is one, rogerebert.com is another. But then there is YouTube channel after YouTube channel full of contempt and anger directed not just at the film but at the fans as well.
I was reminded earlier this week of a quote by legendary film critic Pauline Kael in her essay “Art, Trash, and the Movies” where she says that “movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.” And so, while DC’s Suicide Squad is by no means a great film, neither is it necessarily deserving of the hate it is currently receiving. The film is mediocre, the way most summer films have been this year, and is exactly as good as it meant to be. It achieves its goals and by that measure is mostly a success.
Still, Suicide Squad isn’t quite great trash. It’s far too tame. It’s most fatal flaw is its reluctance to allow its team of villains to be villains. The characters aren’t the “worst of the worst” really—they’re just barely bad enough to earn a PG-13 rating. The story is illogical the way comic books tend to be.
In a world with powerful beings like Superman, a team of dangerous people is needed to protect it from the next big bad. Why the team needs to be staffed by criminals, some of which don’t even qualify as super-powered, is never explained. By and large, the less comic book films explain, the better it is for the viewer.
The slowest parts of Suicide Squad happen due to clunky exposition. But when Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) introduces Katana as having a sword that steals the souls of the people she kills, we have no reason not to believe him. It’s all the introduction the audience needs. The film follows a standard hero format—an otherworldly being who is definitely not Gozer the Gozarian starts tearing up Manhattan with faceless drones made from bystanders, the Squad is called up to do their part (and take ten years off their sentence.) They wisecrack and team-build their way through the streets to the big battle where they learn a little about sacrifice and the greater good.
Yes, the characters are inconsistent. Yes, the plot is juvenile. And yes, some of the jokes (and Jokers) fall flat. But there’s more than enough in the film to entertain an audience, which is what a summer movie should do.
Regardless of how the film is reviewed, there are more on the way. Warner Brothers and DC appear to allow their directors more control over the filmmaking than Marvel does—while Suicide Squad was jump started by Zach Snyder lead-ins, it is definitively not a Zack Synder film. It feels far more unique and maybe a tad less cinematic.
Marvel Films are very consistent across the board, to the point where it seems that the style of Joss Whedon or Jon Favreau is deadened some by the studio. It’s been argued elsewhere that Jon Favreau’s Chef is really about his desire to step away from the Iron Man films and return to filmmaking where he has more control over his product.
Suffice to say, there will be other directors for the DC Cinematic Universe. It shouldn’t be written off just yet.