Suicide Squad finally opened in theaters this weekend, charting impressive box-office numbers but less-than-stellar critical response. A bunch of io9 folks at went to see the movie over the weekend and, like lots of viewers, came away with nagging feelings that the movie could have been... well, better. Here are our thoughts on how we would have changed Suicide Squad.
The whole premise of Suicide Squad was to assemble a full-deniability, metahuman-level task force to handle ultra-powerful threats. So the fact that the Squad rolls into Midway City with a ton of air and ground support feels like a bit of a head-scratcher as creative decisions go. Thematically, the presence of a thick contingent of U.S. military troops provides a foil for the group of non-heroes; their abilities look average compared to super-feats pulled off by the villains. They also serve as a backdrop for the screwed-up moral and mental states of the Squad. But commanding officer Rick Flag does that all by himself. The Suicide Squad would’ve felt a lot more formidable as just a six, seven-person team without a bunch of G.I. Joe-a-likes in the background.
Once squad member-gone-bad Enchantress gets powered up by her formerly dormant brother, we get shown scenes of the sorceress destroying satellites and military infrastructure. What exactly was the deal here? The Enchantress and her antediluvian transdimensional god-sibling wanted to, er, end modernity or something? Outside of the consequences that it would have on some of the core cast’s loved ones, the threat they presented to the world at large was vague and tough to care about. A villain from Apokolips could’ve built on the dream sequence from Batman vs Superman and provided stronger foreshadowing for the alleged threats that the Justice League will be facing.
Yeah, those pustule-visaged grunts coming at Deadshot and crew sure were gross-looking for the first few minutes after they appeared. But the fights where the Squad and their armed forces support engage with the necro-zombies mostly felt like filler. The exception being the sequences where Deadshot mows down a whole wave by himself. By the time Harley’s elevator fight with the Enchantress’ goons rolls around, the audience is probably already in love with her. Every time the crusty grunts showed up on screen, I knew nothing of consequence was going to happen.
Played by Jai Courtney, the Aussie villain was mostly smarmy comic relief in the David Ayer film. But, in the Ostrander/Yale comics which comprise the most fondly-remembered version of the Squad, Digger Harkness was a slimy, opportunistic creep-bro. He wasn’t at all the lovable, laughable thief portrayed in the movie; choosing a more troubling interpretation could have given the film the dark edge it seemed to be crying out for. This version of Boomerang was a waste; the minor laughs his lines got weren’t worth the screen time spent on him.
This was only Batman’s second appearance in the DC Extended Universe and his scenes were almost superfluous. It felt like the Dark Knight was in the film only because Harley—and by extension, the Joker—was there. Suicide Squad should’ve told viewers more about Batman in this universe, especially since the movie mentions that Harley helped Joker kill Robin. That factoid would’ve been the perfect vector to pull the Dark Knight into a confrontation with Amanda Waller, who’s using two bad guys that he put away as part of her team. Is the Batman of the DCEU okay with his enemies running free, including a woman partially responsible for his sidekick’s death? More screentime for the Bat would’ve let the filmmakers answer this question, provided they thought of it in the first place. But the post-credits scene sort of makes it seem like Ayer and crew didn’t get that far in their Bat-thinking.
There was no need for the major conflict to be supernatural; in fact, I think it made the story weaker. It doubled down on the “themes” from BvS without adding anything new. It would’ve been so much more interesting for DC to approach how supernatural forces, especially evil ones, handle human conflicts. Have the SS be used for unique missions the government couldn’t be officially involved in, i.e. their entire original purpose. Have the final battle be, for example, rescuing a valuable POW from behind enemy lines. If they get caught, they take the fall. Since the big mission would be smaller, you could devote more time to establishing and training the team— you know, like most competent origin stories do. In this case, we’d see their taunts, let them get into antics. Watch them be freakin’ bad guys.
Margot Robbie killed it as Harley. But she only spoke in quips; her lines were typically 15 words or less each. While they were cute, they didn’t give us a chance to really identify with our so-called “co-protagonist.” I didn’t need her to be sympathetic, in fact, quite the opposite. I wanted to see her rant and rave and just be crazy. Show us just how great a Harley Quinn Robbie is. For crying out loud, Will Smith got like five monologues, why couldn’t he give one of them to her?
If I have to see one more drop of rain in a Snyder movie, I’m going to lose my shit. It’s lazy and contrived visual storytelling to mask the fact that you’re not actually doing any real storytelling. And no, I don’t care that David Ayer directed Suicide Squad, because it’s still a Zack Snyder film at heart. How do I know this? Because there’s still goddamned rain in a third of it.
Cut the Joker. Or at least, cut most of the Joker. He’s fine in the Harley flashbacks. And even his sudden appearance at the end might have worked. But he seemed to be in a completely different movie to the rest of the cast. Especially since, other than wanting to break Harley out, his plot wasn’t related to the main threat—he ended up just pulling focus and wasting time that could have been spent with the actual Suicide Squad. Plus, the non-flashback stuff all had the Joker obsessed with getting Harley back, which is wildly out of character for the Joker, who is usually portrayed as not really caring about what happens to Harley as long as he gets what he needs from her. She’s obsessed with him, not the other way around. Cut him, and use Jared Leto’s tears to water a plant.
If they were going to make the main mission what it was, they shouldn’t have made it the first mission of that team. It would make a lot more sense, narratively, for it to be framed as “saving” a member—which I swear, I thought they were doing until it turned out the person they were saving was Waller—and then for it to be a betrayal. If the whole point had to be “found family and BFFs” then they needed to lay that groundwork so Harley leaving, Rick Flag and Dr. Moon sleeping together, et cetera actually made sense as shit to make the team angry.
Poor Katana. Just, poor Katana. Her whole backstory was confined to Flag telling the others what happened in her past. If you’re going to add her to a team she never rolled with in the classic comics, do more with her presence.
Yes, we know. The first full Suicide Squad trailer was universally praised for its use of music and fun tone. And yes, we know that Guardians of the Galaxy was a hit in early August a few years ago with a similar use of pop music. But pop music is not this movie. It works on occasion but, for the most part, it’s very out of place. This is a dark movie about a team of supervillains. Why not keep that tone consistent with a rousing yet ominous orchestral score?
I think we all agree the Joker was misused in the film. And if you aren’t going to cut him like Katharine suggests, why not make him the villain? You can have the same set-up, where Amanda Waller puts together the team to have in case of a big threat. But then, just don’t make the threat some dumb secondary character like the Enchantress. Either make it the Joker the whole time, or make it a mystery and reveal it’s him later. Not only does that give him more to do, but it gives Harley a moral dilemma when she’s been battling all movie and then realizes the culprit was her puddin’.