The cinematic DC Extended Universe got off to a troubling start with Man of Steel and its subpar sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But despite those films’ flaws, Suicide Squad has been highly anticipated since it was first announced. While the latest Superman films first gained – and then subsequently lost – intrigue for their darker, more “realistic” take on the story of Superman, Suicide Squad promises a much lighter movie filled with laughter, guns and fun – and it delivers, but not without damaging some vital goods in the process.
Suicide Squad features a ragtag team of thiefs, murderers and assassins who are snatched from their cells by government agent Amanda Waller. She gives them two choices: complete her mission or die. The lead cast is strong with Will Smith and Margot Robbie co-starring as Deadshot and Harley Quinn, along with a spot-on performance by Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Unfortunately, Jared Leto’s highly anticipated role as The Joker is all but spoiled in the clown’s approximate eight minutes of screen time. Meanwhile, several less memorable characters spend entire scenes in the background, not doing or saying anything important.
Joker’s role in Suicide Squad points to the larger issue Warner Bros. has been battling with since Man of Steel in 2013: the studio simply doesn’t know what it wants to make. Resemblant of how Man of Steel and BvS were cluttered with action that hardly progressed the story of either film, Suicide Squad is filled with flashbacks and short action sequences that are simply uninteresting.
There is a scene in which Harley Quinn rides an elevator as the rest of the squad takes the stairs. She’s assaulted by a pair of faceless baddies, and to the score of blaring pop music she effortlessly takes them out and meets the squad without issue. The scene feels like what might play at the start of a film to introduce us to a cool character. But by this point we all know who Harley Quinn is. It would be more entertaining if it felt like Harley was in actual danger and wasn’t blatantly trying to look cool. Or if there hadn’t already been several other smash-cutted action scenes using similar choreography and editing. The scene serves no purpose, something that, unfortunately, is echoed in Harley’s bad-boy boyfriend, The Joker.
Although Leto’s interpretation of The Joker was has been stirring controversy since it was first revealed, it isn’t really fair to judge Leto for what Suicide Squad released. Sure, one could argue that The Joker’s infamous green hair, pale skin and eccentric demeanor implies enough about the villain’s psyche without having to write it across his forehead (see: Leto’s “damaged” tattoo), but questionable costume choices are the least of this Joker’s problems.
With only around eight minutes of screen time, Leto never gets the chance to prove himself as a compelling clown. In fact, Jared Leto himself revealed that many scenes involving Joker, Batman and the Suicide Squad all interacting together were cut from the final release. So what did make it into the movie? You’d think that any scenes with The Joker and Batman would be bad-ass – so if they got cut, then whatever replaced them should be phenomenal! You’d think that, yes. And you would be wrong.
The Joker is portrayed as your average cliché street thug; he’s covered in tattoos, angrily stares a lot, and gets murderous when other thugs check out his girl. That’s pretty much it. This Joker isn’t particularly witty, clever, devious or possessive of any other traits attributed to Batman’s wildest rival.
The one major scheme he pulls off in the movie is done almost entirely offscreen and ends with Leto ripping off Scarface with a tuxedo and light machine gun. What’s worse, is Joker’s arrival – something the film hypes up throughout the movie – has zero effect on the plot. None of our characters even particularly care that he’s arrived besides Waller and Quinn. Instead of being the wild card, the one-man act that steals the show both from the characters and their audience, The Joker is nothing more than a romantic plot device for Harley Quinn – and he still ultimately doesn’t affect her at all.
While Jared Leto’s talents were absolutely misused, I should give props where they are due: it is intriguing to see The Joker from Harley Quinn’s point of view. The Joker and Harley Quinn have always had quite a mysterious relationship. A small glimpse into what about The Joker makes Harley tick sounds exciting, but Suicide Squad goes all-in in the wrong direction.
Harley and Joker suck face a good amount in this film. When it first happens, it’s kind of funny. But through all the flashbacks and nods to Mista’ J., it becomes apparent that Warner Bros. is taking the romance angle head-on. And there is where the studio proves yet again that it had no idea who it is making these movies for. Who is more excited to see Joker fall in love with Harley over the mad duo causing chaos and wreaking havoc?
Joker and Harley’s relationship is compelling because of how sad it is. It’s not glamorous as Suicide Squad makes it out to be; it’s abusive. And it’s terrifying to think about. Joker and Harley are two characters that have always spurred the question: what are those two like in the sac? They aren’t normally very intimate on panel or on screen, and that’s the magic that makes them work. One can only imagine how appalling their love life is. It’s like the monster in the shadows – it’s only as scary as it is because we can’t see it. Suicide Squad shines a neon flashlight into the dark closet that is Harley and The Joker’s personal relationship and reveals that it is empty. Nothing scary, not even something kind of weird. Harley’s romantic subplot in Suicide Squad is as bland and uninteresting as an empty coat closet.
Suicide Squad promises something much lighter than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but it fall to all the usual shortcomings of those films. It lacks a coherent tone, taking itself too seriously at times and not seriously enough at others; it’s got a great cast playing interesting characters, but hardly explores them in innovative ways; and it lacks emotion, or heart, or actual fun, whatever you’d like to call it. Suicide Squad has laughs and some decent, if vanilla, action. But for a superhero movie all about the bad guys, it doesn’t offer much surprise or dramatic spectacle, and leaves this viewer wondering what Warner Bros. was thinking.