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In response to brutal criticism of the movie, cast and crew of Suicide Squad have repeatedly offered a variation of the phrase “we did it for the fans.” For those fans, all it takes is one viewing of the movie to recognize how true that is — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a good idea.
Fan service in Suicide Squad takes many forms. There are Easter Eggs for classic costumes (A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Joker and Harley Quinn in outfits that reference the Alex Ross-painted cover of Harley’s first appearance in the regular DC comic book universe), signage that fits into the comic book mythology (Harley falls into a vat of ACE Chemicals, the chemical company who owned the plant that birthed the Joker) or references to comic book creators (The building the Squad is attempting to reach is the John F. Ostrander Federal Building, a reference to the comic book writer responsible for the fan-favorite run on the Suicide Squad comic book in the 1980s).
Almost all of the core relationships of the movie — the complicated Rick Flag/June Moone/The Enchantress relationship, Harley and the Joker, Deadshot and his daughter — are lifted from comic book mythology (in all but the Harley/Joker dynamic, specifically, from storylines written by Ostrander; he also created the Incubus, although the concept that he is the Enchantress’ brother is an invention for the movie). Even the first death from the team is, for all intents and purposes, lifted directly from a comic book.
The result is a movie that isn’t quite an adaptation of an existing story, but pulls so much from its source material that it could never claim to be an original story using pre-existing characters in the same way that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or the upcoming Wonder Woman are; neither fish nor fowl.
That shouldn’t matter to newcomers, of course — they have no idea what’s original and what isn’t, and because everything is new to them, all that matters is the quality of the finished product. The problem arises when it appears as if more care and concern has been taken to ensuring that the fan service is in place than making sure that the finished movie is coherent and tonally consistent.
Perhaps that sounds too harsh, but it might explain why those who are pre-existing fans of the Suicide Squad material have had a warmer response to the movie than other critics. In the midst of the unfailingly bad reviews from mainstream critics — including The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, who wrote that the movie “may not quite commit harakiri, but it certainly feels like it’s taken far too many sleeping pills” — it’s telling that reviews from leading comic book sites were mostly positive.
Comic Book Resources called the movie “ferocious fun, boasting a bounty of action, mirthful mayhem and a cavalcade of curious characters.” ComicBook.com described it as “crazy, sexy, funny, but most of all full of heart and even USA Today‘s comic-savvy Brian Truitt said it offered “an excellently quirky, proudly raised middle finger to the staid superhero-movie establishment.”
If that seems as if they saw a different movie than the critics responsible for the 26 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, perhaps it’s possible that they did — after all, they saw a movie where time and attention (and, perhaps, respect) was spent recognizing and citing the material they grew up with, and still hold affection for.
As someone in that group — the only person in the theater to laugh out loud in recognition at the shot where Ostrander is referenced in the name of the building — I can’t deny that noticing the many ways in which the movie pointed to the comics I’ve read made me feel warmer towards it, more willing to overlook its obvious flaws: Sure, the editing in the first half feels too frenetic, but, hey! They got Boomerang’s obnoxiousness down! That’s got to be worth something, right?
It’s possible that the movie the comic book critics responded to is the one director David Ayer planned to make, speaking a language that is unintelligible to those not in the know — but if that’s really the case, it’s worth asking whether it’s irresponsible of Ayer and the studio to spend so much money on what is, essentially, a very large scale in-joke to a limited audience. Really, when it comes down to it, how many Suicide Squad comic book fans are there out there … ?
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