'Suicide Squad' Spoiler-Free Review: DC Finally Loosens Up And Has Some Fun

There's a lot riding on Suicide Squad, the third entry in Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe. Both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman made a lot of money, but polarized fans. Among the chief complaints? That the DC films were too grim, too gloomy, and not nearly "fun" enough.

Which is where Suicide Squad comes in. With its zippy pop tunes and its neon color scheme, the Suicide Squad marketing campaign has been all about fun. The trailers and posters promised a movie that'd finally bring jokes back to the DC universe, not to mention a welcome shot of comic book weirdness. So does Suicide Squad get the franchise back on track, or send it veering further off the rails? Read our Suicide Squad spoiler-free review after the jump. 

Suicide Squad cameo

Suicide Squad Is Fun...

If you're tired of the supreme self-seriousness of the two DC superhero films so far, the good news is that Suicide Squad is definitely having more fun. David Ayer is armed with an obvious but irresistible soundtrack that must have cost Warner Bros. a fortune to put together (yes, "Sympathy for the Devil" is in here, and so is "Bohemian Rhapsody"). The characters come prepared with cheeky, off-color jokes — the kind you'd never catch grim Batman or earnest Superman making.

And where Zack Snyder's DC films have worked hard to maintain a sense of "groundedness" despite the fact that Superman is an actual alien, Suicide Squad feels just fine about diving into the stranger corners of the comic book universe. (It's impossible to avoid going there when one of the characters is an honest-to-God witch, anyway.) Suicide Squad is not especially deep, and doesn't try to be. It's just here to have a good time. And it succeeds more often than not.


... But It's Got Some Issues

Unfortunately, Suicide Squad suffers from a lot of the same issues that have kneecapped many of this year's other similarly sized blockbusters. The pacing is wildly uneven, as the film moves from a relatively zippy first act to a virtually nonexistent second act to an endless third act. Action is often prioritized at the expense of emotional beats or character moments, and too much of the dialogue feels like explanatory or expository. At one point in the climax, one character turns to another to explain the plot point we've been watching play out for the past 20 minutes. My audience laughed at how ridiculously clunky it felt.

And the plot itself doesn't make a ton of sense. While Suicide Squad is not as stupidly complicated as Batman v Superman's, the developments don't really feel organic. Nor do the relationships. The cast has such great chemistry that they almost sell the Suicide Squad's tight-knit camaraderie, but there's too much telling and not enough showing. I'd have gladly traded away several minutes of punching and shooting for more scenes of the characters bonding or bickering.


Margot Robbie Kills It as Harley Quinn

In a core cast featuring about a dozen major characters, Margot Robbie stands out as a definite highlight. Her Harley Quinn makes an indelible impression. Amanda Waller explains her early on as "crazier than the Joker and even more fearless," and Harley spends the rest of the film living up to that description. She's aggressively annoying, and this may be the first time I've ever meant that as a compliment — Harley's appeal is that she lives to please herself, and doesn't give a fuck what anyone else thinks. If we're drawn to villains because they function as wish fulfillment, well, Harley is the perfect embodiment of that.

But what elevates Harley Quinn is that Suicide Squad also takes pains to show that she can be vulnerable and even sweet, when she wants to be. Her origin story is still a bit queasy, and I'm not entirely sure what to make of her relationship with the Joker, but as an individual character, Harley Quinn is deliciously complex. Robbie nails Harley Quinn's psychotic energy and her Brooklyn accent so well, it's almost easy to forget she's acting. The Wolf of Wall Street helped Robbie break through. Suicide Squad should make her a bonafide star.


Actually, Most of the Cast Is Pretty Good

Robbie isn't the only bright light in Suicide Squad, however. Deadshot is a little darker than the good-guy roles that Will Smith is generally known for, and the gamble pays off. Deadshot isn't an antihero, exactly — he's too coldly efficient for that — but he's not a mustache-twirling villain, either. Deadshot is more subdued than some of the other Suicide Squad characters by design, but Smith's quiet confidence and natural charisma ensure he never, ever feels dull.

Also excellent is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. In less capable hands, Waller might be a thankless role. She's the professionally attired, non-superpowered straight woman against a gang of colorful crazies. But Davis rips into the role with a steely intensity that's certainly much scarier than anything Jared Leto's Joker could come up with (more about him below).

In a smaller role, Jai Courtney gives a performance that suggests Hollywood has been using him all wrong this whole time — he's bland as oatmeal in leading man roles but adds just the right dash of spice to Suicide Squad as the hilariously irreverent Boomerang.

SUICIDE SQUAD - Joker and Harley Quinn

Jared Leto's Joker Is... Fine

After all the hype and drama surrounding Jared Leto's performance as the Joker — the knee-jerk scorn unleashed by fans when that first image dropped, the endless stories from the cast and crew about Leto's super-intense method process — it turns out his version of the Clown Prince of Crime is just... fine. He's not terrible, and Leto and David Ayer deserve credit for trying to make the character their own, but Suicide Squad's Joker certainly isn't giving The Dark Knight's Joker a run for his money.

Maybe we'll get a better sense of what makes this version of the character special in future films, especially since Leto has said he'd love to play the Joker again. But he's not onscreen all that much here, and when he is, he's underwhelming. So frankly, I don't care to stick around and see more of him. My biggest question about Leto's Joker at the end of the movie was "All that trouble... for this?"

SUICIDE SQUAD - Cara Delevingne as Enchantress

Suicide Squad's Place in the DC Universe

At a time when so many big-budget films get tripped up in the obligations of franchise-building (yes, Batman v Superman, I'm talking about you and your third-act teaser trailers), Suicide Squad feels refreshingly standalone. It's entirely possible to enjoy this movie without having seen a single frame of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. As long as you understand the basic concept of superheroes and supervillains, and have a general idea of who Batman is, you should have no trouble understanding Suicide Squad.

On the other hand, those who love seeing connections between shared universe films will find plenty of references to DC's other films. An expositional conversation places Suicide Squad after the events of Batman v Superman, with one character musing, "The world changed when Superman flew across the sky and then changed again when he didn't." Batman shows up briefly, as promised in the trailers, and another famous DC character gets an even shorter cameo (click here if you want to know who it is), but neither sticks around long enough to distract from the story at hand. All in all, Suicide Squad does a pretty good job of finding the balance between belonging to the DC universe and feeling beholden to the DC universe.


Do We Want More Suicide Squad?

Suicide Squad's story may be messy, but it more or less wraps up before the credits roll. If you never returned for another DC movie, you'd still feel like you got a complete tale with Suicide Squad – well, give or take an end-credits stinger. But what Warner Bros. hopes, of course, is that audiences will want to come back. Suicide Squad more or less succeeds on that front. It's far from perfect, and I hope Suicide Squad 2 (or whatever the next chapter of this story ends up being) will fix some of the issues of this one. But the characters are lovable, the world they live in is intriguingly weird, and all in all Suicide Squad offers a playful alternative to DC's more straightforward superhero films. Can Suicide Squad singlehandedly save the DC cinematic universe? No, probably not. But it's an encouraging reminder that yes, DC knows how to have a good time.