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The Winners and Losers of ‘Suicide Squad’

Breaking down the highs and lows of the biggest, baddest (like, really bad) August opening ever

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The critics have spoken: Suicide Squad, the summer’s most anticipated not-superhero movie, is … pretty bad. It’s also pretty damn successful. Here, our staffers weigh in on the best performances, the worst cameos, and the most horrendously on-the-nose soundtrack choices.

WINNERS

The Beef Industry

The day after I saw Suicide Squad, I went downtown to my favorite butcher and bought myself a big-ass steak. I was jonesing for one. Why? Viola Davis.

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Thanks to her performance in Suicide Squad, I was so worked up for red meat I could have butchered a cow myself: I’d have had one helicoptered to my living room, in front of my TV, so I could watch the slo-mo ritual water buffalo slaughter from Apocalypse Now on repeat like an instructional video. I was that hungry.

I didn’t do that — I’d have been evicted. But the point is that I wanted to. Because, just like Batfleck’s random CrossFit commercial in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the CrossFit ad America didn’t know it needed, watching Viola Davis carve away at a steak as she details her nefarious plans for the Suicide Squad is the best steak commercial I’ve ever seen.

Davis’s performance in this scene is a vicious, sensuous thrill, and the best thing in the movie. It’s called scenery-chewing for a reason. Rare, though, that it’s so delicious. — K. Austin Collins

Music Publishers

All 15 of the following songs appear in Suicide Squad. The rights to use these songs in a film are expensive. The owners of the publishing rights to the following songs are now richer. — Sean Fennessey

“House of the Rising Sun” — The Animals

“You Don’t Own Me” — Lesley Gore

“Sympathy for the Devil” — The Rolling Stones

“Super Freak” — Rick James

“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” — AC/DC

“Slippin’ Into Darkness” — War

“Fortunate Son” — Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Black Skinhead” — Kanye West

“Paranoid” — Black Sabbath

“Seven Nation Army” — The White Stripes

“Without Me” — Eminem

“Spirit in the Sky” — Norman Greenbaum

“Come Baby Come” — K7

“I’d Rather Go Blind” — Etta James

“Bohemian Rhapsody” — Queen

Ike Barinholtz

It’s a good time to be a pasty comedian in Hollywood. Chris Pratt is now a movie titan, and Paul Rudd gets to hang out in tentpole movies as … Paul Rudd, But a Tiny Thief. And this week, Ike Barinholtz joins the club. It makes sense — the most important quality in superhero-movie comic relief (starring or supporting) is that the actor be able to shotgun dialogue and land a joke. That’s the hard-to-find quality, the irreplaceable talent. The muscles? Well, I’ll hazard a guess: If Chris Pratt can get yoked, you can, too.

Funny guy Barinholtz (Eastbound & Down, The Mindy Project, the Neighbors movies) represents the trickle-down of the Thug Funny effect: he’s onscreen in Suicide Squad for a dozen minutes. He chews some scenery, makes a couple of shitty jokes, keeps his leopard-print shirt fully on. And yet: This goon got a workout routine, too! That interview makes clear how and why DC ended up with the Suicide Squad it did — angry, but at no one; full of jokes, but they’re all about protein powder. If the crucial component your movie is missing is “Ike Barinholtz, but with abs,” maybe toss that movie into a Louisiana swamp prison. — Sam Schube

Mexicans

Suicide Squad is not that great of a movie, but I don’t care because they finally gave us a Mexican superhero* so it’s the best movie of the summer, maybe the year, maybe the decade. His name is Chato Santana (!). His hero name is El Diablo (!). He has a shaved head (!). He wears Dickies (!) and a muscle shirt (!). His wife is Mexican (!) and his kids are Mexican (!). He talks with a very distinct Mexican American accent (!). He spoke Spanish (!) and one of the times he spoke Spanish it was to talk shit to one of the movie’s villains (!). And here’s the craziest part: HE’S NOT EVEN TREATED LIKE AN EXOTIC SET PIECE**. HE HAS DEPTH AND IS INTERESTING and is the most compelling character in the movie***. There are parts and pieces that are a bit clunky (like when his wife says she’s going to put their kids to sleep and then, in her most seductive voice, tells him, “Maybe we can kick it?”), but I don’t care, I don’t care. They gave us one. They finally gave us one. It’s so beautiful and fun and exciting to watch. I’m never letting go of this feeling. — Shea Serrano

*I will never, ever call him a villain. He’s not that. He’s handled as a bad guy here, but really he’s only a bad guy by default. He has goodness in his heart. That’s why he spends basically all of the movie wrestling with the aftereffects of a tragedy.

**The closest he gets to being an exotic set piece is when a person makes a burrito joke. Truth be told, though, I was even happy that burritos made it into the movie.

***The part of his backstory that we’re shown is a pulverizing thing. Also, the best, most profound moment in the movie is the conversation that happens when he is sitting inside the [THING] and is asked by [PERSON] to [THING]. I’m super ready for El Diablo: Origins or whatever. Give me that movie ASAP.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Did Suicide Squad just bust through the August opening record previously set by … Guardians of the Galaxy? Yes. Will that victory forever be shrouded in shame because Warner Bros.’ trailer-splicing hired hands only dragged this thing across the finish line by blatantly cribbing from … Guardians of the Galaxy? Also yes.

On its own, Guardians was already plenty impressive, anointing Chris Pratt as a movie star with a PR strategy that could have easily backfired into “They’re that desperate, huh?” (1) Take characters as unknown as one can possibly get while still technically being Marvel and (2) turn that anonymity into an advantage by letting them do their own weird thing, free from the expectations of a headliner. Now, Marvel and James Gunn get the additional validation of a two-years-later demonstration of how hard that was to pull off.

Suicide has unknowns, but spends its running time lecturing us about why we should care about them rather than just showing us. Suicide has an irreverent soundtrack, but it’s “irreverent” with heavy air-quotes — “Come and Get Your Love” is a pleasantly unexpected anthem, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is on 85 percent of high school athletes’ pump-up playlists. Suicide even has the gang get together in a prison! But not the fun, alien kind. It’s a shoddy attempt at Single White Female-ing Guardians’ breakout success. It may have worked at the box office, but it won’t in our hearts.Alison Herman

Will Smith

Suicide Squad, though marred by reshoots and wrongheaded, frat-bro-y ideas about what “feminism” means, has one incredibly enjoyable scene. Will Smith, playing Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, a career assassin with a deeply buried heart of gold, gets pulled out of his cell at a supermax prison and put in front of a table covered with automatic weapons and a firing range for a tryout of sorts. He proceeds to empty every magazine and put a single hole in each target, before turning and rattling off all the things he wants in exchange for his services: full custody of his daughter (aw), for her education to be fully paid for (aww), and her acceptance into “One of them Ivy League schools” (awww).

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Of course, he gets none of that because, as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) makes painfully clear, he’s in no position to make demands. But whatever, because this — the thing where Smith plays a character that shoots first, shoots second, shoots some more, and when everybody’s dead has a one-sided conversation full of quotables — is textbook Mike Lowrey–Jim West–Steven Hiller–Agent J shit.

This scene is canon now, right up there with the one where Lowrey sticks a Desert Eagle in a bodega owner’s face and asks for a pack of Tropical Fruit Bubblicious (Bad Boys), or the one where West razzes bleeding-heart separatist Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) for having no legs (Wild Wild West): Deadshot tells Waller and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) that if his daughter can’t get into Harvard on her own, they should “white people that shit.”

Smith said it best himself: “I’m back.” — Micah Peters

‘Call of Duty’

Theory: David Ayer plays a lot of Call of Duty. I say that based on my having seen all of Ayer’s films and having myself played a lot of Call of Duty. The way he frames shootouts betrays the countless hours he’s spent pouring point-of-view images of targeting reticles and muzzle flash into his nervous system. Ayer doesn’t simply want to show you what happens during a gunfight, show you the bullet-pulverized clouds of concrete and drywall dust erupting from the environment — he wants you to feel the recoil as rivulets of spent cases spit from the weapon and bodies hit the ground.

<em>‘Sabotage,’ 2014</em>
‘Sabotage,’ 2014
<em>‘End of Watch,’ 2012</em>
‘End of Watch,’ 2012
<em>‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,’ 2009</em>
‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,’ 2009

Suicide Squad is not Ayer’s most Call of Duty film — that’s either his WWII tank-as-hell-womb war flick Fury or his awful, amoral, and incoherent Dan Bilzerian–inspired-dirty-cop movie Sabotage — but the signs are still there. Ayer gives the Joker a gold-plated AK-47 and equips Harley Quinn with an enameled .357 magnum with an ivory grip. Both weapons seem ripped from the Call of Duty series’ prestigious unlockable golden weapon skins.

<em>‘Suicide Squad,’ 2016</em>
‘Suicide Squad,’ 2016

I mean, it even seems like Joel Kinnaman was cast as Rick Flag for his resemblance to Call of Duty character Soap MacTavish. They wear the same olive-drab tac-shirts and have the same kind of spec-ops-looking bric-a-brac studding their respective flak jackets. They even appear to be carrying the same gun.

Now, can you sustain a whole movie on aesthetically overwhelming but emotionally vacant shootouts and Instagram narco attitude alone? No. Not even close. But, at least when the shook-ass studio freaks out because Zack Snyder fucked up again and lets a company that makes trailers edit the film, the CoD inspired action scenes will still look appropriately dope. Does it matter, for instance, that at one point (spoiler), the Suicide Squad’s helicopter gets shot down but that it’s never clear who did it or how? Yes. But, also, when the bullets start flying, no. This is a bad movie. But it’s normal bad. It’s not a Fantastic Four abomination. — Jason Concepcion

LOSERS

Common

The thinking man’s bad rapper shows up to a scene with Jared Leto’s Joker in face tats and a septum piercing. What is the point of starring in Hell on Wheels if you don’t even get to be one of the dudes in the titular Suicide Squad? Common needs a new agent, stat. — Sam Schube

Jai Courtney

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A sample of thoughts I had during Suicide Squad: Oh, I didn’t know Tom Hardy was actually in this. Hardy should have played Rick Flag, though. Man, Tom Hardy’s agent really should have gotten him a better part than Captain Boomerang. Really, Tom Hardy should fire that agent. He really had to beef up for this role, huh. His beard looks totally different, I wonder if it’s prosthetic or if Tom Hardy has the ability to grow two different types of beards: The Revenant style and mutton choppish. You know, Tom Hardy is not quite as good an actor as I thought he was. Can still get it, though.

Me to a friend after the movie: “They really wasted Tom Hardy, huh?”

Friend: “That was Jai Courtney.” — Allison P. Davis

The Sanctity of Family Law

Let me get this straight: Deadshot (Will Smith) has probably killed, like, hundreds of people in exchange for cash but he is somehow entitled to visitation rights with his daughter. (SPOILER) ONE OF THE LAST SCENES IN THIS MOVIE IS OF DEADSHOT TEACHING HIS DAUGHTER MATH BY EXPLAINING HOW TO SNIPE PEOPLE. HAHA THIS DUDE WANTED SOLE CUSTODY AT ONE POINT. — Jason Concepcion

Movie Trailers

It just seems like I can’t trust anything that Hollywood promises me these days. In this case, I just wanted to watch a ragtag band of DC crust punks thwart a big Joker caper, per the narrative loosely prefigured in the trailers for Suicide Squad. I waited for that movie. Where is that movie? I gotta wait for the director’s cut now? I gotta go back to writing fanfic my damn self? (What, you think I’m gonna go and actually read the comics, now?) What is the point of Hollywood, even? When is our vote of no confidence? — Justin Charity

Music Supervisors

The Suicide Squad soundtrack aggressively toggles between “I’d be content not to hear this classic rock chestnut ever again” and “It is the year 2004 and I am edgy.” And this might be fine if it were a subversive statement on the nature of music placement in modern films, or a note about the hyperkinetic nature of superhero movies. It is not. It is as literal as a character in Suicide Squad saying “It’s like we’re some kind of … suicide squad.” (Which happens.)

At the outset of the movie, the camera zooms in on a stone building full of convicts in Louisiana, and we hear Eric Burdon rumble, “There is … a house … in New Orleans.” When Captain Boomerang (real character name) is seen stealing diamonds and double-crossing his partner, Bon Scott wails, “Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap!” Harley Quinn dancing suggestively in a nightclub? Rick James’s “Super Freak.” A freshly Bic-ed Deadshot firing an array of weapons with impunity? Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.” Rick Flag debriefing his six vigilante soldiers for the first time? “Seven Nation Army.” The musical choices in this movie aren’t just on the nose, they are an elegant serving tray of neatly arranged lines of cocaine forcefully shoved up your nose with a Day-Glo nail file for 123 consecutive minutes.

There is also a proper 14-song Suicide Squad soundtrack available, with three covers (Panic! At the Disco replicates “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for some reason) and eight original, mostly unfortunate compositions, including the show-closing “Sucker for Pain,” which features the unholy alliance of Logic, Lil Wayne, X Ambassadors, Imagine Dragons, Wiz Khalifa, and Ty Dolla $ign. These songs are new, if not better, despite the presence of compelling young artists like Kehlani, Kevin Gates, Action Bronson, and Grimes. It aims for Judgment Night and lands somewhere closer to Wild Wild West.

All of the musical choices here are abominable, even Margot Robbie’s P!nk-inspired sky-twirling to the tune of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” That scene had become etched in the consciousness even before the film was released, thanks to a couple of trailers. In an earlier, even better trailer, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag ticks off the characteristics of the Squad members. “Deadshot, he shoots people … he’s a crocodile and he eats people … burns people … you’re possessed by a witch … and she’s just crazy.” It’s meant to demythologize the characters, to wink at fans who obsess over superpowers. Flag doesn’t mention other members, like Guy Who Climbs Stuff, Australian Dude, or Sword Lady, but we get the point. Suicide Squad is in on its own joke. A superhero movie for people ready to accept a smarter superhero movie. Only that isn’t the movie audiences got — all you need to do is listen to the music to figure that out. It’s obvious where it should be wry, rote where it should be ingenious, try-hard where it should be effortless. This movie didn’t need music supervisors. It needed Discover Weekly. — Sean Fennessey