This year has been perhaps one of the most crowded for comic book films, and yet, it seems like every release in the ongoing slate of superhero cinema is inevitably compared to Captain America: Civil War. Naturally, its status as the de facto comic book film of the year has a great deal to do with its impressive box office take ($1.15 billion worldwide), its warm critical reception (90% on Rotten Tomatoes), and the overarching fan goodwill toward the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which is the highest-grossing film franchise in history.
So what chance does Suicide Squad — the third entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) — have to trump it?
As it stands, not very much of one. While writer and director David Ayer’s film does finally bring Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to the screen in a big way, it’s mired by many of the same problems that critics and fans launched at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film’s intriguing premise and dynamic characters are muddled by a subpar plot that ultimately devolves into a CGI-laden mess that bears little emotional resonance.
Even the complex relationship between Jared Leto’s divisive version of the Joker and Harley is fraught with problems, both those intended as part of the duo’s twisted romance and those that resulted from the studio reportedly meddling with the film itself.
The biggest difference between the respective approaches of the MCU and the DCEU has been the latter’s decision to steamroll headlong into a world that has long existed and then expect audiences to catch up after the fact. It’s this decision that brought Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the Justice League (in cameo form) into what was once a Man of Steel sequel earlier this year.
Likewise, Suicide Squad feels less like a film than a crash course on some long-standing DC villains who are bound to pop up in subsequent films over the next few years. Notably, the entire movie feels like it really wants to simply be the Harley Quinn film, a prospect that’s already reportedly in the works. For real, this time.
While there’s something to be said for the DCEU’s lived-in approach to a world where heroes and villains have already existed for years, it makes the storytelling much trickier. Thus far, none of the three films have truly managed to “sell” their specific versions of their characters. Man of Steel came the closest, since it focused solely on explaining Superman’s story and is only limited to a couple blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments of larger world building.
Both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad languish more in table-setting for the DCEU than creating complex characters that we can 100% root for. Sure, there’s promise behind Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Will Smith’s Deadshot, but these characters lack the emotional resonance that many of the figures throughout the MCU have mustered over multiple appearances.
Captain America: Civil War, in fact, is designed as a culmination of all the stories up to this point. Despite some narrative detours (Spider-Man’s shoe-horned, albeit charming, introduction), the film feels like a natural progression for many of its characters and seamlessly integrates them without any need for explanation. That’s why Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye or Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man can randomly show up unannounced. We know who they are, why they matter, and where they are coming from. It’s the reason that the third-act twist in Civil War is so satisfying. The emotional groundwork has been laid out over the seven films to feature Captain America and/or Iron Man in major roles, allowing directors Anthony and Joe Russo the ability to use narrative shorthand to tell their story with poise, finesse, and ample personality.
The Winner: Captain America: Civil War
While we are anxiously awaiting the day that the collective quality of the DCEU films reaches the high standards set by the MCU, the fact remains that Suicide Squad is far from the best comic book film to hit theaters this year and falls dramatically short of Captain America: Civil War on virtually every level. Civil War‘s airport scene alone packs more thrills and grin-worthy moments than most films this year, especially those involving a certain friendly neighborhood webslinger.
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