The following contains some spoilers for Suicide Squad.
I'm not sure what the reason is, maybe we just live in a cynical world, but everybody seems to love the anti-hero these days. For this reason, we were all very excited to check out Suicide Squad this weekend. The movie promised to take our love of the anti-hero to the next level, because rather than being unlikeable or more self-interested heroes, the Suicide Squad is made up of actual bad guys- straight up villains. I, like many people, didn't love Suicide Squad as much as I wanted to, but one of the chief reasons was because I was looking forward to seeing the WORST. HEROES. EVER. and I just didn't think they were all that bad. Consistently throughout the film, the characters choose just about the least evil ways to do everything.
The first member of the team that we're introduced to is Deadshot. He's an assassin for hire, and the first thing we see is him forcing his client to pay him (double) to take out some sort of mafia snitch. It's a great scene. By far, the best that Deadshot is in for the entire movie. As he's getting geared up for his mission, he looks at his mask and tells Harley Quinn that when he wears it people die, and he likes to wear it. He enjoys killing people. Yet, while he says this is true, we never really see it in practice. The first time his captors hand him a gun he threatens to kill the guard who's been giving him a hard time, but he doesn't. He knows they need him. But are we so sure they would have killed him had he shot the guard? Later, he's given an offer to be a free man if he takes out Harley. We know he likes her, but it would have shown just how stone cold he was if he'd taken a real shot at her. Or at least it would illustrate how he felt about the one thing he truly cared about, his daughter. And the filmmakers could have had him miss the shot for any number of different reasons. When Deadshot discovers that Rick Flag has been keeping his daughter's letters from him, this somehow causes Deadshot to want to help the man who had been keeping him prisoner, rather than beat the crap out of him.
Harley Quinn herself is less evil, and more just crazy. However, she at least spends two-thirds of the movie playing her own game, with plans to escape from her captivity- something I'd expect her to do. But when those plans don't get her very far, she goes back to the team run by the people who tried to kill her, rather than getting the hell out of dodge. Regardless of how she might feel about the other members of Task Force X, a bad guy doesn't rejoin that group without a good reason. The filmmakers could have given her one, but they did not. Between freedom and her jailers, she picks her jailers. What villain does that? Harley's one "bad guy" moment is stealing a purse from a shop window.
Only a handful of the team actually reacts to situations in ways that make sense as a bad guy. Captain Boomerang avoids getting involved whenever possible because it's not his fight and he doesn't really care about it. Later, he bolts out the door as soon as Rick Flag disables the kill switch. I have to assume there's a deleted scene that gives him a reason to come back. I hope there is, because the film never gives us a justification. Killer Croc kills one of the guards that tries to pull him out of his cell, but we're also told that the only reason he acts like a monster is because he was treated like one due to his appearance. Why can't he just be a monster? Would it have been so terrible if Killer Croc was just a violent creature at the start of the film? El Diablo is "less evil" than he might be, but at least this is given a reason: he's already been part of a tragedy which has made him reconsider his ways. These characters also get much less screen time than either Deadshot or Harley Quinn.
This might seem like nitpicking, but it's not. The point of the Suicide Squad is that they are a group of individual villains who learn to do some good while also working together. This is their arc as characters. But the fact that they don't start off as true villains in the movie means that they don't really change by the end. Only El Diablo truly achieves a place of redemption, and that's because the movie started him halfway there and gave us the rest in flashbacks. The Suicide Squad needs to reach the end of the movie as heroes, or at the very least anti-heroes, but reaching that point is only valuable if they started the film as actual villains.
This arc is a difficult tightrope to walk. If the Suicide Squad starts out too far on the dark side, then audiences may not be able to relate to the characters. Cheering an anti-hero is one thing; cheering an outright villain is a much more difficult thing to do. If Deadshot had actually tried to kill Harley Quinn, could they have worked together to save the world at the end? I'd like to believe that the right screenplay could have made that work. What's more, seeing them work together would have been a great moment, considering what they had each been through before.
What do you think? Was the Suicide Squad an acceptable level of evil at the beginning of their film, or were you also expecting people much, much worse?