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Let’s talk about Jared Leto.
This is mostly because it’s not about superheroes—it’s about supervillains. So when DC/Warner Bros. announced that it would be part of their massive lineup of upcoming comic book releases, it was impossible not to be curious. And more than anything else, this curiosity revolved around the cast, and whether they’d be up to snuff for tackling this motley crew of bad guys.
That all changed this week, when the core cast members of Suicide Squad were officially announced. As of right now:
Will Smith will play central Squad member Deadshot. Tom Hardy will play occasional leader Rick Flagg. Margot Robbie will play fan favorite Harley Quinn. Jai Courtney (Spartacus, A Good Day to Die Hard, Divergent) will play Boomerang, the group’s least appreciated character. Cara Delevingne (Anna Karenina) will play magical villain Enchantress. And finally, Jared Leto will play the best Batman character ever (save for Batman himself), The Joker.
Obviously, there’s a lot to process here. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the cast of Suicide Squad is, at the very least, not boring. Sadly, there’s over a year still until we get to see them in action. So let’s pass the time speculating about what will be the best and worst aspects of Suicide Squad’s ensemble, in an early attempt to predict whether it will be closer to a Dark Knight or more on the end of a Batman & Robin.
Best: Suicide Squad is one of the more distinctive DC properties.
Quite simply, there has never been another superhero movie like Suicide Squad. We’re essentially talking The Avengers with a mix of anti-heroes, and straight-up bad guys. Or to put it another way, if the Guardians of the Galaxy are a goofy band of misfits, the Suicide Squad is a volatile band of lunatics. Though Marvel is still winning the whole game right now, Suicide Squad represents a serious bid on DC’s part to set themselves apart in an interesting way. It’s a bold move, but you can bet someone at Marvel is talking about how to put together a Loki-led villain movie right now.
Fittingly, the announced cast members suit Suicide Squad’s originality. This is Will Smith’s darkest role maybe ever. More surprisingly, Smith has been a huge star for years and rarely plays second fiddle to anyone. However, it will be fascinating to see how Smith does when forced to essentially be a co-lead alongside Tom Hardy, a fresh-faced A-lister who’s been killing in the past few years. Meanwhile, the rest of the revealed cast is full of up-and-comers, as well as one actor in the midst of a massive comeback (we’ll get to him later).
In this respect, DC has taken a wise cue from Marvel in avoiding trying to cram as many big stars into the movie as possible. Remember, Robert Downey Jr. was the comeback kid himself when The Avengers franchise first began, while Chris Evans had been chipping away at superstardom for years, and Chris Hemsworth wasn’t even a twinkle in People magazine’s eye.
With the disaster that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is shaping up to be (the title alone is almost unforgivably awful), DC needs a win right now. Without any Bat Affleck level rage over the casting so far, Suicide Squad is looking like it could be that win.
Worst: The studio could still screw it up royally.
Man of Steel didn’t necessarily have to be the disappointing movie it was. There were enough interesting elements going on in that film for it to have been better than the tedious mess that we got. However, Warner Bros. ultimately couldn’t decide what movie it wanted to make, so it put out a disjointed film that was somewhere in between a character-driven origin story and a typical “let’s blow up the city” action fest. Sure, it brought in Christopher Nolan to try to recapture some of that Dark Knight magic, but Nolan ended up just being one cook too many in the disorganized kitchen Warner Bros. put in the hands of slo-mo enthusiast Zack Snyder.
This extends to the cast, too. Despite plenty of good actors, virtually no one is interesting in Man of Steel, except Superman, who’s mostly just interesting because Henry Cavill is easy to look at. So regardless of Suicide Squad’s intriguing cast, it’s entirely possible that Warner Bros. will have no idea how to effectively manage the talent they have. We’re talking about an already bloated cast here, and it may be difficult to distribute screen time effectively. Moreover, it’s all too typical in ensemble movies for one or more characters to get lost in the shuffle, as a cast becomes overloaded with talent and potential.
Then there’s the darkness of the whole concept. Suicide Squad should probably be rated R, but it seems unlikely that’s going to happen with any superhero movie in the near future, especially one that has Will Smith in it. But the fact is that these are bad guys. The Joker, for instance, is an amoral psycho. And if Warner Bros. won’t let Suicide Squad’s freak flag fly, then the movie is likely to become watered down and forgettable.
It doesn’t help either that Suicide Squad is set to be released just several months after Dawn of Justice. America rarely tires of superhero movies, but if March’s BvS:DoJ ends up being the kind of letdown Man of Steel was, then audiences may have a more difficult time getting excited about DC’s cinematic universe when Suicide Squad comes out in August.
And let’s not even get started on cinematic universes in general. Ideally, Suicide Squad and its characters will stand on their own, but with studios only interested in building mega-franchises where everything connects and bleeds into everything else, this becomes that much more problematic.
Christopher Nolan movies aside, Warner Bros. and DC just haven’t figured out how to conjure up the kind of success that’s become second nature for Disney and Marvel yet. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but as they rush to get there as fast as possible, we should keep our fingers crossed for the former pair’s plan to assemble the anti-Avengers doesn’t backfire.
Best: Interesting female characters.
The topic of female superheroes has proven time and again to be a source of never-ending contention and debate. But just as Hollywood has a long way to go in improving the female superheroes, the industry could also stand to benefit from some better female supervillains.
In fact, it’s hard to remember the last time Hollywood gave us a really great female villain. Mostly, they’re relegated to being background players, or hidden schemers. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is probably the best exemption in recent memory. But it’s been a long time since Hollywood has produced a female villain as complex as, say, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
Suicide Squad could change that. Harley Quinn is one of the single most compelling characters in the DC Universe. Both a victim and a fighter, her twisted relationship with The Joker doesn’t define her, but the humanity she has stands in perfect contrast to his sadism (i.e., she is The Joker’s girlfriend, but she’s not just The Joker’s girlfriend). For those not in the know, Harley first appeared in the 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series, “Joker’s Favor.” Though if you’re really looking for the perfect Harley Quinn story, check out the episode “Harley and Ivy,” in which she allies herself with another occasional member of the Suicide Squad.
Enchantress, meanwhile, may not be as well known, though she’s actually been around a lot longer. She’s also morally ambiguous in a way Harley is not. You see, Enchantress did not start out evil in the DC comic book universe. Instead, circumstances turned her that way overtime. So there is great potential for her character to have hidden depths in Suicide Squad.
Additionally, the part of Dr. Amanda Waller, who brings the Suicide Squad together, has yet to be cast, although it’s reported that Oprah Winfrey is a strong contender for the role, along with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
Of course, even with Waller, that would still only put the makeup of the cast at 4-3, in favor of the men. However, that’s a lot better than 4-2, or 4-1, or 4-0. Writer/director David Ayer has shown that he can make a successful ensemble movie with the ultra-macho war film Fury, but he hasn’t yet shown he can make one with women. Let’s hope Suicide Squad corrects that.
Worst: Hollywood can’t stop casting models.
OK, this isn’t to say that Cara Delevigne isn’t a talented actress, or that she won’t make a good Enchantress. However, her addition to the movie is a little disconcerting, in that it’s all too typical of Hollywood to insert supermodels into tentpole films. Again, there’s absolutely no rule that says supermodels can’t be great actresses. But with so many talented, non-model actresses in Hollywood, this is a move that occasionally feels like a cheap grab for a larger male audience.
Will Smith is a two-time Oscar nominee. Tom Hardy has been called the greatest actor of his generation. These guys are not only major movie stars, they are, to use a cliche, “serious” actors. So it would’ve been nice if the same pedigree had been considered when looking for actresses, too.
It’s not a stretch to suspect that Robbie, whose resume is also fairly light, was cast at least in part because of her looks, too; however, she does seem a more natural fit for Harley Quinn, based off her terrific breakout performance in The Wolf of Wall Street. And Robbie will also be appearing alongside her Suicide Squad co-star Will Smith, in the upcoming Focus, so perhaps this is an indicator of her future as a strong screen presence.
Ultimately, if all is right with the world, Delevigne and Robbie will still end up being every bit as enjoyable and essential in the Suicide Squad as their male counterparts. Hollywood needs better female supervillains, and it would be a wasted opportunity for the film not to capitalize on that.
Best: Lex Luthor might be coming onboard.
Lex Luthor is awesome. That is all.
Worst: He’ll probably be played by Jesse Eisenberg.
The truth is that while Eisenberg excels at finding the sweet spot between neurotic and obnoxious, he doesn’t have the sinister quality that this franchise needs. Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey have already played the wimpy, sniveling version of Lex Luthor, and Eisenberg could probably do that with his hands tied behind his bald head. But Suicide Squad is more befitting of the commanding, badass Lex Luthor. The whole DC cinematic universe is, really. Perhaps if they get him right, they can start to get Superman right, too.
There have been a lot of Lex Luthors over the years, and there are a lot of different ways to play the character. We won’t know until Dawn of Justice comes out, but right now, one has to be skeptical of the Lex Luthor Eisenberg has been hired to portray.
Then again, he is still a great actor. For the moment, we’ll just have to wait and see how far his range extends.
Best and Worst: Jared Leto
Oh, Jared Leto. Would anyone have suspected even two years, even a year and a half ago, that the guy who was then best known for fronting 30 Seconds to Mars would make such a big comeback that he would end up winning an Oscar and being cast as one of the most iconic pop culture villains of the last century?
Probably not. And yet, here we are.
On the plus side, Leto’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club is really good. It was undoubtedly transformative (which he’d tried to be before, with less success), and his Oscar win was well deserved. In short, he’s a really talented actor, and we were surely going to see him pop up again in another interesting movie soon, whether it was Suicide Squad or something else.
However, Leto’s acting skills don’t quite eclipse the fact that he just seems like, well, kind of a d-bag. He was tiresome during last year’s awards season, and by the time he actually won his Oscar, most of us were pretty much ready to see him go away (although kudos to him for shouting out his mom; moms are important).
On top of this, while Leto recognized Dallas Buyers Club’s importance in America’s ongoing conversation about HIV and AIDS, he failed to adequately recognize the community he was representing. No, the trans community doesn’t need Jared Leto to speak for them. But yes, when we’re at such a crucial moment for transgender rights, it is a small form of marginalization not to pay tribute to the people you’re standing in for. After all, they have to live it. Leto just had to play it; who are the truly “brave” ones here?
Finally, Leto also has the unenviable task ahead of him of living up to Heath Ledger’s Joker—one of the most memorable performances of the last decade. That’s not to say Leto’s Joker shouldn’t be different than Ledger’s. It definitely should. Nevertheless, any actor was going to have the deck stacked against them when they stepped up to play the Clown Prince of Crime post-Ledger.
Then again, Ledger himself was already an Oscar nominee when he was cast as The Joker, and people weren’t happy about him, either. So who knows? Leto could be a fantastic Joker. It would just be kind of annoying if he had to be all Jared Leto while doing it.
As is always the case with speculating this early on, it’s impossible to tell what the final version of Suicide Squad will look like. But if the cast is any indicator, it’s certainly fair to get a little excited. Cautiously excited, that is.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.