By Sam Jones
DIRECTOR: David Ayer
PRODUCERS: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
WRITER: David Ayer
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
STARRING: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Cara Delevingne
To say that DC’s attempt to rival Marvel’s Cinematic Universe with its own has gotten off to a rocky start would be an understatement of hilarious proportions (hence why I said it); Batman vs. Superman, far from the explosive first salvo it had been intended as, has been trashed pillar-to-post by audiences and critics alike. With BvS tanking critically, Suicide Squad suddenly had a lot of stakes attached to it as the vehicle that could get things back on track for Warner Bros. and DC. Question is, was it successful?
For the uninitiated, Suicide Squad revolves around the attempts of hard-line government agent Amanda Waller (Davis) to put together a team of “metahumans” (as their being termed), described as “the worst of the worst” to battle the threats posed to the United States in a post-Superman world. That team (as haphazardly introduced in the first 30 or so minutes of the film) consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), the deadeye assassin who never misses, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Joker’s main squeeze (duh), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man who’s been horribly mutated into a crocodile monster, Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a thief with no useful skills to offer to the team, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a Latino gangbanger with crazy fire powers, and Enchantress, an evil ancient witch lady who inhabits that body of archaeologist June Moon (Cara Delevingne), who together are lead by generic soldier-man Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnamin). Unsurprisingly, things quickly go awry when Enchantress escapes and starts causing havoc in Midway City, leading Waller to send in her newly put-together task force to mop up the mess.
And speaking of, “mess” would be the perfect word to describe Suicide Squad: the film plays out like some kind of bizarre experimental music video, with frequent instances of rambling, incoherent scenes, barely established or flesh-out characters and character arcs, and ideas and subplots that are thrown out that go absolutely nowhere. The script doesn’t feel like a first draft so much as it feels like it was picked apart than slapped back together from several different drafts, all of which seem to have a different idea of what this movie was actually attempting to be. As alluded to previously, much of the first third of the film is dedicated to incredibly choppy and rushed introductions for the more-than-slightly bloated roster of the film. Deadshot is introduced no less than three times during this part of the film, and in two of those cases the introductions come almost back-to-back. Two of the squad members are introduced in such a hilariously off-hand and afterthought-like fashion that I had them pegged for death almost immediately: and amazingly enough, one of them actually does die after what couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes later.
The film’s plot, of what little there is of it, pretty much ceases to exist once everyone is set-up and Enchantress has flown the coop to…do whatever is she’s doing, with confusing and messy beginning haphazardly connected to dull, uninspired conclusion by a seemingly endless string of disappointingly joyless and unimaginative fight scenes that don’t even work as a way to showcase the squad and their abilities, as basically everyone save for Harley and Deadshot spend these fight scenes doing close to nothing at all. In fact, its really quote staggering how an ensemble film like this does so incredibly little to show off its ensemble, seemingly being much more satisfied to simply have most of the characters spend 90% just stand around, trying to look…I dunno, menacing? Maybe? The much-ballyhooed debut of the DC Cinematic Universes’ Joker (Jared Leto) in this film is as baffling and pointless as much of the rest of the film: he’s in the damn thing for what could not have been more than five minutes, and his little subplot with Harley goes absolutely nowhere and serves no purpose at all. The film’s major antagonists, Enchantress and her brother Incubus, are sketchy at best: their motivation for wanting to destroy humanity (oh-so creatively) is half-baked and poorly explained (revenge, basically) and feels like entirely the wrong kind of conflict for characters of this nature to be resolving: its difficult to get fired up about watching these guys save the world when they’re all so dirty and contemptible.
What little entertainment I got out of Suicide Squad came from its stars, which in spite of the crappy material they were given, managed to deliver something entertaining, for which they deserve all the credit in the world. Viola Davis turned out a great performance as Waller, making that character every bit the monstrous, cold-hearted hard-liner that she is purported to be. Both Smith and Robbie turn in admirable performances, Robbie more so than Smith: While Smith more or less just did his usual “I’m Will Smith” thing to great effect, Robbie worked hard to make this truly awful and unpleasant iteration of Harley Quinn far more enjoyable and entertaining than she had any right to be. Jai Courtney’s take on the otherwise completely unremarkable and pointless Boomerang turned out to be a surprise highlight of the film, being one of the only characters to deliver any true moments of comedy or levity throughout the film. The real show-stealer, however, was Jay Hernandez’s surprisingly nuanced and somber take on El Diablo: what looked to be a completely forgettable an uninteresting ancillary character was elevated by both Hernandez’s performance and a welcome, though unexpected, surprising fit of lucidity from the script into being one of the only characters in the film to generate any level of sympathy and have some kind of identifiable and well-executed character arc. Everyone else ranged from either forgettable (Kinnamin as Flagg) to horribly under-utilised (basically everyone else). Special mention has to go to Leto’s baffling and confused take on the Joker which fell completely and utterly flat: I have no clue what the hell he was going for, but I will make an attempt. Leto’s Joker could perhaps be best described as basically just being a really scummy gangster-pimp who, for some reason, thinks he’s the Joker: and a really, really bad one at that, free of any of the dark, twisted whimsical charm that every other performer has bought to the role before Leto that made the character so memorable and enjoyable in the past.
Equally as baffling and confused as Leto’s Joker was the film’s tone as a whole: it couldn’t seem to decide whether it wanted to be dark and gritty or darkly humorous, and instead attempts to be both; and failing at each. The attempts at comedy and comedic moments throughout the film fall flat on pretty much every occasion, and the rest of the film’s dark and grimy visual aesthetic combined with its (for the most part) truly dismal, charmless characters makes for an extremely sleazy and uncomfortable viewing experience, which reaches its absolute fever pitch of awful with the Harley/Joker subplot: the film tries to portray their relationship as one of true love when all we see is a pimp gangster-like Joker prostituting Harley out to random thugs, electrocuting her, and trying to coax her into suicide out of love for him. The extremely ill-advised decision to try and re-cast the traditionally highly problematic and abusive relationship between Joker and Harley as some kind of dark, twisted ode to love makes for a truly disgusting viewing experience that left me wanting to take a shower afterward; and that’s all without even mentioning the blatant and uncomfortable objectification of Harley’s character; mix in Robbie’s very child-like innocent and whimsical performance of the character, and the sleaze factor of the whole thing just goes up tenfold. The endless parade of whimsical pop songs in the early goings of the film, free of any context of wit, come off as a very half-assed and desperate attempt to try and inject the film with some kind of darkly humorous and cheeky fun that simply isn’t there, and instead just makes the whole film feel like an even more confusing mess than it already is.
While there are token attempts throughout the film to inject its villainous protagonists with some humanity, most of these attempts fail spectacularly: the attempts, for example, to characterize Deadshot as some kind of well-meaning family man tend to ring hollow when every other scene reminds us the he completely unrepentantly and happily murders people for money, at some points almost braggingly so. By the end of the film, despite being told that these rag-tag misfit villains aren’t meant to be the best of buds, they couldn’t feel less like that, with barely any attempts (save for one halfway-decent scene right near the film’s end) to actually show the members of the squad forging and developing friendship amongst each other, let alone make anyone as a viewer actually want to see more of their escapades in the future (and God help us all, there probably will be a sequel).
Believe it or not, I really wanted to like Suicide Squad, in spite of the fact that I just spent close to 1500 words voraciously shitting on this movie. I, like a lot of other folks, was hoping beyond hope that Suicide Squad would be the film to right the proverbial sinking ship that the DC Cinematic Universe is appearing to be. Instead, it joins BvS as being another terrible, confusing mess of a film that only further damages the already shaky brand of DC in the movie-going world.
I can’t really recommend this film in good conscience to anyone, save only the most ardent and hard-core fans of DC and anyone who is determined to enjoy these films no matter what. All that’s left to do now is bunker down and hope to sweet baby Christ that DC and Warner Brothers don’t fuck up Wonder Woman. But, based on the going track record, I’m not confident.