I went into this film with the promise of it being good. Someone I trusted had already seen it and said as much. The marketing had been fun and upbeat, the sense of style was evident and everything we had seen felt like it was on track to be something special. My mind was completely open to the possibility, nay, the likelihood, that this was going to be the film that turned around the DC Universe on screen. I was really hoping it would be just that. I will admit I hadn’t felt much love for the last outing Batman Vs Superman, but I had been quite kind to Man of Steel, so I was more than ready for this to be the turning point back to greatness. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is the film that, for many, will be the point that ends their hope for the DC cinematic Universe. For others it will be another string to the bow of DC’s burgeoning cinematic universe. For me, it is a fine example of the old idiom “I am not angry, I’m just disappointed”.
In its 57-year history The Suicide Squad (or as it’s more officially titled, “Task force X”) has been shown on screen many times before. In both the Smallville and Arrow TV universes, the concept of the ‘band of criminals press-ganged into doing Amanda Waller’s dirty work’, leads to a couple of quite entertaining stories. Over in the DC Animated realm, we have seen them show up in a couple of episodes of Justice League Unlimited, and the feature-length “Assault on Arkham” film. It’s interesting, then, given the long history, to see which version of the Squad is represented onscreen in the feature film. Many of the most regular members get a look-in, but some are very recent additions and others have never been in the Squad at all before now.
Here our team consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), a professional assassin with a heart of gold; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker’s main squeeze and owner of the most incredible shrinking shorts on film; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a monster with a southern accent and the heart of a NYC rapper; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), playing – astonishingly – the least offensive Aussie stereotype ever; and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), or as he’s better known “What Donald Trump warned you about”. Finally there’s The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who is sometimes the nicest-looking plot vehicle you can imagine, and sometimes covered in shit. These “bad guys” are controlled by stoic Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and the understated but badass Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Throughout the first act we’re introduced to these characters, given their backstory, shown their skills, and witnessed their criminal rap-sheets… There’s wacky titles, clever graphics and animation, there’s COOL RETRO MUSIC OUT THE YING YANG… We get flashbacks to how they came to prison too, there’s Superhero cameos from Batman and co. just to hammer home their ‘cool factor’ and street cred just that bit harder… It’s. All. Happening.
DID I MENTION THE COOL MUSIC?! YOU LIKE THIS MUSIC!
Oh yeah… and then there’s Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Slipknot (Adam Beach) who apparently the film forgot to give introductions to…
And that’s where the first cracks started to show for me. We’ve been watching 25-odd minutes of setup and character development; the editor(s) and the film as a whole are working their asses off to build these characters up and get us invested in them. And then two characters plonk into the film completely unannounced and the spell is broken. It’s abundantly clear that they aren’t really that important to the plot, the way they’re just so casually tossed into the mix, and it’s no surprise at all when one of them leaves just as abruptly less than five minutes later. It’s all downhill from there.
Suicide Squad is a brave attempt at creating a super team of second string antiheroes, throwing them against a cosmic bad guy completely out of their league and using their unique charms and quirks as leverage to turn them into lovable super-heroes. Oh hang on, that’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Suicide Squad is an attempt at a similar structure, using similar tools and tropes, yet somewhere along the way it stops being fun and becomes a messy hodge-podge of ideas that can’t seem to coalesce into a cohesive film. It’s very attractively shot and has a great soundtrack. It has likable characters and some funny lines. Characters each get their “hero” moments and there are some really spectacular sequences, but the whole is so much less than the sum of its parts.
The biggest problem with this film is the bad guys and the lack of a distinct vision of who they are and what they want. Oh sure, there’s a 10-foot tall monster/god swinging his giant tentacles all over the city, there’s a magical subplot of evil siblings regaining their lost power and then there’s the de-rigueur shiny pillar of light/portal into the heavens surrounded by roiling clouds and floating rubbish. Why? God only knows. Who is the monster/god thing? Hell if I know! In a DC Universe absolutely brimming with potential magical and other-worldy bad-guys, why in God’s name would you choose a complete unknown? This is soon compounded by having Jared Leto’s Joker swimming menacingly around the periphery of the film without ever really diving in, and a supposed “good guy” who is significantly more evil than any of the bad guys on screen. There’s also an army of faceless monster zombies for our protagonists to kill in a variety of creative ways, but they are little more than moving pieces of set.
Secondary characters and plot threads get introduced and then seemingly forgotten about, motivations for the heroes seem to slide around to suit the scene they are in and there’s a weird vibe of racist undertones and creepy sexism throughout. Margot Robbie’s Harley is definitely entertaining, but doesn’t nail the punchlines like she should. The focus is divided between her and Will Smith for the bulk of the film, but it can’t decide if it’s her face or her barely-covered butt that is the star of the show. The Enchantress, equally, becomes a leery gyrating sex symbol for half the time and a vastly more interesting mud-covered monster for the rest. Katana is forgotten about for huge swathes of the run-time and it’s clear that nobody knows why she’s there; perhaps we should take heart that at least she isn’t being played for sex appeal? Killer Croc is the not-so-lucky winner of the “Awkward Racist Joke of the Film” award, as it’s revealed that Waylon Jones, when given his choice of reward, just wants B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television) in his cell. So he can watch some twerking. Thank God they didn’t add in some fried chicken.
It does have its fun moments, and there are some legitimately funny lines, but they are spread throughout a complete mess of a film. There was a terrible moment early on where a cut was so obvious that it jarred me out of the film and I realised how much work the editing was doing to try to make the film simply hang together. It was then I remembered that I’d had the same feeling in Batman Vs Superman. I wasn’t watching a story being unfolded step by step, I was watching something get manufactured out of a morass of disconnected footage by an editor who was really earning their money (and if the tales of the numerous cuts of the film are to be believed, that is exactly what was happening!). Supposedly massive plot twists drop with the weight of helium balloon, character betrayals and surprise appearances feel undercooked, and action sequences happen for no reason, other than that they’d been shot and needed to be used somewhere.
Ultimately the moment that told me everything about the film was when Captain Boomerang, throwing one of his namesakes around a corner, proceeded to watch said boomerang drone camera feed from his mobile phone. The footage was completely, perfectly smooth.
Much like this film, It’s a cool idea folks, but it fails in the execution and doesn’t make a lick of sense.