Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Spoiler alert: If you do not want the fun to be spoiled, you’ll skip over this “Suicide Squad” review that has completely reasonable plot details. We’d rather the disappointment hit you in the theater.
Before the days of “Batman v Superman’s” man-child angst-fest and Nolan’s gritty (and achingly human) trilogy, we had DC films that not only gave us what we wanted visually but that also employed tight narratives — concepts that Zack Snyder and David Ayer just can’t seem to marry together. We certainly enjoyed the realism of Batman’s previous incarnation, but at times, we longed for the colorful atmosphere of the comics. Ayer, in all his good intentions, seemed earnest in his mission to deliver us the grungy chasm that is the DC vault of villains, attempting to mix old school flair with a dash of new age apathy. What he eventually cooked up was an identity-less film that could not stand on it’s own spiky stilettoed feet.
A subtle nihilistic attitude like the one present in “Suicide Squad” can be thought-provoking and sentimental when handled with care, but only if there’s a force driving this “I can’t change anything but at least I want to” philosophy. That thing that keeps us railing against the machine; stick it to the man and all that jazz. To begin with, that kind of passive aggressive whimpering is not what we’d normally expect from the baddest of the baddies. No, we’d anticipate that they’d put up more of a fight. After all, at the start of the film the entire lineup of the covert “Task Force X” is locked away in a secure facility in the Louisiana swamps. And they’re not exactly being treated with kid gloves. So why do few of them seem to care when they’re being given a hair’s chance of freedom? Why don’t they try to undermine their new captors and work out a way to escape that isn’t a prison guard conveniently placing a phone from Joker in Harley’s hand in BROAD daylight as she’s being transported to Midway City by heavily-armed guards? Why don’t they care more when the smidgen of freedom they enjoyed is ripped away and they’re sent back to the place they started at?
Oh, wait. Sorry, we’re getting getting a little ahead of ourselves. (Kind of like this entire franchise.)
“What if Superman had decided to fly down, rip off the roof of the white house, grab the president right out of the oval office? Who would’ve stopped him?” says some guy named Dexter Tolliver who we’ve seen in just about ever trailer but who seems to have no importance other than to say one of the most confounding and troubling lines in the entire 2 hours of lazy dialogue, yawn-worthy fights and school boy humor that is “Suicide Squad.” But the problem isn’t just that this is a confusing statement about a meta-human who was on our side. The problem is that this glaring misconception is touted as the need for a super-secret task force composed of the “worst of the worst” among criminals. Who are then assembled pronto for a supernatural threat that occurred purely because military darling Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) couldn’t keep it in his pants long enough to keep his witch girlfriend, Dr. June Moone, from turning into the evil, bikini-clad, crouching Enchantress. Not only are the sequences of events surrounding the catalyst of the film narratively inconsistent and just downright silly, they do nothing to slow down a hurried film enough to make sense of its convoluted plot or give any attention to it’s characters and meaning to their suffering.
And yet, “Suicide Squad” wasn’t entirely awful. Overworked shots with almost zero choreography? Yes. Line’s like “Lady, you are evil”? Yes. Bursting at the seams with too many characters just like Margot Robbie’s possibly CGI’d hot pants? You betcha. So how come it still felt like a fun film while being a terrible one?
Pacing issues, unfortunately, start as soon as the neon credits roll in. We land like a plane coming in too fast to a barren location in the swamps of Louisiana, but only after having about two seconds to read the black lettering on the screen, barely enough to see what the facility is called. We’re immediately treated to a shot of Will Smith as Floyd Lawton, aka Gotham’s own Deadshot, boxing in his cell and getting ragged on by a guard. You half expect him to reach through the square-sized hole they’re talking through and punch the guy, but instead he just gets dragged out, tied up and beat up with some nice establishing shots that show the empty halls of the prison — emphasizing how isolated these bad guys really are at this stage of their career. All to the somber tones of “The House of the Rising Sun” because, of course. Right?
Then we switch gears to Lesley Gore’s 60s classic “You Don’t Own Me”, which, OK, makes sense considering we’re seeing one of the baddest chicks on the block hanging from her massive cell like a maniacal gymnast. As soon as Margot Robbie’s frame fills the screen we know that we’ve been handed our own Harley Quinn, a fan favorite who until now has not has any live-action screen time sans that stint on “Birds of Prey”. She’s torturously beautiful, and yet her brand of “crazy” is all her own. Despite however many times the c-word is used against her in the film, the former psychiatrist is not as mentally unstable as she appears to be. In fact, she often uses this to her advantage by making people uncomfortable, all the while sharing coy glances with her nefarious buddies (namely Deadshot) just to let everyone know it’s all a part of her game. That’s that Harley we want to see, and the one that would set us up for a woman who will eventually regain independence. Sadly, what little we see of her twisted relationship with Joker is not kind to her character (more on that later).
And then in a particularly jarring scene change the samba percussions of “Sympathy for the Devil”, again, fitting, carry us from the swamps onto the streets of Midway City where the high-ranking government official — because what else do we know about her — Amanda Waller rolls up like a boss with all of the suave and class of her actress, Viola Davis. You can instantly tell that she will be probably the most important character in “Suicide Squad”, which is true considering that almost all of her scenes are the best in the film. Unfortunately (we might be using this word a lot) the entire scene is ruined by the uninspired and lazy (we’ll use this word a lot, too) camera angles of cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (“Fury”). And then, through no fault of her own, we get to hear the overdone “you look like the cat that ate the canary” line to which she responds that she has, in fact, eaten many canaries, with all of the gangsta chic she embodies so beautifully throughout this movie. What follows are a series of ultra convenient vignettes that explain the backstory of each member of the squad, except for Slipknot and Katana who are dropped in right before the fighting starts (we’ll get to that in a minute).
However useful this exposition is, it should have been necessary. Yet again, DC is taking the easy road by zooming the timeline of their franchise forward in a cheap effort to catch up with Marvel without putting the same amount of work in. We see fleeting glimpses of how Harleen Quinzel became the “Queen of Gotham” and the “clown’s” partner in crime, even 2.5 seconds of red and black jester costumed bliss in which Robbie and Jared Leto as the Joker replicate that famous image of Harley and Mistah J — a momentary yet glorious departure from her cotton candy tresses and makeup. We also get to see mercenary Deadshot do his trigger-happy thing before the flashback shows how Batman captured him, before we slide into the bad ‘these people will do our dirty work because we’ll put bombs inside them’ idea.
This comes at an ultra-convenient time because, as a part of extremely lazy writing, we’re thrust into the whole June Moone situation without knowing hardly anything about her. Basically, she was an archeologist who fell in a cave somewhere (who cares about details), found an ancient doll, broke the head off and had a 6,000-plus-year-old (in a bizarro moment they give her a very specific age number) witch invade her body. We won’t even bother trying to explain the witch’s random plan for world domination, but you should know that it includes a “swirling ring of trash” in the sky, a new and even skimpier outfit and plenty of Rated-R hip movements. Oh, and did we already mention June’s relationship with Rick Flag? That apparently was Waller’s plan to “control” her. If Ayer’s version of June Moone/Enchantress isn’t a negative portrayal of female sexuality, we don’t what is.
Oh, and if you expected us to list each member of the squad, trust us, you won’t even care about half of them. All you need to know is that one breaths fire, one throws boomerangs (and does literally nothing else), one wields a katana that holds the soul of her dead husband inside it, one is basically a crocodile and another does, well, whatever Slipknot does. Unfortunately (there it is again) or not, he’s in the film for less than five minutes, while Katana longer lasting presence hardly makes a difference.
All members of Task Force X are the worst of the worst, except for Katana, who’s basically a guard dog for Flag to make sure no one kills him when he’s barking out orders. Yet, arguably the baddest thing any of them do is hit a woman in the face (twice if we’re counting Batman) because “she had a mouth.” An act that’s played up for laughs. OK, we get it. No honor among thieves. But that kind of only works if they’re genuinely bad people, which none of them seem to be. It’s a pretty bold move for “Suicide Squad” to assert that these thieving murderers (one of whom is blamed for the death of Robin, alluded to in “BvS”) are actually people we should be scared of without making them act very threatening. Which leads us to the neon-green, grilled up elephant in the room: the Joker.
Truthfully, it’s unfair to compare Jared Leto’s portrayal to Heath Ledger’s because the latter’s role was so integral to the plot of “The Dark Knight” that he was actually given solid material to work with — very much unlike Leto’s treatment. With this iteration, we don’t exactly get the prancing psychopathic aura of Jack Nicholson’s version nor do we have Ledger’s commanding presence. Unfortunately (we’ll stop with this one), the only reason the Joker is in “Suicide Squad” is to save Harley. Twice. For the writers out there, take note. If a character exists in a story for the sole purpose of rescuing someone, chances are, they have no business in the story to begin with. And the consequences of this stupidity means that despite all of Leto’s acuity and acting prowess, he can’t make meringue out of these lemons.
Come to find out, there were many scenes between the two that were cut from the film, because presumably the plot would have lost focus if their relationship was put under the spotlight too much. So instead what we get is a watered down Joker who skulks around like a creeper, snarls, hisses and purrs behind his metal mouth with cheesy lines and little to no sense of purpose. The gangster to Ledger’s mobster and Nicholson’s clown. A Joker who kills people without care but is willing to let Harley drown herself in the same vat of ACE chemicals that altered his appearance instead of just offing her in plain fashion. It’s a fuzzier Joker who may not feel love, but at least he can’t live without his Queen. It’s kind of a slap in the face to the comics and animated series, which shows Joker smacking Harley around and pushing her out of windows. This arrangement isn’t only problematic for him, but it also diminishes Harley’s character to a mere woman sitting around waiting for a man to rescue her, whom she knows will never truly love her. This coupled with repugnantly sexist cinematography trivializes her to the sum of her body parts.
“Suicide Squad” was supposed to be about villains being forced to work with one another and deal with each other while kicking butt and plotting their escape. It was supposed to be DC’s PG-13 equivalent to Marvel’s “Deadpool.” Somewhere floating around, there’s a version of the film that existed before “BvS” opened to scorching reviews. When that crack in the planet happened, the film that was got sidelined in favor of reshoots and edits that would make the movie more fun. This showed that Ayer and the team must have had little to no faith in what they created, which is a significant problem. It instantly made “Suicide Squad” a film that would attempt to pander, something that “Deadpool” did in no way, and it could be a source of the film’s identity crisis. Even more unsettling is how the creators splotched a thousand different classic and popular songs throughout like an artist rapping a paint brush onto a canvas, hoping that it would make everything prettier.
There are many moments throughout where an incredible scene may look like it’s about to turn things around and set this movie apart. One such scene is early on between Waller, Lawton and Flag, in which subtlety and unabashed forwardness are married in some of the film’s most clever dialogue. It helps set Lawton apart as one of leading characters before we’re hit over the head with closeups and shots of Smith and Robbie, constantly forcing the two together and isolating them from everyone else. And it’s certainly better than Deadshot’s later lines, “Lady, you are evil”/”She’s trying to take over the world”, speaking of Enchantress. Harley quips that the world has never done anything for any of them. Writers everywhere begin having nose bleeds.
However, if you can overlook all of that and focus on the bright spots (there are some), we commend you and agree that everyone has their own tastes. Some of us just prefer our bubbly to be Martini and Rossi instead of Martinelli.