Hey, you’ve really got to hand it to DC and Warner Bros. In the same year that they’ve been knocked from pillar to post for releasing the distinctly average Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, they’ve now managed to pull out all the stops and have provided us with a superhero film – or rather a boringvillain film – that is by far the most joyless and clumsily-assembled I’ve seen since last year’s mishandled Fantastic Four reboot. Way to go, DC! That’s close to half a billion spent on two of the poorest blockbuster films of 2016, both of which have failed to assertively establish a credible, cohesive series to rival Marvel’s ongoing blur of colourful spandex and quippery. And no, YouTube clips of characters like Aquaman and sudden, brief appearances by The Flash are not acceptable enough in terms of world-building.
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad – a riff on The Dirty Dozen that’s loosely adapted from the comic series of the same name – opens with a raft of interminable exposition, which slowly introduces us to the main characters in the most simplistic (and patronising) way possible. Viola Davis plays the high-ranking army official who wants to put a squad of bad guys together, ostensibly so that they can be sent in to tackle any ‘meta-human’ threats in the future (especially as Superman’s currently … uh … unavailable). She sits in a restaurant going through a dossier, but we see more of her later, and to Davis’ credit she somehow manages to walk away from this film with her reputation enhanced. In terms of the villains, first up is Will Smith’s Deadshot, a hitman who can shoot accurately. Imagine! In fact, for some bizarre reason, the character is introduced twice: once during a kind of brief origin story, and then once more in a flashback to a back alley showdown with Ben Affleck’s Batman, which establishes the fact that Deadshot’s a little conflicted because he has a daughter (god forbid Smith should ever play an out-and-out bastard, thereby tarnishing his carefully-honed image). Some barely-relevant and jokey text appears on screen alongside him, which is indicative of the infamous late decision to add humour to the film, and seems completely at odds with the style of the rest of the piece. Other characters get the same treatment, including Margot Robbie’s crazy Harley Quinn. Initially a psychiatrist before becoming the tortured moll-like plaything of The Joker (Jared Leto, more later), she too is captured by The Batfleck during an unnecessarily misogynistic scene in which she is punched in the face, given a lusty bit of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after nearly drowning, and then subsequently half-strangled by her captor (much of which is filmed from Batman’s perspective). Worse is to come: the Harley Quinn costume design is certainly striking in this film, but Ayer resorts to filming Robbie like he’s got a daily ass-shot quota to fill, and perves over her backside while forcing the actress to acrobatically wrap her legs around the heads of people she fights. She tries gamely to make the character’s personality the focus, but she’s fighting against a director and a studio that are only truly interested in her body; eventually you realise that the decision to set much of the film in the rain was taken so that Robbie’s nipples can be seen through her soaked t-shirt. It’s insulting, and degrading, though undoubtedly the decision to turn her into a teenage boy’s wet dream will have substantially increased ticket sales. Yay.
Others – less important characters, evidently, or rather characters played by actors who do not enjoy the status and associated contractual stipulations of a Will Smith – are quickly and haphazardly introduced. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is a stereotype of an Australian man, who constantly drinks beer and (fucking hell) throws a boomerang. Jay Hernandez is El Diablo, a stereotypical Latino gangbanger who can create fire; no information is provided as to how he got this power, but at one point he turns into a flaming demon, so there’s that. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays Killer Croc, a man with reptilian features whose special ability appears to be zipping up a hoodie before undoing the zip again. Yes, really. Joel Kinnaman is Rick Flag, a sort of human charisma vortex who is placed in charge of the team. There are others: a man who looks a bit like Steven Seagal can climb buildings very well; a Japanese woman has a sword that captures the souls of its victims, or something. Some of these are tossed into the story in such a rushed, lazy fashion it’s hard to care a jot about anything that happens to them.
So this is the core squad, who are subsequently sent to Midway City to tackle Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress, a powerful sorceress (in another skimpy outfit) who wants to bring about the end of days. She wreaks havoc while carefully establishing one of those swirling, lightning-y portals that seem to have become shorthand in superhero films for ‘we have no ideas left, but look at THIS anyway’. (Enchantress’s special power: attempting to do an impression of mime artist Marcel Marceau despite having lost all control of her limbs.) She also has a brother, and between them they manage to create an army of once-human drones, who have heads that look like blackberries. Blackberries! Much fighting ensues, all of it taking place at night in the rain, none of it inventively choreographed or containing any fresh ideas, all of it punctuated by awkward exchanges between the Suicide Squad members. Fuck me it’s dreary, and remains so even when Leto’s Joker shows up. (Oh yeah, The Joker: Leto is all forced, unconvincing insanity and gangsta bling, and he’s only in this film briefly and intermittently, which is a huge relief.)
Suicide Squad is riddled with poor writing, bad editing, lazy, half-baked ideas, terrible acting and an unintentional mixed tone that suggests not just moviemaking by committee but moviemaking by a committee that couldn’t find a singular, cohesive vision if it was locked in a meeting room for a decade. The film is supposed to be funny; it isn’t funny. The film is supposed to be edgy, and dark; it isn’t, unless you take the word darkness literally. The film is supposed to be subversive; it isn’t. I presume it’s supposed to be fun, too; yet this was the least fun I’ve had in the cinema in a long, long time. It’s a drag, a bore, a turd that thuds into your day. It takes your money before laughing in your face. It insults the intelligence of cinemagoers. The only real point of interest surrounding the film is that one day we’ll find out where it all went wrong, and blame for the debacle can be correctly apportioned.
It could be Ayer, I suppose, but then he has managed to get good performances from a range of actors in the past, so I’m not sure why direction appears to be completely beyond him here. A glimpse at his career shows that he has a preference for stories about men and their relationships during duty, but there’s no sign of any understanding of male bonding here, and his decision to dress two of the three fairly prominent female characters in skimpy outfits is quite telling. Yet given that Zack Snyder has set DC’s recent bleak tone with a brace of disappointing, overly-serious films, Ayer had a rather unenviable task; he had to follow the earlier director’s shitty, downbeat style, and yet he has clearly also been tasked with making a film that is lighter, and funnier, and a kind of DC equivalent to Marvel’s popular hit Guardians Of The Galaxy. How on earth could he be expected to do that?
I could go on. Just contemplate the use of music here, for example: there’s little thought behind most of it, and some of the soundtrack choices are completely irrelevent, included simply because they offer a slight juxtaposition with the action. There’s no thread to the music at all. And just to reiterate: the decision to throw in a few recognisable characters – as well as Batman and The Joker we also get a brief glimpse of Ezra Miller’s The Flash – smacks of desperation by Warner Bros and DC too, a shortcut to remind us that this is supposed to be taking place within a wider world (and that there’s a Justice League movie on the way, too); I’m just surprised that they didn’t think to shoehorn Wonder Woman in there somewhere, given her current popularity.
All told this is a film in which so much has been thrown together in the hope that some of it will work, and at a cost of $175 million to boot. Sadly, very little does actually work. Never mind: I expect you – like me – have paid to see it now anyway. These studios really do have a lot of us over a barrel; people who watch superhero movies in their droves won’t stop doing so now, for fear of missing out on something important, even though the stories will never ever end. Suicide Squad is just further confirmation that any old shit can turn a massive profit if it’s marketed correctly.
Directed by: David Ayer.
Written by: David Ayer.
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara.
Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov.
Editing: John Gilroy.
Music: Steven Price / Various.
Running Time: 123.