It wasn’t supposed to be like this. By the time “Suicide Squad” rolled around, we were meant to be primed for a little down ‘n’ dirty fun to counterpoint the portentous deus ex machinations of the Titans of the DC universe duking it out in “Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice”. Instead, things have turned all meta as Warner Brothers find themselves looking to this ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells and sideshow freaks to do what Superman and Batman were unwilling or unable to do: save the world [of the DCEU].
In the aftermath of Superman’s death, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a ruthlessly pragmatic government agent, pulls together a proposal to form a squad of hardened super-criminals and coerce them into serving their country. Waller’s belief that with the right leverage, she can control the uncontrollable is put to the test when Midway City finds itself at the epicentre of a potential apocalypse.
From the very first frame, “Suicide Squad” tries too hard. The writing is terrible, the editing worse and the soundtrack is so archly, cynically aimed at the breakout success enjoyed by “Guardians Of The Galaxy” that in the first five minutes alone we’re treated to not one but four insistently ‘iconic’ tracks as the characters are cat walked before us in a beauty parade as unsubtle as Harley Quinn’s baseball bat.
It’s in such a rush to introduce all the new characters that it seemingly forgets a couple, literally dropping Katana into the film about a third of the way through in such a ham-fisted introduction that you can almost read the scribbled note in the margin of the script saying: ‘shit – we’ve forgotten one. Just have her board the helicopter’.
This is an ugly, garish cut ‘n’ shunt of a film, butchered and twisted into shape in the cutting room rather than through the script or during filming. Like a poorly constructed Frankenstein’s monster, the stitching shows the joins and there’s more than a whiff of studio interference. David Ayer is an excellent filmmaker but seems a little overwhelmed by the challenge of a big effects-heavy tent pole movie which unexpectedly carries the burden of breathing life into a faltering DC Extended Universe. Whatever his vision was, I’m pretty sure it’s not what we’ve had presented: an uncomfortable chimera of Hot Topic aesthetic and base fetishisation of guns and violence. The colour palate is lifted directly from Joel Shumacher’s “Batman And Robin” only thanks to the content, we end up with Batman and robbin’ as the Dark Knight flits in and out of the flashbacks to catch the crooks and remind the audience that this is part of the same story all building up to “Justice League”.
Jumbled and at times incoherent, its fundamental story problem is that the entire plot is recursive to the point of redundancy. Put simply – and without spoiling anything – if Waller doesn’t try to assemble Task Force X, the ‘plot point’ doesn’t happen and there’s no need for Task Force X to sort it all out. None of this is helped by a structure which at times defies belief. The opening montage of character introductions and flashbacks would be tolerable were it not immediately followed by Amanda Waller sitting down and having the same conversation with a different group of people in a different room.
In the hands of a less skilled actress, Waller’s inherent contradictions would derail the movie right from the start but Davis brings such a chilling ruthlessness to it all that you find yourself going along with it all because you’re a little bit afraid of her. Will Smith is better than he has been for years as Deadshot although the character is firmly anchored in his ‘wisecracking rogue’ comfort zone. His supposedly heinous acts are only ever vaguely referenced and he’s never explicitly shown doing anything really bad. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, though, is the only reason the film succeeds at all. Take her out of the mix and all you’re left with is a distastefully dark and violent film full of casual racism, bleak sexism and mean-spirited nihilism. Her performance is so energising and clever, embracing and subverting the genre and gender tropes with a mischievous caprice that’s just delicious. Outside of Waller, Deadshot and Quinn, though, most of the others are unnecessary, either cluttering the film up or bogging it down, summed up in the bar scene (which is edited differently from the trailers) which plays out like a mash-up between “Wreck-It Ralph”’s villain support group scene and the HISHE “Villain’s Pub”.
Leto’s Joker is flat out awful in the handful of trippy scenes and flashbacks he’s given: all the excesses of Nicholson with none of the charm and an annoying habit of trying to mimic the voice and intonation of Ledger’s take on the role but with none of the gravitas. He’s less the Clown Prince of Crime and more the Deranged Regent of Sex Offenders. He’s not helped by being relegated to a sideshow attraction and probably would have made a better primary antagonist for the first outing of the Suicide Squad, presenting an unpredictable but mortal and down-to-earth challenge rather than a mystical, bizarrely “Ghostbusters”-like end of the world scenario against which Waller thinks to send a soldier, a hitman, a drunken boomerang hurler, a cannibal with a severe skin condition and an emotionally unstable psychopath with a baseball bat to sort out.
I do actually believe there is a good “Suicide Squad” movie in here somewhere and I’ll be interested to see if Warner Brothers have the guts (or gall) to offer us a Director’s cut this time round because I find it hard to believe that David Ayer would have brought us such an aimlessly distasteful and dark film where its biggest gag is Batman punching a drowning woman in the face.
Batman presents the film with another problem, because the numerous cameos and references plus the appearance of another soon-to-be “Justice League” member serve to make the stuttering DCEU feel small rather than expansive and the film fails to explain why no other heroes (except Superman) turn up to see if they can help deal with the world-threatening crisis. Perhaps Batman was at home, washing his tights. Again. Add to that a mid-credits stinger which completely undermines one of “Suicide Squad”’s main characters while simultaneously further damaging the reputation of DC’s totemic ‘world’s greatest detective’ and you start to wonder what the hell is going on at WB/ DC?
If the changes and cuts were how the studio reacted to the lacklustre “Batman V Superman” reception, what will they do now? Hopefully “Wonder Woman” is too far down the line for them to dick around with but I bet you the notes are just flying in for the currently filming “Justice League”. Maybe they should have let the guys who marketed this movie actually make the movie?