The critics have been pretty scathing about this latest offering from the DC comic universe whilst fans have been very vocal with their enjoyment and aggressive towards those who have not shared their opinions. As is always my policy, only by viewing the piece can comment be made. So I have watched it and have thus formulated my own opinions. However I have found myself falling off the fence towards the opinions shared by critics.
The following will include a number of spoilers so do not hamper your own enjoyment by reading on if you intend on watching the film yourself.
Following on so quickly from the dud that was ‘Batman vs Superman’, released mere months ago, comes ‘Suicide Squad’ a tale about a group of villains from the DC Universe coming together for a special mission for the good guys, who are of course the US Government. The formulation of this squad is based on the possibility that now Superman is dead another Superman might exist and could potentially not be on the side of the authorities and therefore a terrorist. This Taskforce of unruly and uncontrollable maniacs is supposedly going to be a line of defence against the forces of darkness. It makes as much sense as two good guys (Batman and Superman) going up against each other. That being said the concept has vast potential. Antiheroes receiving the focus for an entire film fits the DC Universe much better than Marvel given the darker tones explored through the comic books and also previous film adaptations such as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Sadly, the final result is nothing but a crushing disappointment.
This is probably an old-fashioned idea but this film needed someone to write the plot and a scene breakdown on a piece of paper. Such a basic act would’ve revealed the well documented glaring structural problems that exist throughout. As expected, the film required a number of scenes introducing the vast cast of characters who would form Taskforce X. These introductions are not balanced in the slightest with numerous flashback sequences and a central focus on Deadshot and Harley Quinn but more of them later. Making the introductions is Amanda Waller, a Government official who has struck upon the nonsensical idea of using the most dangerous criminals to execute dangerous missions. She is deliberately unlikeable to encourage the audience to root for the squad, revisiting conspiracy-fuelled themes of distrust for authority figures.
To be clear however there is no immediate threat that requires the formation of the Suicide Squad. Such is the abysmal plotting, the squad’s formation creates the threat that they end up battling. Amanda Waller manufactures the peril herself as before the team is even formed one of the members goes rogue, the Enchantress.
Cara Delevingne is a model trying to act and frankly it comes across that way. She is the most bland villainess to hang an entire movie on. The key to any good drama is to create peril with an imposing and believable villain. It is no wonder that when it really matters her dialogue is heavily manipulated by voice effects in an attempt to add gravitas and threat which Delevingne is simply incapable of delivering. As the movie reaches is climax the Enchantress has created a Stargate in the sky because magic is the perfect excuse for yet another CGI monstrosity that looks visually impressive but lacks meaning or intelligent thought. Similarly, her faceless soldiers are meaningless fodder to add jeopardy and her brother, another CGI creation which is particularly unconvincing.
Part of the Enchantress’ backstory is that this mythical being, worshipped as a God by an unidentified Central American civilisation, has taken over the body of archaeologist June Moon. She in turn is the love interest of Rick Flag, the military man charged with controlling the unruly Suicide Squad. His character is quite strong, admittedly with questionable motivation but he is a solid presence in the film and shares the lead with the only major actor Will Smith as Deadshot with the two characters providing an engaging double act throughout.
Deadshot is the real lead of the piece, sharing entertains exchanges with Rick Flag. This is unsurprising given the casting of consistent leading man and box office draw, Will Smith. The appearance of such a familiar star does mean that Deadshot’s mask is only worn briefly so as not to conceal the film’s top star. Deadshot does however receive the most attention regarding his backstory. In fact Deadshot receives three introductions all of which are focused on his daughter. Whilst it is of course difficult to be separated from your child the point is excessively laboured and frankly he may be a talented shot but he could always get a job at Wallmart to provide for his daughter instead of choosing the life of the hitman. Fortunately Smith’s ability as the wise-cracking lead, mirroring Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman for Marvel, showcase those skills honed in other summer blockbusters such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. This influence is crucial in making the chaos presented remotely passable for viewers.
Other members of the Suicide Squad receive much less attention. Diablo is particularly interesting, seemingly underestimating his power and ending up incinerating his wife and children, but even this could’ve been presented clearer. Killer Croc is also very well realised but is presented as a simple monster. Similarly, Katana and Boomerang are given very little introduction but the latter is at least particularly entertaining outside of the fight sequences. Shamefully the character of Slipknot is not even introduced properly but appears only to get killed, such is the amateurish plotting to prove a point as to why the squad are participating in this madness. With so many characters it was always a tall order to give them equal coverage but that possibility is extinguished as the limelight is instead hogged by Harley Quinn.
The character of Harley Quinn is intriguing, corrupted by the Joker and choosing to follow in his crazed footsteps. Margot Robbie is tasked with bringing her to the screen and is very entertaining as the pigtailed lunatic. However, Harley is completely over sexualised, bordering on the grotesque mysogynistic. Sexually licking the bars of her cell is one thing but deliberate shots of her hotpants and rear end are simply unnecessary. Her impractical outfit is then maximised by a predictable rain shower which allows for Harley’s entry into a wet t-shirt contest. Whilst I am sure none of the suits involved in constructing this film are even remotely aware of the popularity of Harley Quinn with cosplayers but the sexualised image presented in this film is going to be replicated by teenage girls. As a result all those involved, from the film makers to the distributor, have a responsibility to consider how these images are going to impact on their audience. Another individual hampered by the decisions made regarding their onscreen appearance is the Joker.
Jared Leto’s Joker is an irrelevance in the film. Whereas Ben Affleck’s Batman makes a few cameos over the two hour duration, the Joker can only be described as having an extended cameo. I’m not sure if I was expecting more of him during the film but watching Leto’s portrayal I am grateful that his appearances were limited. He has to provide the worst onscreen version of the Joker ever. It is a modern interpretation but that results in an image conscious gangster, hanging out in nightclubs, covered in bling and tattoos. He is unpredictable and manic, capable of spinning on a razor blade but the Joker’s unpredictability should also extend to his image. The sinister false smile is sadly now only a tattoo on the back of his left hand. Making the Joker look like a typical gangster, save for the green hair, reduces him instead of elevating him above stereotypes. This gangster image therefore smothers what interesting aspects Leto was attempting to bring to the role. The one successful line is when the Joker declares that he is “just going to hurt you, really, really badly”. Leto is stripped back and delivers the line in a truly sinister manner, it is just a shame that there is so little else that matches this high point.
I cannot understand how the final product can possibly be the vision which the director David Ayer had set out with when embarking on the project. It is a textbook example of a studio corrupting their own output based on the reactions of the public to other movies. For example jokes are inserted, not skilfully but in a manner akin to dropping an anvil onto an orchestra and expecting a symphony, because Deadpool’s wit entertained audiences. Similarly, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ featured a brilliant soundtrack, presented as a mix-tape which entertains both Star Lord during the story as well as the watching audience but the retro tracks also juxtapose so well with the futuristic alien visuals. Suicide Squad however just drops recognisable tunes into the edit with no connection whatsoever to the visuals. The most appropriate word to describe it is ‘cynical’.
DC have been playing catchup with Marvel’s movie offerings but instead of embracing the differences they have simply attempted to replicate their successful formula. Suicide Squad is a missed opportunity that is so poorly executed but because it has drawn massive business at the Box Office it will be declared a success. The standalone Wonder Woman movie looks promising and hopefully will not be clouded by the influence or appearance of another superhero to distract from the plot. DC’s inevitable response to Marvel’s Avengers will of course follow with the Justice League movie. Given the deeply flawed offerings of ‘Batman vs Superman’ and now ‘Suicide Squad’ the Justice League movie has to be approached with a significant amount of trepidation.