Warning: Spoilers Below
You had one job, Suicide Squad. One job.
After the catastrophe that was Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and DC studios had one last hope for 2016: Suicide Squad, the movie with an all-star cast about a group of bad guys that save the world. This movie was supposed to have everything moviegoers like. Superheroes! Supervillains! Hot new stars! Style! Pizazz! A slick new album starring the biggest bands of today’s hits! The Joker!
The stage was set for the biggest potential hit of the summer. While film after film let people down, there was still an attitude of, “Well, at least we have Suicide Squad.”
If there’s one things we now know, it’s that high expectations = disappointment.
Suicide Squad starts out with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), evil granddaughter of Nick Fury, pitching an idea to some government heads. What if we had a group of supervillains that could do the stuff superheroes couldn’t do? Superheroes have moral codes. Let’s get some bad guys who can do the dirty work.
It’s an interesting idea, and that’s the kicker with this movie. It is full of interesting, out-of-the box ideas that have amazing creative potential. What if Harley’s gun says love and hate? What if El Diablo tells his backstory through flames? What if we have an awesome soundtrack? What if we make the Joker a mob-boss character to update and modernize him? What if Captain Boomerang has a… pink… unicorn fetish..??? (maybe not the best idea, whatever)
However, that is also the film’s biggest weakness. The small stylistic details of this film are fantastic. The overall movie is messy, chaotic, and boring. The only explanation I can make for this is that David Ayer, the director, got too caught up in his little spurts of genius that he forgot to make a coherent movie with a story.
Why does the story fail? Here’s the rest of the plot. After Amanda Waller gives baseball-card origin story intros (i.e, a still frame giving quick intros to the characters and a flashback) to the two biggest stars, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and name drops the others, the government says yes. When you live in a world where Batman and Superman destroy cities and kill people in the name of justice, you can basically justify anything.
So Amanda Waller goes to the Belle Reve prison and introduces us to each of the characters with a theme song playing in the background. When you see Deadshot hitting a punching bag, you get a sample of “House of The Rising Sun” (can you guess where the prison is located, maybe “down in New Orleans”?). Then we see Harley Quinn doing gymnastics, and hear “You Don’t Own Me.” It’s perfect because she’s a strong independent woman. Get it? No? Here’s a shot of her butt to distract you. Yay girlpower!
So on and so forth. Once the team is assembled, with a cameo by Slipknot, a certified redshirt, and the only lines of dialogue you’ll hear from Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, and Katana for a while, they are sent into the city. The city looks exactly like a normal DC city, one devoid of life, light, color, and hope.
Why must they go into the city? If you’ve seen The Avengers, Ghostbusters, etc, you know there’s a monster creating a portal in the city that creates a faceless, bloodless army. In this case, the monster is Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an evil spirit that invades mild-mannered archeologist June Moone.
The first part of this movie is fast-paced and jumpy, but it works. It has a style, and I admire that. I was enjoying the film. Then comes the middle. The middle is all about getting to the portal in the city and destroying bad guys along the way, but the film makes no effort to make that interesting. We never understand what these faceless soldiers are or their strengths and weaknesses. We never understand why June Moone and Rick Flag are in love. We never understand why after an hour and a half of not talking to anyone, El Diablo calls the squad his family. We don’t understand why Joker and Harley are in love, except that they are both crazy. This middle section relies on what the director thinks audiences think is interesting, which is half-executed, lazily repetitive action sequences that don’t do anything except move the squad a little towards point B. The style of the first part of the film vanishes.
The whole film plays like a video game. Introduce the characters. Choose which character you want to be (Deadshot or Harley). Joker cameo! Curveball. Move towards portal. Fight. Take a break. Exchange one-liner. Fight. Get in elevator. Fight. Leave elevator. Joker cameo. One-liner. Get to portal. Power up. Each shot only lasts 5-10 seconds, each scene no longer than a minute.
The film sells its audiences on its bizarre trailers and the idea that bad guys get to have more fun. This begs the question: What makes a bad guy more fun? Is it the gun wielding, murder-fest? Because if so, this movie delivers in an untimely, tone-deft way. Is it because bad guys get the one-liners and tough talk? If you want that, head over to Stark Tower, because there are no memorable lines here. Do we like bad guys because they appeal to our own flawed character? If there is something to be said for the DC movies so far, it is that it makes its heroes more morally ambiguous. To foil those characters, these villains must be completely bad. In this film, though, they aren’t. They want to be normal, in a wet blanket sort of way, and they can’t commit to being completely evil. Will Smith never lets Deadshot be unlikable. Harley Quinn tells El Diablo to wear his tragic, murderous backstory on his sleeve, and yet her perfect ending is to be a housewife with curlers in her hair, taking care of a baby and the Joker. These “villains” are more heroic than bad, at least by this cinematic universe’s standards, so why should we think they’re more fun anyway?
If the film decided to go into depth on any topic, it would be a much better film. Explain to me the psychology of a villain. Show me how messed up people can bond. Tell me why even bad guys can be better than the good guys, and the frailty of those labels. Instead, the film just insults the audience’s intelligence over and over again, giving us no message and getting mad we don’t get its “high artistic vision.”
Now I know that there was studio meddling involved. David Ayer has confirmed there were 6-7 cuts of this film before this theatrical version. However, as the director, he has to take responsibility for what this film is, which is a film that had potential but poor execution. When the film was finished I was bored, exhausted, annoyed, and saddened all at the same time. I can’t imagine what it is like for DC comic books fans, who see their favorite characters made into racist and sexist stereotypes, lacking the depth and interest of their on-page counterparts. My message to the Suicide Squad team? Enjoy your ideas, but make sure they are good ones, and be sure you can actually deliver, or else you will have an empty gun-shell of a movie.