Yikes. Four months after Zack Snyder hilariously hacked up the hectically hazardous hairball that was Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. and DC Films are back with Suicide Squad, an oddball atrocity wherein women are punched in the face for laughs, Will Smith struggles to juggle treacly daddy/daughter flashback time with his duties as a contract killer, and Jared Leto auditions to be the worst screen version of the Joker yet witnessed by human eyes. It’s a tall order, but worry not, because director (and co-writer, just so he can shoulder more blame) David Ayer is up to the task!
That task may or may not involve bending to the trigger-happy whims of nervous studio execs, who ordered reshoots in the wake of Batman v Superman’s critical drubbing and lukewarm audience response. Reshoots are a considerably common occurrence in today’s Hollywood, so no need to panic at the thought of them, but Suicide Squad has the distinct stink of a bad movie made worse by studio tinkering.
Just a couple minutes into the movie, Ayer has already burned through three songs on his cobbled-together 70s playlist in what amounts to a rushed pair of introductions for imprisoned killers Deadshot (Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, clearly putting in more effort than the movie deserves). Then we meet Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), an intimidating government official prepped to peddle her insane idea of forming a supervillain team for covert ops to a couple of other government officials.
Waller’s plan is the start of an epically stupid series of decisions that basically amount to mishandling an ancient witch and arming a bunch of killers to stop her. Ayer dashes through the specifics so quickly that we’re never afforded an opportunity to make any sense of this situation and sense is desperately needed at this point. Characters make bad calls in movies all the time, but this is pure lunacy.
It’s also executed in the clumsiest fashion possible. When Waller lays out her plan for the Department of Defense while holed up in a war room, the prevailing opinion is that her idea is indeed ridiculous, but then everything goes off the rails so quickly that her plan conveniently ends up the only viable option as a potential apocalypse nears. The events that precipitate this situation are so ramshackle in their presentation and so utterly idiotic in concept that Ayer may as well attempt to communicate them to us telepathically. There’s hardly a worse way to set up yet another world-ending conflict in a superhero movie.
So Waller gets her team and we get a pile of flashbacks that are designed to illustrate a tiered system in terms of character importance. Deadshot and Harley Quinn get lengthy chronicles of their personal history, whereas other team members like guilt-ridden gangbanger Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and beer-swilling Aussie Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) get brief bursts of backstory. Others still just show up out of nowhere or basically get lost in the mix. Some book their flashback for late into the movie, long after everyone else, while one team member’s presence feels like such an afterthought that they may as well have just stayed home.
It takes so long for Ayer to introduce all of the characters that it feels like the movie should be winding down just as it’s finally ramping up. At this point, we’re deep into Ayer’s omnipresent playlist, which briefly leaves the 70s to entertain us with an Eminem song that backs a scene of the team suiting up, but is mainly an excuse to kill some time until Harley is done changing into a pair of patriotic panties.
With the team assembled and a threat tailor-made for their deployment, Ayer gets in touch with his inner John Carpenter mimic and stages a portion of the movie that feels ripped right from the frames of Escape from New York. Because classic Carpenter is a cornerstone of genre greatness, even aping one of the guy’s most iconic movies is enough to put Suicide Squad briefly within reach of something semi-promising. It’s still not far off from terrible, since this segment features such cheesy silliness as Deadshot staring longingly at a mannequin family in a department store window, but the dystopian imagery borrowed from the brilliant Carpenter at least puts in perspective what Ayer is currently aiming for.
But before much good can come of this diversion, the team is suddenly locked in cinematic video game mode, gunning down a literally faceless zombie horde. It briefly becomes a more expensive, more obnoxious Resident Evil sequel. At least those movies have Milla Jovovich. Suicide Squad just has Jai Courtney. To be fair, Courtney is far more animated and far less wooden here than he’s been in every other Hollywood role he’s booked the past few years, so that’s a plus, but the cast is at the mercy of a disastrous screenplay and haphazard editing.
Robbie fares relatively well and Cara Delevingne does her best with a role that includes more awkward dancing than actual acting, but beyond that, you have a boring (or bored?) Joel Kinnaman, a familiar Will Smith minus most of his usual charm, and a latex-covered, nearly wordless, and entirely useless Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The cast isn’t great, but some of them, like Hernandez, certainly deserve a better movie. Regardless, it’s pointless to blame Suicide Squad’s suckiness on the actors. Well, except for Leto. You can blame Leto all you want.
The blame can be shot off in all directions, of course. It’s not one or ten things that sinks this Squad; it’s practically everything. The lumbering mess is such a piss-pot of an experience that even by bad movie standards, it lacks the joyful sting of a preposterous chuckle at its own expense. At least Batman v Superman gave us two warring heroes bonding over their mothers’ name. Suicide Squad just gives us a whole lot of hateful garbage that, even more shockingly, is apparently meant to be humourous.
So, doesn’t this all feel a bit... reprehensible? Sure, Robbie and Delevignine are beautiful young women and Hollywood is packed with directors who would happily doll them up in skimpy outfits, but one would hope that wouldn’t be coupled with women getting randomly clocked as a gag. This strange attitude extends even to the periphery.
The mother of Deadshot’s daughter is completely unseen for the entirety of the movie, but we still get to hear that she’s a deadbeat parent who requires her tween daughter to raise her. This is apparently a way to level the parental playing field. Deadshot’s a bad dad because he kills people, but hey, the mom’s bad too because she lies in bed and has her daughter make pancakes! There’s even a moment when an area of the besieged city is being evacuated and an extra in a wedding dress runs by the camera as she spouts one whiny line. Geez, it’s the end of the world and all this woman can think of is that her special day is being ruined!
Picking on such tiny scraps of such a colossal piece of crap may seem like a waste of time, but the point is that one doesn’t even have to dig to find the misogyny. Even if Ayer feels he has his bases covered since Harley ends up something of a hero in this context and Waller is tough stuff, these potential positives are powerless to offset the otherwise glaring treatment of the female characters. Thinking positively, one could argue that no one in the movie is really a hero and that this is all about the dangerous actions of some very blackened souls, except that doesn’t really hold up, either.
Suicide Squad is intended to be a tale of psychotics on the loose, a reversal of the superhero genre where we follow the bad guys instead of the good ones, but for all of their nasty grimaces, the characters are too easily let off the hook with their sympathetically tragic backstories. Pouring syrup over the attempted heartstring-tugging moments only sickeningly sweetens what wasn’t sour enough already.
The off-kilter vacillation between violent meanness and sentimental self-loathing leaves the movie hanging in some sort of pitiful dramatic limbo, never a frightening look at the dark side of saving the world, nor a moving examination of men and women who were forced down the wrong path. It’s just a bunch of loud, obnoxious idiocy scored to a million songs you’ve heard before and will wonder why you’re hearing again. It’s not that the songs aren’t great, just like the movie’s problems aren’t derived from Robbie’s mostly fun performance, but it’s all thrown together so randomly and artlessly, as if to apply any reasonable thought to the filmmaking process would have caused Ayer’s brain to explode.
Perhaps all this chaos is secretly DC’s way of countering Marvel’s cookie-cutter cleanness. Whether intentional or not (surely it can’t be intentional), there’s certainly worth in taking a different approach and swinging for the fences so quickly out of the gate. Geez, mixing my sports metaphors, it would seem. Perhaps it’s the aftereffect of a DC Films headache, the kind of crushing, debilitating force that seems to be pinning down any attempt at sensibility in WB and DC’s cinematic ranks right now.
It’s more than a little worrisome that we’re finally getting a solo Wonder Woman movie next year and yet it’s going to arrive courtesy of the boneheads who beat or killed off most of the females in their last two blockbusters, but this is where we’re at. Batman v Superman was an ugly mess and Suicide Squad is arguably even more hideous. It’s a tale of bad people who want to be good people, but dammit, life’s handed them a raw deal. They’re not the only ones getting screwed. Audiences can at least witness another train wreck, but what once was strangely funny is now just simply sad.