First, a little backstory:
The first trailer for Suicide Squad released last year hit the audience in just the sweet spot. It looked fun and irreverent, well-paced and a charming reprieve from a dour series of films. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie that they actually made. Reportedly – and this is something I’ve never heard of before, Warner Bros then hired the company that made the trailer to recut the movie, hoping to make it match tone closer. The result is a muddled mess full of sound, fury, and obvious studio interference. Basic story structure and pacing fall by the wayside here in a conflicted attempt to make a crowd-pleaser out of a story which clearly wasn’t supposed to be. This is some next-level self-sabotage.
It’s almost impressive how bad Suicide Squad manages to be at everything it attempts. It’s not enough to be a gross, ugly, and hateful film; none of those individual qualities are what make it so bad. What makes it so bad is the combination of those qualities combined with how dull and toothless it is, and multiplied by how convinced it is of its own tortured edginess.
“What if the next Superman is a terrorist?” asks covert government analyst Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to the US government as she pitches her pet project: A task force of B-list villains that she can control with the aid of Special Forces soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). This team members Will Smith as famed assassin Deadshot, Margot Robbie as the Joker’s long-abused girlfriend Harley Quinn, a crocodile-man played by Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje and Jai Courtney as…. a guy that throws boomerangs? Waller also tries to control an ancient evil spirit inhabiting the body of an archaeologist (Cara Delevigne) who is also sleeping with Kinnaman’s Flagg, which is also part of Waller’s plan somehow? This obviously goes wrong, and the hashtag-sqwad assemble to… not take her out, I guess, but they do anyway?
Structurally, the film is all over the place. We’re “introduced” to the characters through a 20-minute sequence where Waller discusses each of their dossiers, and we see each of them doing the thing they are good at. Unfortunately, other than Harley, Deadshot, and the poorly-inserted backstory of the pyrokinetic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), this is about all we’re given. These aren’t characters; they’re stat sheets. They each have exactly enough motivation to fit on the back of an action figure box. Yet the film insists that they will all learn to love each other although we get nearly zero character interaction, we just see them mow down the putty patrol together. This makes the final showdown, resolved through the power of friendship, feel unearned.
Lurking in the background through an extended cameo is Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker, which he reads as a sexual-assault Juggalo, a white-trash Nabokov, a charmless stain of slime that feels impossible to remove. It feels like overkill to devote page space to this character, when he has about eight minutes of screentime total, but his presence completely debilitates any potential storyline for Harley, one of the main characters. The film not only normalizes and romanticizes their abusive relationship, but Harley can’t be anything more than the Joker’s strangely-infantilized sex puppet. This is already a movie which names an Asian woman after an object (and gives her mask slanted eyeholes) and refers to the sole Mexican character as “Ese” three separate times. It’s grossness for the sake of grossness. It’s not as shocking as the movie wants to be, it’s just lazy and offputting.
Above all, Suicide Squad’s greatest sin is that it has no soul.
If it had the guts to be as dark as it wants to be, I could at least respect it while hating it. Instead it pulls up on the throttle for fear of commercial failure, removing any possible case for artistry. (For evidence, it painfully attempts to copy the Guardians of the Galaxy formula by giving each character three or four song cues one after another.) The gamble doesn’t even pay off; the clash of tones just ends up grating. It’s a film that would benefit from either taking itself a bit more or a lot less seriously. Instead, you wind up with self-important nothingness reciting lines off Hot Topic T-Shirts and dancing around a ridiculous ‘90s-sci-fi story. There’s nothing to like about the mess that is Suicide Squad. It’s a film featuring an expert marksman that is constantly shooting itself in the foot.
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