"I am your consequence!"
Where to start? Suicide Squad is a motion picture seems like too obvious a statement to bother making, yet I'm making it anyway because there's a lot I'm still trying to sort out about this thing. I don't know where to begin is one of those rhetorical statements that people make when they can't readily produce an answer to a question, so perhaps I'm stalling by using it a second time. There is no easy answer to the question, "What's wrong with Suicide Squad?" because the simple answer is just about everything. See, there are literally so many things that leap into my mind the minute I ask myself that question, it makes it virtually impossible for me to select a place to start. In the interest of getting this show on the road, however, allow me to start with some positive things...
Suicide Squad is unrepentantly stupid. It is without a doubt one of the stupidest big budget movies I've ever seen. But Steve!, you say, you were going to start positively! Don't worry, I am. The thing about Suicide Squad is that it doesn't know it's stupid, and that's what makes it such an interesting movie. You take your run of the mill comic book movie failures, your Elektras, your Green Lanterns, your Jonah Hexes, these movies all have an air of no one gives a shit. In Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds took a page right out of Bruce Willis' playbook, putting himself knowingly above such stupid material so that, in the future, people would look back and say, "Oh he totally knew it was a piece of shit." The difference with Suicide Squad is that absolutely no one seems to realize that it's complete drivel, and that somehow makes it better.
For reasons far too complicated to explain, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of villains with special abilities to take down a threat against humanity from enhanced "meta-humans," or as Waller says, "What if the next Superman doesn't share our values?" Dubbed Task Force X, this team is called in to deal with just such a threat as an ancient evil is unleashed on Midway City. Now, if you plan to see the film, you're going to get lengthy explanations and music video-style montage introductions to each member of Task Force X, but I'll give you the Cliff Notes version: Deadshot (Will Smith) is a lethal assassin and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a crazed former psychiatrist, both captured by Batman (Ben Affleck). Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is a jewel thief captured by The Flash (Ezra Miller), fire-wielding El Diablo (Jay Henandez) turned himself in after accidentally killing his whole family, Killer Croc (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje) is crocodile man whose swimming abilities are sure to come in handy later in the movie, etc. etc. etc.
The big threat looming over the whole film isn't supernatural, but rather a very much controllable problem that grinds the movie to a complete halt several times, and its name is Jared Leto as The Joker. Every single discussion of the actor before the film was released centered around how immersed he was and how he never broke character on set. I have to say, the ends don't come close to justifying the means, because this is one of the most perplexing performances I've ever seen. Adopting a cadence somewhere between Heath Ledger's Joker and—strangely enough—Tommy Wiseau, Leto never lets you forget for a moment that he's an actor playing a part. We basically can't get "lost" in his performance because he and his director and co-stars have made that impossible. He looks like an asshole every single second he's on screen. I don't believe for a moment that a psychopath of this magnitude would sit still long enough for a tattoo, let alone the dozens he sports.
Worst of all, without that tiny bit of separation we might otherwise get if an actor wasn't so insistent on calling attention to his process, his appropriation of black culture is kind of nauseating. Think of this Joker as essentially James Franco in Spring Breakers. The difference there is that Franco was in on the joke. The fact that Leto refuses to break character makes me unsettled, but not for the reasons he intended. In fact, James Franco is the perfect comparison here. Jared Leto and James Franco are essentially two sides of the same faux-artsy coin. The difference is, Franco knows it's all kind of a joke, but Leto takes it seriously. This fact makes lines like, "I've got grape soda on ice and a bear skin rug waiting," disturbing. Ayer should have reigned this in, or better yet, never cast him in the first place.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the movie. It's a mess, narratively and from a pacing standpoint, feeling constantly at war with trying to move the story forward and making sure that every single character gets some bit of business to do in every scene. This is where the cries of "it's for the fans" fall on deafest ears, because bits of fan service should never interrupt the flow of the narrative. Ayer just wants to cram in as much as possible so it all ends becoming a whirlwind of apathy swirling above everyone who doesn't care about these characters. Ayer also fetishizes violence in the same way Zack Snyder does. Slow motion shots of heads being cut off, hails of bullets hitting the floor, kill shots; however, they just further emphasize how ridiculous it is that there's no blood. They never should have tried to make this a PG-13 film, but in the pre-Deadpool world in which this whole thing was conceived, I guess it made sense, it just can't help sticking out like a sore thumb.
None of the details really work all that well either, from the humor to the soundtrack to the tacked on and totally useless 3D. Many of the "jokes" landed with a thud in my mostly full screening last night. Even with the core audience there, ready to have a good time, nearly all of the humor fell flat. The soundtrack was also full of the most clichéd assortment of songs, it might has well have been programmed by someone raised exclusively on a diner jukebox. There's virtually no song here that hasn't been used better in another film, and the score is just a orgiastic swelling of strings—both acoustic and electric—during the scenes that aren't cut like music videos to a pop, rock, or hip-hop song. Also, please do not see this in 3D. I am a big proponent of 3D and love directors who know how to use it to their advantage. This film was not shot with an eye toward 3D at all, and handful of moments that might have worked better in 3D, don't. Save your money.
The performances are something of a mixed bag, but don't let anyone tell you these actors weren't trying. Out of the main squad, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, and Jay Hernandez acquit themselves the best of all the garbage dialogue. Jai Courtney is essentially mugging for the camera the entire time like the jock who got a crowd of people to laugh one time for pantsing a nerd, and now fancies himself the funny one in his crew. Joel Kinnaman is really trying too, especially to conceal his accent, leaving his performance a wash spoken through a mouth clenched perpetually around chaw. Cara Delevingne is far and away the most miscast among the principles—save he who must not be named again in my review—as the 23 year old is shockingly unconvincing as an archaeologist. We're talking Denise Richards nuclear physicist levels of "get the fuck out of here." She's also not a strong enough actress to handle the emotional angle of the character. Why not just cast someone more believable, like a 30-year old? Hell, I'd settle for 28.
Viola Davis is another story, though. She's fantastic. The thing that allows Viola Davis walk away from this thing completely unscathed is that she absolutely, positively convinces you that she believes the totally nonsensical dialogue she's delivering. It's the opposite of the Ryan Reynolds example from earlier in that Reynolds is playing it for the people hate-watching the movie, and Viola Davis thinks that the people who paid to see such claptrap, paid to see it delivered honestly. This similarly places her above her co-stars who are clearly trying far too hard to sell it because they fervently believe there's a message here worth hammering home. A message about family, and sticking together, and never giving up, and never leaving a man behind, and other things that are all basically the same thing.
This is essentially the conundrum with DC Films in general, it's trying so hard, so desperately to appeal to the fans that they can't be bothered churning out a coherent film. Batman v Superman suffered from simply being a film that needed three hours to sort out all of its intricacies, but rather than cutting in the scripting phase, they chose to shoot a three hour movie and release it as a two-and-a-half hour movie instead. That's why it's not offensively bad, it's more like little Timmy getting up in front of the class to give his book report, and instead Timmy just starts rambling about how cool it would be if Superman was like evil and Batman had to go to the desert to find him, and some of the boys in class—mostly his close friends—are like, "Yeah, Timmy! That's awesome! Go Timmy!" That's what it was, it was a movie made for the best friends (i.e. biggest fans) of the property.
Suicide Squad is the same thing all over again. It's not offensively bad, mainly because it's far too earnest. It's a movie made for the fans, and the fans are going to love it. That doesn't allow me to give it a pass for being incoherent, unimaginative, cheap-looking, and—above all else—complete and total hogwash, though. It's not a good movie, but the people who have gotten this far into the review should know that I don't mean that to offend the people who enjoy it. Do I wish the target audience for this film had higher aspirations? Yes, absolutely I wish they did, but I won't begrudge them their enjoyment of this film because it's trying awfully hard to appeal to them. This isn't Transformers, where it's unwatchable to anyone who's not a die-hard fan—and even then I know some who won't watch them. This is really and truly made for the fans, but it just forgot somewhere along the way that it should have cast a slightly wider net.
—ForceVite? Really? That's the best we could come up with?
—Up next on the Million Dollar Movie, Will Smith stars in Shaft Goes to Gotham
—Again with "The Bat"? Are we really not going to call him Batman in these movies?
—"Black Skinhead" by Kanye? Really? Even after Wolf of Wall Street, you're going to use this song? Whatever
—Joel Kinnaman shall heretofore be known as Discount John Hawkes
—Dramatic chicken wing eating
—In the span of two minutes we've got a woman getting punched in the face, and another being told to shut up multiple times. Yay feminism (Question mark)
—Oh boy, it wouldn't be a comic book movie without a big blue laser shooting up into the sky
—"Spirit in the Sky"? Even if Guardians of the Galaxy hadn't JUST used that song, there would be no excuse for it being used here
—There are more than 40 songs in this world, David Ayer
—That's a wrap on Adam Beach, ladies and gentleman! Blink and you missed him
—When did Doctor Harleen Quinzell squeeze in time to learn hand-to-hand combat? In between all that studying to become a licensed psychologist when she was 25?
—Is every fucking helicopter in this movie going to crash?
—I'm sorry, Deadshot read that entire dossier in the time it took the team to walk a block?
—I don't know what the exact moment was, but I simply wrote the word "Rubbish"
—Why is The Enchantress shaking like a Festrunk brother?
—Sample dialogue from this film...
- "Her heart's out, we can end this!"
- "Go ahead, you don't have the balls!"
- "I'm gonna need you to white people that shit."
- "Go get it, girl!"
- "Triangle, bitch!"
Directed by David Ayer
Written by David Ayer (John Ostrander, creator, Uncredited)
Produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Ike Barinholtz, David Harbour, Scott Eastwood, Common, Alain Chanoine, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller
Running Time: 123 minutes
This review originally appeared on Double Viking