Suicide Squad

*1/2

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Suicide Squad
"Just as these characters all sound like they are named by pre-teen kids playing with action figures (apologies to the storied history of DC) the plotting follows suit by treating them just like poseable toys."

As of writing, the cat is well and truly out of the bag with Suicide Squad. Ayer declared “Fuck Marvel” at a premiere, and then bashfully apologised. Leto has complained of cut scenes, the film's messy development spilling out past the limits of the screen and into column inches. The whirling chaos around the production and the knock on of these issues - maybe it won’t screen in China? - are sadly far more entertaining than the film itself, despite a few moments of hope amid the wreckage.

Tentpole blockbusters are no stranger to lumpen pacing and awkward plotting, but Ayer’s script almost revels in flicking between teaser trailer bites of characterisation and plodding scenes of US Squaddie formation porn. The cast of misfits that make up the titular Squad are introduced by way of vignettes that look more suited to video game pull screens as Viola Davis' steely, hard as nails Amanda Waller outlines her plan for a fail-safe against the rising metahuman threat. Flashy graphics, stylised icons, overused musical cues, and a big fat folder plastered with “Top Secret” figure heavily in an overlong, flabby preamble that's only rescued by Davis’ no-nonsense attitude.

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In the mess of exposition special attention is rightly lavished on Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who rise above the milieu of the C-lister villains and generic US troops they share their screen time with. The crux of Suicide Squad’s failing is really that that it is perhaps four or maybe even six different films all mashed into one to compete with the leviathan of The Avengers and Civil War, each of them bringing their own title song with them to create an ill-judged mixtape.

Let’s get the good out of the way: Smith is particularly charismatic as the hitman that never misses. At times it feels as though there’s a far better film about a killer with a heart of gold trying to get out out of a tangle of other threads. This is confirmed both by his electricity on screen, and role as de facto leader coming naturally to the seasoned actor. Further proof is provided in a short exchange between Deadshot and his daughter about how to work out the hypotenuse in high school maths by way of calculating the angle of a shot, to sniping elevation, to street level mark. It’s messy, but fun, and Smith hams it up appropriately, and brings weight to his character’s quick firing action sequences.

Alongside the Deadshot film nestled in here, there’s also a Harley Quinn film bubbling under the surface whenever the camera remembers that there’s more to Robbie’s performance than some Kylie hotpants. Leto’s joker has long been a point of contention among cast members and film news writers, with the internet straining to bursting point trying to cover all the inane hijinks he purportedly performed on set, and the end result doesn’t quite justify the bustle. Looking like he’s walked out a particularly lurid page of a Frank Miller novel, the Joker is all extravagance and excess, mixing Twenties style with early Gary Oldman Drexel-chic. He has the looks and the laugh, but is barely more than an extended cameo.

Given the lifelessness of the rest of the film, it’s a real shame as the Joker/Quinn parts are played out well - a catastrophically violent Romeo and Juliet, whose scenery chewing would be far more devastating than the by numbers villain that the plot is lumbered with, if only they’d get the chance to shine properly before cutting back to dreary Midway City. What’s truly infuriating is that these seeds of ideas are genuinely great, but they are sadly lost in DC’s rat race with Marvel’s slick plate-juggling blockbusters.

To keep up the numbers, the Squad is filled out with more D-list villains, but they’re all reduced to such slight roles that it feels like forced padding. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is an angry backstabbing thief. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is a slight Asian girl with a magic sword who wants to kill everyone. Jay Hernandez and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje fill up the ranks as Diablo and Killer Croc, an explosive pyromaniac who doesn’t want to be a monster any more and a leathery devil who absolutely does want to be a monster, respectively. Finally, Joel Kinnaman is jarhead maximum - Rick Flag - an all-American hero who ends up falling in love with Cara Delevingne's ethereal Enchantress, the catalyst for the world ending threat that calls the squad into action.

Just as these characters all sound like they are named by pre-teen kids playing with action figures (apologies to the storied history of DC) the plotting follows suit by treating them just like poseable toys. The enemies are nothing but mindless ciphers, an enchanted army of zombies who can also use guns, because Ayer likes guns, but don’t bleed or bear any consequence of the Squad’s zany high violence to maximise marketability. They’re bowling pins to be knocked over to a series of terribly conceived and contrived musical numbers - think Snyder’s Watchmen but with even less panache - and frequently they’re indistinguishable from the dim, ruined streets that serve as the film’s droll setting.

The central threat of the film, the force that is creating the army, is given a hand-waved explanation via ancient occultist power that becomes a catch-all for zombified troops, an engine of destruction and a mind probe, to create a perfect storm of nonsense that is yet another throwaway Macguffin on the junkyard sea of Macguffins that now exists after nearly a decade of these efforts. The Suicide Squad’s pull is supposedly their potential for irreverence and mayhem - they are a disposable force, as liable to detonate from internal squabbling as they are from the cliched subdermal bombs they’re forced to wear as restraining collars - but they’re kept on so short a leash they never get the chance to bare their teeth.

Ayer’s “Fuck Marvel” statement might have not been an ill-advised piece of adolescent bravado. It may well have been a chagrined cry. Fuck Marvel for raising the bar for popcorn entertainment in a way that precludes garish, eye-roll inducing, try hard flicks from getting the nod of approval. Fuck Marvel for having the foresight to give their characters long lead ins, so that they can juggle multiple characters effectively. Fuck Marvel for picking directors who actually know how to use a song in a film to reinforce a scene. At least for all its sins, it’s briefer than these titanic affairs usually are, but for all the bellyaching of its production, it’s disappointing that the end result wasn’t a raffish Deadshot film or a careening, high octane Harley Quinn story.

Reviewed on: 05 Aug 2016
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Suicide Squad packshot
A secret government agency recruits jailed supervillains to take on a dangerous mission.
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