SUICIDE SQUAD (Warner Bros.)
Dir, Script. David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis
Plot: In a world frightened of Superman-like terrorists, a ruthless CIA agent (Davis) assembles a secret team of criminals to stop meta-human threats.
Suicide Squad is a welcome and prescient reminder that cloning is something that we probably shouldn’t mess with – sure, we may be able to find a way in which we can successfully create identical human beings cosmetically, but who’s to say it won’t have defects? Whose to say it won’t have four toes, or the wrong genitalia, or no lungs at all? The latest movie in Warner Bros. and DC’s rather expensive game of ‘Tag’, in which Marvel has been evading them for some years now, has been successfully cloned from the Marvel model cosmetically, what with its superheroes, interconnected narratives and larger-than-life action, but take a deeper look and you’ll find issues. Suicide Squad has a pretty face torn from a 15 year old regular Hot Topic customer with a fake lip ring so as to not anger their conservative, church-going parents. But what that face covers is an anatomy where every bone, ligament and organ has been thrown in a bag, pushed down the stairs, carried back up them only to be thrown again, shaken around like a champagne bottle and dropped back into the body from the roof of the Burj Khalifa.
In layman’s terms, its a ‘style over substance’ textbook example. Suicide Squad is absolutely the movie you would have expected to see from the trailer, what with its subversive, punk-rock approach to the comic book blockbuster. But the entire film plays like a trailer – its just a bunch of cool images and characters strung together like a ragdoll’s hair with a random assortment of songs that have absolutely no connection, and are yet being passed off as a soundtrack to rival Guardians Of The Galaxy. In fact, if you were to describe Suicide Squad as a poor man’s Guardians, you can’t be far off. Back in May, I talked about the editing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows as being ‘the precise feeling of what it’s like to strap your head at a 90-degree angle to a washing machine mid-spin cycle, whilst getting repeatedly jabbed by a windmill moving in the opposite direction’. Suicide Squad is what happens when a film is edited to death and then kicked in its lifeless face for another hour. This is the only film I can think of in which a film’s editing is actively trying to attack the film with a meat cleaver and turn whatever remained of the story into a lattice best resembling a glass window post-bricking. There are several theories I could posit as to why Suicide Squad was ripped to shreds on the cutting room floor: a disgruntled Warner Bros. executive? A nervous Warner Bros. executive? A stupid Warner Bros. executive? Either way, the studio bigwig responsible should be tried in The Hague for a war crime and made to face the chaos that they have created.
Thing is, the editing issue is becoming systematic over at DC. The first hour of the theatrical cut (and I do stress ‘theatrical cut’, as the Ultimate Edition is kind of okay) of Batman v Superman was a jumbled up mess, filled with illogical cuts and devoid of any narrative drive. Suicide Squad ramps up Warner Bros. revolutionary ‘why not do it blindfolded’ approach to film editing a step further, succeeding in making the first half-hour of the movie insufferable. There are exposition dumps and then there are exposition meteor strikes. Not content with introducing nearly every member of the squad in list format and authoritative Viola Davis narration, it feels the need to introduce Will Smith and Margot Robbie (whose characters are so focused on at the expense of everybody else the film might as well have been called ‘Harley Quinn and Deadshot’s Excellent Adventure’) TWICE. I’ll leave you to ponder how a $175m blockbuster could make the fundamental error of filming two intros and forgetting to cut one of them. The whole first act is incredibly laborious, and while I’d love to talk about the second one, I can’t review something that doesn’t exist. We jump from set-up to Midway City, under attack from an ancient sorceress inhabiting the model of the 12 year old supermodel Cara Delevigne, and making her gyrate a portal of indeterminate purpose into the sky above. In a Golden Raspberry-calibre performance, Delevigne gets to do the trendy warped villain voice that seems to be the trend of late, and introduces the world to the sound of Joanna Lumley injected with Propofol.
However, in a sudden jolt from my ranting reminiscent of Warner Bros. revolutionary ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ approach to film editing (if they can’t be bothered to cut an intro, I don’t need to cut a simile), the performances aren’t too bad at all – in fact, besides the reliably forgettable spokesman for oakfurnitureland.com since 2014 Joel Kinnaman, everybody’s a decent watch. Even Jai Courtney is somewhat tolerable in this film, proof that we see small miracles every day. The stand out is Robbie, who finally makes the leap to bona fide megastar as Harley Quinn, with a delightfully mental display. It speaks volumes that Robbie has now become almost synonymous with the Harley Quinn moniker, and despite people preaching out that Robbie is overtly sexualised to the point of misogyny, Robbie makes Harley Quinn an especially believable character in that respect – she’s confident, unstable, on the edge, but spectacular to watch, and Robbie is a complete livewire let loose in that role.
The only actor that comes close to touching Margot in Suicide Squad is Jared Leto, who makes for a memorable new Joker despite the character being painfully underused – and in the very few scenes in which the Joker-Quinn relationship is depicted, its done very well. Leto, who infamously never broke character on set and sent fellow actors especially abnormal packages, is a little more cartoonish than the incredible Heath Ledger depiction of the character in The Dark Knight, but Leto’s different angle, painting the Joker as a deranged, narcissistic personality works well, and adds another layer to his and Harley’s destructive relationship. The rest of the squad are solid too: Will Smith shows why he’s still the consummate blockbuster actor, adding soul to the expert hitman Deadshot, and Jay Hernandez stands out as the morally conflicted Diablo. Special mentions too go to Viola Davis, who turns shady CIA agent Amanda Waller into the most interesting and layered character in the whole movie, proving once again just how talented the How To Get Away With Murder star truly is.
Waller’s ambiguity extends to the quality of David Ayer’s direction: although respected for his work as a director on End Of Watch and Fury, as well as being the acclaimed writer of Training Day and credited for writing a bit of the first Fast & Furious movie, Ayer is thwarted at every turn. For me, it seems especially paradoxical for Warner Bros, a studio that for decades has prized itself as filmmaker-driven, would want to hire Ayer and then put him under the large and looming thumb of the profit-driven executives. Ayer’s dialogue shines through sometimes, but whatever ideas he had for the story are totally wasted because of the edit being so hopelessly incompetent. In addition to that, it seems that Warner distracted Ayer by sending him to the wrong set on action filming days, as every action sequence feels as if Zack Snyder was in the chair. In fact, the Snyder tropes of bullet casings assaulting the frame and ostentatious slow-motion are even more exaggerated here than usual, as if Warner Bros. blackmailed Ayer into directing everything Snyder-style to maintain visual consistency throughout the DCEU. The whole of Suicide Squad feels like Ayer is trapped in a prison not unlike Belle Reve, the high-security penitentiary where the Squad are holed up for previous offences, and the filmmaker’s vision is prevented from escaping its cell by an armada of Warner Bros. execs.
And that last line is a decent summary – Suicide Squad isn’t a narrative film half the time. It’s just a manufactured product designed to hit a checklist rather than work as a movie that people will actually like. What infuriates me even more is that Suicide Squad has the characters and the actors there to make a fantastic comic book film. Robbie and Leto are genuinely terrific, everybody else in the team is pretty solid (Even Jai Courtney! Beyond my wildest dreams!) besides the dull Kinnaman, and a lot of the dialogue scenes that Ayer writes kind of work. However, Suicide Squad is structurally useless, approached in the entirely wrong way and then misshaped and damaged ever further. Suicide Squad, despite its uniqueness, has far too many fundamental issues that can be ignored. Worse still, the movie seems to be symptomatic of major problems inside the DC camp, so frightened of being behind Marvel for a second longer that they desperately try to rush their universe forward – and if this patient doesn’t attempt to take care of itself, they might end up becoming inoperable.
BEST WATCHED: If you wanted to see it, don’t be put off, there’s plenty that’ll make it worthwhile.
The DC release schedule is beginning to look a lot like a Jenga tower: it’s pretty stacked, and you feel like its only one removed block away from crashing. There are positives to note: Wonder Woman has been generating great buzz since its trailer debut, and the surprise teaser for Justice League (Part I, of course) seems to have gone for a lighter approach than the deathly serious tone on Batman v Superman. As well as that, the solo movies for The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg will all be coming out within the next few years, although to my mind it seems quite backward for Warner to want to do these characters’ solo movies after they appear in the crossovers.