Length: 123 mins
Writer: David Ayer
Dir.: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney
On paper, Suicide Squad should have been an amazing movie. The premise is solid and intriguing – centering around a team of villains who are press-ganged into saving the day. Its interesting visual style was apparent from the trailers – a contrasting blend of grungy noir aesthetic with neon-bright colours. It has a knock-out cast featuring some of the biggest names in Hollywood (and Jai Courtney) – including the most charming man on the planet, two Oscar winners and several up-and-coming talents. And it’s got Batman in it – what more could you want? Warner Bros’ latest attempt to catch-up with Marvel and further solidify its shaky cinematic universe had all the ingredients of a great film… which makes it all the more frustrating that Suicide Squad is absolutely, unequivocally, diabolically shite.
Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no getting away from the fact that Suicide Squad is, objectively, a terribly made movie. It never fails to astound me that so many talented, capable people can make films this bad. Aside from (most) of the performances, nearly every aspect of this movie is mishandled and poorly executed – reflecting the apparent chaos that went on behind-the-scenes during its production. According to a recent article, Warner Bros. execs were extremely nervous about this title even before production began, and this only intensified after Batman v Superman failed to reach their insane $1 billion box office target. This apparently resulted in multiple cuts of the same movie: the director, David Ayer’s, original vision; and the studio sanctioned tone-deaf, cliched, over-the-top shit-show that seems to have been released.
[Edit: In a recent interview with Collider, David Ayer claimed ownership of the released cut of Suicide Squad, meaning that he is indeed responsible for the tone-deaf, cliched, over-the-top shit-show. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen – the cynic in me thinks that Ayer is taking the flak for the studio, but that’s pure speculation on my part.]
The story is a complete mess, somehow managing to be overly-complicated and brain-numbingly simple at the same time. This is exacerbated by some appallingly bad editing (the result of having too many people involved in the process), terrible pacing, and an inconsistent tone that jumps from serious drama to cheap humour in a matter of seconds. While the actors have great chemistry on-screen and off, the dialogue is clunky and vacuous – characters talk incessantly but say very little. There’s absolutely no time for the characters to develop and some of them get little to no introduction at all – they turn up, say something trite, and get on with it. You can’t really get invested in anything that is going on when you don’t really care about any of the characters.
As I mentioned, none of the drawbacks of the movie are a result of bad performances. Everyone does well, but it is clear right from the off that Will Smith and Margot Robbie are the stars of the show, with both Deadshot and Harley Quinn getting the lion’s share of the screen-time and what limited character development is on offer. Lumping their story-lines into what is ostensibly a team-up movie does feel like a miss-step, and I can’t help but feel that the characters would have been better served by having their own movies.
This is particularly the case for Harley Quinn – a character who originated in the 90s Batman animated series and who proved so popular that she was included in the comics. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Robbie’s performance, there was a much more interesting story to be told here and I’m not sure that her portrayal does justice to such a complex and nuanced character. She’s reduced here to being mere eye-candy, with all the interesting aspects of her character – like the fact that she was originally the Joker’s psychologist and has an incredibly fucked up relationship with him – are relegated to flash-backs and brief allusions. Also, the puerile ‘crazy in the head, crazy in bed’ trope, and the manner in which the movie contrives ways for the audience to ogle at her are just plain creepy.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning Jared Leto’s portrayal as the Joker. However, despite playing a big role in the trailers and other promotional material, the simple fact is that he’s barely in the sodding thing. He is briefly shown in Harley’s origins introduction and crops up during one of the (many) subplots that go absolutely no where – but there is no one scene where Leto gets the opportunity to show us who he is trying to be. Much was made about how different this version of the Joker was going to be from Heath Ledger’s breathtakingly creepy portrayal, but there isn’t enough to go on here to make a meaningful comparison. The actor has since revealed that there were a load of Joker scenes that got cut from the final movie – begging the question as to why you would cut out the character that people most wanted to see? Leto’s brief introduction in the first teaser trailer at Comic Con last year sent shivers down my spine, and it’s a travesty that he didn’t get more screen-time here.
All in all, Suicide Squad is a huge disappointment – but it really shouldn’t have been. There is no doubt in my mind that, at some point, it was a decent movie. Trouble is that it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Warner Bros. have absolutely no idea what they are doing. Everything about this movie smacks of studio micromanagement – of out-of-touch anonymous suits – who know nothing about the creative process, comic books, or films in general – meddling with something they are incapable of understanding. These are the guys who are so worried about brand deals and toy lines, that they rushed to release a broken product. So blinded by focus testing and box office returns that they have forgotten that their main priority should be to make good art. These are the guys who reduced what should have been one of the biggest movies of the year to an infantile little film that is so much less than the sum of its parts. And they will continue to do so, because all they care about is making money.
And we all deserve better than that.