Director: David Ayer
DC Entertainment/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Atlas Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures
The latest comic book writ large for the big screen and seeming more two-dimensional than its source material is Suicide Squad. And look, it’s not good. Not good at all. But it’s very nearly watchable – because unlike the absurd one-note Deadpool and other big boring Batman/Superman stuff Suicide Squad does at least want to be interesting and quirky, does at least try to do something, be something.
It falls flat on its face though, tripping itself up almost instantly with a laboured origin-story summary for this “Dirty Dozen” near-farce.
Our Suicide Squad are “meta-humans” – the new PC term for mutants. They have special powers and of course they have used them for evil, all of them serving “meta”-sentences in high security prisons. Viola Davis plays U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller in what is easily the stiffest and most joyless acting performance since Daniel Day Lewis’ right foot in My Left Foot. Waller is behind the assembly of this Suicide Squad – taking the mega-baddies and unleashing them to fight an even-more-evil force, there’s a thin hint of police corruption, coldness and brutality. But like most things that hover near this script they’re shooed away rather than pinned down for examination if not development.
Margot Robbie and Will Smith fair best as Harley Quinn and Deadshot respectively. But Robbie’s attempts at anarchy-with-glee are stopped dead by the lumbering script. It isn’t so much that she doesn’t possess comic timing, rather the film’s smeared-neon-meets-Batman-grey-and-Superman-blue/-black world affords no time for the lines to correctly sit, or hit.
Suicide Squad rather closely resembles the recent Ghostbusters reboot – in that characters are remade with all humour removed (Jared Leto’s Joker is the most despicable marriage of bad acting and thoughtless scripting) and the big finale is lacklustre not least because the whole film revolves around selling origin-story and then putting the leads into again-and-again battle. It’s video-game bullshit. We can’t care about the big payoff, even if there was one, because we’ve watched the same thing happen on screen for two hours. The big villain – the ultimate bad guy – is lame too. Just a bad CGI mess.
As a popcorn flick it almost makes it over the line – in that I can see how someone might curl up with this if a fan of the comics or if aware of them without reading; I’d also understand why a comic fan might be rather deeply offended by this lazy rendering. It’s better though to simply laugh this off. Because it’s surely not a serious attempt at anything other than building a brand, in the quantity-trumps-quality way of modern multiplex fare.
Suicide Squad – like most comic adaptations – seems to exist only to set up the sequel. In that sense it’s an exemplary display of cinema cynicism, being both overtly brand-aware, and utterly clueless around who its real audience is meant to be.
The Joker is the real fuck-up here though. Leto is awful. And The Joker, by virtue of being some attempt at an anti-hero boyfriend, reduces Harley Quinn down to just the playful-sexy cliché rather than some brilliant subversion of it; cheapening all of Robbie’s efforts – even if sometimes she is only the TheatreSports-version of wide-eyed when aiming for interesting. The Joker is a cruel, overshadowing bit-part.
Oh look, the whole thing’s a giant, giant mess. But it isn’t worth getting worked up over. The films that think they’re smarter – like Deadpool – are far worse than this. And Ghostbusters was definitely more boring. So maybe it’s Judge Dredd for millennials. And don’t go looking in the crevices of Sly Stallone’s face, I haven’t hidden a compliment there.
Suicide Squad’s biggest problem is that its writer/director had no clue what to do. Its next biggest problem is that two of the bigger names attached – Leto and Davis – were cringe-making in the extreme, their every movement an insult to acting. Somewhere further down the list a more than decent turn by Will Smith – given it’s Will Smith – attempts, rather foolishly/pointlessly, to invest some clichéd family-man emotional quotient. A bit of a joke, really.
And that’s how this film will be viewed, ultimately. A bit of a joke. If, somehow, a sequel really sits then this will retrospectively be viewed as some garish, nightmarish cult classic. That would be far too kind of course – as it’s mostly just a waste of time and (occasionally) talent.