There are people in this world who spend their time watching stuff like the Food Channel, awing over talented chefs creating masterpieces of food that look like art worthy of the Guggenheim. Those people then go, “Hey, I could do that exact same thing! I watched them do it on the TV!” What results is a gooey, disgusting mess that looks as though a Vietnamese man with food poisoning defecated inside a baby’s used diaper. But oh look, they garnished it, so it must be the same.
That’s exactly what Suicide Squad is: The result of someone watching better movies (in this case Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool), then proceeded to replicate but instead created a grimy, misguided hodge-podge of random ingredients shoved into a pan with no grace or structure, burnt to a crisp, and then served with lots of colorful sprinkles on top, hoping no one would notice the mud pie underneath.
But it didn’t start out that way. No, writer/director David Ayer walked into the kitchen with confidence, giving off the impression he could actually pull everything off. We’re introduced to a few interesting characters, like the ice-cold Amanda Waller, played with subtle deviousness by Viola Davis. Then there’s the surly, heart-broken Deadshot (Will Smith) and the crazy (or as the other characters call her, crazy-hot) Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). There are too many other characters and famous actors playing them to make digging deep seem worth it. The only ones that the movie seems to really care about are Waller, Deadshot, and Robbie, so why should I care about the others if the movie doesn’t?
Ayer shoots his intros to these characters with a manic, fever-dream energy with moments that burst with color. Deadshot and Quinn get the longer intros, less important characters get shorter ones, and then characters who have been advertised in posters and trailers are lucky to get a word in. Waller tries to sell these crooks and crazies to the government as the team this nation needs to fight off Superman-level threats, even though beyond one character being able to shoot fireballs they have no powers whatsoever. Why not ask Batman and his bunch of non-villainous cronies? Because that would make this movie unnecessary and far less quirky, that’s why!
Can you detect the cynicism? If you can, just know I wouldn’t have minded a quirky-team-movie filled with villains had that actually been the movie I got. These characters have such diverse and interesting back stories, so much so that a movie where these characters simply existed together and interacted beyond one-liners and insults would probably write itself. But of course, that would be too easy.
Instead what Ayer does is force the audience to absorb an onslaught of mayhem and tonal shifts to the point where it seemed he wanted the audience to leave the theater as mentally unstable as Quinn. The movie, before the halfway mark, descends to dark, muddled, incomprehensible chaos as one character, The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) goes uber-crazy and decides to destroy the world using an army of puss-filled lizard zombies and her best impression of a Shakira dance. Meanwhile the “heroes” haven’t even suited up yet, let alone let their wacky dichotomy make for interesting scenarios.
Before we can even grasp who these characters really are, they’re off to fight an hour-long climax against the lizard zombies. Here’s how the rest of the movie plays out: Fight scene where the “unstoppable army” is taken down with bullets hitting anywhere on their body, kitchen knives, baseball bats and being thrown on the ground; walking through the streets where dopey one-liners replace genuine dialogue; fight scene; banter; fight scene; lather, rinse repeat.
Oh, but what about the bashing? The mind-numbing bashing I keep mentioning. Everyone likes a good bashing, right? I agree. A good fight scene in a comic book movie can be the best part about it. Look at the other team movies, like The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War. But those movies succeeded because the heroes were given room to play, often times fighting in different areas, and having the scenes tailored to their special skills. The shots had room to breathe, not to mention took place in the day time, which if your going to be surrounded by destruction, it may as well be bright out. Here, however, the team sticks close together like a bunch of children afraid of the dark, mushed together in a cluttered space and are tightly shot, swinging and shooting at air–all during the dark, dark of night. Other than when Deadshot brings the business to the lizard-zombies does one character get to really show off. The others seem indistinguishable as they swing away at the lizard-zombie horde. And, honestly, how many helicopter crashes does it take before one of them realistically limps out and goes, “Ow, I may hurt my ankle”?
The action in this movie is rushed into like a dude in a Star Trek costume running to meet William Shatner across the street. It just doesn’t know what to do with itself—or rather—Ayer doesn’t know what to do with the characters other than have them smash things or make off-color comments. Sure, he tries to dig into the complexity of Harley Quinn, but these scenes take form in flashbacks with her and her “love”, The Joker (Jared Leto). I use “love” because poor Harley Quinn is used and abused by Joker, who tortures her, whores her out, makes her jump into a vat of baby food, etc. In what demented world were these scenes the best to depict the oddball love of these two classic characters? Joker doesn’t seem to care about her, and Quinn seems to be going through a terrible case of Stockholm syndrome.
What’s worse is that Quinn isn’t the only woman to take punishment. All the other women are subjugated to being described by their features by their male counterparts. One character has him “getting real” with Quinn by saying, “On the outside you are amazing, but inside your crazy.” By outside he means tits and ass, but inside he means everything about her that makes her special. Other women get their asses smacked, have their asses in center frame and have their asses gawked at. I swear one of the female characters, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), was asked “do you wanna get a drink later?” by one male character, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) more times than she opened her own mouth.
Crude comments from the boys notwithstanding, maybe I would’ve liked what I was seeing more if the only thing these characters got to do was relish in their universally-applied, dopey-yet-still-funny reactions to things. The humor replaces much of what was left desired in the cinematic-Ritalin that was Batman vs. Superman, even if everything the characters are joking about is obvious and dim-witted, like when Waller shoots a bunch of folks and Deadshot responds with, “That was gangsta.” Granted, Smith’s Deadshot wins the funny battle with blunt reactions, like “That’s dope,” or “That’s gangster”, or “That lady is evil!” Again nothing to give a Golden Globe to, but Smith knows how to play to the crowd and has always been a comedic talent, and without such humor the movie would be an even deeper pit of despair. I felt like I often had to laugh because the movie offered nothing else to be enjoyed by. But even the bubbly Quinn can’t help but feel dumbed-down (despite also being a standout humor wise) as her dopey jokes are honestly just moronic responses masquerading as craziness. But she talks in a New-YAWK accent, so she must be adorable, right?
I did like watching these characters interact—particularly during a bar scene—when they weren’t bashing things and the actors were able to actually bounce dialogue off each other. Even though a few characters are lucky to have as many as five lines in the entire film, the ensemble cast is game to embrace what little weirdness they are actually given to play with. I know I’m droning on about these guys, but the movie hinges so much on them, but fails so spectacularly. Never before have I seen top-notch actors, like Adam Beach, get put on posters and in trailers only to say one line before dying a horrible, random death.
That being said, only Leto as The Joker truly disappoints. The humor of Nicholson and the unpredictability of Ledger are gone in place of a gold-glad gangbanger who is as predictable as any other Mafioso in a drab action film. Leto tries to bring a demented rage to his dialogue, but his “threatening” presence is dulled by his rapper-esque clothing and his dialogue muted by, well, having nothing interesting to say. Not to mention, that with Quinn, he comes off purely as a creep. I heard he sent disgusting objects to his cast mates (who he has no interaction with on screen) to help with his “process”. No, no, I’m sure that really helped get him into character for the big, complex, shooting-an-AK47-from-the-helicopter scene.
I’m probably starting to pick at hairs now. Still, Suicide Squad is a movie that so desperately wanted to be different like better, actually unique movies before it, but is just bad in all the ways bad action movies are. It’s a cluttered, aimless, ugly, sometimes unintentionally funny (but usually intentionally, to its merit), hot, sticky mess. But with interesting characters and actors committed enough to explore them, there’s potentially room here for a great sequel if next time they aim for absurd, goofy simplicity over cluster fuck calamity. Oh, and get those grills out of Joker’s teeth. He’s creepy-in-a-bad way, but that doesn’t mean he has to be Rick Ross.