Review: Suicide Squad

Federal agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) persuades US government officials that America needs to have a plan should some Superman-esque being decide to turn its sights on humanity to do very bad things (Superman being now deceased after “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”). Waller’s solution is to bring together a ragtag group of mostly super-powered criminals, all kept in line via the threat of Waller detonating implanted explosives remotely. The team are; Deadly accurate assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who is basically a human torch, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a former Arkham Asylum shrink turned bugfuck crazy, Aussie crim Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the reptilian-skinned thug Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and late addition Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Cara Delevingne plays scientist Dr. June Moone, who has been possessed by a sinister entity known as Enchantress, which must be stopped. Jared Leto turns up as Harley’s whack-job punk boyfriend The Joker, whilst Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) pops up once or twice as well. Joel Kinnaman plays former Navy SEAL Rick Flag, who is Waller’s second-in-command.

Post-“Dark Knight” trilogy, DC appear to be trying to pull a Marvel by connecting their superhero properties. We saw it with the muddled and dreary “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and now this 2016 flick from writer-director David Ayer (The excellent tank movie “Fury”, the dreadfully transparent corrupt cop flick “Street Kings”) is connecting itself to the DCU as well. The result is a narratively incoherent mess in which Ayer tries to keep the film in the same filmmaking style of Zack Snyder’s “BvS” in all the worst ways (Snyder serves as EP, tellingly). It’s a profoundly irritating film, mainly because there are glimpses of what might’ve been, had there not been a mandate to follow the ‘brand’. In terms of overpopulation and clutter of characters, Marvel still holds the dishonourable mantle, but so far as style at the expense of simple narrative coherency, boy is this film a failure.

It’s obvious from moment one that Ayer has been instructed to adopt someone else’s visual and aural aesthetic, as we begin with ‘House of the Rising Sun’ over some imagery, followed by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn doing a gymnastic routine of sorts to ‘You Don’t Own Me’. 3 minutes in and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ comes in, and it becomes obvious that this will be the “Con Air” of superhero films, but in all the worst ways. I love CCR’s ‘Fortunate Son’, but this repetitive and MTV-based storytelling is terrible. After 20 minutes the title team still hadn’t been fully introduced, because every character has to have one of these introductory scenes set to whatever random song choice Ayer feels like. And believe me, the majority of these song choices are completely random. It’s almost as badly shot and edited as “BvS”, which is a shame, because if it could get out from under the pre-ordained Snyder-approved style and connective character tissue of the DCU, it might’ve actually been a much more interesting film than “BvS” was, instead of being only incrementally better. In fact, the film really ought not to have adopted such an MTV-derived style at all. As is, after 30 or so minutes it was still setting itself up, which for me is at least 10-15 minutes too long. The worst thing is that at no point during this time did I have a clue as to who or what the villainous threat our anti-heroes would be facing. That’s a massive problem right there. It’s a livelier film than “BvS”, unquestionably in terms of the goings on in front of the camera. “BvS” was just a cut-up series of superhero poses/comic book panels and Jesse Eisenberg occasionally chiming in to give us glimpses of a real motion picture as a geeky millennial Lex Luthor. We get much of the same aesthetic here, but at least the images in this appear to be moving, somewhat. However, in terms of unrolling its plot, it’s just as slow and self-indulgent because we need to stop every few seconds to introduce someone. If you’ve seen the poster, you know there’s a shitload of people to introduce, too. When did editing stop being about the overall flow/pacing of a film and simply become a collection of cut-up cool images set to music with no consideration for plot progression? Oh yeah, MTV. The 80s. I remember now. Sigh. We’re in 2016-17 for crying out loud. It tried and lost my patience after a while, which is a shame because if it hadn’t been so beholden to a certain style, its “Dirty Dozen” meets “Escape From New York”-like plot might’ve been a bit of fun. Cut out about half of the music montages and you’d have a much clearer, cleaner 90 odd minute film, if still a bit underdone. As is, it’s a dirge.

So far as positives go, Margot Robbie is the obvious standout as the rather conflicted Harley Quinn. The former Aussie soap actress is annoying, but it’s clearly an intentional part of the character, and quite amusing at times. She gives by far the best performance, so it’s no surprise that she and the character seem to have left the most lasting impression, with plenty of Harley Quinn wannabes out there cosplaying and so forth. Although he ends up kind of lost in all of this mess after a while, I was glad to see a taciturn Will Smith underplay for a change as the troubled Deadshot. Truth be told, performances aren’t really the problem here, though not very many stand out. The weakest are probably Joel Kinnaman who is tedious, whilst Aussie Jai Courtney strikes a bit of a wrong note in a role he should’ve felt very authentic in. To me he weirdly came off like an Englishman attempting to play an Aussie as the very ocker Captain Boomerang. I’m sure that’s mostly how the character is written, but it is rather odd that an Aussie actor manages to seem like a poseur. As for Viola Davis, it’s a shame she looks so completely bored throughout, because her character is one of the more solidly written here. She’s playing something akin to a shady Nick Fury. Poor Adweale Akinnuoye-Agbaje never manages to get out from under the makeup as Killer Croc, and barely gets any screen time, let alone intelligible dialogue. Also getting scant screen time but utilising it better is the heavily marketed Jared Leto as The Joker. He won’t make me forget Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, or the late Heath Ledger anytime soon, but for what is essentially a pop-punk DC aesthetic, occasional emo musician Leto gives us the right Joker for this film for whatever the film is worth. He’s almost like a deranged rock star/idol with Quinn his chief groupie under his spell. For what the film’s vision is, it’s appropriate. The makeup and costuming overall are pretty top-notch here (the film is all pop-punk neon, tattoos, and piercings), but Leto’s Joker is particularly striking-looking. He lacks Ledger’s committed intensely evil performance, but is certainly very watchable. The problem is that the character is very poorly (and very rarely) integrated into the film. The Joker actually ends up being entirely irrelevant and as solid as Leto is in the role, he shouldn’t have been here. It’s a shame that the relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn isn’t allowed to properly develop, as the film is so cut to shreds, because there’s definitely potential interest there. As I said earlier, I spent much of the film wondering who the villain/threat was, with The Joker hanging on the sidelines and Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress/June Moore an incoherent mess, the only villains I could see were basically faceless turds. I’m sorry, but that’s what they looked like to me. Look out for a cameo by Ben Affleck’s Batman. The funny thing about his appearance here is that Affleck is better than in “BvS”. I actually kinda liked that he was here, albeit in a fairly minor capacity.

I mentioned that the film excelled at makeup and costuming, and I also should mention that it’s one of the most stable-looking films of Ayer’s career, thanks to the camerawork of Roman Vasyanov (who shot Ayer’s other stable-looking film, “Fury”), perhaps the only coherent thing about it. On the downside, the FX are decidedly average and look like something from about 10-15 years ago, which is very noticeable.

Distressingly sloppy, turgid and incoherent storytelling, this is montage and music at the expense of character, plotting and pacing. One of the messiest and most frustrating comic book/superhero films to date, DC films appear to be heading into cluttered, bloated, fanboy-servicing MCU territory here. However, on evidence here they’re doing an even worse job of it (At least a few of the MCU films have been fun, DC only have “Man of Steel”). Margot Robbie is excellent, the film is a total botch-job from a pretty erratic but talented filmmaker. A shame, because it really didn’t have to be this way.

Rating: C-


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