“Okay, what the fuck did I just watch?” I turned to my wife and said on our way out of Suicide Squad, a film that could generously be referred to as “disjointed” or, “misguided” but we can really just call “a fucking mess”. Squad aims to bring a sort of auteur flavor to the comic book genre, aping the fever dream quality of the best of Lars Von Trier or Nicholas Winding Refn’s extrapolations into madness and confusion, and there might’ve been that here, maybe the germ of it still exists somewhere, but as with the similarly schizophrenic (and not in a good way) Batman V Superman, a definite “too many cooks spoiled the soup” vibe washes over the entire enterprise.
Warner Bros, in a previous lifetime, perhaps under a previous regime, allowed Christopher Nolan to flourish with a singular artistic vision, delivering one great and two good movies under the blanket of what’s now known as his “Dark Knight” trilogy, to worldwide critical and commercial acclaim. The Warner/DC brain trust seems to no longer have that kind of faith in the creative minds behind its film adaptations. Zack Snyder is no Chris Nolan, he’s an almost shameless populist in the lowest common denominator baiting Michael Bay mold. But even if they’d just let him do what he wants and not edit and cut everything to shit in post there’d at least have been a cohesive ideology behind BvS.
“What now, Carlton?”
Suicide Squad writer/director David Ayer, on the other hand, does have quite the resume, having had a hand in good to great contemporary crime dramas like Harsh Times, End of Watch and of course, Training Day. Given free rein Ayer could’ve carved out a nice little gritty, grimy niche for himself and these iconic villains, similar to Marvel’s beloved crop of dirty, dark and dank, street level Netflix series’, existing on the fringes on the company’s giant, high flying summer tentpoles in both form and function. Such a version of this film may exist somewhere, and may yet be seen, with Ayer famously having his more serious cut tinkered with by studio suits to more reflect the loud, bombastic style of the film’s trailer (that’s always a great idea), but that’s not what’s in theaters right now, and the cut now showing screams this awful , tone deaf dichotomy to the rafters in how slapdash and piecemeal the entire presentation comes off.
The setup, as if you didn’t already know from the 500 coked up trailers DC’s released that the WB Execs thought we loved so much, is that DC’s version of Nick Fury, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, doing the best she can) elects to put together a “dirty dozen” type team of super powered villains to potentially stop future “Superman-level” threats to national security, but when one of her supernatural charges, The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne, who as an actress, is a pretty good model) goes rogue and decides to attempt to bring about some sort of nebulous, poorly explained apocalypse, it’s up to the Squad to go in and fix it all by cracking wise and shooting Delevingne’s bloodless army of plant zombie things ripped straight off from The Last of Us.
Genuine, playful sexual tension between Smith and Robbie is one of the film’s few bright spots, though in that outfit Robbie could probably have sexual tension with a shoe.
If you think that sounds like a paper thin set up for this kind of thing, even thinner than usual, you’d be right. Good thing, then, that the running time is so generously padded out with endless origin stories for each Squad member. As you’d expect, Will Smith’s Deadshot and of course Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn get the most screen time and sympathetic motivation for wanting to work off their sentences in Waller’s Squad. Smith as a bad guy assassinating worse guys to support a young daughter and Robbie the eternally put upon romantic foil for DC Villain numero uno The Joker.
Ah yes, that green haired, prison tatted, metal grilled elephant in the room, Jared Leto’s Joker. What did we think, you ask? Well, not much. Leto himself has taken to social media in recent days to decry the amount of his scenes that got cut and I’ll have to say in this case I definitely side with everyone’s favorite professional rich, attractive person. Any actor given this iconic of a character to cut their teeth on deserves to at least have their performance adequately judged. There’s a glimmer of something unique in what’s here, a sort of childish glee in his violent sociopathy that we at least hadn’t seen before, not in Nicholson’s sadistic mob boss nor Ledger’s punk rock domestic terrorist, though without all Leto’s cards on the table, so to speak, it’s hard to fully judge.
And the academy award goes to: Margot Robbie’s hot pants.
It’s hard to imagine how more of Leto could improve the film as a whole though given how superfluous his relationship to the plot was in general. And similarly, everyone else is kind of just, well, there, though still victimized by the film’s schizophrenic plotting and editing, not to mention the soundtrack which feels the need to include almost every top 40 hit song in existence in completely on the nose musical cues, until things get “serious” in the back half and Ben FM gets turned off in favor of your typical generic orchestral junk. That first half of the movie tries SO HARD for that irreverent, Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool style relationship to pop music, be it Deadpool rocking out to Salt N’ Pepa or DMX’s 90’s hip hop classics before launching into bloody battle or any of the 80’s AM radio hits on Star Lord’s well-worn mix tape. But SS’s soundtrack is so overblown and beaten to death that it all just becomes a morass that amounts to nothing. You’ll be begging the post production crew to turn off the fucking radio and get on with the movie.
In the end that scattershot, more is less approach damns the whole film into meaninglessness. The whole thing is kind of just there, a disjointed collection of wise cracks, cameos and in jokes that amount to very little, taking BvS’s scatterbrained aimlessness even further into pointless mediocrity. Would an R-Rated Director’s Cut redeem this film? And can Ben Affleck’s rumored upcoming Arkham Asylum film right the whole sinking DC Cinematic Universe ship? At this point I’m pretty far past the point of giving a shit. When does Thor: Ragnarok come out again?