So let’s just get this out of the way: Suicide Squad is a complete and utter mess, it’s one of the most incoherently put together mainstream Hollywood movies I’ve ever seen, to the point where it feels like a two hour long trailer.
The plot is simple: Superman is dead (at least until the last ten minutes of next year’s first Justice League movie) and U.S. government official Amanda Waller comes up with a plan to put together a team of super powered bad guys in order to combat other super powered bad guys. One of the team, The Enchantress, a witch with a bad complexion but great dance moves (of which, more later) goes rogue, throws a lot of big, glowing CGI around and threatens to take over the world. Fighting ensues.
The real life plot of Suicide Squad goes (allegedly) like this: Warner Bros/DC hire screenwriter/director David Ayer (Training Day/Fury) to make what they touted as one of their “filmmaker driven” projects. During production of Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is released to okay-ish box office but – and here lies what I suspect is the nub of this film’s (many) problems – a quite horrendous critical backlash.
Snyder’s film was labelled too dark, too grim, just too damn serious! According to industry scuttlebutt reshoots are ordered for Suicide Squad but, say the producers, these were always scheduled and weren’t done as a result of the drubbing meted out to BvS. Then things get stickier with the rumours that the film was given over to the guys who had cut Suicide Squad’s well received trailer with the remit to lighten it up, put in more jokes, make it more like… well, a Marvel film. Further, it seems that two cuts of the film existed – Ayer’s darker version and the trailer guys’ lighter version – and the decision was made to merge them.
What amount of this is true? Does it matter anyway? The short answer of course, is that none of the above would be of any interest if Suicide Squad had turned out well. But, dear reader, Suicide Squad has not turned out well.
The film seems to have been edited with a pair of blunt scissors by someone wearing thick rubber gloves and a blindfold. Cara Delevingne’s badder bad guy The Enchantress stands around doing interpretive dance moves to create… I still don’t know, a magic something or other… for almost an hour of the movie. Really, her character stands in one spot and (literally and figuratively) doesn’t go anywhere. Characters are introduced multiple times – the squad are introduced solidly three times in three concurrent scenes – each character is even given text-filled info screens and then we’re still treated to more introductory sequences!
After being introduced three times to Will Smith’s sharpshooter, Deadshot, we’re then given a scene, where Smith is handed a whole bunch of guns to fire at targets, that exists only to show us that… um, Deadshot is a sharpshooter. Just in case you didn’t get that before. Or before. Or before that.
In case all of this isn’t enough to hammer your poor eyes and brain into submission as to who you’re watching, each character gets a needle drop so painfully obvious it’s a wonder they don’t flash the lyrics onscreen just to really underline things. Incidentally, there should be an immediate ban on any filmmaker using The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil to underscore how bad a character is, punishable by exile to making wedding videos for the rest of their life.
Whole sequences are muddily constructed (wait… the Enchantress did what to her human alter ego in order to escape her earthly shell!? Who shot down that helicopter!?). One scene has Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn wave goodbye to the rest of her team as she heads up into a building in a glass elevator, get into a fight with some monsters between floors and then enjoy a supposed comedy beat as the elevator doors open high up in the building to reveal the team she’d left behind on the ground floor pointing guns at her. But there’s no explanation for how they got there before her – it’s not even laughed off as a joke, it’s just left hanging in a kind of awkward “Huh? What?” moment. This is a first day at film school level mistake, it’s unforgivable in a multi-million dollar movie.
Whatever went on in the background of the making of this film we may never know, but you should be under no misapprehension that this film has somehow completely lost its way in post-production. The astonishing thing is that no one at DC or Warner Bros was able to see what a mess had been created and that the film was allowed to go into release in this sorry state.
What makes all this so frustrating is that somewhere in this mess is a good film. It’s really enjoyable that so much weird shit is just thrown headlong into the film without anyone batting an eyelid… superhumans, witches, swords possessed by souls, mutated crocodile men! This is fun stuff and the film’s willingness to embrace it all almost gives it a strong worldview.
Also, whatever the producers paid Will Smith and Margot Robbie, it wasn’t enough. These two scorch their way across the screen with good, old fashioned star power and share great chemistry. Both actors were obviously having a blast with their parts and it shows. Really, I could have watched two hours of just these two and they almost (…almost) make the film worth the price of admission.
Viola Davis and Jai Courtney (as Amanda Waller and villain Captain Boomerang, respectively) do their best with the little they’re given, and Jay Hernandez (as fire summoner, El Diablo) impresses by bringing heart to an underwritten role. Joel Kinnerman (as Rick Flagg), unfortunately, feels miscast and Karen Fukuhara (as swordswoman, Katana) is a blank slate who drifts in and out of the film leaving no impression whatsoever.
In case you were wondering, Heath Ledger’s legacy remains completely undamaged by Jared Leto’s Joker, the character is horrible (and not in the way he should be) – blindingly obvious, grating, underwritten (again) and pretty redundant for much of the film. It’s such a gross misunderstanding of the character that I am now really hoping he doesn’t show up in Ben Affleck’s forthcoming Batman movie.
And despite all this I found myself enjoying parts of the film. But I’d no sooner find myself hitting a groove than some bizarre edit or incomprehensible plot point would just pull me out of the story all over again. It’s a shame. These actors are really working hard to give life to their characters and so much is undone by terrible committee meddling.
Warner Bros and DC really need to get their act together. This is a two for two strike out which shows a basic lack of faith in the core material and a lack of cohesive direction for their shared universe. Instead we’re left with an aimless mess that simply makes a lot of noise for two hours.
So, that was Suicide Squad the trailer. Now when do we get the movie…?
* With thanks to Ante Lundberg for the review title.