Sunday, 7 August 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

Fig 1 - Suicide Squad Poster

The superhero genre has undoubtedly outstayed its welcome in the recent years of cinema, with relentless Hollywood adaptations of classic characters churning out franchise after franchise in pursuit of the next big hit. Their faces, mercilessly slapped onto action figures and lunchboxes only to boost sales even further, disallowing those in charge to ever halt production on the superhero boom. Nowhere is this agenda more transparent than the team-oriented blockbusters which, in fairness, had approached the genre with absolute caution until Suicide Squad, a film that I myself had been anticipating eagerly since its trailer was leaked at Comic Con in 2015. With Marvel in the driving seat since the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy in 2012, suddenly there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon. An all-star team-based anti-hero movie of the DC universe? Hell yeah!

The hype was in motion. August of 2016 couldn't come soon enough! And as the months dragged and expectations grew higher, we heard tale of the bizarre methods of actor Jared Leto in his pursuit of an original interpretation of the Joker, the best and darkest we'd ever seen. Heck, following Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning rendition in The Dark Knight (2008) was always going to be a tall order to fill. But having cemented himself as a tried and true method-actor in films such as Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Chapter 27 (2007), we believed in Jared Leto. And as more carefully crafted trailers teased the most tantalizing glimpses of DC goodness, we believed in Suicide Squad.

Cut to August of 2016. In the weeks leading up to its release I began a desperate search for the first reviews. Soon enough the weeks turn to days. Days before release without a single review? Why would they not want to press-screen one of the years most hotly anticipated movies? A film set to break August box-office records and redefine the genre with its nonsensical anti-hero larks? Well the answer for that is pretty simple. It's garbage.

Suicide Squad is, without question, this years most disappointing mess of incomprehensible 'plot', cringe-worthy dialogue and overall squandered potential. None of this I say lightly, I must add. I wanted this film to be amazing. But I squirmed uncomfortably at its weak attempts at humour and scoffed in disbelief at its unprompted tonal shifts. Yes, the bar was set pretty high. Yes, the film was given unyielding hype injections for over a year before its release. But it was nothing close to good enough. These self-professed 'bad guys' don't even make it so bad its good.

The 'plot' revolves around the assembly of a crack team of super-inmates who are tasked with stopping an ancient witch from enslaving the human race and taking over the world. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) plays the straight-talking government official in charge of assembling the team and handles the role well with a believable degree of sincerity. Waller is introduced alongside a brief scene of narration regarding the death of Superman (which incidentally spoils the ending of DC's previous outing entirely) and proceeds to describe each candidate within minuscule segments accompanied by a barrage of Top Trumps-style stats which disappear after all of the two seconds given to read them.

It's clear from the outset that the film will be focusing on some characters more than others, but to a ridiculous extent. For instance, Deadshot (Will Smith) is showcased as the loving father turned master assassin whose impeccable range allows him to never miss a target. His motivation to comply with the program is to see his daughter again, a plot device fairly well constructed through flashbacks and recollections. Other than the points at which Will Smith inevitably does a Will Smith impression, the character is reasonably three-dimensional. Having said that, he is one of only two characters to have any real depth or motivation to do the job.

Fig 2 - Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
The other being Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) as the Joker's therapist-turned-psycho girlfriend, who shares equal amounts of screen time wishing she was elsewhere or ending the scene with a ditsy quip. In her backstory we are shown through pathetically vague accounts just how the Joker managed to take over Arkham Asylum and 'electro-shock' his therapist into falling in love with him... or something. Either way, Quinn is a much more interesting spectacle as a stand-alone character, despite her consistently over-sexualised presence in a scene. Margot Robbie clearly had fun as the giggly trapeze nut without needing to over-indulge in the character as much as her onscreen love interest.

Speaking of which, the Joker (Jared Leto) certainly does make a meal of his performance. As the only recurring DC character to appear in the film, it is difficult not to compare him to previous interpretations of the role. And for all of the questionable attempts Leto made to immerse himself in the madness, I was surprisingly underwhelmed by what I saw. An unrecognizable make-up job for sure, but never really posing any threat in his actions - or his laughable dialogue. If the Joker isn't just being downright creepy and void of the characters notorious charm, he's usually broken out into an unwarranted fit of laughter which juxtaposes the tone of the scene entirely. Despite that he only shows up briefly here and there, I couldn't wait for any scene that Leto's Joker appeared in to be over as soon as it had begun.

However, I cannot pin this simply on his performance. The shoddiness of the script clearly played a huge part in the pitiful outcome of the final edit, damaging every character pretty irreversibly. As well as a painfully out-of-place soundtrack sending the tone flying in all directions. The film clearly tries to emulate the 'meta' tracks that made Deadpool (2016) so great, or the 70s charm of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), both of which made sense in their rightful contexts. This soundtrack takes seemingly random hits from the last ten years and plays them one after the other, making the film feel more like a two-hour trailer than anything else.

Moreover, it turns out the trailers were indeed crafted to make the film seem like something it isn't. Every shot or moment worth remembering from them seemed like a glimpse into what would be a great scene full of context in the final cut - nope. The teasers are just as cryptic as the film and leave way too much to the imagination. If anything there are too many 'scenes' to grasp hold of, very few of which settle down and allow you to engage with the characters on any level. The film certainly is, if anything, a great bunch of footage to make a trailer out of. Not that you'd really want to as the art direction exemplifies a ghastly mix of over-saturated neon and illustrations so basic they could have been photocopied from the maths book of an angsty teen.

Overall, the other members of the 'squad' are pretty interchangeable. There's El Diablo, a pyromaniac reluctant to use his powers; a CG-heavy Killer Croc; forgettable team leader Rick Flag and Captain Boomerang, an Australian who... has a boomerang. Oh and Slipknot, the man who can 'climb anything' and appears so little he might as well have been paid the rate of an extra. Frankly by the end of the movie I didn't care what happened to any of them. Even the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) as the main antagonist was nothing particularly special, whose main port of call in world domination was to gyrate bikini-clad at the foot of a 'magic whirlpool of rubble'.

More than anything, the film made me appreciate how a film like Avengers Assemble (2012) balanced such a wide variety of characters and made me care about all of them. It made me realise the importance of consistency and tonal justification, especially dealing with characters that had no stand-alone films to authenticate their presence in the DC universe. It's unfortunate that the financial success of Suicide Squad will likely justify any spin-offs or sequels by director David Ayer, but hopefully the critical response will be something to learn from rather than something to take to heart.


Fig 1. Suicide Squad Poster (2016) From: Suicide Squad Directed by: David Ayer:

Fig 2. Suicide Squad Screenshot (2016) From: Suicide Squad Directed by: David Ayer:

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Josh and it chimes with many reviews for this film. Thanks for sharing - though the guys at the DC Cinematic Universe will probably disagree ;)