by Andrew Link, Film Critic
Cramming into a packed theater Thursday night where people were in a line stretching halfway down the block, it was hard to imagine “Suicide Squad” could be the “Batman v. Superman” tier flop that led to some key DC execs “stepping down.”
However, the more you think about the film, the worse it starts to feel. So much of the movie is completely at odds with itself, and even when it has moments of clarity, it chooses tired tropes in lieu of taking any risks.
In that heavy-handed attempt to make every character feel like a real person, the movie begins with a series of biographies on each major player. This section drags for what feels like the majority of Act I, and is a tedious way to begin what is supposed to be an action film. This isn’t a new error for DC to make. It harkens back to the droll half-hour mini-movie “Man of Steel” forced on us before the real movie started.
And what of the Man of Steel? The Suicide Squad is formed on the premise of stopping some potential evildoer with the powers of Superman, should one ever arise. Problem: They couldn’t. Superman is immune to the abilities of literally every member of the squad except for — well, let’s not dive down that rabbit hole. He’s mentioned about a dozen times in the first half of the movie, then the train is left at the station. He’s never referenced again, and Chekov’s Gun falls off the mantle: Big Blue is a no-show.
Who needs someone with all the exciting powers of Supes when you have Deadshot, a guy who is basically worthless without guns? I was worried Will Smith would be distractingly himself in the role, but he was surprisingly fitting. His execution of the role is a huge plus since the studio wanted to get their money’s worth by featuring him as the unofficial main character, leaving half the other vagabonds to fade in his shadow despite their lengthy bio clips. This makes some of the changes in adaptations seem questionable. For example, Killer Croc was added to the squad just for the film, but in his scant scenes he serves little purpose other than being the butt of overtly racist stereotyping posing as humor.
Harley Quinn doesn’t fare much better. The writer didn’t think it would be acceptable to have three scenes in a row where she wasn’t completely objectified. At one point she holds up a full-body costume reminiscent of her outfit in the animated series, but opts to strip down into spandex booty shorts in front of a crowd of ogling men instead. The entire second half of the movie, it’s raining for no better reason than to make sure we can see her undergarments through her white shirt. This is particularly frustrating because Margot Robbie did such a stellar job interpreting the character, only to have such little faith put in the role by the higher-ups.
It wasn’t all bad. We get to see what it’s like to be pursued by Batman from the villain’s point of view. The Enchantress looked terrifying and primal and was totally not a Scarlet Witch rip-off, we swear.
There’s also the villain’s army of faceless goons which inspires less emotional reaction than the Putty Patrol from “Power Rangers.” Harley survives two helicopter crashes, presumably for some reason other than the writer ran out of ideas. Batman catches Deadshot in about nine seconds flat, totally negating any respect you might have had for Green Arrow. There’s the “man gets stabbed in heart but pulls a thing out of his pocket to show you it stopped the knife” trope. Let’s also not forget the weird and completely out of place Harley flashback when she falls, arms outstretched like a cross, into a vat of goo where she is baptized by Joker. No movie is complete without a hamhanded Jesus allegory, right?
Sorry, I said it wasn’t all bad. I may have been exaggerating.
“Suicide Squad” seemed plagued by indecisiveness. The soundtrack alternates between a 30-something hipster’s road trip playlist and standard orchestral fanfares telling you how to feel. The beginning of the film cycles through three songs so fast it seems as if someone is brainlessly turning an FM radio dial. The soundtrack can’t make up its mind what it needs to be at any given moment, and this quickly becomes the atmosphere for the whole movie.
What is consistent is the washed out look to almost every single scene (this could have been a problem with the theater, but it seemed stylistic). All the visuals were a half-step too dark and tepid, making the film look as though it takes place in perpetual night, even in day scenes. These bland settings rarely deviate from simple character shots (including far too many close-ups) and actionless panning. When the action does hit, it’s little more than a mumbled prayer to the patron saint of guns, complete with done-to-death slow-motion shots of casings hitting the ground.
Lackluster writing constitutes the bulk of the issues with the film. “Suicide Squad” can’t decide whether it’s supposed to be dark or funny. It smashes something that feels horrible together with a one-liner, which then doesn’t seem terribly funny because the so-edgy juxtaposition is terribly ill-paced.
The poor pacing takes its toll on the plot, shoving down our throats a team of people who are supposed to care deeply about each other after working together for, what, five hours? Harley is willing to choose them over Joker. Diablo is willing to die for his new “family.” They’ve known each other for a day, but that doesn’t stop Boomerang from observing how Harley is always doing this thing that he’s not really seen her do to any extent.
The writer’s heavy hand is pervasive. Harley overtly reduces the roles of the entire cast by calling Deadshot “another textbook sociopath” in the tell-not-show method the movie loves. Joker has the word “damaged” tattooed across his forehead in case you couldn’t figure it out. Harley wears a dog collar with Joker’s pet name on it so it’s clear whose property the token sex object is.
That anyone would fall in love with this iteration of the Joker seems especially ludicrous given that he looks more like a meth-head than the Clown Prince of Crime. Jared Leto was channeling Jim Carey more so than Heath Ledger, giving us a green-haired Ace Ventura whose unconvincing cackle sounded like what you’d get if you asked a 9-year-old to do a “bad guy laugh.”
There are egregious plot holes we won’t spoil for the determined viewers – just one: That SWAT-style breakout Joker orchestrates? The one about three minutes before the end of the film? You know, the one he could’ve done in the first place instead of all the other stuff he did? The one that rendered half the movie pointless? Oof.
Even the teaser after the credits is redundant, showing us a certain couple heroes who were already revealed in “Batman v. Superman.” Right up to the end, “Suicide Squad” had very little creativity or newness to offer. If you were on the fence, you can safely wait to borrow the copy of your nerdy frothing-at-the-mouth DC fanboy friend. His passionate, unconditional defense of this film will doubtlessly be more coherent and entertaining than the movie itself.