When financial ambitions are the main driving force behind a movie instead of any real talent, there is no way you can hide your incompetence
Suicide Squad (2016)
Written and directed by David Ayer. Based on characters from DC Comics. Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood and Adam Beach.
A group of villains are forced to work together and save the world. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Indeed, that is a very promising idea, but Suicide Squad is proof that in the wrong hands, any great premise can sink like the Titanic if the main force driving it is pure commercial ambition ($$$) instead of real talent. Even that brief hint of irreverent lunacy that we see when the producers’ names first appear on the screen (you will know when you see it) is a promise that never delivers. The only true villainy here seems to be that everyone involved in committing this atrocious movie is giving us the finger and saying with an evil laugh that you won’t get your money back.
The third chapter of the DC Extended Universe — which is not doing so well since the barely passable Man of Steel (2013) and the bland Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) — Suicide Squad follows the creation by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) of Task Force X, formed by dangerous criminals locked up at Belle Reve Prison. These criminals are hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), former psychiatrist turned psycho Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrokinetic ex-gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), genetically mutated Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and assassin Slipknot (Adam Beach). Under the command of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), they are to be used as disposable assets in high-risk missions for the US government, each member carrying a tiny bomb implanted in their neck which will detonate in case any of them tries to escape.
“What makes you think you can control them?” someone asks Waller right in the first act. Why, that is a very good question — in fact, the most important in the entire movie. When we see a big threat emerge to destroy the world precisely because of that stupid plan in the first place, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that they cannot control them. And this is only the beginning. Along the way, there are more and more signs that this plan simply doesn’t work. It is baffling that no one is able to figure out the obvious or ever decides to just shut down the whole goddamn project at once — especially after the hundredth time someone tries to escape or something goes terribly wrong, putting everyone in danger.
But what can you expect from a messy script that has no idea what it is trying to do? It can’t even justify the presence of The Joker (Jared Leto) in any of it (all his scenes could be excised from Suicide Squad, and nothing would change). Everything is so poorly written that the attempts at character development are a total failure too. The characters remain sketchy and more cartoonish than in the old Batman TV series of the 1960s. The structure is awful, taking forever in an endlessly expository first act only to introduce the characters. But what is unforgivable is that there is no fun. Everything is lazy and dull. Even the last-minute humor thrown in to save it from being another cure for insomnia like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice falls flat.
In fact, you know something is doomed to failure when you see that the powers that be (that is, Warner Bros. executives) demanded reshoots to include humor in order to counterbalance the grittiness intended by the director. It’s commercial needs vs artistic freedom. No one wins. And the sense of humor forced into the movie is silly and intrusive. I can’t see anyone laughing when Harley Quinn asks someone: “Do I have a hickey or something?” It’s just terrible, much like the dialogue, actually. The whole initial tête-à-tête between Deadshot and his little daughter, for instance, is full of cringe-inducing clichés, including her begging with whiny eyes “Daddy, don’t do it, please!” to convince him not to kill Batman (Ben Affleck, in a cameo).
If all that came from a lousy filmmaker, I would understand. But David Ayer, who is no Uwe Boll and also wrote and directed the excellent Fury (2014), could have done a lot better. His direction is ridiculous, with an excess of music (a lot of clichéd songs, by the way; Sympathy for the Devil, really?), solemn slow motion, flickering lights, close-ups of bullets falling down on the floor, nervous camera movements and tedious fight scenes which are shot in the most uninspired way possible. He even tries to create suspense not from one but two helicopters being knocked down. Still, there is no great direction that could save a script that doesn’t understand what should be the most important here: the characters.
In fact, one of the things most people want to know when they go to see Suicide Squad is whether Jared Leto is a good Joker. The answer is definitely no. He looks more like a gangster caricature, with metal teeth, dressed like a pimp and full of rings. His laugh sounds fake and exaggerated, and he never manages to make his Joker unique like Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or Cesar Romero did. The other actors do what they can, but any attempt made by the film to explore their characters’ personal conflicts doesn’t work, like when we learn (and don’t care) about El Diablo’s past or Katana’s (Karen Fukuhara) dead husband stuck inside her sword. The same goes for Harley Quinn, who is there basically to look loony and show her body.
And what can be said about this cheesy villain called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who I guess should be remembered more for her silly Macarena-esque moves than her villainy? Or the fact that El Diablo insists that he doesn’t want to be part of Waller’s project only to appear in the group right after? Or, of course, the unbelievable moment in which Flag reveals to the others (and to us) a story that we already knew and saw happen? I could go on and on and also mention the absurdity of Flag deciding to release murderers when they are shown to “not be so bad after all,” or (spoiler alert!) the laughable moment when he screams “Her heart’s out!” just in case we are imbeciles and haven’t noticed it.
But it doesn’t matter. The fact is that the movie doesn’t care to explain the most basic stuff, like how these characters come to love one another so fast and out of the blue (“I lost my family, I ain’t gonna lose another one,” we even get to hear El Diablo say) or the fact that a certain character shows up impossibly alive and well in the end (“How are you not dead?,” helluva good question). With also a trashy art direction, mediocre visual effects and a dreadful conclusion, Suicide Squad at least makes us relieved that the DC Extended Universe can’t get any worse than this. So the only way now is up.
PS: So, let me see if I get this straight, struggling black man Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton is captured and brought to justice by millionaire Bruce Wayne, who is the very representative of the capitalist system that perpetuates social inequality in Gotham City and creates outlaws like Deadshot in the first place. Has anyone else noticed the irony? Not David Ayer, I’m sure.