The state of things. I mean honestly.
I came out of Suicide Squad, the third bad film in a row in what can no longer apologetically be dismissed as merely a shaky start to DC’s fledgling cinematic canon, shaking my head and thinking “the state of things, I mean honestly.” Sure I’m no age at all and I’m too old for this film.
I asked my wife in the cinema lobby and now I’m asking you – can something already be qualified as dated in the year of its release? Suicide Squad is SO 2016 that it feels, even during its own runtime, like water passing through your bladder, like it can only be as current as is literally possible. It is in-the-moment filmmaking, a sort of unpleasant digestive process that you can’t really enjoy but have to experience regardless. Having made the choice to produce it this way, writer/director David Ayer has sacrificed the potential for anything remotely satisfying or nutritional, and with that goes anything that might stick in your craw, provoke thought or even, broadly speaking, entertain.
What I’m grasping for is some way of describing how this sizzle reel of a film, this music video game, manages to skirt by the issue of tonal consistency so completely while still managing to feel like something that’s pitched at an audience that doesn’t value longevity and thus cannot be directly catered for. Maybe that’ll do.
From the moment it kicks off, with a hastily compiled gumbo of expository flashbacks, the film embodies the opposite of what it tries to. To condense this point, DC deals in icons, right? Fucking Batman is a supporting character in this film, for Christ’s sake. Batman should not, not ever, be a supporting character on the big screen. If you’re making a film for DC, you’re essentially handed a toybox of icons, of globally recognized archetypes, to shape into whatever majesty you see fit. What Suicide Squad opts for, instead, is the temporarily iconic, or what less extravagantly can be described as trailer bricks.
Think about how a movie trailer is comprised of carefully selected shots, dialogue, music cues and that BRAAAAMMMMM sound effect. Consider how a trailer serves a direct purpose and how that purpose is not the same as that of the film itself. Consider also that there are shots in the Suicide Squad trailers that are not in the film, and are in fact directly contradictory to shots in the film, in one case changing the entire mood and meaning of its most pivotal scene, and you begin to understand that Suicide Squad is designed like a movie trailer. There are key shots and key lines of dialogue that exist only to serve the moment, and the iconic ether they seek to inhabit cannot support things that exist ‘just because’. If you care for specific examples, Harley’s “we’re bad guys, it’s what we do” is one, and I’ll not get too diverted here but if your scripts still contain the line “it’s what we do” after years and years of characters saying that, you’re a hack writer in need of just a single moment’s reconsideration. Language is infinite and expressive, people. Movie characters need not speak from a pamphlet’s worth of material. My other example concerns another character, and a shot from above of them laughing on the floor, surrounded by meticulously arranged weaponry, and how none of what you see has any reflection or impact but sure looks good in a trailer, where at least context is immaterial.
Speaking of icons, let’s get onto that. The Joker’s in this film. We’ve not seen this guy on the big screen since Heath Ledger had a go back in 2008 and managed to do two really important things – inspire discussion and contribute to mythology. There are a number of things that Jared Leto’s Joker says and a number of particular shots that ring with that transparency of half-baked iconography, obvious attempts at creating a lasting impression despite the film’s quick, move on approach to everything else.
Yet, yet yet yet, when he’s first introduced, he’s just dumped into the film. For all the film’s attempts to court the coveted cult classic status already afforded to its spiritual forbear (read: source of barely concealed attitudinal inspiration), Guardians of the Galaxy, Ayer and co miss a spectacular, and hell, even once in a damn generational opportunity to present the new Joker – the new fucking JOKER – in any sort of memorable fashion at all. He’s just there, much like he is for the rest of his scant appearances throughout Suicide Squad, sadly readable only as one of DC’s desperate measures in catching up to Marvel, years and many movies ahead of them in the blockbuster stakes. The majority of his seven-odd minutes of screentime is covered by the film’s promotional campaign, which confirms a fundamental misunderstanding of that character’s power, significance, and cynically speaking, financial value. Why show everything in a trailer when you can tease people into BUYING TICKETS with sensible and subtle teaser tactics? Ask DC, I’m stumped.
This ain’t a film for women, either, no no. Well, gay women, maybe. I mean, you want to pay a tenner to spend two hours looking at Margot Robbie’s ass, that’s your deal, but I’ve drawn a picture for you just in case you want to save that money for something more rewarding like a packet of cigarettes or a couple bags of coal. Robbie’s Quinn is all over the place, and I don’t speak as one of Harley’s devout and manic fans, I speak as someone who doesn’t know how a woman with no motivation flitting between trite psychosis and profound sensibility is supposed to be taken seriously, and trust me, despite what those Guardians-lite trailers want you to believe, this film occasionally expects to be taken seriously. Conversely, it also has a character who, facing imminent death, asks his colleague to delete his browser history. It’s all over the place, and its buns-out guns-out Harley Quinn is emblematic of this.
Elsewhere, we have horny dead wives romantically recalled in flashback, Cara Delevingne wearing very little while dancing exotically and a stapled-on, loose-hanging plot about the other female Squadster and why she carries her sword around. Amanda Waller, the Squad’s CIC, is your typical hardass military woman, The Shield’s Claudette Wyms without the personality. Given the average production time for Hollywood films, you could give Suicide Squad a pass inasmuch as it was made before Britain welcomed its second ever female Prime Minister. It was made months before Hilary Clinton entered serious contention for actual world leader, before Ronda Rousey exploded (and imploded) and changed the face of women in sports, even before WWE, a company run by one of the most infamously stubborn chauvinists in entertainment history, had to literally rebrand its women’s division to adapt to the fact that world is not the place it was five, three or even one year ago. From the deepest part of me and with considerable resistance, Suicide Squad gets that pass, yes, but DC needs to realise by the time the next one of these films comes out that there’s a lot more to audiences than dudes and bros, and being handy with a baseball bat does not a strong woman make.
Its other problems aren’t worthy of as detailed an analysis, but they’re worth a mention. The licensed soundtrack is all killer, no filler, and as a result, after about the third classic rock track in ten minutes it just feels like DC is waving a big willy made of dollar bills in your face. When it’s all peaks, it’s a straight line, so there’s no impact and this latest addition to the supermovie formula is already sour. There’s also a straight-faced standard-issue soaring superhero score towards the end that’s so on the nose it’s hard not to laugh. Despite its tagline, “Worst. Superheroes. Ever”, and even choice morsels of dialogue, the film is not a comedy, and even more crucially, it’s not funny, though you can just about tell it wants to be, just a little. It ignores the crucial twin building blocks of source material and storytelling principle. The first I can let slide, as this is a world where Superman and Batman relish in their newfound love of human murder, but the second is harder to ignore. There’s no arc, here. No-one has anything to overcome. Will Smith’s Deadshot, for example, gets exactly what he wants by the end of the film and he doesn’t have to change at all. This is not sound storytelling, it’s common ignorance, and we shouldn’t put up with it. Seeds are sewn for callbacks that either never come or stumble through the wall too early in diver’s boots. The crooks barely interact with each other. The bad guys dispatch nameless, faceless monster goons (Putties, basically), so there are no stakes and nothing personal about the overchoreographed slow-mo fight sequences. Once again, an entire city is destroyed and just like in Batman V Superman, DC makes sure to let us know the place has been evacuated so we can enjoy the architectural devastation with a clear conscience. Call me a big sissy but considering the state of things globally, I’d be comfortable with less massive destruction in my movies in favour of some high-stakes character-based risk, some compromise, anything really. Any kind of character consistency at all would do. Not a character who swears off violence and then agrees to resume violence after speaking to one stranger about it one time. Not a character who, true to scantily-established form, shirks responsibility as soon as he can only to return, silently, minutes later.
Suicide Squad’s issues, those I’ve mentioned at length, I mean, are so major that even its most obvious flaws – its absence of an engaging plot and reliance on some seriously shitty CGI – fall by the wayside, because those are less about filmmaking decisions and DC’s film department’s snotty, ignorant attitude, and that’s what the problem is here. This movie’s director stood up at its premiere and happily said the words “fuck Marvel”. The people in charge of these characters have no understanding of their value when used properly, even competently, and they appear to have no sense of how to conduct themselves professionally. David Ayer can decry his competition all he likes. He and his are playing a loser’s game, and it’s only a competition because they’ve made it so. Suicide Squad marks the third DC film I’ve fallen asleep during, and while they’ll keep drawing me in because I’m invested in how this iconography is presented and I probably always will be, they need to slow down, think about what they’re doing, and, most importantly, stop making really shitty films.