By Jarrod Jones. “What if Superman had decided to fly down, rip off the roof of the White House, and grab the president right out of the Oval Office? Who would’ve stopped him?” That question, pointedly asked by Stranger Things‘ Dave Harbour, sums up the premise of David Ayer’s DC Comics supervillain jamboree, Suicide Squad. In a post-Man of Steel world, where meat-headed would-be do-gooders plow their way through most of a city skyline in order to save the day, who the hell can any of us count on? Who watches the… you know what? I’m not even going there. You know where I’m headed with this.
Thing is, Superman is now dead as hell, done in by Doomsday and narrative shortsightedness in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of Justice. The need for superhero fail safes would seem superfluous, considering DC’s finest are still taking their sweet time assembling into something that resembles an onscreen Greek Pantheon, let alone any sort of existential threat. Justice League is still miles away (that’s probably for the best right now), but as far as premise goes, you can do far worse than making a movie about a wobbly-kneed government putting together a band of grimy bad guys to fight things that would make Batfleck blush. If anything, Suicide Squad seems downright novel compared to what we’ve seen before.
Written and directed by David Ayer, the guy who basically turned toxic masculinity into a marketable virtue with grizzled movies like End of Watch, Training Day, and Fury, Suicide Squad is a lurid, arrhythmic comic book movie that seems designed for the Monster Energy Drink crowd. Do you have a cousin who sucks on a bong at three in the afternoon with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance on in the background? This movie is gonna drive him wild. For those of you who can’t be bothered with acknowledging the basic tenets of visual storytelling — structure, narrative coherence, tonal balance — Suicide Squad is for you.
As a matter of fact, it probably wouldn’t do for me to review this movie with my film critic’s hat on, considering that DC Films seems like they’re in the business of sheer fan appeasement rather than providing any sort of artistic merit — and these days, rationalized criticism is generally shat upon by people who think any DC dissent is due to some flat-Earth, pro-Marvel conspiracy anyway. Besides, I already tried to apply logic to a DC movie once before, and it damn near broke me in half.
It took ten movies before Marvel Studios bothered subverting its own shtick with Guardians of the Galaxy, and in what can only be perceived as a big ol’ middle finger to Disney, we’re already staring up at the scaly underbelly of the DC Cinematic Universe three entries in. Considering the contrast provided by Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, it’s pretty gross, like a post-game Wrigleyville where the vomit you’d find on the pavement has caked under a scorching sun. If you felt Suicide Squad was being sold as a more subversive version of Guardians but ended up nowhere near as fun, welcome to the dark nature of capitalism: Suicide Squad is a test-marketed mockery of genre filmmaking, an entity engineered to provoke internet squabbles over the merits of quality storytelling versus aesthetic catharsis. It is anything but a movie. The good news is, if you accept it as the garish music video it’s desperately trying to emulate, there’s a chance you might end up enjoying parts of it, provided you enjoy things like debilitating hangovers and talking loudly in the theater.
Let’s talk about the cast. Viola Davis is Amanda Waller, a formidable g-man who looks at metahumans the way baby boomers look at teenagers, and she arrives to the movie ready to tear the throat out of any caped demigod who would dare touch the hem of her flag. Davis is easily the best part of Suicide Squad, not necessarily because her character is well formed (none of these characters are well formed), but because her disdain is so infectious. Will Smith is Deadshot, a hitman so good at his job it’s practically superhuman how bad he is at being a father, who takes on specific familial relationships with whomever he’s presently engaged, because Will Smith is the biggest star out of everybody — he’s the antagonistic older brother to Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo (who has a subplot of his own that is too despicable to even mention), he’s the pushy cousin to Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg (who has his own inter-team relationship that amounts to nothing and goes nowhere), and he has an underdeveloped paternal relationship with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
Quinn is the wildcard of Suicide Squad, not just because she’s declared as such by the bewildering trading card stats we’re force-fed at the beginning of the movie, but because her allegiance constantly wavers between playing nice with her teammates and running back into the arms of Jared Leto’s Joker. Robbie has the most fun out of everybody in this misfire, primarily because Quinn herself has devolved into a one-note, self-aware, hyperversion of the character once realized in Batman: The Animated Series. (Seems our punishment for enjoying that Saturday morning cartoon is still going strong.) It’s a role that is practically impossible to screw up.
Which brings us to Jared Leto. If we’re being completely honest with each other, Leto is objectively the worst incarnation of the Joker ever committed to popular culture. His much-publicized antics on set would make some believe that Leto was embracing his role as the wild Clown Prince of Crime, but once you catch the maybe seven minutes of screentime he has in Suicide Squad (seriously, he’s barely in this thing), you get the feeling he was simply doing it because Jared Leto is a fucking weirdo. If this is what we can expect from future installments of the DC Cinematic Universe, where Ben Affleck shoves a branding iron into a totally into-it Jared Leto, then we can just hand the geek trophy over to Disney right now, because Warner Bros has officially shot its prized cash cow in the head. After choking on the Wagnerian Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad may look and feel like an improvement, but that’s only because the bar has been set so low.
Directed by David Ayer.
Produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.
Written by David Ayer.
Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood and Cara Delevingne.
Rated PG-13 because the ratings system is woefully broken.
2 out of 10