Film Review | Suicide Squad (2016)

suicide squad banner david ayer poster jared leto will smith viola davis margot robbie review analysis commentary article

Normal is just a setting on a dryer.

DC and Warner Brothers are in the interesting position that Batman vs Superman is no longer the consensus worst movie of their cinematic universe. Considering quite how bad it was, and how little time has passed since Batman vs Superman, that is not an enviable position to be in.

Personally speaking, I actually didn’t think that Suicide Squad was as bad as Batman vs Superman – to be honest, I think it’s probably the best of the three DCEU movies that currently exist. Don’t mistake this for it being a good movie in its own right, mind you, because it isn’t.

I don’t know, necessarily, that there’s a great deal of value in reviewing Suicide Squad, per se; it was, broadly speaking, pretty much exactly what I expected it to be a few weeks ago. This is, after all, a movie with lines like “Normal is just a setting on a dryer”, and thinks that a pink unicorn fetish is a hilarious running joke – you can sort of tell what it’s going to be like just from that, really. Will Smith was always going to be the best part, because he’s Will Smith; we knew that Harley Quinn was going to be overly sexualised, although we could perhaps have hoped for a little more depth to the character; we knew that the majority of the squad would simply be one note background characters. It’s all in the trailers, when it comes down to it; in some ways, that’s quite ironic, given the complaints about Batman vs Superman.

Interestingly, though, that perhaps wasn’t always the case.

Recently it’s emerged that Suicide Squad had quite a difficult development period. The script was written in 6 weeks – it was basically a first draft – and towards the end of the editing phase, the studio began to get cold feet, and edited together a new version, distinct from the cut put together by David Ayer. Both were shown to test audiences, and then the final version which went to cinemas – the version you and I would have seen – was a Frankenstein-esque mishmash of both editions. The Hollywood Reporter went into a lot of detail about the whole thing, and I reckon it’s really worth a read. What’s crucial, though, is that the new version commissioned was edited together by the people who edited the trailer; that’s perhaps why, despite all conventional wisdom warning against it, the movie begins with what is essentially an extended, forty-minute version of the trailers. It’s only when the movie tries to be a film on its own terms that it began to become (somewhat) entertaining.

In fairness, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the extended trailer nature of the movie’s opening. It was exposition heavy, and they used a new generic song for every camera angle change, and also those character card exposition pieces were… well, I admire Suicide Squad for trying to be different, even if it didn’t necessarily work. We’ll be charitable and call it a “worthwhile experiment”, even if realistically it’s all stuff that should have been clamped down on in the edit.

That, I think, is the main problem with this movie. It’s incohesive and quite lacking in any central vision. Honestly, I’m reminded of what I said about Batman vs Superman – it’s just a painfully reactionary movie. Watching Suicide Squad, I can’t say I feel as though any of the creative decisions were genuinely made on their own merit; the film was clearly conceived of because of Guardians of the Galaxy (note the August release, the misfit ensemble, and the incorporation of popular music) and then influenced further by the “fun” of Deadpool, and of course still failing to replicate the darkness of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Undoubtedly, of course, there are original ideas and concepts in here, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty clear that Suicide Squad is a cynical, soulless cash grab.

But what’s also interesting, though, is the defence that the cast members have been making of the film, in the face of the critical consensus. Thankfully they weren’t deluded enough to suggest that these critics had a personal vendetta against DC movies, or that they were being bought off by Marvel, but what they came out with was pretty poor.

“We’re making this movie for the fans.”

And isn’t that interesting? I mean, it’s being presented as an admirable thing, but it’s really not. To cater to a particularly small group of people is far from wise; you have to make movies accessible for the other 100% of the audience. It is, in many ways, shutting a large portion of the audience out entirely – “it’s not for you”.

This really stunts the movie, to be honest; to appreciate a lot of the nuance (a kind word to apply to Suicide Squad, frankly, and also quite the overstatement) you need to have an existing understanding of the characters. Little of this movie is able to standalone, really – given the sheer lack of development for so many of the characters, you need to be able to fill in the gaps with your own knowledge. Take Katana; she’s introduced with little build up, and a quick accompanying flashback to contextualise who she is. But we never learn more about her than a short bit about her husband, and thus after that she’s just quite vacuous – an empty space where an emotional arc should be. (I was reminded a lot of a tweet I saw about Daredevil, which said “imagine a japanese tv show in which someone investigating a corrupt american corporation is attacked by droves of lasso-wielding cowboys” – most, if not all, of the characters in this movie were pretty base level stereotypes. You can argue that a lot of that is part of the original conception of the characters from the comics, but I think it’s difficult to argue that the movie made any effort to give these characters any particular depth in and of itself.)

To consider this anything other than a problem is, frankly, quite ignorant; you can’t treat every character like Batman and expect the audience to just know how they work and who they are. Someone like Katana, if they’re to operate as an actual character rather than a prop for action sequences, needs to have some sort of focus, and some sort of development. There was nothing, though; I don’t know if this is because they were just coasting, or if they really only did want Katana as a prop for action sequences, but either way it’s quite poor. The same is true of several of the characters; it’s ultimately the “Deadshot, Harley and Rick Flag” movie, with Amanda Waller and Diablo acting as secondary protagonists. Everyone other character was, sadly, quite flat and one dimensional.

Ultimately, it’s not a very good movie. It’s not a terrible movie; the second act is pretty good, and the opening is at least interesting, I guess. There’s a lot to dislike; there’s a few bits to like, as I mentioned earlier. Little about this film inspires much confidence, admittedly – “better than the last two” is not the sort of resounding hit that DC/WB needs. Both Wonder Woman and Justice League will need to be stellar, frankly.

And I genuinely hope they will be.

5/10

Related:

Is Batman vs Superman relevant?

Suicide Squad, Edgy Teens, and a Pink Unicorn Fetish

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