Suicide Squad is a hot, hot mess. There’s some good stuff on offer here- the best that DC have been able to cobble together since The Dark Knight– but it’s muzzled by a checklist military hodgepodge plot and a film student editing job that makes the Margot/Smith mega-movie more music video than film. Luckily, because of the bitty puzzle-piece plot, it’s not too much of a challenge to separate the good from the bad. And the very bad. So that’s what I’m going to try to do.
Ayer’s antihero flick is a bipolar blockbuster of binary halves: half a good cast, half a bad one; half a good script, half a bad one; half an original idea, smothered in its bed by a pillow stuffed with cash. And as that metaphor implies, none of this is a surprise. The film is a mess because the production was a mess, and the production was a mess because of the massive financial pressures and expectations that the film’s grossly overblown marketing budget and tortured production cycles ultimately precipitated; a vacuum for an empty film to fill.
Essentially, DC couldn’t have picked a tougher adaptation to sell, and a worse time to try and do it. Vancity Reynolds and his vulgar red-capped merc pulled DC splashing and screaming into uncharted waters, and now they don’t know how to get back to shore, or even if they should. Hence the reshoots, rewrites and competing cuts that turned an adaptation into an impossible project with too much to do and too many people to please. And this was exactly the same problem that Dawn of Justice had: three sluggish hours couldn’t even make enough space for the poly-convolutions of Snyder’s screwy script.
But, like I said, there is a lot of commendable stuff here. Jared Leto’s Joker is a personal standout; Leto manages to echo Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning 2008 turn without supplanting or stealing it. He does his own thing, and I think it works. He’s a Joker for the iPhone age, with silver grills and tats and a Sony tablet with murder Periscopes on standby. Margot Robbie is a bit of a dirty gem. For the most part, she’s fun and brings a lot of life to an otherwise dead and done-over cast. But almost every other laugh has a flop to match, and every bit of badassery is undermined by a weird and persistent sexual infantalization that plays for the creeps and no one else. Think the video for ‘BB Talk’ by Miley Cyrus. No, that wasn’t a directive, but if you’re not on board maybe go and get the gist and come back.
Basically, there’s something seriously wrong about the baby/daddy talk in and around modern sex. Why is it sexy for Harley to talk like a nine-year-old? Is that the fantasy? For her to be developed physically and retarded mentally? It’s sick, but it plays and I don’t think anyone with a pair of balls between their legs wants to know why, let alone admit it. I hope it’s more about power than paedopihilia; that is, if this is the only hand and I can’t be dealt out.
In short, the film tries to juggle too much, both in terms of narrative and tone. The film turns on a literal dime from crocodile Sambo to empowered power-player Amanda Waller; daddy’s lil’ nymphomaniac to daddy’s lil’ mathematician; Eminem to royalty-free rouse #4 with no semblance of self-awareness or irony. I’m sure Ayer had an idea of what he wanted the film to be, and I’m almost as sure that his first cut, before the test screenings and corporate screenings and, of course, Deadpool, had a cohesive style. And I say that not just because this is the guy that wrote Training Day, but because most of what is wrong with the film lies in the way that it’s cut, and that means post-production. It’s less a movie than a bunch of random scenes on shuffle; a dislocatory Janusian shambles thrashing around in the deep-end of the Deadpool Marvel dumped it off in with burst armbands. What a shame that we all saw coming from miles to the power of googol away.
But real talk… WHERE THE FUCK WAS BATMAN?