Following up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (one of BPR’s lowest scored movies) is David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. How is it? Lee and Darren find out.
Finding the right tone is often an issue for action movies and, in the era of the grandiose superhero blockbuster, the search has never been trickier. When our hero is a gun-toting murderer fighting in the name of justice, we viewers can blur lines enough to see murder as just an efficient way to represent action on film, but the moment a movie tries to add any political/social/moral grey areas into the mix, our brains have to process the action seriously and consider whether guns are really the answer in the given scenario. In most cases, they won’t be, and we’ll be disappointed.
Now, instead of guns, the man shoots lasers out his eyes. The tone immediately becomes sillier, stranger, more experimental, less serious and, at the same time, those grey areas are still there, so we are still being asked to take this seriously. The viewer is tasked with realigning various contrasting and contradictory messages and images and, if bombarded, for the most part, probably won’t bother. They’ll shut off their brain’s processing and only follow the bigger, more obvious beats and images. This trait in human nature is great news for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, because what it does well is the big beats, and what it does terribly is everything else.
One third fast-paced, frenetic storytelling hyperactively cut and pieced together into a long-form montage, one third setting- and tension-building cityscape exploration and one third save the world, altogether now, teamwork prevails, A-B-C superhero movie finale; all tied together with wishy-washy political acts, loose militaristic overtones, bizarre and embarrassingly handled attempts at characterisation and a general desire to want to be the thinking man’s something (probably A-Team). Attempts at elevating the material beyond general action movie fluff are admirable, but misguided, as Suicide Squad has a lot of great things going on when it takes itself a little less seriously.
When the movie is jumping from character introduction to character introduction, climbing up cars and dead bodies to shoot more cars and dead bodies, spending time with fundamentally fucked-up relationships or just smack-talking its cooler than cool comic cast, the movie sings. Sure, you could nitpick; there doesn’t need to be so many rapid-fire pop and rock songs, our brains aren’t that incapable of piecing together tone, thanks. Yes, it is a little weird that the film uses violence against women as a punchline twice. Yes, I get that Harley Quinn uses her ass to take advantage of people, but do we have to leer at it quite so often? Sure aren’t a lot of shots of Deadshot from the waist down, all I’m saying. It doesn’t really matter though; there’s a guy whose supervillain power is to throw boomerangs at people. This is no time to question whether Fortunate Son really worked in this context, there’s a clown gangster with grills coming to get his clown girlfriend back, and the super assassin is teaching his daughter trigonometry with sniping terminology.
The goofiness is there and it’s a riot when it works. There’s not much to these characters, and that’s alright; let’s have fun instead. At the prison, in the flashbacks, on the ground initially and any scene with The Joker in it (which is about maybe six scenes?) and we’re having a good time. Even the climactic battle for good and evil, with all its over-the-top Gozer imagery, has more than a few great moments of tension and comedy. It’s just anytime David Ayer feels he has something to say that the movie grinds to a halt.
Sometimes it’s something integral and present in the story, like Rick Flag’s entire character, where the shoot-y soldier straight-man hides the world’s dumbest secret from the squad in an attempt to add some twisted political undercurrents to the narrative, then when caught, feels bad and overcomes being a dick long enough to “get the girl”; all the while forming a love-hate relationship with Deadshot on the premise that Deadshot and Flag are fundamentally opposed because one’s an assassin and one’s a soldier? It’s a mess no matter what way you look at it.
Sometimes it’s an undercurrent of the story. Its political thriller make-up, its corruption angle, its attempts at characterising class divide through Killer Croc, its attempt to make a character redemption arc out of a character whose acts are so reprehensible they can’t actually show them on camera into some sort of ‘good in us all’ moral; there’s just too much that shouldn’t be here in this zany cartoon movie where boomerang man and laser eye fight faceless magic-zombies in a race against time.
These little touches can often add flavour, or character, or an identity to a pretty straightforward action movie, but each time Ayer decides to focus on something serious it grinds away at the forward-moving energy the film was channelling up until that point. Having a ‘fuck it, let’s drink’ scene works perfectly as a rally for the final act if it makes a change of pace from constant momentum, but instead it follows fifteen minutes of uninteresting double-cross-ery and pining. The right moves and big beats are all there, even the humour works, but once you get settled into the good time the movie starts raising questions about who the ‘real’ bad-guys are, and it’s just not well explored enough to even pretend to be interesting or relevant. “Are you the devil?” Harley Quinn asks evil-team organiser Amanda Waller, and our eyes roll and roll and roll forever and ever into eternity, another fun scene ruined by posturing.
Suicide Squad will leave audiences divisive because it itself is divided, interested more in how smart it could be rather than how fun it already is. It’s choppy and rough and the victim of an overly long and poorly developed screenplay, but ultimately it’s still more fun than not.
Hey, maybe next time DC can drop the whole ‘Superman’s a terrorist/soldier/Jesus’ angle and actually get some intelligent writers on board to find out what Captain Boomerang stands for? The way he bails at first chance? Hilarious. The way he just sort of shows up back in the group after that scene? I think we deserve an explanation, and clearly we are not in capable enough hands to give us one.
Most movies have a lot of hype, superhero movies have more than most. This tends to lead to some, let’s say, extreme reactions. Critics try to be objective and go in with blinkers, fans wear their hearts on their sleeves and risk it all for what they love. And that’s what this movie keeps repeating. Love. It’s as much a theme here as any other. Why am I even telling you all this? Well, I want you to know exactly where I stand. I review movies on a website. I try to be as objective as I can be. I also love comic books, heck, I have a tattoo of Harley Quinn right here on my arm.
With my cards on the table, I want you to know that I think I can see both sides of what has caused such a fracas about this movie. Critics are usually seen as out of touch with the general audience, and they can be. The audience is seen as forgiving and easily entertained, that can be true too. So, let’s us all be the calm rational adults I know we can be while I actually tell you about the picture.
The movie is ok.
Just your run of the mill average movie. If you are a fan of the comics then nothing I am saying will matter to you really. You’ll probably enjoy the movie and I can see why. The characters you know and love are on the big screen, mostly accurately, the action is competent but nothing special and this seems to be the next step in DC’s attempt at its movie-verse. There is even a few nice little references to such things as the famous Artwork of Harley and Joker by Alex Ross, and a subtle nod to the original creator of Suicide Squad, John Ostrander. That’s about all I can give you. But the movie does have a lot of problems, enough that I think if you didn’t know a lot about the source material you’d be a little bored. It’s not awful in the way Batman Vs Superman was but it suffers from some of the same problems. Namely: a lack of focus and direction.
In most movies of this type, a group movie such as Guardians of the Galaxy or The Magnificent Seven, there is still a clear defined lead and relationship that you follow. This movie has three characters fighting for that position but none of them take centre stage. Deadshot, a hitman with an abundance of religious iconography who wants to see his daughter; Rick Flagg, a straight-laced soldier trying to protect the woman he loves; and Harley Quinn, who just wants to escape and be reunited with her Puddin’. Deadshot is the de Facto lead by star power but the story just focuses a little too much on the others to make that really matter. It’s strange but the movie tries to give you a lot of reasons why you should care about their success, adding more and more to the third act but I was still vaguely disinterested.
The main characters don’t really have an arc as such or if they do it’s really rather random and for pure plot convenience, such as El Diablo’s arc. With so much screen time taken up by our three leads and a long introduction of all the major characters and their backstory, there wasn’t a lot of room left for real characterisation. El Diablo, for example, could be a very interesting character, a “bad guy” stuck in his self-loathing and unable to do anything. Trapped in what he has become and learning to accept it. Same goes for most of the cast. They are interesting, they have dimension but the movie doesn’t really allow that to show, instead getting muddled in the three-way dominance battle for the lead.
The villain suffers from a lot of the same problems; her reasoning is a typical “destroy the world” affair with no real purpose. Just a two-dimensional character who nearly made me roll about the floor laughing at one point. I’m sure the idea of having a voice over as she apes words meaninglessly sounded creepy on paper, but in practice it’s just goofy and robs the ending of any real weight. The other antagonist, while not as shallow, isn’t utilised to their full potential. They could have made this a different beast, going as dark as the picture thinks it is.
Like I said at the start of this review, this movie seems to be about love and how far we would go for it, how much we would risk for it and how much it can cost us. But it doesn’t take the risks necessary to truly ask that question. The relationship between the squad feels fake and happens too quickly with no real ties to bind the characters. “They are my friends,” Harley says at one point. Why? She knows little of them and in the case of one character says barely two lines to them.
There is a good movie here screaming to be let out, one that is a lot more complex and asks serious questions about love and who are the real villains? Can we love bad guys? I don’t know, and the movie clearly doesn’t either. Giving us a frankly gaudy interpretation of a great premise.
This isn’t a terrible movie but it isn’t living up to its potential of the comics that, as a fan, I love.
This movie serves as I reminder to me that just because I love something, doesn’t mean I should ignore its flaws. I love it too much to let it get away with anything but its best.