Suicide Squad is the sleazy creep in the club who tries to gatecrash a hen night by making sexist jokes, spilling WKD on himself and grinding up on the bride-to-be.
“DC simply cannot do this shit like Marvel.” That was my colleague’s summary of Suicide Squad, DC’s second attempt at creating their own cinematic universe. Based on the two films so far, he has a very valid point. DC’s is a universe dominated by bad acting, misguided attempts at character development supplemented with outright bungled attempts at character development, terrible plotting, truly awful dialogue and erratic editing…. Actually looking back, Batman v Superman may have been terrible, but compared to Suicide Squad it was a modern masterpiece of steady-handed coherence.
What makes things worse is that Suicide Squad had such potential to shock-start DC’s cinematic universe in an interesting manner. The Suicide Squad canon presents a goldmine of characters, themes and motifs to explore. It’s the same B-side hero/anti-hero routine that worked so well in Guardians of the Galaxy. In the trailers, Margot Robbie looked like great casting as the endearingly insane Harley Quinn, Will Smith brought star-power to match Deadshot’s firepower and Jared Leto looked to be immersing himself daringly in the role of The Joker, an incredibly tough challenge after Heath Ledger’s deservedly vaunted performance.
Instead, we get a sexist, erratic, badly-edited, nonsensical film that somehow manages to say nothing in its two-hour-plus running time.
The first issue is evident straight away – scenes were obviously reshot and, like a bad undergraduate student adding last-minute paragraphs to an essay with the deadline an hour away, minimal effort was put into properly integrating the reshoots. For example, Rick Flag, the soldier tasked with overseeing the motley group, looks like he has multiple personality disorder. At first he’s presented as a cocky but understanding soldier, then suddenly he is suspicious and resentful of the squad. It’s so erratic and confusing, and most impressively it all happens within the opening 1o minutes. It only gets worse throughout the film and happens to pretty much every character.
Another deeply frustrating problem with the film is character development. The script is incredibly incompetent in trying to make us care about these anti-heroes. Will Smith’s Deadshot is presented as the de facto leader of the group and thus he gets the majority of screen time, but it’s a total failure. He’s a prolific hitman but is also meant to be a doting father. In fact, his daughter is the reason he ends up going to prison willingly.
However, the film takes “show don’t tell” too literally. We see Deadshot with his daughter in one short scene then 40 minutes later, Deadshot walks past a children’s clothes shope and stares inside – supposedly a thoughtful reminder amidst all the chaos that Deadshot will see the mission through to the end for his daughter. We’re meant to be sold on his motivation after two extremely short and badly-acted scenes. We’re meant to believe, but more importantly care, that Deadshot is doing all of this for a greater purpose. We don’t.
The terrible editing compounds the character development problems and makes things even more erratic. In one scene Deadshot is completely against being the good guy and threatens to kill pretty much everyone, but in the next he gets offended when Flag questions his bravery. This isn’t some clever character quirk – it’s just bad writing and editing.
The troubling thing is, as I said, Will Smith gets the majority of the character development – all five minutes of it -which means that nobody gets more than an brief rudimentary flashback. However, the problem isn’t that the introductions are short – one only has to look at the introduction of Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and see how a new character can be quickly and satisfyingly dealt with – but that they are painfully bad.
Katana, El Diablo, Enchantress and Captain Boomerang all get a 10-second flashback which is meant to act as a full origin story. This creates a problem – the film clearly thinks these flashbacks are sufficient at creating fully-fleshed out characters and operates under this assumption for the rest of the film. A terrible mistake. The squad is suddenly shown cracking jokes and acting generally like they just returned from a seven-day team-building exercise and not like a bunch of criminals who have literally just met (the editing messes up the chronology here too, by the way) under suspicious circumstances. It’s genuinely awkward and, for want of a better word, cringe-worthy when the squad indulges in some ‘light-hearted banter’. Suicide Squad is the sleazy creep in the club who tries to gatecrash a hen night by making sexist jokes, spilling WKD on himself and grinding up on the bride-to-be.
Speaking of creepy sexism… Harley Quinn’s costume had already set alarm bells ringing from the very first images and trailers. In the film, there were at least three scenes dedicated to a group of men just staring at Margot Robbie walking around in hot-pants. In one scene the camera leers on her changing clothes. Quinn’s back-story – as The Joker’s therapist who falls in love with him, gets electrocuted and dropped into a vat of acid to prove her adoration for him – is troubling to say the least. Let’s also not forget that she wears a dog collar that says PUDD’N, which has been given to her by The Joker. What could have been, nay should have been a strong, entertaining character is reduced to a misogynistic gag.
And this misogyny is spread around for all women to enjoy: Deadshot tells Flag he should smack some sense into the Enchantress; El Diablo’s induced reverie shows his wife (whom he killed when in a fit of rage) caked in makeup telling him she will put the kids to bed and then they can go and have sex; Slipknot flat out punches a woman in the face. In a film that already makes no narrative or character sense, the uncomfortable objectification of women leaves a particularly sour taste.
Last, but not least – and this is a teeny SPOILER…
The Joker really doesn’t have to be in this film. For all the pomp and circumstance made during filming, he feels like he’s in the film to cynically add A-list recognition rather than because the narrative required his presence. Jared Leto’s performance does little to make us to think otherwise: he elects to play him as an incredibly wealthy, showy gangster, but this bravado just looks comically insecure in a film where his character is irrelevant. Heath Ledger showed that the menace and unbridled insanity of the Joker could be elicited through silence, or in smaller, subtler details. Ledger’s Joker was a character, Leto’s is a parody.
In my review of Independence Day: Resurgence, I said that it was the worst film of recent times and I failed to see how anything would struggle to beat it. I genuinely did not expect to be so resoundingly proved wrong only one month later. Suicide Squad is the worst film I have seen in recent times and poses a very serious question for DC and Warner Brothers: at what point does attempting to kickstart a cinematic universe become kicking a dead horse?