Boy, was this movie a mess.
Now, let me back up and say that I never reviewed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS from here on out), but that movie was also a mess.
The key difference between the two films is that BvS was a self-serious, overly dour, cynical mess. Suicide Squad, on the other hand, is a reasonably enjoyable mess. Still a mess, but one that I didn’t mind sitting through.
The essential premise of Suicide Squad is simple: The Dirty Dozen meets the DC-verse – a group of villains are forced to team up. It’s so simple that the fact that this movie is such a mess is more surprising for it. In the hands of a competent director with the right skillset, and with a solid script, this movie should have been, if not a home run, at least a success. And yet, it’s ultimately a bewilderingly complicated movie that lacks any consistency of character and doesn’t earn any of the “moments” that it goes for.
David Ayer is a capable writer and director. Given the right film, he’s quite good actually. He’s been successful as both a screenwriter (Training Day), and as a writer-director (End of Watch, Fury). It turns out, however, that he probably wasn’t the right choice for this particular movie. He struggles to maintain the tone of Suicide Squad, the characters frequently get lost in the middle, and the second and third acts makes little-to-no sense. His choices of musical cues are all the most obvious choices. Each and every musical cue will hammer you over the head with its lack of subtlety.
It turns out that whatever his other skills may be, David Ayer is also not the world’s greatest action director. The action in this film is often hard-to-follow and shot in such dim lighting that it is hard to tell what is happening.
Frankly, the best part of the movie is the opening act, when we are introduced to the various characters and their abilities, we get glimpses of their backstories, and each actor gets a chance to showcase the different style they bring to the film. It’s when the movie starts to bring these characters together that it all falls apart in an incoherent mess.
The characters themselves are generally interesting and fun, if somewhat cliched and stereotyped. Will Smith is (as usual) a magnetic on-screen persona as Deadshot, and Margot Robbie will likely be the breakout actor of the film as she nails the incredibly psychopathic Harley Quinn (more on this in a moment). The much hyped performance of Jared Leto as the Joker is somewhat more on the periphery than initially advertised, but more importantly, it feels like he’s in a different, much darker movie, than the rest of the characters. This Joker clearly belongs to the universe of BvS, but it’s not clear that a character from one universe can, or should, translate into the other.
Margot Robbot’s Harley Quinn is definitely quite fun, the biggest source of levity in the film. Unfortunately, she is completely robbed of any agency over the film, never being put in a position to make a single decision for herself. If Harley Quinn is meant to be seen as a villain on her own terms, rather than just the Joker’s moll, there’s really not much attempt at pushing that characterization in the film, a choice that is a clear mistake.
Another major issue for Suicide Squad is that almost none of the big moments in the climax of the film are actually earned. As the film nears its climax, the characters have a “moment” where they all unite over their common cause. but it’s not a moment that has been set up at all by anything we’ve seen in the film so far. Shortly after, one of the characters has a completely un-earned moment that literally made me groan out loud.* There’s a real lack of internal consistency, particularly as characterization is concerned. The film attempts to humanize the villains and make us sympathize with them. They’re villains. We’re not supposed to sympathize with them. We can enjoy and like sociopathic characters without them having to be redeemed. (See Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, or Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, for examples of completely sociopathic characters that are endearing and spellbinding to watch).
*Spoiler: “There’s just one problem: You messed with my friends”… Friends? Really?
It’s disappointing that a movie that was this highly anticipated (boy, the trailers for this looked good) ends up being this much of a misfire. In the right hands this could have been a lot of fun. Instead, it ends up being mostly a mess. If you can turn your brain off for the duration of the film, you probably won’t mind it too much. As soon as you turn your brain back on, however, the movie falls apart.
Rick Flagg: This is the deal: You disobey me, you die. You try to escape, you die. You irritate or vex me…
Harley Quinn: I’m known for being quite vexing, I’m just forewarning you…
Rick Flagg: …you die.