Like a sick joke being played on mutliplex audiences everywhere in the summer of 2016, we must endure another badly lit two hours of franchise crossover exposition. David Ayer’s absurdly hyped Suicide Squad is not a disappointment per se, as it looked like a editing room mess from the get-go, but it is severely uneven and the titular ensemble inevitably ensures that it never hits any recognizable tone.
It is difficult to escape the film’s current promotional stranglehold on social media. And indeed, there is a lot to bank on when you’re sitting on a picture that is comprised of essentially nothing but “trailer moments.” As of writing this, I advise you all to buy shares in Hot Topic because the impending merchandising onslaught will surely surpass even The Nightmare Before Christmas as the ultimate badge of teenage “non-conformity.”
Mercifully, this is a DC comics film that finally wants its viewers to have some fun. And hey — I actually laughed a couple of times! This was genuine laughter derived from intentional jokes, not sniggering at latex-bound muscle boys having a measuring contest to see who has the hardest childhood.
Still, the shadow of Zach Snyder looms like a stench (he has a producing credit) over the proceedings. Particularly in the first half, which is little more than introducing a likely already familiar crowd to the latest incarnations of some very famous characters.
And there are a lot of characters. Take a drink every time someone says: “This is _____, but they’re known on the street as _____.”
This tedious sequence feels like a commercial that you can’t skip and batters you with a veritable who’s who of classic rock from a staggeringly on-the-nose soundtrack. I’m sure that half the budget went to securing the licensing rights, but does anyone really need to hear 30 seconds of “House of the Rising Sun” that badly?
A secret government division — headed by the reliably classy Viola Davis — recruits an elite team of imprisoned supervillians to stage unusual and dangerous black ops in exchange for reductions on their collective life sentences. That’s about it for plot other than some muddled nonsense involving ancient Mayan magic that’s completely at odds with the street justice skull-crushing that finally goes down.
We all came to see Margot Robbie fight the hot and flash her perfect teeth while she bludgeons thugs with a custom baseball bat. We didn’t come to see Cara Delevingne and her notorious eyebrow situation covered in CGI mud and speaking through a voodoo vocoder.
It is strange that a movie about the ultimate rogues gallery of villains refuses to refer to them as such. Instead, the eye-rolling term “Meta Humans” is repeatedly over-enunciated. No one is coming to a story like this expecting any semblance of reality. Just call them what they are.
Critically for the brand, this amounts to more than a starry posse in heavy makeup fighting each other for screen time. There is some genuine chemistry between some players.
The ageless and effortlessly likeable Will Smith is smartly cast in a uncharacteristically sadistic role. His portrayal of Deadshot — the assassin who never misses — gets most of the backstory along with Robbie’s coquettish psychopath, Harley Quinn.
Robbie wrings every ounce of neon sass out of the long-standing fan favourite that she can. It’s a career-changing performance that she clearly had great fun with. Her scenes with Smith are natural and engaging, but obviously the scenes everyone was waiting for are those she shares with Jared Leto’s mysterious take on the Joker.
If Heath Ledger’s almost mythic performance was the hangover, then Leto’s creation is the champagne from the night before. Early publicity stills depicted him as some low rent looking Faces of Meth Party City cosplay, but his Joker in motion is sinister and scary.
Much has been made of his method acting and sending his costars a variety of gifts, including live rats and used condoms, but clearly it paid off. It’s refreshing to see the iconic character survive in his own element rather than relentlessly squaring off against Batman. Though, sad Ben Affleck does show his sullen face a couple of times.
It takes over a hour to get there, but the action is fast and surprisingly not flashy compared to its peers. Mostly well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat on what is unmistakably Yonge St. before the de rigueur smackdown with a villian that will be utterly incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
Though tongue-in-cheek at times, the film is not as self-aware as it thinks it is. It’s hugely enjoyable watching colourful nihilists indulge in their most primal desires purely for the pain-inflicting enjoyment of it, but you know some soggy requisite redemption is ticking away.
That’s what you get when you’re a studio whose last two brand films failed and you’ve got to ensure a PG-13 for a story about the most dangerous psychopaths in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there’s clearly plenty of violence, but it’s borderline slapstick and never taps into the psychological potential that glides beneath the surface.
There are some moments of self-reflection. Harley plays bartender when the squad is at its lowest and they contemplate the nature of evil and honour among thieves. It’s shockingly astute for what boils down to little more than a vehicle for commercial tie-ins.
If it doesn’t all quite add up in the end, there are still enough hits to compensate for the misses and, as usual, it makes big promises of what is to come. Beyond the impending Justice League films, Robbie has signed on for her own Harley Quinn film.
Now we’ll just have to wait another two or three years to get what we all really came here for … and that is the cruelest joke of all.
All photos courtesy of Warner Bros.