Ever since the movie-going audience took to the internet, and especially since this year’s Deadpool, Hollywood has been paying more attention to the advertising campaigns of their films than the films themselves, in the ever-raging struggle for box office results. World-building is the game of today’s superhero film genre, and as we move forward, it seems that references and easter eggs have taken a higher pedestal than the story or characters themselves. And when your market is served by a duopoly of two comic book goliaths, it is only inevitable that they mimic each other in attempting to recreate the other’s success. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is the third film in the DCEU and their answer to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, bringing together unfamiliar names and secondary villains in what was intended as a flashy thrill ride of twisted team spirit and no-stops action. Brimming with exposition and forced dialogue, strung together in a plot that lacks motivation, and succeeding one of the most commercial advertising campaigns in recent history, it proves to be the most disappointing film in recent times.
Suicide Squad begins with U.S. Intelligence officer Amanda Waller’s (Viola Davis) proposal to fend against metahuman threats – a team of notorious and highly skilled villains who can be controlled and blamed for the damage. The team she has in mind for the task force includes Deadshot (Will Smith), the marksman who never misses, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), handy with a bat and maniacal lover of the Joker, El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a pyrokinetic ex-gangster who loses control when he goes mad, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a disfigured cannibal who lives in the sewers, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a loudmouth thief, and Slipknot (Adam Beach), a mercenary whose speciality is climbing things. The team is accompanied by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Waller’s right-hand man and true patriot, and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the enforcer who owns a blade which traps the souls of its victims. If that introduction sounded like something you’d read off a baseball card, it’s because that’s precisely how each character is introduced to the audience, with stats jumping off the screen in neon. The story follows their first mission, correcting Waller’s own carelessness in letting the ancient sorceress Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escape.
What Suicide Squad seems to have been going for is redemption for its twisted characters, highlighting the sympathetic backgrounds that have brought each of them to Belle Reve prison, while ultimately being a movie about team spirit. Not the first or last film to tell the tale of characters who despise each other uniting for a greater cause, David Ayer’s conception of team spirit towards the end of the film is backed by motivations not made clear to the audience, and birthed of team bonding that barely goes beyond a few one liners. The film merely carries the idea that the filmmakers intended to convey, and hesitates to execute it with tangible character moments and meaningful conversation that is present for the sake of more than just the moment. It is as though Snyder’s vision still has the last say in all these films, as Suicide Squad too spends heavily on moments rather than real scenes allowing the characters to breathe and reveal their true natures. In trying hard to showcase powerful moments between Rick and the Enchantress, the film forgets to fill in the blanks and expects the audience to assume emotional weight for the climactic battle. In bringing to life the iconic images of the Joker and Harley, it forgets to afford any purpose to the romance and the attention it commands in the film. Where Guardians of the Galaxy allowed us the right amount of peeks into its leading characters, using situations that flow naturally with the story to develop them, Suicide Squad spends all its time on pushing as many meta-lines and triggers for future films into its already shortened runtime. This is only aggravated by the miserable editing, which keeps cutting from one flashy image to another, blinding the audience in a plethora of bright lights and shaky action.
Peppered in and around the moments of the Squad taking shots at each other is Jared Leto’s Joker, a masochistic, abusive gangster with a penchant for animating every muscle in his body during conversation. While I feel no qualms with the reduced role of the Joker in itself, one cannot help but admit that a movie about the Joker and Harley Quinn along the lines of ‘Mad Love’ would have balanced better than this haphazard story, where the only character the audience ends up caring about by the end is the one that looks like Will Smith. Leto is known to be a method actor (if not before this role, definitely after all the media attention around his twisted gifts and pranks on set) especially attracted to the more deviant characters, which made him perhaps the best choice in Hollywood for the role. However, it seems now that the performance might have been served better without such an explosive marketing campaign: setting us up for a groundbreaking interpretation of the character, unlike this one which shows shades of both Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s versions. None of this is to say that Leto’s Joker is unimpressive or wrong, but rather that he did not live up to the stories surrounding the film, instead succeeding as a straight-up horrifying presence in the universe. In fact, almost all the performances in this film – with the exception of Cara Delevingne’s disastrously cheesy turn as the Enchantress – were brilliant, each actor trying as hard as they can to let their characters shine through, against the suppressive writing and plot.
It is easy to see why Margot Robbie was cast as Harley, as she carries about her the same flirtatious air and cunning sweet-talk as the character from the animated series. She brings the most to the table in this film, proving all the more that the film would only have benefitted from using the Joker-Harley romance as emotional bedrock. A film unevenly paced beyond coherence, Suicide Squad wastes precious time that ought to have been used for developing its ensemble cast in drawling exposition and unnecessary flashbacks, each of which had enough material for its own movie. The movie is at all points unsure of the story it is telling, and, as a consequence, suffers the distraction of the audience from constant jumps between back-stories and the various stories taking place in present day. This uncertainty is carried further by the sound of the film, as popular all-time hits pop up in the most inappropriate places, striking a discordant note in every scene. With an exceptional cast of characters that finds no emotional backing for their motivations, and a story that compromises action and interaction for flashy lights and narration, Suicide Squad fails to amount to any more than DC yelling out “hey, look at all the cool stuff we have!”, leaving the audience wondering where all the screen time went.