And lo, Warner Brothers feeble attempts to establish a cinematic universe to rival their Marvellous competition did once again fail to deliver. Anticipation for Suicide Squad, the studios third stab at bringing their intellectual properties to the big screen was relatively high, mostly following a colourful pastel bruised marketing campaign and a promised new take on fan favourite The Joker. In the industry however the turbulence behind the scenes as set the gossip pages gloating, with tales of a fractious shoot and heavy executive artistic meddling, as the clueless suits attempt to steer the franchise up to a furious fiscal firmament. Charming director David Ayer has towed the party line but the studio’s decision to test-screen two versions of the film back in May has caused ruptures, do doubt in part due to the critical mauling that Batman Versus Superman quite appropriately received back at the start of dilly season. His preferred, measured take on the material was overridden with a more jaunty, fractured introduction to the characters and their space in the universe, complete with millions of dollars of reshoots and frantic reassemblies, and the dire effects of all this molestation is all too apparent on-screen. I’ve never read the comics but the prospect of staging the villains as the main protagonists could have been an interesting take on this most exhausted of modern serialised entertainments, when as the dust settles and the film limps into multiplexes it sounds as if the arduous making of the picture would be far more garishly entertaining.
Taking events further after the gloomy ending of Batman Versus Superman the government has decided to activate a clandestine programme in order to tackle a future attack by a so-called meta-human, instructing the ruthless Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to use any methods necessary to combat the threat against international security. We learn this through an extremely choppy opening dinner scene between Waller and some faceless executives, giving Ayer a chance to really strut his MTV montage moxie, as a confusing cacophony of characters and backstories are scuttled against the screen. Through this ugly technique we meet the super-acurate ballistics expert Deadshot (Will Smith), a hired assassin who isn’t all bad as he welly wubs his wuverly wittle 11-year-old daughter, ensuring that Smith’s good-guy persona isn’t too tarnished, despite the hundreds of people he has presumably and ruthlessly massacred. Next up, animated Lolita rag-doll Harley Quinn (
Gillian Jacobs Margot Robbie), a psychiatrist who has somehow fallen in love with everyone’s favourite playing card The Joker (Jared Leto), he’s still on the run, she’s practicing her gymnastics while her guards pant like those creatures that spot an attractive lady in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. Beyond these two main characters me meet the leathery Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) the pyrotechnic Los Zetos El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), haunted blade wielding super-ninja Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the faithful sticked Captain Boomerang ( Tom Hardy Jai Courtney), tartan flavoured adamantium tree-trunk wielding Khyberman (Sean Connery), and Paella-lass, a scorching beauty who wields her lethal cooking utensils with as much spicy severity as her favoured Mediterranean dish (Penelope Cruz). OK, OK, I might have made some of those up but is this really the best we can do, ensuring that each ethnicity sports their countries identifying melee weapon of choice? That is, when they’re not mercilessly mowing down hundreds of goons during the most pornographic celebration of firearms since last year’s double-booked AVN/NRA convention – but we’ll come back to that…
This film is a mutilated mess, and not of the amusing or entertaining kind. Characters are introduced then re-introduced ten minutes later, plot lines and motivations have obviously been dissected and reassembled in a patchwork fashion which betrays the overall hesitant treatment, with lip-service paid to the potentially interesting question of sending the bad guys in to do the good guys work – isn’t that the central query of the film? You’ll have no idea of who or what the major big bad is, its plan, its minions or its motives, other than the usual so tired cliché of obliterating everything in sight then sending some phallic blue beam up into the heavens as a rather convenient rallying point for our erstwhile anti-heroes. Clearly I’m getting my multiverses muddled as I thought the Enchantress was a Marvel villain from the same Asgard realm as Thor and Loki, in the DC pantheon it appears to be some incarnation of an immortal Aztec spirit priestess, allegedly with the ‘powers of a god’ which Waller grimly intones at some feeble attempt of dramatic gravitas, while in reality her powers stretch to levitation, speaking with jagged subtitles and possessing numerous squadrons of doomed servicemen which our ‘heroes’ proceed to massacre with gruesome glee. After their introduction and introduction to theatre Suicide Squad is essentially a collection of confused and brutally violent action set-pieces which sets them on a journey to meet and confront this character, an expanded first and third act without any intermediate exposition, but maybe our new friends will find a little out about themselves on the way, prove that they’re not all bad and all that robbing, murdering, kidnapping and pain they have inflicted was just a glitch of their misunderstood nature? It’s a dark film in many ways, from its contempt for an audience who enjoy such antique notions as plot, nuance or originality, to the cinematography which bathes the screen in enough flickering shadows and cyclones of dust and detritus to make you squint through the 3D glasses to see who is punching who, not that you’ll actually care or be invested in the consequences.
But you all want to know about the Joker, right? Right. Well, I welcome various takes on such iconic characters and there is nothing wrong with trying something different to previous successes, but I for one am not falling for Leto’s albino Cuban gang-banger interpretation, coated in bling, garish gulag tattoos and prowling about like Keith Flint in a discarded Prodigy promo. In Suicide Squad the little we see of this beloved super-villain reflects the lack of care or inspiration this time around – apparently volumes of material were shot and discarded – and he gets no good lines, no maniac psychopathology, and does little more than spew out a few rounds from his gold-plated AK47 while cackling like a castrated hyena. That was a reaction I mirrored during the action scene speed-ramping technique which which I loathe for its pornographic impurity, when its not obscuring the aural space with the most tedious song montage choices – The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes. They’re all good bands and tracks but its just been done to death in other films, while the main score seems to be little more than an updated and libel avoiding barley concealed rift On Her Majestys Secret Service of all things. With one exception all the other characters that are complete non-entities, with the possible exception of Killer Croc whom they didn’t even bother to flesh out with a mouth-watering origin flashback.
I did like the take on Harley Quinn however, she might be the single saving grace in the picture, she at least seems to have some kind of personality and purpose, with a couple of memorable comic book inspired moments even as the camera lingers on her attributes with all the chaste atonement of Michael Bay on Viagra. Some of the production design had its merits, the smoky, charcoal world gone to hell aesthetic sheen and the costuming and make-up smears out beyond the grimy lenses, adding a small sense of characterisation against a seemingly endless urban malaise. But where’s the camaraderie, the quips or playful interactions? The sense of a team coming together as bunch of loathed misfits? I’d be lying if the inner fanboy didn’t quite a twinge of arousal when we get to see the likes of Arkham Asylum but these glimpses are few are far between, scattered over further character inconsistencies and plot that I can’t purge due to spoiler screams. Its an exhausting, bruising and near depraved picture, quite honestly the fetishisation of firearms leaves a nauseous coating to the entire enterprise, alongside the repeated, exasperating scenes of Deadshot pining over his estranged daughter (hey dude, wanna get back to you daughter, then maybe STOP KILLING PEOPLE?), all the way down to the studio mandated, sequel signalling finale which has quite obviously been tacked on after some test screening analysis. The Justice League and Wonder Woman pictures are gonna have to be Dark Knight quality offers in order to resuscitate this feeble franchise, yet another 9mm nail in the coffin of Hollywood’s slide into obsession with mere content and product and lining up the next installment in the series, while such ancient notions as drama or energy are thrown out with like the proverbial focus-grouped baby with the bath water;