When the Joker escapes from Arkham and begins working on his torture project/trophy, Harley Quinn; he straps her to a table and says the line you’ve probably seen in the trailer. “I’m not gonna kill you. I’m just gonna hurt you really, really bad.” That’s the way you feel after viewing the “ace” up D.C’s sleeve. The singular voice behind End of Watch and Fury, writer/director David Ayer, feels like he’s been swallowed amongst a chorus of marketing obsessed, war (BvS) wounded DC collaborators. The resulting Suicide Squad is so sickeningly desperate to be loved that it’s suffocating.
After the arrival of Superman, shady U.S intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) begins collecting and imprisoning meta-humans to be manipulated into doing some good (a.k.a her bidding). When her most powerful member Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes, Waller sends the remaining bad guys, Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); under the supervision of Black ops soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to take her down. Meanwhile The Joker (Jared Leto) will stop at nothing to have his “Puddin” (Harley) returned to him.
Director David Ayer seems to be heavily influenced by the dearly departed Tony Scott’s (Man on Fire, Domino) cerebral action style. The explosive action set pieces and closed quarters team combat has great chemistry. However his aping of that method results in a much more overt aesthetic, with neon flurries that echo the ink on the characters. In shots with precise and dark composition you’re interrupted with artificial splashes of colour and camera trickery (shaking) that’s trying (and failing) and drawing the audience into the character’s madness. And in key scenes of exposition while characters are talking to one another, it feels like an editor is just turning up the soundtrack to distract the audience who may be bored with the talking bits. The disturbing quiet of the restaurant scene, as Waller (Davis) pitches her government counterparts on the concept of her “Task Force X” that we saw in the trailers is interrupted consistently by score turned up to eleven.
While the soundtrack choices in the trailers seem inspired, when they’re translated to the film proper the grating musical choices, Eminem’s “Without Me” playing during the team’s suiting up sequence, will make you want to hurl. It’s not since Robert Zemeckis’ use of Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” for an overdose scene in Flight that I’ve wanted to run screaming out of the cinema.
The promotional spin for this film, like Ayer’s last film Fury, is that the filmmaker was passionate about fostering method performance practices for his players. For Fury it was actors beginning the day with fist fights; with Squad it was not only him tormenting the performers and unleashing Jared Leto’s Joker “pranks” on them. This has resulted in fiercely committed performers that are shackled by rare, fleeting opportunities to let their characters shine, outside of “lip service” and frustratingly obvious character catchphrases dropped like frying pans on a stone kitchen floor.
Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, for Batman fans, is a formidable friend and foe. Oscar nominated Davis brings the ruthless, calculating badass of lady to the screen – she is a huge highlight of Suicide Squad. Her intensity, her quiet ferocity is the engine for the story and she gets a good chunk of screen time to introduce the character to the audience and D.C universe.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn overcomes the disjointed pieces of her origin story awkwardly plopping out to eclipse her most infamous boyfriend. The Joker was confounding. This was not going to be Leto looking to replicate Ledger’s 2008 Oscar winning (and pop culture redefining) performance as arguably the most (in)famous villainous character of all time; so if you’re holding it to that yard stick — you’re doing it wrong. This alternative view of the Joker is criminally reductive. You barely scratch the surface of his nihilism, his madness and especially his genius. Instead you’re viewing him through the prism of some kind of sociopathic, petulant heir to an oil fortune. His relationship, obsessively crafting Harley Quinn as his ideal partner, adorned and surrounded by the trimmings of stupid money (cars, clothes, pimp cane); the Joker feels like a consumer. The Joker should want to watch the world burn, not be one of the rich kids of instagram.
Smith’s Deadshot has the clearest motivation but there’s something about the way that he carries himself alongside the crew that makes him feel like he’s on the outside. It’s the most ‘Will Smith playing Will Smith’ performance from his recent body of work. Jai Courtney’s Boomerang and his thick “ocker” Aussie accent brings some genuinely funny and weird along the way. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo serves well as the conscience of the piece. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc, the monosyllabic beast, really works in his limited capacity in the film. Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag seem to be carved from the same boring piece of wood. The bar scene in the film is one brief glimpse we get of the characters being able to interact with one and other and show off their interplay. The frenetic pace of the film’s editing choices doesn’t give you time to understand why this team would work together.
In a star ship plummeting towards a planet’s surface, a rag-tag bunch of characters that you’ve seen squabble (kinda attempt to kill each other), have joined together in a self-sacrificial structure made by their friend to meet their end. As they look around you care about each of the characters; you’ve seen them forge a strange bond and be willing to lay down their lives for their team. That movie was Guardians of the Galaxy. That team was five characters Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot.
Suicide Squad is one long stuttering introduction with fugitive glimpses of the film’s potential. Suicide Squad, doesn’t kill you, it just hurts.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Will Smith … Deadshot
Ike Barinholtz … Griggs
Margot Robbie … Harley Quinn
Viola Davis … Amanda Waller
Jared Leto … The Joker
Common … Monster T
Jai Courtney … Boomerang
Ezra Miller … The Flash
Jay Hernandez … Diablo
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje … Killer Croc
Cara Delevingne … June Moone / Enchantress
Joel Kinnaman … Rick Flag