At its very best Suicide Squad is a hypnotic garbage fire of a movie. David Ayer has given us a film so bombastic and so bombastically stupid that, for a while, it works in spite of itself. After the self serious disaster that was Batman V Superman DC seem to have kicked into reverse. Here, they offer a movie where almost everything is treated as one, big joke.
The tailored, pre IMAX, countdown at the screening I attended was the perfect harbinger. It’s a nonsensical, showy and superfluous bit of gimmickry with the overstuffed aestheic of a garish Bebo skin (look it up, kids). Speaking of overstuffed, the film works best when it gives itself ten things to do and nothing to linger on. The first half is tasked with introducing a motley crew of antiheroes and has to do so so quickly that it gives this first hour a giddy energy. This is helped along by almost every scene being underscored by hits varying from The Animals to The White Stripes via Eminem. It is a Scorsese’s Casino level of decadence. Of course here, we have a reptile man wearing a leather duster/velour hoodie combo rather than suited mobsters.
For those confused by the last sentence; this is a superhero movie focusing on a team of villains being assembled to fight bigger villains. The core of the group are Will Smith’s Deadshot, whose power is marksmanship, and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn whose powers are ‘crazy’ and ‘crazy hotness’. Rounding out the crew we have the aforementioned crocodile man, a flame controlling convict and also an Australian. There are many others, too. Jared Leto’s Joker interjects himself regularly as a free wheeling agent of chaos and every time manages to out ridiculous every other daft thing on screen.
The critical error that the authorities make is, and I’m not joking, blackmailing a Witch’s ghost (played by Cara Delevigne) into joining the team. She mutinies and now the team must, in turn, be blackmailed into attacking her. If the script was going for a ‘Who watches the Watchmen?’ vibe it comes off more like a nod to Springfield’s approach to lizard population control.
Will Smith anchors the movie in a workmanlike, amiable, Will Smith kinda way. However, the two performances likely to be most remembered are Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Leto’s Joker. Harley Quinn is first introduced dangling picturesquely in a prison cell, licking the bars and flirting with the guards while giggling like a horny child. The soundtrack plays ‘You Don’t Own Me’ which feels like a try at giving the scene the (tight, revealing) clothes of empowerment. Robbie will likely be haunted by this ready made iconic performance. She’s a talented enough actress to impress even when a large percentage of the role is ‘wearing hotpants and bending over’. The movie never fails to remind you that she has an arse. As the ultimate hot mess she’s not so much a person who’s sexualised as a perfect sex object that’s occasionally personalised. When allowed to, Robbie is adept at ping ponging from wide eyed innocence to giddy malevolence and brings real energy to the role.
And Leto’s Joker? For all the method hoopla he put himself and, more importantly, his co-stars through the result is a Nic Cage worthy showing. Every choice is so crazy and scenery chewing as to be mesmerizing. It’s hard to tell if it’s good or just so bad that you can’t look away. If this is awful at least it’s… memorable. It’s a shame that he has no organic place in this story, popping by only occasionally and to little effect.
By the time all the pieces are in place and everyone’s cracked some gags we must then, inevitably, care once they’re put in peril. Asking us to care is where this thing fails and fails badly. A boilerplate comic book plot kicks in and the film falls apart. It doesn’t help that the villain is a near non presence. They’re only good for teaching our team to work together and they become shit at aiming when attacking anyone important. The first half is like being force fed cheap sweets. It’s not great but it’s giddying gluttony. The second half is a grinding headache and comedown once you realise that there’s nowhere to go.
It is bizarre that the less disjointed second half is the one to let the side down. Reshoots were, reportedly, extensive during production and the ramshackle feeling at least gives us energy up top, even when this often feels like an extended trailer.
What’s more bizarre is that it’s hard to really dislike this film. It is a Harley Quinn-esque wreck but not uncharming for it. I’ve mentioned that it’s dumb but often it’s dumb in a way that’s so silly it becomes great. Whoever built a miniature sewer in Killer Croc’s prison cell needs a firm talking to, for one thing. This is a type of idiocy that, at least, tries nothing more than to entertain. The hopeless ‘edgy’ aesthetic is sort of endearing too; like a moody, 12 year old, tumblr dweller realising that Claire’s Accessories sells factory made punk gear and gleefully decking themselves out. This won’t freak out the squares but bless its heart for trying. At least it’s glossy and colourful.
Suicide Squad is a bizarre thing to behold. It’s never good but is accidentally and fitfully entertaining. This puts it a step ahead of Batman V Superman, at least. The ‘Worst Heroes Ever’ won’t save the DC universe but they’re nowhere near bad enough to kill it either.
Suicide Squad is in cinemas from Wednesday 3rd August. Check out the trailer below.
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