Case 08042016: Brandon Wagner v. Suicide Squad

Ladies and gentlemen of the court, we have here before us today a case of villainy most foul. Not in the sense of the traditional evil, of course. But rather, in the sense that injustice has been done. A premise, seemingly tailor-made for cinematic action and DC Cinematic Universe expansion, has been snuffed out. A group of great actors and characters wasted in another Warner Brothers tragedy.

It all seemed so simple. The movie would be about a group of bad guys assembled by one Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a badass bureaucrat with a sociopathic streak. This group, Task Force X, would be comprised of marksman hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), psychopath and girlfriend to the Joker (Jared Leto) Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Aussie scumbag Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and the cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They would be led by Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) with his right-hand woman Katana (Karen Fukuhara). A colorful collection of antiheroes certainly different from the ones we’d seen so far was just what the superhero genre ordered.

Perhaps it’s their mission that went wrong. The bright idea seemed to be to send this eclectic group after yet another blue beam to the sky, this time an unspecified weapon created by the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Nothing exactly all that new there.

Perhaps it’s something that’s yet deeper than that. A fundamental series of missteps that lay in the DNA of this film. To illustrate, it requires no more than the listing of the charges. If it pleases the court, I’ll recite them below, from the most minor to the most grave.

Multiple Counts of Misuse of Licensed Soundtrack

This one comes as no surprise. The film is made on the back of Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that proved that brand could be a back on which to introduce outlandish premises and multiple characters. One of that film’s most prominent features was a soundtrack loaded with classic songs, so it only follows that we would see this film attempt the same.

But you see, Guardians had the good sense to tie in the soundtrack thematically and cinematically. Subtlety and character-building was its key. Suicide Squad is perfectly content to drop songs willy-nilly in the desperate hope that you’ll associate enjoying the song with enjoying the scene.

There’s no grace though. No appropriateness. It rather feels like someone has chosen to blare their iPhone speakers over random parts of the film. The needle drops are on the nose, and often drown out the sound beneath them. There’s no thought given, just spaghetti thrown at the wall with a prayer that it sticks.

Villainous Negligence

It only logically follows that if you bring together a group of “bad guys,” that it must be for a greater threat, right? RIGHT?!

No one told screenwriter David Ayer that (we’ll be getting to the crimes of director David Ayer shortly). Suicide Squad is gifted (much like one is gifted a box of angry bees) with the Enchantress and her brother Incubus as its villain, along with a series of grotesque pointless horde minions. Despite looking like rejected models from The Mummy Returns (minus dirty The Grudge Enchantress, who looks cool), their motivation is infinitely worse.

It’s apparently to do evil. Or something. Actually, I’m not sure the film ever gives us any idea who they actually are, their history, what their plan is, their relationship, any substantive interaction between them, and any reason to understand the need to fear them. It’s another motherfucking apocalypse plot, and that’s all the film gives us to go on.

That and a lot of dancing. Seriously. Enchantress and Incubus do not leave a single spot for the whole movie which means that for Enchantress to have any motion, she dances. It’s earnestly awful.

Multiple Counts of Vandalism of DC Property

Look, nothing is as bad in this movie as Superman in Batman v Superman in terms of whiffed characterization or as bad as the “JUSTICE LEAGUE EMAILS” for future movie setup.

Good god are the allusions to the rest of this universe shoehorned in though. 90% of the movie has no connection whatsoever and anything that does (Flash and Batman cameos, references to Superman’s death) seem added in way late, even if I know they were not. It’s a heaping dollop of awkwardness on top of an already chaotic and messy film.

What’s more, it creates multiple DC characters that it then barely uses. Katana and Killer Croc get little to no time, Rick Flagg is functionally a nothing, and Captain Boomerang seems to be enjoyable largely on the back of Jai Courtney’s performance (never thought I’d be typing that).

Most criminally of all, this is apparently what months of “JARED LETO EATS A LIVE KITTEN IN FRONT OF HIS CASTMATES” stories led up to. 6 minutes of Joker in a performance that ranks charitably around Jim Carrey’s Riddler. There’s nothing scary and no substance in this role at all. Did he really have to give Will Smith anal beads if he wasn’t ever going to share a scene with him?

2nd Degree Cliche

For all the shit about this DC Universe being its own thing, Suicide Squad doesn’t seem to have an original thought in its head.

We’ve gone over the terrible blue beam to the sky, but am I allowed to discuss how the serious debt this thing owes to the Marvel Studios films? It’s adopted their tone, their structure, their style, and their jokiness with Guardians of the Galaxy most directly owing some child support payments to this thing.

There’s just nothing here at all. Suicide Squad is criminally brainless, without a single interesting thing to say about villainy or heroism or government power like it so clearly is possibly trying to. Grey morality can be just as uninteresting as black and white. There’s a lot of platitudes and bullshit tossed into the air and no one bothers to catch any of it on the way down.

Assault and Battery with the Use of a Shitty Script

It’s been said this film was written in six weeks and boy do I believe that.

We’re not even getting into the biggest problem just yet, but dear sweet merciful Highfather does this film reek of needing at least a few more drafts on the script. Characters come and go with nary a mention of any reason for us to care or what motivates them. Arcs are barely fleshed out for anything but the major characters, and even they hardly get anything. That arc problem includes the story. The script is attempting to keep you in the dark like the Squad, but it more just feels like the movie is improvised, like we’re finding out the next moment when they are.

The dialogue is also holy shit bad. It’s trying to sound hard-boiled, I get that. But there’s so many lines that come out with a resounding thud. When Will Smith can’t sell your joke, you’re in some deep shit.

“Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”

Fucking terrible.

Crimes Against Female Characters

Now we get into the two charges most damning to this film. Yeah, the skimpiness of the clothing is a problem. We can practically feel the camera salivating over Margot Robbie for the majority of the film.

The violence against women is also to be acknowledged. They’re bad guys, yes. The film isn’t endorsing it. It is however treating those moments like laugh-lines when the women of Suicide Squad get clocked in the face.

The thing that however gets me pissed right the hell off is what this film does with the Joker/Harley Quinn relationship. Mainly, it turns it into a largely loving one and Joker into essentially a skeezy dude who just wants his girl back.

The Joker/Harley Quinn relationship is abusive. That’s textual. That’s in its core. That’s its point. It’s an all-too-human crime he commits. Murder is one thing, it’s hard for us to grasp that. But seeing him control and abuse someone who is unquestionably devoted to him hits too close to home for too many.

So this film takes that and smooths over it, making the whole thing into “He really does love her deep down” despite the multiple little abuses it’s content to gloss over. It’s not just that it misses the point. It’s that it’s morally and objectively wrong. It turns something that should be villainizing into something humanizing. It makes the Joker a model rather than a monster, surely a seeming romantic hero for somebody out there. Frankly, fuck that.

Crimes Against Cinematic Structure

This one is at the root of every bit of this though. Everything before now is slave to the fact that Suicide Squad doesn’t make one ounce of sense. The story is near-incoherent. We’re kept in the dark for so long that they forget to catch us up on why we care or why things are happening. We seem to jump through major moments. A member leaves the Squad and then comes immediately back with no in-between.

The pacing is horrendous. It ambles through its first act and then seemingly jumps directly into its third. It’s inert at times, and others it seems to move like it’s falling off a cliff. There’s no consistency, nothing here that makes this an enjoyable experience to watch.

Director David Ayer seems to be completely drowned out at any stage of this. The scenes have no weight, no connection. Ayer’s voice is gone for what is blatantly a film by committee. There’s the darker and grittier film about villains trying to be good mixed in with the action flick about anti-heroes saving the day and I don’t see a singular voice. I rather see a vision that was chosen from multiple options and blended into one of those green leafy smoothies no one wants to drink (though someone will convince themselves that they must and that they are the best food).

Suicide Squad is a mess. Plain and simple.

These are the charges against it. Not here, but most damningly, is that Suicide Squad even forces me to say nice things about Batman v Superman. That at least had Ben Affleck’s Batman carrying the film (rather than standing around like here) and a few interesting visual and action ideas that didn’t have any resonance. It made me feel something.

Now let me grant some clemency. The performances are strong enough. Will Smith reminds us why he’s a star, Margot Robbie reminds us why she’s going to be, Jay Hernandez makes us thinks he might one day be, and Viola Davis reminds us why she should be. Despite being nothing, I also greatly love Jai Courtney as Boomerang. I really need that bogan sonuvabitch to show up in The Flash. Far away from here.

But overall, there’s just too much to damn this film for. A mess of a film that wastes what it has and ruins so much of what it touches. Suicide Squad is bad filmmaking, pure and simple. The kind of bad that still leaves this universe threatened going forward.

Now, I’d leave it up to you. But I’m the judge here.

As judge, I sentence this film to be placed over Warner Brothers’ head as a dagger in the hopes that they’ll eventually get this DC thing right. I can’t keep dealing with having to walk out of the theater this disappointed every year.

Grade: D-

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