The corpses have barely cooled from Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman and we’re already assessing the damage and constructing solutions to the issue superhumans bring to human society. A task force is formed by a no-nonsense Government agent, Dr. Waller, (Viola Davis) to gather the world’s most notorious villains (Smith, Robbie, Courteny, Hernandez, Akinnouye-Agbaje) to tackle any upcoming issues the new generation of metahumans may cause to life in America. Almost immediately after the formation of this league of disposable heroes – this Squadron Of Suicide – an ancient witch (Delevingne) awakens her demigod brother from his three-thousand year nap and the two descend upon Midway City to transform the citizenry into an army of monsters dedicated to usurping the earth.
We’ve felt the ripples of Marvel Studio’s late Summer success story, Guardians of the Galaxy, for the last two Summers. As if there were an untapped market for comic book weirdness hidden deep inside Summer break and Marvel Studios accidentally stumbled upon it. The effect being that production companies like 20TH Century Fox and DC Entertainment were forced to dig through their own oddball ensemble properties for products to probe this newly discovered cash vein in the August marketplace. Hence last Summer’s troubled (being kind) Fantastic Four reboot and this year’s late summer film season arrival of David Ayer‘s Suicide Squad. What these corporations both neglected to understand is that Guardians Of The Galaxy was a hit with Joe Public because, above all else, it had character. And loading your film up with lots of characters doesn’t necessarily equate to character. Take notes Mr. Ayer.
For those in the dark about the Suicide Squad series it’s basically DC Comics’ Dirty Dozen. A ragtag collection of reprobates, psychopaths, monsters, and contract killers are employed to put an end to even more powerful reprobates, psychopaths, monsters, and contract killers. In the context of this new Suicide Squad film this means rescuing the city of Midway (not that we’d ever really care about the fate of a city without enough dignity to name itself something other than ‘Midway City’) from the evil witch nesting at her center.
At roll call we have Harley Quinn, cranking up the adorable side of being a high-risk crazy bitch, (apologies for the pause in decorum ladies but I know of no other way to define this character as she stands in this film) Will Smith‘s Deadshot, cranking up the cuddly side of being a deadbeat dad, (also the closest thing to a heart and soul that we’re going to get in this story) Killer Croc and El Diablo relegated to gang-banger mutants, resplendent in the necessary jewelry, toolery, and penitentiary ink. Also included is an Australian diamond thief and active alcoholic whose one special skill involves throwing a boomerang. His name?
Before we can log him in as an entry into the Southern Poverty Law Center’s almanac of common modern stereotypes he’s joined by a young Japanese female swordsman wearing a porcelain doll mask. Her name?
There’s a sincerity to the self-referential vibe of the material. These guys are very aware that as far as the larger picture of saving the universe is concerned, they are Plan F. Some of them – as is the case with Slipknot, the Native American free-climbing authority – are seemingly Plan F directly from inception. Tragically David Ayer just isn’t strong enough with the pen to capitalize on the chaos of the comic book property he’s inherited. As a screenwriter he’s incapable of adding any real edge to Suicide Squad, even though the film includes a few lengthy cameos by The Joker, (we’ll get to him below) and the rest of the character roster demands any edge the writer/director is willing give them.
This isn’t a completely dull script, just autocratic. When compared to Marvel’s Deadpool – a tone and camber I don’t think most of the staff at DC Entertainment would deny striving for with this entry – Suicide Squad has neither the wit nor the guts, nor the dedication to pure nihilism required to pull off something on that level. Instead it’s simply an exercise in volume – color, style, classic rock/rap soundtrack – and a repackaging of the one story Ayer prefers to tell most. The one of the military tour into enemy territory.
Midway City, with its well-eyed Lovecraftian minions, rampaging super-villains, and helicopters raining down from the sky (apologies Ridley Scott, but Blackhawk Down no longer holds the crown for most helicopter crashes in a single motion picture) is a stand-in for the gangland of End Of Watch‘s East LA. It’s a substitute for the interior of Nazi Germany in David Ayer’s WWII movie Fury. The concept of a platoon of super-villains pushing into a city under siege by an evil witch and her troop of flying monkeys is an idea nearly too yummy to dismiss outright – and when deployed this is easily the most focused and fun section of the film – but the downside to Ayer’s brand of filmmaking is that he simply can’t help himself when it comes to throwing in nods to his inner city roots.
This is the same instinct that had Ayer drop Michael Pena into a Sherman tank in Fury – the one misfire in an otherwise terrific war movie. It’s the reason your beloved Joker has a platinum grill and G13-inspired gang tattoos. Or that he has what can only be described as a “pimp duel” with rapper/actor Common in a Gotham City strip club over Harley Quinn. Or that Harley Quinn was even stripping in the joint in the first place. Though the Joker’s quest to rescue the girl of his dreams – and maybe all men’s dreams, Margot Robbie’s sex appeal is nearly catastrophic at this point – is one of the better threads of this tale, it still leaves this crude pimp n’ ho impression. It still bears the effluvium of token street cred, as if David Ayer finds it intensely necessary to remind his homies back in South Central Los Angeles that he made something out of himself over in Hollywood.
Most will see this film just to see the latest model of The Joker anyway. Jared Leto’s interpretation is much less exotic than his appearance would indicate. Jailhouse ink and metal teeth aside this version of the Clown Prince of Crime is a mixture of Gatsby’s West Egg and an Egyptian asp – vibrant intellect and poison. He’s not in this movie enough to warrant a complete opinion of this manifestation, but when compared to Suicide Squad’s central baddies, The Enchantress and her demigod brother, he’s much more sophisticated and – dare we say it – enchanting.
The Enchantress really drives the point home that David Ayer struggles with anything above a street level mentality. She’s a character of pure fantasy in a world grounded in hip-hop flavor and a screaming classic rock soundtrack, and he has absolutely no idea how to present her to a traditional audience. As ‘The Witch’ she’s got a creepy aesthetic and in the opening of the movie plays it safe by being mute. Both are to supermodel/actor Cara Delevingne‘s advantage. (picture that little slash between “supermodel” and “actor” as the border between Israel and Syria in this instance) As her power grows and Cara’s character leaves the comfortable silence of her smoldering little witch husk to become ‘The Enchantress’ things get silly. This English cosmetics model is simply outmatched by the role she’s been hired to play. Imagine Fritz Lang’s Maschinenmensch interpreted by Boogie Nights Roller Girl. Not a good look I can assure you.
CONCLUSION: DC Entertainment has chosen to follow Marvel’s footsteps as a recipe for corporate success, but if Batman V Superman and now, unfortunately, ‘Suicide Squad’ are any indication of their dedication to the material, their formula feels rushed and covetous, and frankly running behind. When compared to the potential of this cast and the idea of refitting The Dirty Dozen as an anti-hero comic book movie it’s a shame Suicide Squad doesn’t play out as anything more than standard rock video fare where the music is the only thing stimulating any attitude and conviction. Some of it works. Most of it isn’t working hard enough.