Monday 8 August 2016

Review: Suicide Squad

Year: 2016
Director: David Ayer,
Screenplay: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne.

Synopsis is here:

I left the screening of Suicide Squad, took a large breath and let out an almighty sigh. Is this what’s causing all the fracas? This humdrum blockbuster? I feel we as filmgoers need to get our priorities straight. This summer, I’ve watched fans claim critics gain payment for back Disney and Marvel. I’ve rolled my eyes at the number of hot takes asking why Ghostbusters (2016) became the most politicised movie of the summer, possibly the year. Now, I watch fans once again attack film critics about disliking a movie (again this started before they even saw it themselves) as if there’s some sort of evil conspiracy. Let’s be clear. There isn’t.

Amusingly, at the time of writing, news reports have announced that the Warner Brothers feature has made such a killing at the box office that it’s broke an August record.  So there’s really no need to pile on film reviewers because most people would rather listen to marketing anyway. Reviews for these movies “made for the fans” are not for fans to read. They’ve already paid for their midnight screening ticket. Therefore, what we see is a bunch of faceless fans attack and insult movie lovers because they do not agree with what’s been written. Because of this, the story becomes about the “fans” and not about the movie itself, which in turn gains an inflated sense of self because even bad news is good news.

Suicide Squad isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it’s not worth remembering either. Again, like many mainstream movies of recent times, the get behind it is more about knowledge of the brand and good marketing than movie mechanics. This is a film with a mid-level video game plot, needless characters and little building of stakes or relationships. Half of the films interactions are quips, while much of the rest is plot exposition. It’s not a film that feels organic in how it’s narrative or characters come about. At times, it feels like a rough cut than a final draft of a film. However, it has Harley Quinn (a spunky Margot Robbie) so therefore you should like it.

This annoys me. Simply because there’s more than enough elements in Suicide Squad to be better than it was. So often the film reminded me of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel/Batman vs Superman, in that all three films are trying to remind viewers that they’re comic book movies and framing them as such. The way certain edits are slapped together wouldn’t feel too out of place in a three frame panel of a graphic novel. If I’m correct on this, then what Snyder, Ayer and the DC/Warner Brothers tribe are doing is really quite noble. The dark anti-hero angle matches up with the sombre take on these DC heroes and is a suitable contrast against the more colourful Marvel film. I enjoyed the visuals of the film (I never found them to be too dark) and I really liked the sly references to the likes of Watchmen as well as one or two of the films Easter eggs, which seem to be less shoehorned in than what we saw in Batman vs Superman (2016).

It’s important to realise however I felt this for the smaller “surprises” as opposed to the great, big whopping open air secret of Jared Leto’s Joker (the worst live action rendition in current record), or the extended cameo of a certain caped crusader whose distracting appearances seem to do little but highlight that we’re watching a DC/Warner film than anything else. It’s not impossible to cut both Batman and the Joker from Suicide Squad and miss very little, yet the marketing has done much to constantly notify people of their presence.

Instead what did get hacked to shreds is the film’s tone and pace, which ranges from shots that feel cut a fraction too short to the film’s actual (bobbins) plot and characters never really gelling the way they should. A frustration because Ayer gains some good performances from his cast. I’m reminded that while Will Smith never took up Tarantino's ask to be in Django Unchained (2012), he had the charisma to do in his sleep. Robbie’s spritely display as Harley Quinn again shows that this is an actress with presence. The character is a shot in the eye for decent gender politics, but I’m not looking for that in a film about these types of villainous anti-heroes. Robbie and Smith are bright sparks because they do a lot with so little and give the film some semblance of heart. Kudos should go to Viola Davis who should be given more to do as Amanda Waller, and Jai Courtney who from this performance as the stupidly named Captain Boomerang, should be seen in more comedic scumbag roles.

This leads us to the film’s comedy in general which is not only hit and miss (I did laugh more than the rest of the audience) but seems to be relatively unneeded. The rumours of the film firstly having a darker cut before being reined back in by the studios after the reaction to Batman vs Superman are key to the films misshapen tone. Do I need a film called Suicide Squad to make me chuckle like a Marvel film? Not necessarily. Jokes fly over the audience in a way that made me cry structure rather than with laughter. Then again, I’d rather The Joker not feel like he could easily turn up in the sequel to The Mask (1995). Again, when we consider the tone of the film, what is Leto’s character about? He’s not funny, but he’s also not that scary or sadistic. Sticking out like a sore thumb from a different movie. Moments like this happen once or twice with Suicide Squad.

I tried hard to like Suicide Squad, but it’s a film set up incorrectly for a range of bad reasons. It gives us truckloads of introductions, but because the DC universe seems to be set up more tail end first, it’s difficult to give a damn about these villains. It’s a film about violent anti-heroes but like Batman vs Superman, it knows that it can’t get “too dark”, so stumbles towards PG-13 while watching Deadpool live it up with the hack and slash. This is despite having a tone and premise which suggests otherwise. It is yet ANOTHER superhero movie with a rubbish, uninteresting villain and a city being destroyed by a blue twirling sky portal type thing. Is there a wholesale on these things?  

This is unfortunately what happens when you watch a studio try and play catch up. If fans want to attack critics for disliking the films they want to see, then fine. The fact is, it is all too easy to imagine a parallel universe in which Warner Brothers is setting up a Crisis on Infinite Earth two-parter, after Justice League 2 made over a billion at the Box Office. Marvel? Well, they didn’t get going after a badly judged Guardians of the Galaxy idea. It’s not a disliking of the premise or the comic book company, but the hesitant concern and meddling with the people making the films. The worse thing about watching a film like Suicide Squad is that for all the fans’ anger, the film does little to illustrate just why the source material is so loved. All that the Suicide Squad movie has done is remind me that the comics are probably more involving.