Suicide Squad (Film Review)

Since that first Comic-Con trailer debuted last year, I’ve been increasingly excited to see David Ayer’s Suicide Squad for any number of reasons: its premise, its director, its cast, its composer. I even liked the pop-punk-grunge aesthetic and Jared Leto’s slick neon gangster take on the Joker, his (alleged) ridiculous onset antics notwithstanding. Even when I heard stories about reshoots, production issues, studio interference, and, as the film opened, a not-so-positive response from critics, I thought it might just end up being a case of the gratuitously negative reception that its predecessor in the burgeoning DC cinematic universe, Batman v Superman, received. Sure, it’s far from excellent, but I didn’t dislike Zack Snyder’s film quite as much as everybody else. Plus, surely a film that looked as promising as Suicide Squad just had to be damn good fun at the very least. Right?

Wrong. Suicide Squad is a shambling disaster that only gets worse as it progresses. It’s not without its good points, sure, but they’re far from enough to save it from being one of the most disappointing films of the year, or, hell, even the entire slew of comic adaptations of the last decade.

There are so many promises here that are never fulfilled.

The songs used in the film are all great on their own, but they become tedious and jarring when they’re simply thrown over scenes one after another without any kind of impact. Steven Price’s score is excellent though, capturing both the emotion and adrenaline that the film might have once, and should’ve, had.

Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller is probably the best thing about the film; she’s ruthless and badass, and one of the true “bad guys,” in a film where “the worst of the worst” aren’t actually all that bad. Jay Hernandez is a highlight as El Diablo, and Margot Robbie and Will Smith are of course excellent. Really, the whole cast is doing a great job here; the problem is more with how they’re used. Interesting character relationships are hinted at but never developed. Ditto with character development. Of the two main villains, one is a bland lump of sub-par CGI, the other an underdeveloped waste of what might have been an interesting character. Neither have any real motivation beyond the same old world domination/destruction gag that’s been boring since forever ago. Leto’s Joker has some weak moments but on the other hand his screen time has been dismembered to the point where he barely has a chance to prove himself; his scenes are mostly contextless floaters that come and go without any rhythm, and the only member of the squad he actually interacts with is Harley, which even then is only for two non-flashback scenes. Even all the talk of making Batman scary fizzles to nothing. He plods his way through two scenes like a cardboard standee with terrible dialogue.

But the worst part of the film by a league is the editing. Scenes come and go without any sense of narrative rhythm, and characters talk about events we haven’t even seen. The character introductions that open the film are stacked together like a Jenga tower made of turds and sprinkled with glitter. Apart from being clumsy and visually nauseating with its cheap post-production filters and effects, this amounts to a boring dump of information we could have learned through action and dialogue over the course of the film.

Some scenes from the trailers are noticeably absent, and even more strange is that they’ve replaced a couple of these with different takes of the same scene that are less effective than the trailers’ versions. The impact of the Joker’s reveal at the end of that first trailer where he tells the camera, grinning, that he’s “gonna hurt you. Really, really, bad,” had an excellent rhythm and dramatic pauses. The version they use in the film is flat and unaffecting. This is just one of many decisions that deepened my disillusion for that film.

As it is, the two-hour running time seems to drag on for about five. Suicide Squad comes across like a hipster dressed up as a hardcore punk, all gaudy two-dollar-shop bling and not enough depth to drown a baby. Ultimately, it’s just boring. If I wasn’t so angry about the way it turned out, I’d have forgotten it already.

I want to be clear on who I’m not blaming for this monstrosity, though, and that’s the actors and the director, all of whom have both excellent priors and are also, as I’ve said, doing a great job here, however buried it might be beneath the atrocious editing.

So whose fault is it? Looking at you, Warner Brothers. Stories have come out about the studio’s panic in the wake of Batman v Superman’s criticism as too serious and sombre, which resulted in them hiring a company who makes movie trailers to make their own, “more fun” cut of Suicide Squad with last-minute added reshoots. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of a single example of a film that ever actually benefited from studio interference.

Thanks to Ridley Scott’s clout we eventually got the glorious director’s cut for Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical version of which was over an hour shorter), but other films were not so lucky. The 13th Warrior’s final act is a hastily-cut, recycled mess (after firing the original director and leaving a heap of scenes on the cutting room floor). Paul Schrader’s Nicolas Cage-starring Dying of the Light was infamously taken from him in post-production and drastically recut. The most recent example of this is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, which suffered from severe cuts, reshoots and character changes. All of these resulted in mediocre films at best, unmitigated disasters at worst.

After all these examples and more, can’t a studio just set aside its panicked money-hungry control-freakery (in this case over the critical and commercial reactions to an entirely different film) and just trust its director? Apparently not. What gets me in all this is that Warner Brothers’ seemed to genuinely think that their version of the film would somehow be more positively received and/or rake in more money than Ayer’s “darker” version.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Ayer’s version of the film might well have been a failure, but it would have been his failure. Say what you want about Snyder’s Batman v Superman, but at least it was mostly his child; the scenes that were cut out of the theatrical version have easily been reinserted into the ultimate edition recently released on Blu-ray and DVD. Sadly, I don’t know if we’ll ever see the film that Suicide Squad was supposed to be, what looked so promising in its cast, its director and its earlier trailers.

During the publicity for the film, David Ayer has repeatedly claimed that the cut everybody’s seeing in cinemas is unequivocally his, but he’s either lying or been lobotomised since his previous film. There is absolutely no way that the man who made End of Watch, Fury and Street Kings could have consciously – let alone proudly – put this version of Suicide Squad out to the public. One of this guy’s major talents is creating excellent character dynamics and interactions that drive the narrative and the action forward. His films all come across as fresh and interesting because of this.

Sure, his work has a tendency to be male-centric and a little sleazy at times, but I honestly wish that that had been the main problem with Suicide Squad. As it is, the film’s treatment of its female characters (Davis’ Waller being the glorious exception) is a footnote in the epic saga of its failings. You know when misogyny is the lesser evil in any scenario that things must be pretty bad.

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