I’m not sure if this says more about this summer’s crop of movies or just the film at hand, but somehow the movie event of the season became “Just how bad is Suicide Squad?” There’re a few moments toward the beginning of the film where all the sketchy production rumors (Jared Leto sending used sex toys to cast members as part of his method, director David Ayer physically and mentally abusing the cast to get them into character), reports of reshoots to make the film more fun and the generally eviscerating early reviews of the film all felt moot. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. Maybe my lowered expectations of yet another superhero film — not to mention one that appears on the surface to be an unmitigated train wreck — meant I was expecting a film that wasn’t quite as bad as the critical dogpile had led me to believe.
This impression lasted about two minutes. Ayer’s film is, in a technical sense, a movie. There are actors and a plot, and things happen on the screen. But there’s no cohesion and no coherent vision here. Ayer wanted to make a gritty, serious superhero movie in the vein of the rest of DC Comics “cinematic universe” (a phrase I’d be happy never typing again), self-serious and slathered in muted colors and big explosions. But, after the success of Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016) and the aforementioned reshoots, there’s an amount of “fun” that’s been added to the film. Most of this (the colorful introductions of the characters, the soundtrack that feels like your dad’s greatest-hits compilation) you can pick out as plastered on and forced into the film.
The rest is dreary, cobbled together and — worst of all — nothing new. As fresh as Suicide Squad wants to be, it’s still just a bunch of people with goofy names fighting nondescript CGI bad guys. The setup is that government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to form team of villains as Earth’s last defense against someone like Superman. So she drags a bunch of these ne’er-do-wells out of prison, sticks explosive tracking devices in their necks (at least she’s seen 1981’s Escape from New York) and sends them off to do her bidding.
Among the team is an archaeologist (Cara Delevigne), who is possessed by an ancient witch, and the special forces agent (Joel Kinnaman) who’s in love with her. (“The only woman I’ve ever cared about is trapped inside of a witch,” he says at one point — if you’re wondering what level of eloquence this movie’s running on.) There’s also Deadshot (Will Smith playing the hit man with a heart of gold), The Joker’s (Jared Leto) girlfriend Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie with a shoddy Brooklyn accent) and the various racial stereotypes — a BET-loving crocodile man (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an Asian ninja (newcomer Karen Fukuhara) and a fire-spewing Mexican gangster (Jay Hernandez). Since the film really wants to focus on Deadshot and Quinn, everyone else just sort of pops into the movie thanks to the magic of exposition, occasionally being given things to do. None of those things include creating a three-dimensional character, since the movie’s purpose is getting to the big climax (that is basically out of the original Ghostbusters) so everyone can learn honor and teamwork.
For all of the press dedicated to Leto and his method acting to accomplish his Joker, he has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time. And he doesn’t even do anything especially interesting or devious, instead preening around and channeling Heath Ledger’s version of the character. For all the effort Ayer and company (he reportedly showed Kinnaman videos of beheadings and made the cast fistfight one another) put into making the most twisted PG-13 superhero movie ever, the result is amazingly generic. What a waste. Rated PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.
Now playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher, Epic of Hendersonville.