Embodying every last awful aspect of Hollywood filmmaking in 2016, Suicide Squad represents the rock bottom of the blockbuster barrel.
Tired. That’s the overwhelming feeling I had when exiting Suicide Squad, tiredness. Not anger, not hatred, not disgust, not confusion, just tiredness.
Let’s not mince words, folks, this Summer has fucking blown. Weeks, fortnights, even whole months have blown by without anything noteworthy having been released for us hungry moviegoers to feast our eyes, ears, and various other senses on. Oh, I mean, there have been “noteworthy” releases, every single week, in fact, as Hollywood throws out giant, lavish, expensive CGI-laden blockbuster spectacles that are all sequels to things we ostensibly liked the first time around… but there’s been basically nothing noteworthy this Summer. Despite having names with apparent cache slapped onto them, sating supposed audience demand, almost every single one of these Big Ticket Must-See Blockbuster Events!!! have entered cinema screens, played for two and a bit hours to deafening indifference, and then promptly disappeared without a trace.
Why? In theory, it’s because they suck, but to claim that as the sole reason is demonstrably false. Lots of big movies suck. Hell, they’re probably more likely to suck than they are to be any good; Sturgeon’s Law and all that. But time was that sucky films would suck in different, interesting ways. A few may share similar characteristics, but many of them would be giant flaming car wrecks for unique reasons that pertain mainly to that particular film. And whilst a few of those do still slip through the cracks every now and again – The Legend of Tarzan is bonafide fiasco of the sort I would have thought was impossible to make nowadays until I remembered that Pan was just nine months before that – for the most part, Summer movies have all sucked in the exact same predictable, identical, boring way.
Take, for example, Independence Day: Resurgence. Independence Day: Resurgence is a bad film and whilst it does have certain flaws specific to itself, it is primarily bad for the exact same reasons that most every other film released this Summer is bad, namely: there is no reason for it to exist. Resurgence has absolutely nothing going on in it. It has no story that it wants to tell, whilst being actively contemptuous and disinterested in the one it’s being forced to present, it has no characters let alone anybody the audience is supposed to invest in, it has no theme to explore, it consequently lacks a Second Act entirely, and its sole selling point (expensive looking shots of wanton CG destruction) has not only been done better but is also the only selling point of nearly every single blockbuster nowadays.
So why do films like Independence Day: Resurgence exist? Why is this now the default model for Hollywood filmmaking? “Step right up, folks! Come see the Movie Event of the Year! It’s much different to last week’s Movie Event of the Year because our weightless, consequence-free, obligatory CGI destruction is even bigger than their puny display and it’s attached to the name of that one franchise from 10 years’ back that you really liked!” Success leads to repetition, repetition leads to complacency, complacency leads to contempt, contempt leads to boredom on the part of the audience, and boredom on the part of the audience leads to these pointless, soulless movies playing out to an audience that would be as equally enthused by watching paint dry, and subsequently deserting the film post-opening weekend as they, and I, wonder why in God’s name they are wasting their time.
And now, as Summer 2016 hits its peak before slowly tapering off, Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics have unleashed Suicide Squad. A trailer that couldn’t be more Summer 2016 if it actively tried, which itself would be worthy of notice since the 123 minutes of wasted celluloid being dumped into theatres in the hopes of easy money has had the same amount of effort put into it as an underachieving five year-old who is told on a nice sunny day that she will only be allowed to go outside and play with her friends once she has finished her homework. Suicide Squad’s entire existence, as the thing that’s been released into theatres, appears to have been specifically designed to make me begrudgingly find things to retroactively appreciate in the inarguable soul-crushing garbage-fire that was Batman v Superman.
See, say what you like about Batman v Superman – lord knows I really, really, really did – at least that had ambition. Batman v Superman wanted to be something, it wanted to actively say something, it wanted to do more than just run out the clock for 151 minutes and advertise Warner Bros.’ expensive plan to still be in business in three years’ time. It wanted to talk about justice, terrorism, the consequences of blind vengeful pursuits of said, the death of idealism and the rise of nihilism; lots of Big Things whilst unmistakably being A Zack Snyder Movie. It was still soul-crushingly and disturbingly awful, let me make that abundantly clear, but at least it was trying to be something, it was aiming for something, no matter how repellent.
Suicide Squad, by stark contrast, aims for “absolutely nothing” and can’t even pull that off, which somehow offends me even more. If Batman v Superman was the logical endpoint of the superhero movie’s damaging obsession with “realism” and “maturity”, then Suicide Squad is the logical endpoint of Hollywood’s contemptuous obsession of treating the paying audience like fucking imbeciles who are so docile and desperate for entertaining sustenance that they’ll eat up any shiny jangling keys dangled in front of them for two hours and subsequently demand more. The version of Suicide Squad which has been released presumably so that certain Warner Bros. execs don’t get in trouble for trying to defraud the studio of $175 million qualifies as a movie solely by the definition of it featuring rapidly sequenced images that give off the illusion of movement when played at full speed.
I keep refraining from definitively using the descriptor “movie” when referencing Suicide Squad because the thing that has been released to the general public is pretty much unfinished. Even if tales of troubled productions and last minute editing jobs with studio interference hadn’t been trickling out to the trades suspiciously-timed for the film’s release, I would have inferred so purely from watching the absolute mess that unfolded in front of my eyes. This version of Suicide Squad is borderline incoherent. Some members of the team get multiple introductions, others are given backstories upfront whilst others still have their backstories withheld until near the climax for no reason, one just wanders into the movie at the hour mark and proceeds just takes up extra space, and one member is literally given a name before promptly getting their head blown off barely three minutes later.
But none of these characters are interesting, primarily because so few of them are actually characters. Despite being a list of supervillains – specifically DC supervillains, meaning that they are all at least tangentially connected to the best Rogue’s Gallery in the business – almost none of the cast here are given personalities or characters, instead relying on their actors to do all the heavy lifting; a long line of “[x actor] is a good performer but a terrible [y character]” because they’re given so little character to actually work with. I could not tell you a single fact or character trait related to any of these people, and I (at time of writing) saw this thing yesterday. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is the closest the film gets to a character, but its total disinterest in exploring her morally-dubious approach to governmental work and a potential craving of power means that there’s still nothing going on here. Whilst the member of the Squad that (bizarrely) gets the most screen-time is Rick Flag despite his character flitting wildly from scene-to-scene and his being played by Joel Kinnaman, a man with the charisma of a wooden plank being slowly demolished by termites and about as exciting to watch.
That disinterest in exploring the ethically-questionable idea of a government-sponsored black ops program filled with supervillains – who are primarily lower-class or minorities, some of which, as is off-handedly mentioned in Killer Croc’s case, were exploited by an unfair social system – actually ends up being found deep in the film’s very core. Rather than having them take on covert jobs to secure the US government more power or assassinate high-ranking officials, the Squad are dropped into Midway City to… stop an ancient evil and their high-powered faceless CG mook army from building a weapon represented by a giant beam of light (for there is always a giant beam of light) that will destroy the world for tossed-off reasons that ultimately the film doesn’t give a shit about. All of the supposed villains, meanwhile, are given varying tragic backstories, when they’re not just straight up heroes in Katana’s case (Karen Fukuhara who, much like X-Men: Apocalypse’s pathetic excuse for a Jubilee, gets a cool costume and absolutely no character, dialogue, or screen time to go with it).
If it weren’t for the film constantly having characters say “we’re the bad guys” or some variation thereof every five minutes, I probably would have forgotten that they are supposed to be bad guys especially with how toothlessly saintly the film ends up portraying most of them. This leads to the wonderful issue of the finished film that’s playing out here practically glorifying domestic abuse and abusive relationships. Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) infatuation with The Joker (Jared Leto) ends up completely missing the tragic point of their dynamic in other media by minimising most all of his abuse of her, playing her fantasy of wanting to be a normal housewife with him and two children completely straight, and leaning into them both being equally in love with each other despite him being a known monster to her. That, however, is nothing compared to the tragic backstory foisted upon El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – and, yes, he could not be more of a Latino gangbanger stereotype if he was literally birthed in a run-down Taco Bell and given a pistol for his first birthday – who accidentally burned his wife and kids to death in an argument over his gangster life with his powers. And the film wants you to feel sorry for him because the sad, mournful music plays and he’s really beat up about it and Harley tells him to “own that shit” once he’s finished telling that tale.
So it’s ugly. Of course Suicide Squad is ugly, it’s a David Ayer movie (and I say this as someone who is mostly a fan of David Ayer movies). It’s ragingly misogynistic with the aforementioned Harley Quinn subplot and glorification of domestic abusers, multiple instances of women being beaten as the punchline to some apparent joke, a villain who creates her faceless mook army through forced sensual contact, and so many leering shots of Margot Robbie’s arse that I’m going to have everyone involved arrested for exploitative labour if it turns out they didn’t give it its own paycheque. It’s racist with the aforementioned Latino gangbanger stereotype, another wordless Asian character who gets to speak in terms of Kung Fu and otherwise occupies background space, and Killer Croc (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje) bewilderingly being a Cajun Black stereotype who loves BET when he’s not being told by the film to sit in the background saying and doing nothing. But it’s curiously free of any authorial print. It’s not ugly in the way that David Ayer films are usually ugly, but in this strangely non-specific way that feels intentionally lacking in any one specific vision or filmmaker.
Suicide Squad is not a David Ayer movie. Hell, I have no idea whose movie this is meant to be because it has been chopped to Hell and back. If anything, it’s been cut exactly like a trailer. Scenes randomly start and end with no particular rhythm. The tone swings back and forth so wildly that it’s near-impossible to get a bead on what it was actually going for. Any stylistic touches are confined purely to the opening hour and then disappear entirely like there was supposed to be a drastic overhaul of the entire film but everyone involved ran out of time to make it happen. There are lines and whole scenes that are either out of place or make no sense in the context of a film. Certain stretches of the film get through three different licensed songs back-to…
Sorry, I need to break off from my overall point here to rant about the licensed music in this movie. Suicide Squad’s abuse of licensed music should be considered a legitimate crime and those responsible for it should be thrown in jail for murdering the art of the needle-drop for everybody else. In the opening 15 minutes or so of the movie, songs by The Animals, Lesley Gore, The Rolling Stones, and Rick James are all blasted through the speakers one after another with no rhyme or reason. In many instances, one of them will end and then the next one will begin straight afterwards with no pause. Later on, Eminem, Black Sabbath, Kanye West, The White Stripes and many more are all forced upon you, many times whilst dialogue is playing over song lyrics, and all of them being the most thuddingly obvious possible cuts from each artist. It’s like being assaulted by the world’s most obnoxious self-described music lover who wants you to be dead impressed by his pathetic record collection that he’s trying to pass off as super-cool underappreciated genius. God, I despise how this film treats needle-drops…
And that kind of obnoxious editing abounds throughout the whole film, where any kind of breathing room between scenes and lines has been excised. Most egregiously, there is a complete and total absence of a Second Act of any kind. It takes 50 minutes for the Squad, our supposed protagonists of this mess, to have a conversation with one another. 50 goddamn minutes. You’re also gonna want to savour those thrilling exchanges of dialogue like “[INSERT MEMORABLE CHARACTER DIALOGUE HERE]” because, in a rather bold workaround to the issue of there not actually being much in the way of characters in this movie, that’s pretty much the only time in the entire film that the Squad trades banter or in any way meaningfully interacts with each other aside from a far too little too late bar scene just before the finale. There’s no reason to connect with this cast and care about their potential fates because the film actively denies giving the viewer one, much like how it has no thematic hook or reason to exist.
Why the fuck was I supposed to care about any of this? Why was I supposed to have given up two hours of my life and £10 of my money to watch this? What was the point here? Why was anybody even making this because, unlike even last year’s near-literal ashcan Fantastic 4, I can’t glimpse a sliver of what David Ayer was planning on doing before the studios in charge took a power-drill to it? What was anybody going for here? Am I supposed to just trust that meaning and resonance will be found in this film retroactively four years and seven films down the line when 2 Suicide 2 Squad fills in the many, many, many storytelling and thematic holes that are in this movie right now that I had to give up money and time to see this year? Was I just supposed to be impressed that $175 million made it up onto a big screen at all and respond to that fact by earnestly going “what an age we’re living in!” before flinging roses at its feet?
THIS is why Film right now is in a numbing rut. THIS is why people are staying far away from the cinema. THIS is why people are running out of legitimate passion for this medium. Films like this, like Suicide Squad. Swanning on with NOTHING to say, ZERO stories to tell, NOTHING new to show, NO visions or goal or plan outside of whatever they can hash together in the editing room, yet still having the gall to demand that we, the paying public, give them a standing ovation and request a six year encore. Films that aim for nothing and can’t even satisfy those pathetic standards, and I somehow, despite this awful horrendous Summer, have not seen a more perfect encapsulation of this apathy-inducing, passion-killing way of business this year than Suicide Squad. A film that aims to showcase exactly how bad and how dull Batman v Superman could have been if it had been made with no passion, no identity, and no ambition – just generic, timewasting, audience-insulting slop that’s only ugly in this corporately micromanaged and “safe” manner that’s ultimately more horrifying than sincere ugliness for that exact reason.
And I am really not angry anymore, folks. I sincerely am not. I came out of Suicide Squad tired. I went home tired. I sat down to write this review tired. And now, as I look at the list of upcoming films for the rest of the year, the reaction I have is just “tired.” Right now, “tired” is the operative fucking word.
Callie Petch made disappointment their very best friend.