Remember that review of Spinal Tap’s album” Shark Sandwich that so exasperated a music journalist that s/he let “Shit sandwich” suffice? I really was tempted to let “Shit squad” be the totality of my review of this pile of cinematic vomit. But that would be too kind to a movie that deserves to be slashed to ribbons, the ribbons burnt, and the ashes swept up into a vat of caustic industrial chemicals (where they will inevitably later spawn the hellish supervillain Fanboy Manbaby when a mildmannered comic-book geek tries to drown himself in his disappointment over how fundamentally terrible this movie is).
Suicide Squad doesn’t even pretend to be a movie in the way that we generally require that movies make a sort of basic sense and give us a reason to care about the fact that they exist in the first place. Suicide Squad is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise in comic-book wankery: here’s something going boom (never mind why it’s exploding); here’s a snappy one-liner (even though it has no context); here’s a villain acting wacky (because he’s just crazy, okay?); here’s a half-naked chick you can fap to. This is a movie that insults anyone who truly loves and appreciates the power of comics, because it presumes you must not be anything other than a dorky adolescent boy who requires nothing but the signifiers of comics and none of the well-drawn characters, exciting stories, and subtle and thoughtful explorations of science fiction themes.
This is the same crap we saw with the Warcraft movie. And this is the crap that is going to kill the blockbuster movie, if they all become nothing more than feature-length trailers… which may be almost literally true in the case of Squad, because what has been released is a version edited with the help of trailer production company Trailer Park. Suicide Squad is little more than an ad for itself… or, I fear, an ad for the longer director’s cut that Warner Bros. will attempt to sell you to in time for Christmas. It is bottom-of-the-barrel junk because it knows it doesn’t need to be anything else, because Hollywood can rely on fanboys to defend it without having even seen it, to see it no matter how many people tell them it’s garbage, and continue to defend it afterward because saving geek face matters above all else.
Writer-director David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage) — along with the entire Squad cast — were trotted out at the screening I attended last night, in the hopes of getting the crowd riled up in a way that would carry over into the movie. But instead of the usual PR patter we get from movie stars and filmmakers — about what an amazing experience making this movie was, how they all became a family in the process, how they hope we love it as much as they do — Ayer went on the defensive. In a crowd with plenty of critics present, he trashed critics (the ones with access to early screenings had already turned in mostly very negative reviews) and then snidely challenged those of us present to “be creative in our trashing.” But if he couldn’t be bothered to be creative while making his movie — and he had something between $175 million and $250 million at his disposal to play with — why the hell should I bother? So I’m just going to assemble my notes into a list.
SOME OF THE REALLY MAJOR THINGS WRONG WITH ‘SUICIDE SQUAD’ (not a comprehensive list):
• The first act, which is nothing but a bunch of introductions to all the characters, like mini origin stories (some of which get repeated later for some dumb reason, as if Ayer was worried we weren’t bored enough). It’s utterly lacking in any sense of drama or urgency. It’s like a list of Dramatis Personae you find at the front of a sprawling Russian novel come to lifeless life.
• Viola Davis (Lila & Eve, Blackhat) as Amanda Waller, the government functionary who decides she’s going to assemble a team of psychopaths to protect humanity in case the next Superman turns out to be not such a nice guy. Davis is amazing as always with what very little she actually has to do, but she deserves way better than this. There is a scene in which she addresses her team of psychos over Facetime on an iPad, and it’s like Davis suddenly realized halfway into production that fuck it, she could literally just call it in, because no one would even care.
• Enchantress, the most awful supervillain ever. I guess she’s actually a supersupervillain, since she’s the worse guy that the bad guys who are supposed to be good guys are fighting. She is Cara Delevingne (Pan, Paper Towns) gyrating in front of a green screen looking like a child dressed up in her mother’s gown. We have no idea who she is or what she wants, beyond, presumably, the usual rule-the-world junk. The CGI she is gyrating in front of is a travesty given the movie’s outrageous budget: it all looks like the decorations for a high school’s Zuul-themed prom.
• The terrible, and terribly obvious soundtrack, including the one music choice that is a fuck-you to Guardians of the Galaxy in the same way that a toddler stealing another child’s toy in the sandbox is a fuck-you.
• The big plotholes — both of the “If only X did Y, that would have solved their problem in the first place” variety — that turn out not to be plotholes but examples of deeply shitty and fundamentally careless scriptwriting.
• Margot Robbie’s (The Legend of Tarzan, The Big Short) Harley Quinn, who is a walking blowup doll, a 12-year-old boy’s idea of “sexy,” and that includes the gum-snapping, winking, and sashaying of the actor’s performance, which is an unironic, unaware parody of femininity, nothing to do with actual womanhood at all. Her ass and thighs get at least as much screentime as her face, and more than many of the other characters. (No, that is not a good thing.) Most of the women here are dehumanized and then resexualized in ways that the men are not, like assassin Katana (newcomer Karen Fukuhara), whose face is covered but her midriff is bare (and it takes a man to tell us her backstory; she barely even speaks). What does Joel Kinnaman’s (Child 44, Run All Night) ass look like? (He plays Rick Flag, the squad’s military keeper.) As far as Ayer seems to believe, he might as well not even have one.
• Quinn’s relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club, Lonely Hearts). Think Fifty Shades of Green. Not sexy, and not in the least bit even understandable. We get no help from the movie in appreciating how a psychiatrist would fall in love with her psychopath patient, and why she would tolerate unconscionable abuse from him. We just supposed to accept it, as if it’s completely normal for such a thing to happen.
• Jared Leto as the Joker, who seems to be channeling Jim Carrey in The Mask. No, really: What the hell does Quinn see in this guy?
• Awful ethnic stereotypes. Australian Boomerang (Jai Courtney: Terminator Genisys, Insurgent) uses boomerangs? Latino Diablo (Jay Hernandez: Max (2015), Takers) is a gangbanger? Are you fucking kidding me? (And no, this is not “okay” if that’s how the characters in the comics are. It just means the comic is awful, too, or whatever extra depth makes it not awful didn’t make the transition to the screen.)
BUT ABSOLUTELY, DEFINITELY THE MOST AWFUL THING ABOUT ‘SUICIDE SQUAD’:
• Psychopaths. They do not care about anyone except themselves. They do not care about their lovers. They do not care about their children. To the extent that they might appear to care about other people, it is only to the degree that that benefits them. That’s what makes them psychopaths. But Ayer wants these people to be sentimental, which is beyond absurd. As a stupid (and completely ineffective) shorthand for the supposed cohesion that has developed among the Suicide Squad (which hasn’t developed at all), he puts the ridiculous line “I lost one family! I can’t lose another!” in one of their mouths in the midst of a battle just as the speaker leaps to the defense of the others. (Never mind that that character didn’t “lose” a family so much as murder them.) The assassin Deadshot (Will Smith: Concussion, Focus) has an 11-year-old daughter (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) that he is genuinely devoted to, which he literally could not be, because he is a psychopath. Again, do not even bother to say that the characters are more nuanced in the comics: this movie keeps reminding us that these are “bad guys”; the words “psycho” and “psychopath” are used numerous times to describe them. The idea of Will Smith’s onscreen charisma being used to seduce us into appreciating how superficially charming psychopaths can be is hugely appealing; the possibilities of Deadshot using the sentimentality of normal people to make them believe he is devoted to his daughter are enormous, and ignored. (Hell, the possibilities of Quinn using the Joker to her own ends are enormous. That’s not here. We’re meant to buy that they actually love each other… which is completely contrary to what we keep being told they are.) These characters should all be as horrifyingly alluring as Hannibal Lecter. But they aren’t. This movie should be grim and bitter. But it isn’t. Because it had to be a teen-friendly PG-13 advertisement for toys, T-shirts, and other disposable junk.
EVERYTHING THAT IS RIGHT ABOUT ‘SUICIDE SQUAD’: