There is a moment in one of the documentaries accompanying the Extended Cut Edition of Suicide Squad that perfectly sums up where things went wrong with the film. The feature in question is called “Chasing The Real”. Therein lies Suicide Squad’s biggest issue. Because ever since Christopher Nolan brought his Dark Knight and Gotham to a grounded, tangible reality the DC films that have followed have felt the need to live up to that high standard.
It is a high-bar no one is likely to ever reach, let alone clear. Marvel realised this a long time ago. They went another way: big, over the top, fun. Fun being the operative word. When you think about Marvel films you think about entertaining characters bouncing off each other with great dialogue.
After the backlash from this year’s biggest blockbuster disappointment Batman Vs. Superman audiences made it clear to DC they wanted more humour and less dour pouting from their superheroes. So, with urgent re-shoots scheduled and a great trailer cut together, hopes were high that Suicide Squad could turn DC’s property into cinematic fair to enjoy.
On paper Suicide Squad should do that. It starts well, very well. We’re slowly introduced to the Squad through flashy visuals and a great soundtrack. Ayer is delivering on that trailer’s promise, this is Hollywood blockbuster anarchy. Here is a group of villains who you want to root for. Why? Because they’re bad guys and that’s different. So for roughly half an hour you’re in, all in.
And then it all goes horribly wrong. The story kicks in, it makes no sense. Ayer feels the need to humanise his characters, make them ‘real’, make them ‘likable’. Why? Do you watch The Silence Of The Lambs and dislike it because Hannibal Lecter is evil? No! You love him because he’s evil. At one moment you have a character like Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who professes to being “quite vexing” and yet by the end she’s apparently a do-gooding Girl Scout willing to lay her life down for her teammates.
This is most perfectly captured in The Joker’s (Jared Leto) fleeting appearances in the film. Here is one of popular culture’s most nihilistic characters, the very definition of a terrifying sociopath and yet Ayer paints him as a lovelorn Romeo just wanting to get back with his Juliet. Remember when Tom Cruise took on villainy duties in Collateral, you know, all white haired and a middle distance death stare? Seeing Will Smith cast in this film should have led to something similar, a man who trades in death and is more than happy to do so. A perennial hero actor playing the bad guy. But it never happens, from the get go his Deadshot is painted as a misunderstood gun for hire. There’s even an obvious parallel drawn between him and Joel Kinnaman’s Special Ops commander. You know, because deep down, or in this case right on the surface, they’re both soldiers.
Suicide Squad could have been The Dirty Dozen of superhero movies. It should have been a bit of anti-establishment brilliance. Instead much of the film feels like a set of off-cuts from other superhero movies cobbled together with stereotypical token CGI to accompany the predictability of it all.
What you want is a group of psychopathic villains squabbling with each other trying to get the job done. You know, kind of like The Avengers but with more violence and harsh language. What you get is a badly written piece of spandex wearing boredom. Go to YouTube, watch the Suicide Squad trailer cut to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and let that version it promises live in your head. Because what you get here is a silhouette of a film.