I have a lot of contempt for the stunning ineptness of how Warner Brothers handles the DC properties. It’s nothing short of disastrous, and really, there’s no excuse for it. When it comes to Marvel, Marvel Studios has done a more than decent job with the properties they own; since 2008’s Iron Man they’ve created a robust cinematic universe with mass appeal full of individual properties that more or less have their own clear identities. Guardians of the Galaxy is a lot different than the Captain America franchise as that franchise is different to the Avengers franchise. This is not an opinion over quality (I’m critical of their boilerplate plots), just a fact.
Most of the Marvel movies make big money and have middling responses from both audience and critics. It’s notable that the Marvel-based franchises that tend to do worse in terms of both metrics are those owned by rival studios like Fox and Sony. So here’s the rub: Warners has not farmed out their properties to other studios. They own all of them and exercise creative control. Quite why their shared live action universe is bombing so bad is incomprehensible. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman have been critical duds – the cinematic Flash of Batman v Superman (and Suicide Squad) is played by a different actor from that of the TV show, and in the upcoming new season of Supergirl, they’ve recruited another different actor to play Superman. I don’t get this at all, and it probably is only really explainable by some arcane legalese – either that or it’s simple lack of competency.
Suicide Squad is yet another example of this. Based on the brief critical comments I’ve heard, and my opinion in the opening paragraph of this review, I went into this movie with low expectations, and I didn’t come out angry at the incompetence of David Ayer (End of Watch, Sabotage) and Warners, I was more saddened than anything else that the movie I watched was exactly what I expected. Plainly put, this movie is a real mess. A “big pile of dumb” is how one of my friends referred to it, another called it “a pile of shite”, and neither of them are wrong.
First, The Joker. About a year ago, the first images of Jared Leto’s polarizing look brought forth a tidal wave of incredulity from fandom – I was of the opinion that it was different but I will willing to give it a chance. I’ll say that the look of Leto’s Joker is less of a problem than the character of Leto’s Joker. This guy is not much more than a weak Scarface-type gang boss with green hair and tattoos (but I liked the implied origin reminiscent of The Killing Joke) than Heath Ledger’s intense engaging anarchist of The Dark Knight. And while I don’t give out spoilers, if you go in to this movie expecting The Joker to be an integral part of the movie you’ll be both amazed and incredulous to find the reality is nothing of the sort. He’s simply a Harley Quinn subplot, and that’s it. Leto’s a fine actor, and I think I could sit through a Batman movie with this version so long as the writing is solid – I actually didn’t mind him when he appeared onscreen. Leto has a lot of screen presence, and he brings it to The Joker. Whenever he pops up, the movie gets a shot of adrenaline, and it needs it because the story is a real stinker.
You probably already know the premise: some incarcerated DC villains are given a shot at a Dirty Dozen type redemption by government bigwig Amanda Waller (How To Get Away With Murder’s Viola Davis), as a team assembled for the purpose of facing superhuman menaces. Immediately, you can dispense with Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc – their scenes are perfunctory and largely unnecessary. In fact, the movie mostly focuses on Deadshot and Harley Quinn, which is more or less inevitable given the appeal of Will Smith (Deadshot), and the character of Harley Quinn (The Wolf of Wall Street and Z For Zachariah‘s Margot Robbie). Neither Smith nor Robbie are bad in their roles at all, but the best thing that can be said about Deadshot and Harley is that their characters are less flimsy than that of everyone else in this wretched screenplay.
I don’t require movies to have much of a moral compass, but I was peeved that Ayers chose to take a redemptive tack on this story from the get go. He spent an awful long time playing up the sympathy angle on Deadshot and Harley Quinn, instead of going for the more difficult but intellectually honest path of acknowledging that these characters are actual bad guys, not misunderstood anti-heroes. It’s dumb to compare this to Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, but the point I’m making is that why not embrace the villainy here? Why make them all puppy-eyed when their feelings get hurt instead of attempting a more complex story that deals with the fact that they’re being forced into doing good, but are still evil at heart? That’s the movie I would have preferred to have seen, not this calamitous montage of bad action scenes, seemingly every one of them set to a classic rock soundtrack.
Nothing ever really feels like it means anything here. The threat is muddled and evaporates in a mire of bad CGI in an ending that seems much too close to that of the original Ghostbusters, where The Enchantress is essentially a salsa-dancing Gozer the Gozerian (sadly, yes) played by Cara Delevigne . The climax is actually the worst part of the movie – not is it just a lazy, generic seen-it-all-before conflict, it contains examples of powers that two characters actually possess that made me wonder why they were never used before, and an act of personal sacrifice where nothing, it turns out, is actually sacrificed at all. And let’s not talk about the fact that the only true act of despicable villainy in the movie goes entirely unpunished, and indeed, is mostly uncommented on and forgotten by movie’s end.
Everything good about the movie I’ve already said, all that’s really left is to comment on the idiocy of the fanboy universe. Right now it’s a mire of personal, tragic entitlement that forces grown men to issue internet death and rape threats from the safe-spaces of their computers to critics who don’t like their comic book movies – I read last week that they had started a petition to close down Rottentomatoes.com. Yep, that Rottentomatoes.com. Warners might be treating their own properties like crap, but comic book fandom is polluted with this vile current of impotent blind hatred – that’s the true tragedy of superhero movies, not Suicide Squad.
© Andrew Hope, 2017
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