Since the teasers were released last year, Suicide Squad arguably became the most anticipated Hollywood blockbuster for 2016. The trailer’s gleeful mayhem to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the anticipation for the new Joker (Academy Award winner Jared Leto) and what could be an exciting anti-heroine in Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) got everyone riled up.
But the anticipation was quickly replaced by a disappointment when the Squad failed to live up to the promise of the film’s marketing.
Following another DC franchise this year, Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, an expansion (or really another line of justification for the Justice League set-up next year) happens in a DC-verse minus Superman.
A team of locked-up mercenaries – DC baddies – is unleashed as a sort of paramilitary team to fight supposed security threats in Midway City.
The idea is hatched by federal agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who pitched it as the only can-work strategy. And in a lengthy briefing with her superiors, we are introduced to this band of misfits: a sharpshooting assassin (Will Smith), a former Arkham psychiatrist-turned-psychopath Dr. Harleen Quinzell or Harley Quinn (Robbie), metahumans Killer Croc (Adewalge Akinuoye-Agbaje) and human flamethrower El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), knife-wielding Australian Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and the all-powerful ancient witch Enchantress who happens trapped in the body of archaeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevigne); they are later joined by ruthless swords-woman Katana (Karen Fukuhara), whose husband’s soul lives in her sword and Slipknot, who is so forgettable his character does not seem to function other than mere inclusion.
The team is under the direct supervision of Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), also Dr. Moone’s lover, acting as a kind of babysitter who ensures that the squad members do not go rogue on the mission.
After the introductions, they are immediately thrown into battle to the tune of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, a track used in Marvel’s own band-of-misfits movie, the vastly superior Guardians of the Galaxy.
The real threat, as Flagg breaks it down for them eventually, turns out to be his possessed lover’s alter-ego and her accomplice brother, who builds an earth-destroying machine, or more like an intergalactic vacuum of heaps and heaps of metropolis trash, as Deadshot aptly put it.
The Enchantress, with her monster blob-like minions, is destroyed and her brother toasted by a self-sacrificing, scene-stealing El Diablo. But by the time they are defeated, we are already exasperated, trying to recall again what was really at stake.
Perhaps it really isn’t the forgettable Enchantress that is the real menace here but Waller, the steel-like “voice of god” (in what is perhaps the best and funny punchline in the heavy-handed dialogue), and that which she represents – government control and the authoritarian institutions that breeds its very own monsters. But with very thin narrative weight, this is never really explored as much as the characters.
The crowded storyline provides a challenge for the attention-deficit audience to fully understand character nuances and this lack is not really compensated by the ensemble when it should be, with the script investing little into the collective dynamics of the group.
The cluttered editing muddles further the film’s storytelling, with flashbacks occurring in the third act and scenes that feel episodic or out of place. The psychology of the nihilism and violence that underlines each character, the whole team, and essentially the film, feels like a compulsiveness instead of an invitation into understanding their inner lives. It never really builds into some form of coherence. Which is a pity, because the film’s best selling point are the villains themselves.
We learn that Deadshot can also be a softie for his daughter (he excludes women and children in his kill list, by the way). El Diablo, on one hand, is at the same time entrapped and betrayed by the very ability that makes him unique and powerful.
Before their final battle with the dancing Enchantress, when it seemed like every one is going to bail out, the team chat up with cocktail drinks in a bar, and after El Diablo’s convenient flashback, the team get their acts together. This sequence actually recalls that scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Avengers got together at Hawkeye’s home for rest and some tete-a-tete. It really works, much like that same Guardians of the Galaxy track used in the soundtrack, as a reference that summons some sort of Marvel-vs-DC comparison, a way to ratchet up fanboy discussion.
This moment of introspection, just like one scene of Harley (which I will mention in the next paragraph), is brief and uneventful that it is lost in all the bombast of special effects and overwrought use of musical cues.
The soundtrack should work, from House of the Rising Sun to Seven Nation Army, but it is just there to flavor up the moment and not achieve some cathartic, complementary role (like say the use of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage in the recent Star Trek Beyond, a less popular franchise in this side of the planet, but a more fun adventure than this failed outing).
But the film’s apple of the eye is the hypersexualized Harley Quinn. In skimpy clothes (Daddy’s monster!) and a baseball bat, Robbie plays her with such delicious abandon you feel sorry that she can’t carry the entire team and movie along with her performance. Hers is a backstory, that not only necessitates the recent Joker incarnation, but could actually provide a deeper understanding of the group and the underlying philosophy of the film’s story.
In her introduction, we see Harley hanging in her cage to the tune of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me in a brilliant use of irony. “You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys,” but the poor girl actually is, a puppet strung at the mercy of the Joker (a flashy but empty character in Leto’s hands). Their scenes together may have a Bonnie-and-Clyde excitement, but it is actually a sub-story of subjugation and control. In one scene, a forlorn Harley is seen contemplating apart from the group, a glimpse into what could be the other side to their notoriety – a life lived in isolation, a doomed fate bereft of redemption, that maybe this lopsided mission could provide some semblance of. In the end the squad return to their prisons, reminding them that the mission could be just that: fun while it lasted.